What To See and Do In Chiang Mai For 3 Days

by | Last updated Jan 10, 2024 | Asia Live Work and Play, Live Work Play Travel

If you’re visiting Thailand anytime soon, you shouldn’t miss the opportunity to visit Chiang Mai! Set in the north of the country, Chiang Mai is a city surrounded by gorgeous greenery and incredible wildlife. It’s got a unique kind of charm, which explains why many people arrive and stay for months or years on end. If you only have 3 days to spend in Chiang Mai though, you can cram plenty in. It’s a really walkable place, and there are excellent transport options for anything further than a few kilometres away. Here is a great 3-day itinerary from guest posters Jade and Kev of Two Tall Travellers who will show off the best of the largest city in Northern Thailand!

 

Why Visit Chiang Mai?

 

In any visit to Thailand, you will want to discover as many places as possible. After a few days in Bangkok, many head to Chiang Mai, why? The city centre is square, made up of ancient walls that used to protect it. Inside the walls lies the Old Town, where you’ll find a wonderful blend of traditional temples, delicious food markets and modern boutique hotels. Throw in elephants and waterfalls and Chiang Mai becomes a must visit destination while travelling in Thailand. It is also home to many digital nomads who come to Thailand for the low cost of living, fast internet, great food scene, cafes and co-working spaces.

 

READ MORE: Life in Thailand as an Expat

 

Where Is Chiang Mai?

 

Chiang Mai is around 700km north of the capital of Thailand, Bangkok. It lies some 150km from the border between Thailand and Myanmar.

 

How To Get To Chiang Mai

 

There are a number of transport options to get you to Chiang Mai.

 

Fly to Chiang Mai

 

The best way to reach Chiang Mai is by plane. Chiang Mai has an international airport in the city so it’s really easy to get to from either Bangkok or whatever country you’re visiting from.

 

Catch the Sleeper Train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai

 

If you’re on a budget, or you would just like to experience something a bit different, then we’d recommend taking the sleeper train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai! There are a few different train options, but the best one is the number 9 in a 2nd class carriage. This train leaves Bangkok at 18:57 and arrives in Chiang Mai at 07:15 the next day. 

The timings of the trip from Bangkok to Chiang Mai are important for a few reasons! Firstly, taking a later train means that you maximise the time you have in Bangkok. You can spend all day there and arrive at the train station just a short time before you depart. It also means that it arrives in Chiang Mai early in the morning. So again, you have the whole day to enjoy exploring Chiang Mai rather than sitting on a train. Be aware though that the trains aren’t always on time, so you might arrive in Chiang Mai a little later than planned. Don’t book anything for too early in the morning on this day, just in case!

It’s also a good idea to take an overnight trip so that you save money on a hotel! If you spent the whole day travelling, you would be wasting time and you’d also need to book somewhere to stay for an extra day in Chiang Mai. Sleeping on the train saves you all of that money and hassle.

A 2nd class carriage is more than good enough to sleep in, and most trains don’t offer anything better anyway. Just make sure that you are booking ‘sleeper seats’ and not just standard 2nd class seats!

 

Take a Bus from Bangkok to Chiang Mai

 

You can also take a bus – these also run throughout both the day and night. However, a bus is only really an option if there are no train tickets left! The buses can take between 9.5 and 12 hours to get from Bangkok to Chiang Mai and they don’t offer full beds – only reclining seats.

 

What to See and Do in Chiang Mai for 3 Days at a Glance

 

Days

1 – Discover the Old Town and plenty of temples.

2 – Spend the day with the Elephants

3 – Visit the waterfalls

 

What To Do In Chiang Mai: Day 1 – Get to Know Chiang Mai

 

Get to Know Chiang Mai OId Town

 

One of the first things we recommend doing on day 1 of Chiang Mai for 3 days itinerary is what we recommend when visiting any new city. Take a wander around the Chiang Mai town and get to know your surroundings! This could be just by walking and exploring yourself, or by taking a walking/food tour. The Old Town of Chiang Mai is a fascinating place. You could get lost for hours among the small lanes and markets.

 If you’ve had enough of walking, then you can flag down a tuk-tuk to take you around. They’re cheap and cheerful – but not for the faint-hearted. If you haven’t been in one before, be prepared to hold on and enjoy a true Thai experience!

 

Temples, Temples, Temples

 

There are over 300 temples in Chiang Mai, and plenty of these are located inside the Old Town. A few popular ones to visit are:

  • Wat Pra Singh
  • Wat Phra That Doi Suthep (outside the city but easy enough to get to by tuk-tuk)
  • Wat Chedi Luang
  • Wat Chiang Man
  • Wat Lok Moli

 

Treat Yourself to a Foot Massage

 

Make the most of the wonderful massages in Chiang Mai and treat yourself. You’ll need it after walking around in the Thai heat! Thai massages are world-famous, and for good reason. There are plenty of parlours dotted around the city. You can choose from tiny salons offering $5 back massages. Or you could go slightly fancier and book yourself into somewhere like Fah Lanna Spa.

