Chiang Mai is an essential stopover on any visit to Thailand and attracts with its wonderfully diverse historic, cultural, themed and natural attractions. The Old City’s temples as well as daytrips to the likes of hilltribe villages, elephant camps, national parks, waterfalls, ziplines and the exciting activity centres in the Mae Sa Valley provide varied sightseeing options and ensure there is never a dull day in Chiang Mai.
The Old City quarter is a good place to start sightseeing. It is right on the doorstep for many tourists and is loaded up with majestic temples and a few unique monuments. Unmissable sights include Chedi Luang Temple and its historic stupa, Phra Singh Temple, the Three Kings’ Statue and the evolving Museum District around it.
Beyond the 700-year-old city walls, there are lots more temples and religious monuments. A sightseeing excursion to the hilltop Doi Suthep Temple is one of the single most popular activities for both Thai and international visitors. A Doi Suthep trip can be combined with visits to Bhuping Palace, Monthathan and Huay Kaew waterfalls, and a Hmong hilltribe village.
Built during the late 13th century, Wiang Kum Kham pre-dates Chiang Mai and boasts a fascinating collection of extant ruins. Among other recommended temples to visit in the greater Chiang Mai area are Wat Suan Dok and Wat Jet Yod. Both were founded 500 years ago and feature historic structures and relics.
There are more than 10 museums in and around Chiang Mai. These include the Lanna Folklife Museum, the Arts and Cultural Centre, the Tribal Museum and the Museum of World Insects and Natural Wonders. Chiang Mai has two premium zoos. Chiang Mai Zoo is at the foot of Doi Suthep and home to 400-plus species including pandas plus the likes of an aquarium tunnel and a seal enclosure.
Chiang Mai Night Safari is south of the city and boasts another mixed cross-section of animals covering everything from miniature horses and tapirs from Brazil to crocodiles and white rhinos. Royal Park Rajapruek is on the same road as the Night Safari and is a huge expanse of flower gardens from around the world. The park’s Ho Kham Luang Royal Pavilion is the flagship of the traditional architecture here.
The southern end of the so-called Samoeng Loop is just beyond the Night Safari. People doing the 60km loop as a sightseeing excursion get to see Krisdadoi Resort’s floral gardens and experience nature at its finest before heading down into the multiple attractions of the Mae Sa Valley. Tiger Kingdom, Mae Sa Elephant Camp, a snake farm, Queen Sirikit Botanic Garden and Baan Tong Luang hilltribe village are five of around twenty attractions in the valley.
Elephant camps in Mae Wang and Chiang Dao, Doi Inthanon Mountain and National Park, San Kamphaeng Hot Springs, and the handicraft factories at San Kamphaeng and Baan Tawai are other top draws easily managed on one-day tours from Chiang Mai. These can be easily reached with hired cars or motorcycles or as part of private or group tours.
Another option for sightseeing tours is to sign up for a trekking expedition. Although standard treks are usually one-day or two-days-one-night, tour agencies in Chiang Mai will arrange shorter half-day itineraries. Chiang Mai treks typically include jungle walks, national parks and waterfalls, elephant-riding and rafting, and a stop at a traditional market en route. Again, treks can be custom-built to individual requirements.