Chiang Mai is one of the most culturally rich and digital nomad friendly cities I’ve ever visited. Set in the North of Thailand, Chiang Mai is a much less crowded and polluted alternative to Bangkok. It’s also got some incredible hikes and temples to offer. In fact, you will see n amazing temple on almost every street corner in the Old Town! Whether you would rather spend your time hiking, seeking out wildlife, cooking or Yoga – this city truly has something for everyone. Today I’m here to help you to plan the perfect Chiang Mai Itinerary.
First off, let’s look at how to get there and how long to spend in Chiang Mai.
How to get to Chiang Mai
Most people fly directly into Chiang Mai or fly from Bangkok – the flights are just over an hour and very cheap by Western standards. I’d recommend Air Asia and Vietjet Air. Both. I’ve used both of these airlines – they ran on time and were extremely comfortable.
Your tuk-tuk from the airport shouldn’t be more than around $3. I recommend downloading and using the GRAB app to make booking easier and less stressful.
It is possible to get the bus from Bangkok to Chiang Mai. The Green VIP bus is cheap and comfortable and the roads in Thailand are surprisingly good compared to the rest of Southeast Asia. However, it’s quite a distance and you would be travelling for at least 12-13 hours. The staff on the buses look after you well – quite often providing with water, snacks and meal/loo stops. So if you are not on a tight schedule, you can take the Green bus.
If you are travelling from the North (such as en route from Laos) you can also take the Green bus directly from Chaing Rai to Chiang Mai. It’s very comfortable and just 3 hours roughly for this journey.
How long should I spend in Chiang Mai?
If you are on a tight schedule, it is worth visiting Chiang Mai for just 3 days to get a feel of the city and see some of the main sites. However, this would be quite rushed. I’m biased and love the city so much that I’d recommend staying at least 5-7 days. This will allow time for some day trips such as the Elephant Sanctuary or Doi Inthanon National Park. If you are a digital nomad, you will want to spend longer in Chiang Mai. The facilities, fast internet and thriving expat/nomad scene make the city a no brainer for a stay of a month or more.
Planning the Perfect Chiang Mai Itinerary
3 day Chiang Mai Itinerary
Day 1 – Getting to know the city – old town walls and Old Town Temples
Head to the inside of the old city walls (a moat surrounds the city so this makes it easy to navigate)
- Wat Chiang Man – Elephant Temple or Crystal Buddha temple
- Wat Phra Singh – Houses a 15th-Century Buddha image cast from copper and gold. On Songkran (Buddhist New Year) Buddha is paraded from this temple and through the streets of Chiang Mai.
- Wat Chedu Luang – Ancient ruins of the Lanna Kingdom
- Wat Phan Tao – A beautiful teak temple that reflects into the water
- Wat U Mong Mahathera Chan – Peaceful forested temple in the city
- Wat Inthakin – Black Temple
In the evening, stroll round the night market and get yourself a Pad Thai for not much more than $1!
Day 2 – Wat Doi Suthep
Wat Doi Suthep is an unmissable and fantastic day trip that will take you to this beautiful golden temple on a hilltop. You can hike it, but we preferred to save time and go right to the top in a Songthew – these are little mini buses with two rows of seats facing each other. If you prefer, you can book a Wat Doi Suthep day trip throguh Get Your Guide or Viator, but it is much cheaper to do it yourself.
There’s a fair amount of steps to do once you get there, even the Songthews cannot get you all the way to the temple. The last little but you will have to walk up yourself, but it’s all part of the experience.
You will need a full 2-3 hours to explore the Wat Doi Suthep complex including the main vihara and stupa (golden bell shaped chedi), smaller shrines and temples and the statues and shrines of the grounds. Remember to dress conservatively with your legs and arms covered (no shoulders on display).
If you have some time left over in the evening and are not too templed out, I recommend that you try a Thai cooking class.
Day 3 – Elephant Nature Park
One of the things that most people come to Chiang Mai for is to see the elephants. But remember, choose your elephant park wisely – avoid any that offer rides to tourists and check with locals that the elephants are treated well. One of the best is the Elephant Nature park and you can book here with Get Your Guide.
5 Day Chiang Mai Itinerary
If you have 5 days to spend in Chiang Mai then you can follow the above itinerary and you can choose to add on two of these fantastic day trips….
- Doi Inthanon National Park
- Huay Kaew waterfalls
You might also enjoy spending more time wandering through the old town and enjoying some of the amazing (and cheap) cuisine on offer.
If you still haven’t had your temple fix, you can start to explore some of the amazing temples outside of the city walls including…
- Wat Chiang Yuen
- Wat Ku Tao,
- Wat Suan Dok
- Wats Chetawan
- Mahawan, and
- Wat Sri Suphan
7 Day Chiang Mai Itinerary
With a week in Chiang Mai at your disposal, you can truly explore and relax. Congrats – you have time for an amazing Thai massage, yoga session or Chiang Mai food tour. You may also like to add into your itinerary som of the other temples around Chiang Mai including Wat U Mong, Wat Pha Lat and Wat Phra That Doi Kham.
For those of you with longer to spend in this beautiful city, you have time to do all of the above at a more leisurely pace, as well as get to know the locals and meet friends in the expat and digital nomad community. If you love Chiang Mai as much as I do, 3 days in Chiang Mai will simply not be enough!
You might also like to read about Best Destinations for hiking in Asia