If you've got the time to spare on your trip, ensure you don't miss these mind-opening Chiang Mai day trips that will leave you in awe.
The astonishing city in the far north of Thailand is fast becoming a favourite escape for Thais and foreign visitors alike, and you'll see exactly why after you discover all that Chiang Mai has to offer. It has become our favourite place to retreat into the mountains in Thailand - it's a city where you'll encounter genuinely warm-hearted smiling locals, as well as wondrous sights that will remain seared in your memories and hearts forever.
Most visitors will only spend a couple days here before moving onto another destination in Thailand, but you'll have barely scraped the surface of everything that the region has to offer. If you can, spare an extra few days here and embark on a memorable Chiang Mai day trip that'll take you deep into the mountains and jungles and change the way you see life, forever.
Okay, yeah. I know. I just went all -- cue spirit fingers -- spiritual on you. Like, Simba on his spiritual journey in the Lion King, but I'm not gonna lie - those misty mountains and mystic temples just have that effect on you. You'll know what I mean when you get here.
Planning a trip to Chiang Mai? Take a look at these guides.
Chiang Mai Day Trips: Getting Around
There's a million and one ways of getting around, but those taking an excursion from Chiang Mai - consider the following cost-effective options.
Hire a Driver
One of the most convenient and flexible ways of planning a day trip from Chiang Mai (especially if you're travelling as a family) is to book a driver for a day. On our previous trip to Chiang Mai, we booked this ballin' 8-seater van to take us all the way up to the Golden Triangle, with stops at must-see sights along the way.
Strike a deal with your friendly Grab car driver and ask him for a daily rate. Grab car drivers are usually super friendly with well-kept cars. As a bonus, being locals, they also know of many offbeat local gems that they're more than happy to take you to. Bear in mind that if you're travelling as a family, Grab cars usually small hatchbacks - not ideal if you're travelling with kids.
Rent a Car
I know. You're probably going to think that I'm absolutely bonkers for suggesting this. Like, Tina - what? You want me to drive in South East Asia - are you legit trying to get us killed?
Okay, to make things clear - Chiang Mai's traffic is nowhere near as crazy as Bangkok, hence why it's actually quite safe to drive. Trust me, you'll fall in love with the country and windy mountain roads as soon as you leave the bustle of the city behind.
We rented a Nissan Sedan for around $30 USD a day (crazy cheap - I know, right?) which came with two car seats for kids - it was the best option for our overnight trip to Chiang Rai to see the White Temple. If renting a car to explore tickles your fancy, then check out this site for the best car rental rates in Chiang Mai - these businesses will even drop off and pick up at your hotel or apartment.
Rent a Scooter
Probably not recommended if you're inexperienced, travelling with kids, or planning for a more distant day trip. Nevertheless, we did this south-east Asian styles - plopped our entire family of 4 on a single scooter and jetted off to see sights. YOLO.
In our opinion, it's the easiest and most fun way of getting around to see attractions that are under an hour drive away. On a side note, rain can fall sporadically in the region, so make sure you're prepared with a change of clothes and durable rain poncho.
Hop on a Song Taew
AKA Red Truck. This is the most common and cheapest way of getting around in Chiang Mai. Although they usually don't venture too far out of the city, they can most certainly take you up to places like Doi Suthep.
But, who knows? If you enjoy riding the Song Taew - I'm sure they would be more than happy to work out a deal for you to charter you around for the day.
Doi Suthep - Temples, Mountains & Waterfalls
If you've done any research on Chiang Mai, you'll probably have come across Wat Doi Suthep - one of the absolute must-see attractions in the city. I call it the mystical mountain temple because it's perched on the edge of a misty mountain-side, visible as speck amongst the clouds all the way from Old City, and it just has an all-round spiritual and otherworldly vibe.
Most visitors will only drop in to see the temple, oblivious to some of the other wonders Doi Suthep mountain harbours. So, turn it into an adventurous day trip and explore every crook and cranny. Swing by the breathtaking Huey Khaew Waterfall located at the base of the mountain. Hike around the vibrant and lush jungle setting, cool down in one of the natural pools, or have a picnic and enjoy the serenity of nature.
Dating back to the 14th century, the tale of Doi Suthep Temple's founding is one steeped deep in myth and magic - just like the overall feeling you get when looking at it from a distance. Gotta warn you though, prepare for a high intensity cardio workout climbing up the steps from the carpark. Bring that asthma puffer. Buy a fan and fan yourself 'cause sweat gon' be drippin'. Once you've made it to the top (and you're reduced to a crawling waterfall of sweat yourself), be sure to admire the holy golden Chedi - follow the crowds, grab a tulip and paper containing a chant and circumnavigate it 3 times for blessings. Or just simply thank Buddha that you made it to the top and survived.
