What to do in Chiang Mai in three days
Chiang Mai is great for long holidays, but if you only have three days, you can see a lot and enjoy it. The city centre and surroundings have enough to offer in terms of temples, restaurants, markets, spas, coffee shops and hotels to allow you to explore without renting a car or a motorbike. The old city fits mostly within the famous square brick walls surrounded by moats filled with water, but there is also a lot to explore between the east wall (Tha Pae Gate) and the river.
Tha Pae Sunday Walking Street
The Ta Phae Sunday Walking Street Market is similar to the Sunday walking street market in Phuket, only a lot bigger: about 1 kilometre long and spreading to adjacent streets. You will find various clothing, accessories, home decoration, toys, and handicrafts on each side. Just as you can expect in Thailand, food is available everywhere, with local snacks to take away or dishes to eat at one of the tables. Street performances usually allow poor people to make a bit of money.
Street foot massage is available everywhere for a small price (150 baht). It looks a bit strange initially if you are unfamiliar with it, but it is a great way to relax after walking up and down the street after shopping. The most surprising moment during the walking street market happens at 6 pm sharp. After a short announcement in Thai, the national anthem is played through the loudspeakers, and absolutely everyone freezes. If you haven’t witnessed this before, it’s quite a surprise, and of course, you should stop and wait too. It only lasts for one minute.
Address: Rachadamnoen Rd, Tambon Si Phum, Chiang Mai 50200
Open: Sunday 5 pm – 10.30 pm
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The Temples of Chiang Mai
Just in the city centre, there are 24 temples (or ‘wats’) to explore in Chiang Mai, and it would take a lot more than a weekend to see them all. We visited the most significant ones on this trip, and the weather was really on our side. Because of the current situation, all were peaceful and inspiring, the way they should be when no loud tourists are shouting around. On this page, we won’t go through the history of each temple but rather give an impression of how the temples look and feel through our many photos.
Doi Suthep is the most iconic landmark of Chiang Mai, but it takes about an hour by car to reach from the downtown city centre. The road that leads to the 1,676 metres high hill is very curvy but excellent and features a few panoramic viewpoints and waterfalls to enjoy along the way. Once you reach the top, you will find ample parking and a lot of shops and restaurants at the bottom of the stairs that lead to the temple itself.
Lined by 2 immense ‘nagas’ (mythical serpents), the staircase consists of 200 steps that are relatively easy to climb. At the top, you will have to buy a 30 baht ticket to enter the temple ground and admire the famous golden chedi. The view of the city from the top is superb, and you can even watch the planes landing and taking off from above!
Year built: 1383
Distance from Chiang Mai city centre: 15 km
Transfer cost: 350 baht
Elevation: 1,676 m
Staircase: 200 steps
Open: 6 am – 5 pm
Entrance: 30 baht
Wat Chedi Luang
Wat Chedi Luang is the largest and most spacious, with an immense and majestic central stupa. The square brick shape of the main chedi with elephants surrounding it is very iconic. At the entrance is a superbly crafted temple sheltering an immense golden Buddha. A row of high columns and the praying room leading to an immense gold Buddha create a beautiful perspective worth admiring. When visiting wats, remove your shoes before entering, dress politely and keep your voice down. It seems obvious, but you would be surprised how disrespectful some people can be.
In the back, the Chedi is another small but beautifully crafted wood temple in the shade of a gigantic tree. Because of its beautiful proportions, you might not notice how huge the tree is, but once you look at it from a distance, it’s quite jaw-dropping (see photos).
Address: 103 Prapokkloa Rd, Tambon Si Phum, Chiang Mai 50200
Open: 6 am – 6 pm
Phone: 538 14308
Height: 60 meters
Entrance: 40 baht
Wat Phan On
Wat Phan On is on the side of the Walking Street Market, with a golden Chedi and a beautifully decorated main Temple. On Sundays, the temple is occupied by food vendors and tables for customers to enjoy.
