Spending one week in Chiang Mai is not that long if you plan to explore both the city and surrounding areas. Chiang Mai is the biggest and most popular city in Northern Thailand. It’s home to trendy coffee shops, more Wats than you can see in a lifetime, expats and night markets with goods ranging from silverware to crocodile skewers.
We explored all of Old Town, went shopping, ate our way through dozens of markets, and ventured off on a few day trips.
If you follow me on Instagram, you know I spent three weeks in Thailand this summer. Chiang Mai was by far my favorite.
Yes, the beaches in Koh Tao and Phuket were nice, but the greenery and overall vibes in the north are much better. It’s less touristy in my opinion and offers a more authentic experience. It’s also a melting pot between locals and ex-pats, yet it doesn’t feel extremely westernized like the island of Phuket. So please do yourself a favor and give Chiang Mai a chance.
Psst. . . Looking for more tips for your trip to Thailand? Check out my other posts.
When is the Best Time to Visit Chiang Mai?
The best time is between February and July.
I last visited Chiang Mai in July. It was hot and humid but not as rainy as I was expecting. It only rained when we (my boyfriend and I) were high in the mountains. According to our guide, rain is constant when you’re that high. It’s also not nearly as humid as Bangkok was in July. For that, summer is still a good time to visit. Plus, its technically low season.
If you’re looking to experience the many festivals and enjoy cooler temperatures, you will want to visit between fall and spring. February especially. That is when Chiang Mai hosts its 3-day Flower Festival (aka the Rose of the North). The Flower Festival is one of the best in the country attracting tons of tourists eager to witness the vibrant display of flowers, enjoy the many parades (visualize floats covered in flowers), and stroll through exhibits. It’s a remarkable party not to be missed.
One important thing to remember is visas. You want to verify if you need one and allow time for payment and processing. Even more so if you’re traveling around Southeast Asia.
Is Chiang Mai Safe at Night?
I think anytime you are in a foreign country and don’t speak the language, you are bound to feel uneasy. Even more so for female travelers, which by the way, I can’t believe that’s still a fear in 2019. I will tell you though, I felt safer in Chiang Mai at night than I did in Bangkok or Phuket, Phuket especially. A huge reason for that is because no one was haggling me to buy stuff as much as they were in other cities. I was traveling with my boyfriend and at one point met up with girlfriends who were traveling together. They never mentioned feeling unsafe.
I think the best precautionary is to stay around people, don’t get too intoxicated, and don’t take candy from a stranger.
How Many Days Should I Spend in Chaing Mai?
Don’t be fooled by the quick guides you see all over the internet, there is a ton to see in Chiang Mai. You can explore something new every day while still leaving time to relax over a Thai massage. During my time there I got not one but three services – a manicure and two, foot and neck massages. I will get into that momentarily.
We spent 7 days in Chaing Mai and were never bored. I would make Chiang Mai your home base as we did.
This post is going to break down a day by day itinerary on what to do for 7 days, as well as, my total cost and general tips for visiting the city.
What Should You Pack for Thailand?
Given Thailand’s warm temperature hardly varies year-round, you should plan to pack summer attire and rain essentials. My suitcase was filled with the following clothes:
5 sundresses that are cute and breezy like this one.
3 pairs of shorts
6-pack drawstring rain ponchos
You don’t need to pack as much as I did. I spent three weeks in Thailand, which is why I had more. Cut this in half if you are only visiting for one week.
Tips for visiting Chiang Mai
Wear comfy walking shoes that easily slip on and off. Any Wat you want to enter requires you to remove your shoes. You don’t want to be tying and untying your shoes over and over again as I did.
Bug spray and/or lotion with Deet. This lotion is your best defense against mosquitos.
Hail a red car or Songthaew before a Tuk Tuk. They are cheaper and will more times than not, drive you anywhere you want to go. We hailed one to Doi Suthep and then again to the airport.
Most people speak English, so getting around is easy-peasy.
You will see Lanna this Lanna that everywhere. On businesses, on menus, everywhere. The reason, so I learned, is because Thailand was once separated by many different kingdoms. – Chiang Mai is the Lanna kingdom. Now, they are united as one country with one king as the figurehead (similar to Queen Elizabeth) But the history never died and Lanna is still recognized by Chiang Mai citizens. In fact, many locals will tell you they don’t like Thai food, they like Lanna food.
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Best Places to Stay in Chiang Mai
There is no bad part of the city if you plan to explore it all. We chose to stay in a condo vacation rental close to nightlife in case we wanted to go out and drink we could walk home. Another option is to stay in the heart of Old Town.
