30 Best Sights in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Doi Inthanon National Park

Fodor's choice

Doi Inthanon, Thailand's highest mountain (8,464 feet), rises majestically over a national park of staggering beauty. Many have compared the landscape—thick forests of pines, oaks, and laurels—with that of Canada. Only the tropical vegetation on its lower slopes, and the 30 villages that are home to 3,000 Karen and Hmong people, remind you that this is indeed Asia. The reserve is of great interest to nature lovers, especially birders who come to see the 362 species that nest here. Red-and-white rhododendrons run riot, as do plants found nowhere else in Thailand.

Hiking trails penetrate deep into the park, which has some of Thailand's highest and most beautiful waterfalls. The Mae Klang Falls, just past the turnoff to the park, are easily accessible on foot or by vehicle, but the most spectacular are more remote and involve a trek of 4 to 5 km (2½ to 3 miles). The Mae Ya Falls are the country's highest falls, but even more spectacular are the Siribhum Falls, which plunge in two parallel cataracts from a 1,650-foot-high cliff above the Inthanon Royal Research Station. The station's vast nurseries are a gardener's dream, filled with countless varieties of tropical and temperate plants. Rainbow trout—unknown in the warm waters of Southeast Asia—are raised here in tanks fed by cold streams plunging from the mountain's heights, then served at the station's restaurant. The national park office provides maps and guides for trekkers and bird-watchers. Accommodations are available: B1,000 for a two-person chalet, B6,500 for a villa for up to eight people. The park admission fee is collected at a tollbooth at the start of the road to the summit.

Wat Chamthewi

Fodor's choice

About 2 km (1 mile) west of Lamphun's center is Wat Chamthewi, often called the "topless chedi" because the gold that once covered the spire was pillaged sometime during its history. Work began on the monastery in AD 755, and despite a modern viharn added to the side of the complex, it retains an ancient, weathered look. Suwan Chang Kot, to the right of the entrance, is the most famous of the two chedis, built by King Mahantayot to hold the remains of his mother, the legendary Queen Chamthewi. The five-tier sandstone chedi is square; on each tier are Buddha images that get progressively smaller. All are in the 9th-century Dvaravati style, though many have obviously been restored. The other chedi was probably built in the 10th century, though most of what you see today is the doings of King Phaya Sapphasit, who reigned during the 12th century. You'll probably want to take a samlor down the narrow residential street to the complex. This is not an area where samlors generally cruise, so ask the driver to wait for you.

Wat Chedi Luang

Old City Fodor's choice

In 1411 King Saen Muang Ma ordered his workers to build a chedi "as high as a dove could fly." He died before the structure was finished, as did the next king. During the reign of the following king, an earthquake knocked down about a third of the 282-foot spire, and it's now a superb ruin. The parklike grounds contain assembly halls, chapels, a 30-foot-long reclining Buddha, and the ancient city pillar. The main assembly hall, a vast, pillared building guarded by two nagas, mythical snakes believed to control the irrigation waters in rice fields, was restored in 2008.

Buy Tickets Now

Recommended Fodor's Video

Wat Phra Singh

Old City Fodor's choice

Chiang Mai's principal monastery was extensively renovated in 2020. In the western section of the Old City, the beautifully decorated wat contains the Phra Singh Buddha, with a serene and benevolent expression that is enhanced by the light filtering in through the tall windows. Also of note are the temple's facades of splendidly carved wood, the elegant teak beams and posts, and the masonry. Don't be surprised if a student monk approaches you to practice his English.

Buy Tickets Now

Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

Fodor's choice

As in so many chapters of Thai history, an elephant is closely involved in the legend surrounding the foundation of the late-14th-century Wat Phra That, northern Thailand's most revered temple and one of only a few enjoying royal patronage. The elephant was dispatched from Chiang Mai carrying religious relics from Wat Suan Dok. Instead of ambling off into the open countryside, it stubbornly climbed up Doi Suthep. When the elephant came to rest at the 3,542-foot summit, the decision was made to establish a temple to contain the relics at that site. Over the centuries the temple compound grew into the glittering assembly of chedis, bots, viharns, and frescoed cloisters you see today. The vast terrace, usually smothered with flowers, commands a breathtaking view of Chiang Mai. Constructing the temple was quite a feat—until 1935 there was no paved road to the temple. Workers and pilgrims alike had to slog through thick jungle. The road was the result of a large-scale community project: individual villages throughout the Chiang Mai region contributed the labor, each laying 1,300-foot sections.