 

Take a Cooking Class

 

Take a cooking class in Chiang Mai and learn to cook Thai food in Chiang Mai for 3 days.

Learn to cook Thai food in a cooking class in Chiang Mai for 3 days

 

One of the best things to do in Chiang Mai is to take a cooking class. There are hundreds to choose from, but you can look at reviews if you book in advance online. Most cooking schools follow a similar routine. You’ll be picked up at your hotel and taken to a local market where you’ll choose ingredients for the meal you’re about to cook! You’ll learn all about the different herbs and spices that Thai food is famous for. Then you’ll follow the chef’s lead with the cooking. Find a place that lets you do the hard work. There’s no point in signing up for a cooking class where you just watch someone else do it for you!

 Enjoy the fruits of your labour and you’ll usually be given a booklet or e-book with the recipes in so that you can recreate the dishes at home. Usually, there will be a morning or afternoon class, so you can pick the one that suits your schedule in Chiang Mai.

 

>>>> Book a Cooking Class in Chiang Mai here

 

What To Do In Chiang Mai: Day 2 – Spend it with the Elephants

Elephants everywhere in Chiang Mai for 3 days.

Elephants

 

In Chiang Mai, you’ll be close to some of nature’s most beautiful creatures – elephants! There are many different elephant sanctuaries across Thailand, but Chiang Mai offers some of the best places to see them in an ethical way.

 Unfortunately, so many tourists still want to ride elephants and see them perform tricks. These places treat their animals terribly, and it is not safe or ethical to visit them. In Chiang Mai there are four elephant sanctuaries that have the seal of approval from World Animal Protection – a global charity working to end animal cruelty. These sanctuaries are:

  • Kindred Spirit Elephant Sanctuary (KSES)
  • Burm and Emily’s Elephant Sanctuary (BEES)
  • Chang Chill
  • Elephant Nature Park

 

The first three are small, family-run businesses that rely so much on visitors and donations. Elephant Nature Park has had a little more funding but still needs support from tourists.

These places do not allow riding or any physical contact with the elephants. They have the elephants’ welfare at heart and their day-to-day lives revolve so heavily on making sure their animals are enjoying themselves. You can, however, walk with the elephants, help prepare vitamin-rich snacks, get involved with local schools + the communities, learn about the animals and just watch the elephants to your heart’s content. We’d highly recommend visiting one of these four sanctuaries to see elephants as nature intended – wild and free!

 KSES and BEES are both a few hours’ drive from the city centre, so you could choose to take part in the overnight programmes there. If you only want to spend one day with the elephants then visit either Chang Chill or Elephant Nature Park as they are only located around an hour’s drive from Chiang Mai.

 

>>>> Book a Visit to an Elephant Sanctuary here

 

What To Do In Chiang Mai: Day 3 – See the Waterfalls

Waterfalls are a plenty in Chiang Mai for 3 days.

Spend time at a waterfall to cool down from the Thai heat

 

Cool Down at a Waterfall

 

A great way to spend a day in Chiang Mai is to visit the Sticky Waterfalls also known as Bua Tong. These falls are around an hour’s car drive from the city centre of Chiang Mai, but totally worth it!

The name comes from the mineral deposits on the rocks that allow you to climb up them without slipping off. You can climb up the three tiers, all whilst the water is rushing down past you. There are ropes to help pull yourself up if you need them. You’d be surprised at how easy it is to walk up against the water!

The Sticky Waterfalls are surrounded by beautiful greenery and you can spend all day relaxing on the grass, chilling in the small pools or just enjoying the peace! There are a few vendors selling lunch and ice creams, so bring some small change!

You can find a songthaew (a converted van with benches in the back, typically red and everywhere in Chiang Mai) to take you. The trip should cost around 1200 baht for the driver to drive you there, wait and return you to the city centre.

 

>>>> Book a trip to see waterfalls here

 

Enjoy Chiang Mai Sunday Market

 

If your visit lands on a Sunday, then make your way over to the Sunday Walking Market. Starting at around 4 pm and ending past midnight, this is the place to go for cute souvenirs and delicious food!

Most people actually arrive as it starts to get dark. If you’d prefer to avoid the crowds then go earlier. The streets are cordoned off for pedestrian use only. There are hundreds of stalls selling everything from paintings, jewellery, candles and those famous elephant pants you’ve seen on backpackers! There’s also steaming bowls of Khao Soi, plates of Pad Thai and spring rolls. You’ll find plenty of fruit stalls – eat it fresh or have it in a smoothie! Don’t forget to try the ice cream pancake rolls too.

You could (and should) spend hours wandering along these streets of Chiang Mai. Use your haggling skills if you want to buy souvenirs, but don’t be insulting! Make sure everyone is happy with the price, not just you. If you find yourself trying to bargain a seller down for a few baht, consider what that money would mean to them instead of you.