Le-Meridian Old Town: My Insta-friend (@jennysetgo) who I met face to face for the first time in Chiang Mai stayed here. According to her, it was very nice – great pool and super convenient location. Checked all her boxes which is why I’m recommending this hotel to you.
My Condo on VRBO: This place was a gem. $33 a night got us a super nice condo in the trendy Nimmanhaimen neighborhood plus a scooter.
The bed was comfy, the shower was huge compared to most places we stayed at prior. US sizes. All the fixtures were modern and new. You will not regret staying here. They picked us up from the airport and checked us in. They left us alone for the rest of our stay, which was nice.
My only con was that they don’t stock the house with anything. We had to purchase laundry soap and napkins. Not even that big of a deal given how cheap things are. Downstairs you have plenty of washers and two dryers. The dryer costs 10 baht per 10 minutes. The best part is you get a pretty view overlooking Doi Suthep mountain.
The entire apartment building has key card access so we felt very safe. From the looks of it, there are a ton of expats living in this building.
One Week in Chiang Mai: Daily Itinerary
This is the exact itinerary we followed. This itinerary can be modified to 5 days. We chose to do one big thing a day while leaving room to relax and watch Stranger Things. However, by the time you’re reading this, I will be way past finished with season 3.
Day 1: Rent a Scooter, Night Bazaar, Ladyboy Show
Day one was our arrival day. Between the six-hour flight from Osaka and settling into our VRBO rental, we had lost half the day. After we got situated and unpacked we were ready to hop on our scooter and head out for dinner, which is the first thing you should do when arriving in Chiang Mai.
Rent a scooter. You will LOVE it!
Easily my favorite part was cruising around the city on our scooter – passing by all the wats and street markets. I felt like I was truly living Thai life.
Grab dinner at Hard Rock Cafe. Sorry not sorry but eating at the Hard Rock Cafe has become a tradition of ours when traveling outside the country.
Hard Rock Chiang Mai is right across from a popular night market which is what we wanted to see anyways. Given we were tired, this was the perfect way to eat some comfort food and explore our first place in town.
After dinner, shop till you drop at the Night Bazaar Market.
This market is filled with goodies from locally made decor to knock off Gucci belts – literally anything you could think of. They also had live music stages, more food (crocodile skewers! No thank you!), bars, and our first sighting of ladyboys.
Also located in the Night Bazaar is a ladyboy cabaret show.
Day 2: Cute Coffee Shops, Explore Old Town
Take part in the hip coffee culture and stop by Art Roastery for coffee and breakfast.
Art Roastery is a gorgeous cafe with greenhouse vibes. There are geese in the front (leave them alone) but so cool right? Inside you are surrounded by big windows and lush greenery. They have a full menu with brunch type of entrees. In the back you have chickens running around with even more seating, greenery, and a lily pond.
After your morning coffee, head into Old Town for an afternoon of exploring. Old Town has enough things to keep you busy with my top five favorites being:
3 Kings Monument
Wat Chedi Luang
Wat Phra Sing
Chiang Mai Historical Center
Day 3: Doi Suthep, Waterfalls, Khao Soi
Hop in the back of a red taxi and head up the mountain to Doi Suthep.
Doi Suthep is the most popular attraction in all of Chaing Mai. We chose to take a Red Taxi up instead of the scooter because we weren’t sure if it would make such a steep incline. Turns out it would have but it was raining at the top so glad we didn’t risk it.
Here you will find Wat Phra That Doi Suthep. A 13th-century Buddist temple and the most sacred in Northern Thailand. You can choose to climb the 300 stairs to the top or spend 50 baht (less than $2) for the cable car
The monastery location was determined by a white elephant that carried the relic through the jungle until it died. Its place of death is where you can find the monastery.
While the highlight for many is the great golden Wat, you will also find accessible waterfalls, shops, dining,
Waterfalls Mae Sa Falls, Huay Kaew Falls, and Monthathan are among the most popular sights of the park. They do charge their own admissions fee. Monthathan cost 300 baht.
Eat Khao Soi. This is a noodle-based dish with coconut milk with pork and chilis and curry – so many flavors. So spicy!! Of all the dishes to try in Northern Thailand, this is the one. We had ours at a tiny restaurant at the top of Doi Suthep mountain.
Day 4: Smoothies, Walking Market, Nimman Road
Start your day off right over a delicious fresh-made smoothie.
Every which way is a fresh smoothie stand selling the most delicious smoothies without sugar. I often started my morning with an apple smoothie for some fiber. I also had a carrot, apple, and pineapple smoothie. Around $2 for a sizable smoothie. So good. So cheap.
