Chiang Mai, the capital of northern Thailand, is one of the must-see destinations on any trip to the land of smiles. Northern Thailand has many beautiful places to visit and activities to enjoy. You can travel through the north by sleeping in various destinations, or staying in Chiang Mai as a base camp from which to take excursions. This last option is cheaper, and ideal for those who travel for between 10 and 15 days and are want to discover both the capital, the north and the southern beaches. So today we’ll share with you our pick of the 10 best day trips from Chiang Mai.
Chiang Mai offers a wide range of activities to do. There are many interesting temples and a historic center, surrounded by the old moat, which is a pleasure to stroll around. There are also several markets, such as Warorot, the main central market, or the Night Bazar, the tourist night market, which is open every evening. On weekends you will find two even more interesting night markets: the Saturday Night Market and, best of all, the Sunday Night Market. However, it is highly recommended to save some time (ideally a few days) to explore the surrounding area and enjoy some of the best day trips from Chiang Mai.
Getting to Chiang Mai is very easy, as there are more than 50 daily flights (Air Asia, Nok Air, Lion Air, Thai Smile, Bangkok Airways, etc.). For those who want to arrive in a more romantic and adventurous way, you have the option of traveling on the night train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai. Many daily buses bound for Chiang Mai depart from Bangkok’s North Station, Mo Chit Bus Station, although the bus ride takes 10-12h.
The 10 Best Day Trips from Chiang Mai
Day trips in Chiang Mai can be booked online in advance, or at any tour agency once you get in the city. Yo can do many of these best day trips from Chiang Mai on your own (basically those that are not adventure sports like quads or rafting), but you will need to rent a vehicle.
Mount Doi Suthep
Distance: 25 kms by car / 10 kms on foot (unevenness of 730 meters)
Ideal for: First trip to Thailand
Despite the fact that it is very popular, so depending on the time you visit it can be really crowded, the truth is that Mount Doi Suthep is still a must. The mountain is located right west of Chiang Mai, and you will need a vehicle to reach it, unless you want to go on a long hike. At the top you will find Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep, the most sacred temple and one of the most beautiful in the area.
If you visit in the evening, in addition to hearing the monks chanting, you will enjoy the most pleasant views of Chiang Mai and its valley. Doi Suthep isn’t just one of the best day trips from Chiang Mai: it is just unmissable. This excursion can easily be combined with the Doi Pui area.
► Day tour to the temples of Chiang Mai, including Doi Suthep, with InThailand Travel.
Doi Inthanon National Park
Distance: 110 kms
Ideal for: Getting in touch with nature
Located a 1.5 hour drive from Chiang Mai, Doi Inthanon National Park is famous for containing the highest mountain peak in Thailand, at 2565 meters above sea level. And it’s not necessary to climb, not even a bit: it is perfectly accessible by car. At the top, there are two large pagodas dedicated to the kings of Thailand.
On the way to the top, it is common to stop at one of the many large and accessible waterfalls, such as the massive Wachirathan. There are several tribal villages within the Park, and you’ll probably visit a small local market. One of the best experiences is to take a short hike of 1h-2h through the forest, walking alongside rivers, rice fields and even a local village. The Doi Inthanon tours offered by Chiang Mai tour agencies generally don’t include any of these hikes. Admission to the Park is THB 300.
Elephant’s Nature Park
Distance: 75 kms
Best for: Learning about Thai elephants
Seeing elephants up close is one of the great attractions of Chiang Mai, although it is very important to choose well where to do it. It entails a great responsibility, since going to the wrong place would equal to support the mistreatment of these fascinating animals. Approaching elephants is not a right, but a great privilege. So before going to an elephant camp or sanctuary, do a little research and find out if that place is socially responsible. Obvious tip: if it offers shows and allows visitors to ride on elephants sitting on chairs, you can be sure it’s not.
One of the most famous and recommended is Elephant’s Nature Park. The elephants who live there were rescued from the streets, from field labour, or other camps where they had to ride tourists on their backs. Here they don’t, they just wander around and do as they please. Besides observing them from very close, visitors can feed them and help bathe them in the river. Don’t visit if you still have any moral objection, but for many travelers this is one of the best day trips from Chiang Mai.
► Book from their website. A one-day visit costs 2,500 THB (€ 65).
Chiang Dao Caves
Distance: 75 kms
Ideal for: Those who spend many days in the north
Chiang Dao Caves are located 75 km north of Chiang Mai. In Chiang Dao there are dozens of caves with a length of more than 10 km, but in fact the few that can be explored do not exceed 500 meters. So the caves visit does not usually last more than half an hour. Inside the cave there are some Buddha figures and prayer chapels, and next to the most famous cave you will find a temple, Wat Tham Chiang Dao. It is a recommended visit only if you have already done a lot of exploration in the north, or are very fond of caves. If you are looking for a low-key non-tourist destination, this is one of the best day trips from Chiang Mai for you. Admission to the caves is 40 THB. They rent flashlights at 150 THB.