Don't forget to wander rest of the grounds and visit the stunning terrace where you'll get a mindblowing view over Chiang Mai.
The best way to see Doi Suthep? Jump on this local tour taking you to Doi Suthep and Bhubing Palace.
Think you're done after seeing the temple? Nah uh. 10 minutes further up from Wat Doi Suthep lies Bhubing Palace - royal guesthouses built in 1961 for prominent visitors to the region. With captivating garden grounds, a lake and exotic plant life - this is a must-see for anyone who loves flowers and gardens.
|Wat Doi Suthep
Opening Hours: 6am - 6pm daily
Entry Price: 30 Baht per person
Opening Hours: 8:30am - 4:30pm daily
Entry Price: 50 Baht per person
Elephant Jungle Sanctuary
Mic drop. Because if this is the last thing you do in Chiang Mai before you leave, you're going out with a bang. This elephant nature park is an absolute bucket list experience found 1.5 hours outside of the centre, tucked deep within the vast mountain ranges of northern Thailand.
This particular sanctuary is one of the most reputable ethical elephant rehabilitation reserves in all of Thailand. The tour offers visitors half day, full day, or even overnight trips from Chiang Mai where you get to stay on-site in a lodge and wake up to friendly elephants at your doorstep.
Exercising a strict 'no-ride' policy - expect to play, feed and bathe these gentle giants, whilst learning about your designated elephant's rescue story, and how you can continue to help protect these magnificent creatures from abuse and unethical tourism practices.
I can't even begin to emphasise how much of a perspective-changing experience this is for everyone. Make sure you book this experience well in advance, as they only take in a limited number of visitors per day. You can find the best deals on Elephant Jungle Sanctuary here, or below.
Opening Times: 7am - 10pm daily
Price: From 1,600 Baht ($50 USD) per person
Roughly 25 minutes north of Chiang Mai is a small town that goes by the name of Mae Rim. As little as it may seem - don't be deceived. It is jam-packed with fun attractions, outdoor activities, and picturesque landscapes that are guaranteed to steal your breath away.
Below are some of the best activities you'll find in Mae Rim:
If you've ever wondered what it's like to pat (and perhaps even cuddle) one of these majestic mammals - you can tick this off your bucket list right here in Chiang Mai. Tiger Kingdom is a wildlife preservation facility where the proceeds go towards protecting this endangered species from extinction. With under 4000 species left in the wild, conservation and breeding programs are pivotal in preventing extinction - which is precisely what this place is about.
Kids also have the opportunity to play with tiger cubs (if available at the time), learn all about tigers and ongoing conservation efforts, roam the grounds, and chill out in the children's activity centre.
Opening Hours: 8am - 6pm daily
Entry Price: From 799 Baht ($25 USD) - see website for more options.
Mae Sa Waterfall
When in Mae Rim - don't miss this impressive 8-level waterfall that spans over a huge rainforest-y area within the Doi Suthep-Pui National Park (on the other side of the mountain).
Get your runners or hiking boots ready because some parts of the trail can be a steep climb. If you've got kids, make sure you strap them in or keep a close eye on them. Pack a picnic blanket and some munchies, there's plenty of beautiful rest spots to kick back and chill.
Opening Hours: Daily from sunrise to sunset
Entry Price: 200 Baht ($6 USD) per person
Elephant Poo Poo Paper Park
I really am not trying to sabotage your trip by telling you to visit a poo park. I swear. This is actually a thing. Like, a tourist attraction - and believe it or not, it's a completely underrated experience that you'll actually end up enjoying. No kidding.
Elephant Poo Poo Park is an eco-friendly outdoor museum - the place offers a unique experience by educating visitors on paper products made from elephant poop fibres. Visitors get to witness the entire papermaking process, from poop to end product, Adults and kids can also get hands-on making paper and crafts to take home (provided quarantine in your country is cool with this).
Not convinced? Well, you should be. What have you got to lose? Only your dignity.
Opening Hours: 9am - 5:30pm daily
Entry Price: 100 Baht ($3 USD) per person
Meet Hill Tribes in Mon Cham
You need to add this mountaintop village to your Mae Rim day trip itinerary, or even dedicate an entire day to this magical place that will leave you wanting to come back - stat. With year-round pleasantly cool and crisp temperatures, Mon Cham is a hit amongst locals who seek to escape the heat with their families on weekends and bask in the peace and quiet of the mountains and hill tribe life.