Catch the Sunday Walking Market. Spanning miles around Old Town and selling tons of goods and food with live music playing on stages around the market. It’s insanely bigger than the nightly Bazaar Market.
If you won’t be able to catch the Sunday Market, I recommend strolling through the night market in the hip neighborhood of Nimmanhaemin. Nimmanhaemin is a trendy neighborhood filled with the nicest mall in town (Maya), craft beer bars, indie boutique shops, and an American pizzeria.
Day 5: Day Trip to Doi Inthanon
Take a day trip to Doi Inthanon National Park. Unless you are willing to hire a driver for the day, I can’t recommend a tour enough.
This park is massive and having a tour guide to help you make sense of the history and landmarks will make for a better day. We picked our tour on Get Your Guide. I will be honest and say, they didn’t do the best job at explaining the park, like, I’ve had better tour guides. Yet, they did take us to more places I would never have gone otherwise.
We were picked up in the AM and drove around 2 hours to the park. First stop was the tallest point in Thailand and part of the Himalayan mountain. You can technically walk to China from this point. So cool.
The second spot was the Twin Stupas. The picturesque stupas and garden built for the King and Queen. I know this sounds silly, but they were only built in the ’90s. I thought that to be a little underwhelming. Maybe it’s because I’ve traveled to Europe so many times and everything is hundreds of years old. To get a better sense of my experience here you should DEFINITELY WATCH this video.
After spending around 40-minutes at the Stupas, we drove to a nearby village – stopping off for lunch at KinXim Himna. This was a true village if I’ve ever seen one. We sat for an authentic Lanna family meal. Our tour guide spoke about the differences in Thailand. He said he does not like Thai food. He likes Lanna food. Lanna is the name of the former kingdom as I mentioned in the beginning.
Following the meal, we did a little shopping in the local village. We bought a bottle of local honey to bring home. Very good.
The final stop of our tour was at these pretty waterfalls. My first waterfall sighting ever. No, I won’t go basic and throw in a waterfall quote. The picture above tho. Love it!
Day 6: Ziplining, Spa Day, Enjoy Desserts
Relax at a traditional Thai Spa.
For 400 baht ($13) including tip I enjoyed one hour of pure relaxation. Not going to lie, the Thai massage scares me. I’ve always had Swedish massages where they hardly move you. A Thai massage, however, is very different. At one point, I thought my arms were going to be ripped off. Surprisingly, I survived. That’s why I stuck with neck, foot, and shoulder massage.
Go to Cheevit Cheeva for some Bingsu.
From my understanding, Bingsu is technically a Korean dessert. We had never had it before and decided to give it a go. I thought it was good. I felt it could have had more sauce. It was a little bland but I would for sure give it another try with more toppings.
Day 7: Departure Day
Departure day. We had an afternoon flight to Bangkok. By the time we woke up packed it was time to head to the airport.
Total Travel Cost for One Week in Chiang Mai
Below was our total cost for one week in Chiang Mai for two people.
Food / Attractions
Day trip to Doi Inthanon $130
TOTAL: $627 (45/per person/day)
*scooter included with the room but from what I saw around town, it was around 30baht per day
When it comes to budget, yes Thailand is cheaper compared to the USD. However, it’s all relative to where you are. You have to put yourself in the mindset of a local and ask yourself what is considered expensive according to Thai Baht standards.
For example, $30 for an hour massage is cheap according to US standards but crazy expensive for Thai standards.
My top 10 favorite things to do in Chiang Mai:
While I do hope this helped you, I encourage you to tweak it once you arrive. Sometimes a little spontaneity is needed. However, regardless of how far you stray, I highly recommend you not miss these top 1o things.
Explore Old Town
Shop at the night bazaar
Shop yet again at the Sunday Walking Market
Visit Doi Suthep
Doi Inthidad National Park
Enjoy a refreshing smoothie
Grab some local coffee at a hip coffee shop
Visit a Thai Spa
Drive a scooter
Try Khao Soi
Other Places to See in Northern Thailand
One of our regrets is that we didn’t go to Pai. We heard great things about this hippie town from gorgeous landscapes to chill vibes. I suggest you look into Pai.
Does Chiang Mai sound incredible or what? This post merely serves as an introduction. You absolutely need to experience Chaing Mai and surrounding areas like Pai and Chiang Rai for yourself. Hopefully, the cost breakdown gave you an idea of how much you should budget for. Feel free to ask me any questions in the comments below.
Psst. . . Looking for more budget-friendly destinations? Check out these guides:
Still, have questions? Share your questions in the comments below!
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