Address: 75 Rachadamnoen Rd, Tambon Si Phum, Chiang Mai 50200
Phone: 086 918 5462
Wat Phra Singh
This ancient temple is a significant one. It looks modest and darker than most other wats from the outside but is superb inside. Walk to the back to admire another temple and a shiny golden stupa. In recent years, it seems that the amount of gold leaf covering the religious buildings of Chiang Mai has seriously increased. The chedi of Wat Phra Singh, which used to be plain white, now has an impressive surface covered in gold.
Wat Lok Moli
Address: 298/1 Manee Nopparat Rd, Chiang Mai 50200
Built: the 14th century
Wat Suan Dok
Wat Suan Dok, which means the temple of the flower garden, was built in 1373 and is unique because of the many white mausoleums containing the remains of the previous rulers of Chiang Mai. It is truly a beautiful landmark, just a kilometre north of the city, and is very popular with local artists who sit in its garden to practice watercolour painting.
Address: 139 Suthep Rd, Suthep, Chiang Mai 50200
Open: 6 am – 9 pm
Phone: 053 278 304
Food and Dining
As you can expect, Chiang Mai has an enormous amount of restaurants to choose from, and we tried a few famous places, plus a new good-looking one called Kitipanit. Use the Michelin online recommendations if you want to eat well but don’t know where to start. Their list is quite accurate, and contrary to what people sometimes believe, many of them are local cheap restaurants (usually Bib Gourmand).
Kiti Panit Restaurant
Kiti Panit is a superbly renovated old Chiang Mai shop converted into an excellent restaurant. The building was abandoned for a very long time and in relatively poor condition when one of the young family members decided to return it to its formal glory and turn it into an elegant but casual restaurant. The team is proud to cook authentic northern cuisine with the best possible ingredients, and the result is truly delicious. The restaurant is on two floors with a vast open space and a garden in the back. It was renovated with flair, making use of the many original pieces of furniture and respecting the original atmosphere, making Kiti Panit an excellent selfie playground!
Address: Chang Moi Sub-district, Mueang Chiang Mai District, Chiang Mai 50300
Open: 11:30 am – 10 pm (Sunday Closed)
Phone: 088 949 7996
Cuisine: Modern North Thai Cuisine
The Good View
The Good View is a long-established restaurant on the riverside bank, and many locals here come for dinner. The view is not fantastic, but the atmosphere with live music is fun and very casual, plus the local dishes are good and not expensive
Address: 13 Road Charoen Rat Wat Ket, Chiang Mai 50000
Open: 10 am – 1 am
Phone: 053 241 866
Cuisine: Northern Food
The House by Ginger Restaurant
Address: 199 Mun Mueang Rd, Tambon Si Phum, Chiang Mai 50200
Open: 11 am -10 pm (Sunday Closed)
Phone: 053 287 681
Cuisine: Northern Thai
Huan Phen Khao Soi
Address: 112 พระสิงห์ เมือง Chiang Mai 50200
Open: 8.30 am – 4 pm, 5 pm – 10 pm
Phone: 053 814 548
Speciality: Khai Soi
The Chiang Mai Old Town Hotel
Address: 184 Ratchamanka Rd, Tambon Phra Sing, Mueang Chiang Mai District, Chiang Mai 50200
Open: 24 hours
Phone: 053 278 780
Address: 123, 1 Charoen Prathet Rd, Tambon Chang Khlan, Chiang Mai 50100
Open: 24 hours
Phone: 053 253 333
Other significant landmarks
Tha Pae Gate
Ta Phae Gate is the best-known part of the brick wall that surrounds the old city. It is often used as a meeting point for visitors to wait for each other and special events. It also is where the Sunday Walking Street Market starts.
Getting Around Chiang Mai
Tuk-tuks are fun, and Grab taxi is so casual and convenient; it’s a breeze to go anywhere, anytime. Now, if you want to see a lot and take tons of photos as we did in only 2 or 3 days, a motorbike is the fastest and most flexible way to go around. With one of those small bikes, you can stop anywhere quickly, take the small streets to navigate fast and, as long as you have experience with driving in Thailand, it feels free and fun to ride with the wind on your face as you go. If you plan to drive to the famous and beautiful Doi Suthep, you can easily drive up with your scooter or use the dark red-covered pickup truck called Song Theow. They are cheap but can take a bit of time to reach.
Map of Chiang Mai