You'll come across local hill tribe families and children dressed in traditional Hmong fashion, giving visitors a glimpse into the life of the Hmong - one of numerous indigenous tribes in Thailand.
The 'fresh' mountain climate is also ideal for cultivating cooler weather plants, such as strawberries, herbs and lettuce - much of which is grown on farm fields high up in the mountains of northern Thailand. Be sure to pop into a strawberry farm to indulge in these deliciously juicy fruits, Thai style with a sprinkle of chilli-laced sugar.
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Go Boho in Pai
This quaint little town with a population of under 3,000 inhabitants is the apple of north Thailand's 'pie' *cue me dropping onto the floor in awe of my own double pun* - okay, bad joke. Forget I ever wrote that.
Pai is a spectacular day trip for those who seek to do nothing but chill and soak in awe-inspiring scenes of rolling mountains and neverending greenery. You'll find this hipster with boho-feels town three hours outside of Chiang Mai, nestled in a valley enveloped by tall mountains and bountiful forests.
It's an artsy town dotted with modern cafés, galleries, laid-back bars, and well.. hippies. Although the town itself doesn't offer much in way of tourist attractions, it's the surrounding scenery that will really take your breath away. In the vicinity, you'll find Pai Canyon, a WWII memorial bridge, natural hot springs, and a Chinese village built by immigrants from Yunnan.
Get Mindblown in Chiang Rai
No matter what you do while you're in Thailand's north - you must plan a day for Chiang Rai. I don't even know if I can quite put this place into words. This is literally the one Chiang Mai day trip you cannot miss out on.
All kinds of crazy and awesome - you've probably heard of the bizarre yet super impressive White Temple (Wat Rong Khun). We've been there twice over the past 5 years and it still remains our favourite temple in the entire world. It's too weird, wacky and unbelievable to put into words. All you have to do while you're there is to look closer.
While you're in the area, swing by the infamous Black House - a death-themed art museum where you'll find displays of animal skin, skulls, bones, and other creepy stuff that'll leave you cringing, yet in awe at the same time.
For more attractions in Chiang Rai - check out our video below.
The town also has its very own super cool night market and delicious choices of western and local Thai eateries. Can I just add that I had the most incredible homemade burger at the most unsuspecting place? Check out the best burger joint in Thailand that deserves all the credit in the world.
Doi Inthanon National Park
If you haven't yet had enough of mountains, then make sure you save the best for last. Doi Inthanon - the tallest peak in Thailand rises 2,565 metres (8,415 feet) above sea level, making temperatures at the top cool all year round.
Immerse yourselves in raw nature - this national park is an absolute gem where you will be surrounded by rugged mountains, tropical forests, wondrous waterfalls and mighty rivers.
Of course, the highlight of the park is the twin Chedis found at the top of the mountain dedicated to Their Royal Majesties, The King and Queen. Be prepared to have your breath smacked away. Pow.
Doi Inthanon is best done as an overnight trip from Chiang Mai, giving you the time to experience all the sights this stunning park has to offer. It's a long 3-hour drive from Old City, so you really don't want to rush it.
Although you can't stay inside the national park, there are, however, a number of guesthouses and lodges in the area you can sojourn in after a long day of hiking.
Opening Hours: 5:30am - 6:30pm daily
Entry Fee: 300 Baht ($10 USD) per person
Book a group day tour here from $40 USD per person, or take a look below.
Uncover Wat Chaloem
Perched on pointy cliffs high up in the mountains of Lampang, these white pagodas are known to locals as Chaloem Phra Kiat - this is a real off-the-beaten-path discovery where you most likely won't find any farang (foreigners). That's right, you can totally be an Instagram pioneer for this place. Christopher Columbus that on the 'gram before anyone else does.
These pagodas are actually a relatively new addition considering Thailand's vast history. The story goes that a beloved monk from Lampang carried pieces of the pagoda up the mountain all by his lonely where he began erecting them on jagged peaks. What an effort. Arnold Schwarzenegger ain't got nothin' on that.
Opening Hours: 7:30am to 4:30pm daily
Entry Price: 200 Baht ($6 USD) per person, plus 80 Baht ($2.50 USD) for transport up the mountain
TIP: Arrive early to avoid local crowds and to experience morning mist hanging over the mountains - a breathtaking sight to behold.
Love offbeat & spiritual travel? Take a look at these 12 Mystical Places in Asia guaranteed to blow your mind.
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