Sankampaeng artisan village
Distance: 25 kms
Ideal for: Shopping lovers
Sankampaeng (or Bo Sang) is a village with many Thai handicraft shops and factories. It is located half an hour from the city, and is very frequented by tourists. There you can see the traditional process for making paper umbrellas, silk clothing, jewelry, high-quality ceramics, wooden decoration and other handicrafts. The town also has the largest jewelry store in the province: the Gems Gallery, a chain that you will also find in Bangkok and Phuket. If you enjoy shopping products from local artisans, this may be one of the best day trips from Chiang Mai for you.
As I mentioned, it is mostly a place for foreign tourists, although Thais from other provinces also flock to go mainly in search of paper umbrellas.
Trekking, rafting and quads
Distance: Depending on where you go
Ideal for: Those looking for adventure
And here’s a few options of the best day trips from Chiang Mai for those looking for an adrelaline rush! Traditionally, tour agencies in Chiang Mai used to offer ‘bamboo rafting’ as an adventure activity. It consists of going down a river for about half an hour, sitting on top of a simple raft made up of a few bamboo poles tied with a rope. It is perfectly fine if you like this type of activity, but the name can be misleading. It is not rafting, and it is definitely laid-back, so you might be disappointed if you go expecting an adventure.
A real rafting is what you can see in the picture above, and it can also be done in Chiang Mai. Mae Tang River has several rapids in which you can enjoy authentic rafting for about 10 kms, with options for different levels of difficulty, which vary according to the season and river conditions. One of the most recommended operators, with whom we collaborate at InThailand Travel, is 8 Adventures. In addition to rafting they offer trekking and Quads.
Distance: 60 kms
Ideal for: Those looking for adventure under control
Another of the star activities in Chiang Mai are zip lines. The activity takes place in parks with tall trees, which are connected to each other by zip lines of different lengths. It is not a cheap activity, although there are options with different prices. But you shouldn’t choose based only on price, and prioritize those that offer security guarantees, since it is a high-risk activity if it is not carried out in a professional manner.
The most famous zip lines park is Flight of the Gibbon, an hour from Chiang Mai. It costs about 4,200 THB per person. Another one, not so famous but also with a good reputation and somewhat cheaper, is Jungle Fly. Starts at 2,100 THB per person. Before deciding which option to book, it is advisable to inquire about the number and length of zip lines included.
Distance: 200 kms
Ideal for: Those who do not mind driving many kms in a day
Chiang Rai is a city 3 hours north of Chiang Mai (200 kms). It is smaller and has some very famous temples, such as the well-known White Temple or Wat Rong Khun. Going in one day to Chiang Rai from Chiang Mai and back is hard, as it will take at least 3h each way, plus the time you spend exploring the city and its surroundings. Therefore, it is essential to depart early and return very late.
There is not much to see along the way, but you can split the road trip by stopping at the roadside hot springs to stretch and soak your legs. Once in Chiang Rai, in addition to the White Temple and the Black House, you can also visit the new Blue Temple. But while this is arguably one of the best day trips from Chiang Mai, if you have enough time, it is much better to take a few days to explore Chiang Rai province without rushing. It is really worth it.
► More info about Chiang Rai.
Distance: 50 kms
Ideal for: Those looking for forests and tranquility near Chiang Mai
Mae Kampong is a small village of about 120 houses and just over 370 inhabitants, about 50 km from Chiang Mai. It is possibly one of the most beautiful and pleasant villages in Thailand. An ideal place to spend a few hours walking (although there are slopes, so you have to be in reasonably good shape), drinking locally grown coffee, and eating its fabulous local sausages, typical of northern Thailand. Furthermore, there is also a small waterfall you can visit on the outskirts of Mae Kampong. If you have time, you can combine Mae Kampong with a visit to Muang On cave and Sankhampaeng hot springs. In that case, it will take the whole day. In short, if you are looking for a really beautiful and quiet village this is one of the best day trips from Chiang Mai for you.
► More info about Mae Kampong.
Mount Mon Jam (or Mon Cham)
Distance: 40 kms
Ideal for: Tranquility and nature in an ethnic area
Mon Jam is the top of a hill not far from Chiang Mai, where locals flock to enjoy the beautiful mountain views and the many flower and fruit plantations. It is also possible to overnight at one of the various mountain resorts. In some you can sleep in tents with stunning views over the valley below, realy cool!
The temperatures here are always lower than in Chiang Mai, and that is another of the main reasons why Thais like it so much. At the hilltop, there are some small restaurants and cafes made of bamboo. Arriving at Mon Jam you will find the beautiful Onsen@Monjam Resort, with Japanese-style hot springs. To go to Mon Jam you must use your own means of transport, either rent a car or motorcycle, or use a taxi or songthaew (red trucks).
Do you know of any other interesting excursions that should be included in this list of best day trips from Chiang Mai? Tell us and we will add it 😉