 

Where To Stay In Chiang Mai

There are hundreds of hostels, hotels and apartments to choose from in Chiang Mai. Staying in Chiang Mai accommodation options inside the Old Town will cost you more but you’ll save on local transport. Accommodation a little further out might give you more space but you’ll have to consider how easy it is to reach everywhere else in the city. You’ll be able to find great backpacker hostels, lush private rooms and unbelievable boutique hotels in Chiang Mai – all for such amazing prices too!

Here are 3 recommendations for excellent places to stay in Chiang Mai, according to different budgets!

 

Monkey Toe Guesthouse $

This is a great place located just north of the Old Town. The prices are great and there are plenty of shared spaces as well as a pool table and rooftop! You can choose from a bed in a dormitory room or a private one which would be better for couples.

>>>> Check pricing and availability of Monkey Toe Guesthouse here

 

U Chiang Mai $$

U Chiang Mai is a gorgeous hotel set in the heart of the city. What makes it special is that you always have a full 24 hours to use the room. If you check in at 5 pm, you don’t check out until 5 pm the next day. That’s so much better than being chucked out by 10am like in most other hotels! Breakfast is also included (and you can have this at ANY time of day up until 9 pm!) The rooms are beautifully decorated and the pool is wonderful. There is a gym and free bikes for guests to use. They also do a fantastic happy hour and an excellent Thai-style afternoon tea!

>>>> Check pricing and availability for U Chiang Mai here

 

137 Pillars $$$

For honeymooners or those who really want a treat, 137 Pillars is the epitome of luxury. The buildings themselves are stunning, and so is the croquet lawn! Each room has a dedicated butler – need I say more?There are 5 different types of suites to choose from, there’s a gym and a swimming pool too. Don’t forget the spa and the library area if you want a bit of downtime. 137 Pillars has two restaurants, one of which is Michelin star recommended, and there’s an incredible bar serving out-of-this-world cocktails!

>>>> Check pricing and availability for 137 Pillars here

 

3 Days In Chiang Mai Holiday

 

There really is so much to see and do in Chiang Mai. This 3-day itinerary does manage to pack a lot in if you’re only in the city for a long weekend. It’s a great choice for all types of travellers, from solo backpackers and groups of friends to couples and families with young kids. There’s something to do for everyone, and the chances are that you’ll return to spend more time in this exciting city!

 

READ MORE on THAILAND
3 Days in Bangkok
1 Month in Thailand Itinerary
Expat Life in Thailand
Best Things to See and Do in Thailand

 

Temple in Chiang Mai on a 3 day Chiang Mai Holiday.

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Sharyn McCullum Sailing Through The Panama Canal With Storm Chasing Boat.

Sharyn McCullum – Travel Writer / Blogger, Remote On-line Worker, sometime Digital Nomad and Travel, Live and Work Abroad Expert. Is a chocoholic, coffee connoisseur and lover of ’80s music. Been travelling all her life thanks to her dad who worked for an airline. Lived in London 4 years on a working holiday. Has holidayed in Hawaii over 15 times and currently calls Melbourne, Australia home. Is inspiring others to get the live work play travel lifestyle with this blog. Read more about Sharyn here.

9 Comments

  1. Jill

    Oh, Chiang Mai! Such a special place. Thanks for sharing your wonderful tips and experiences. And thanks for mentioning that we should not ride or touch any elephants. So many tourists still don’t understand the importance of protecting these wild animals, especially when visiting countries such as Thailand. Visiting these places ethically becomes more and more important.

    Reply
    • Sharyn McCullum

      It is a very special place and tourists don’t understand about the elephants because they have never been told! It’s good to see many places are more ethical now.

      Reply
  2. Meggie

    What a beautiful place! Thanks for the hotel and activity suggestions. It’s always so hard to start from square one on a trip and these look like great ideas!

    Reply
    • Sharyn McCullum

      Chiang Mai is a beautiful place. I hope you get there one day!

      Reply
  3. Elyse

    This is definitely next on my Thailand bucket list, I’ve pretty much done everywhere but the north— such a great read. Thank you

    Reply
  4. Indrani

    Chiang Mai has been evading me for long. Been to Shukhothai and other places around. Hopefully this is a sign that I have to pack my bags for this beautiful place of Thailand! Local Sunday markets interest me a lot, I plan to head there first.

    Reply
    • Sharyn McCullum

      Chiang Mai is so beautiful and interesting. I hope you get there one day.

      Reply
  5. Cheryl Pigott

    Thank you so much for sharing about the ill treatment of the elephants from some of the options for tourists. I’d hate to know that I supported one that hurts that animals. We are traveling to Thailand soon and I’d love to support one of the sanctuaries you mentioned. Great blog!

    Reply
    • Sharyn McCullum

      In this eco-sensitive world, we all want to live peacefully and thoughtfully together – even with the elephants. I hope you have a good time in Thailand.

      Reply

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