Getting here and around: In Chiang Mai, you can find songthaews at Chang Phuak Gate, the Central Department Store (Huay Kaew Road), and outside Wat Phra Singh to take you on the 30-minute drive to this temple. When you arrive, you are faced with an arduous but exhilarating climb up a broad, 304-step staircase. Flanking it are 16th-century tiled balustrades that take the customary form of nagas, the mythical snakes believed to control irrigation waters. A funicular railway provides a much easier way to the top, but the true pilgrim's path is up the majestic steps.

Buy Tickets Now
Huay Kaew Rd., Chiang Mai, Chiang Mai, 50300, Thailand
sights Details
Rate Includes: B30; B50 with tram ticket, Wheelchair accessible (by elevator)

Wat Phra That Hariphunchai

Fodor's choice

The temple complex of the 11th-century Wat Phra That Hariphunchai is dazzling. Through gates guarded by ornamental lions lies a three-tier, sloping-roof viharn, a replica of the original that burned down in 1915. Inside, note the large Chiang Saen–style bronze image of the Buddha and the carved thammas (Buddhism's universal principals) to the left of the altar. As you leave the viharn, you pass what is reputedly the largest bronze gong in the world, cast in 1860. The 165-foot Suwana chedi, covered in copper and topped by a golden spire, dates from 847. A century later King Athitayarat, the 32nd ruler of Hariphunchai, added a nine-tier umbrella, gilded with 14 pounds of gold. At the back of the compound—where you can find a shortcut to the center of town—there's another viharn with a standing Buddha, a sala housing four Buddha footprints, and the old museum.

Wat Phra That Lampang Luang

Fodor's choice

One of the most venerated temples in the north, Wat Phra That Lampang Luang is also one of the most striking. Surrounded by stout laterite defense walls, the temple, near the village of Ko Khang, has the appearance of a fortress, exactly what it was when the legendary Queen Chamthewi founded her capital here in the 8th century. The Burmese captured it two-and-a-half centuries ago but were ejected by the forces of a Lampang prince—a bullet hole marks the spot where he killed the Burmese commander. The sandy temple compound has much to hold your interest, including a tiny chapel with a hole in the door that creates an amazing, inverted photographic image of the wat's central, gold-covered chedi. The temple's ancient viharn has a beautifully carved wooden facade; note the intricate decorations around the porticoes. A museum has excellent wood carvings, but its treasure is a small emerald Buddha, which some claim was carved from the same stone as its counterpart in Bangkok.

Bhubing Palace

The summer residence of the royal family is a serene mansion that shares an exquisitely landscaped park with the more modest mountain retreats of the crown prince and princess. The palace itself cannot be visited, but the gardens are open to the public. Flower enthusiasts swoon at the sight of the roses—among the blooms is a variety created by the king himself. A rough, unpaved road to the left of the palace brings you after 4 km (2½ miles) to a village called Doi Pui Meo, where many of the Hmong women are busy creating finely worked textiles (the songthaew fare there and back is B300). On the mountainside above the village are two tiny museums documenting hill tribe life and the opium trade.

No shorts or short skirts, no bare shoulders.

Chiang Mai City Arts & Cultural Center

Old City

The handsome city museum is housed in a colonnaded palace that was the official administrative headquarters of the last local ruler, Chao (Prince) Inthawichayanon. Around its quiet central courtyard are 15 rooms with exhibits documenting the history of Chiang Mai. In another small, shaded courtyard is a delightful café. The palace was built in 1924 in the exact center of the city, the site of the ancient city pillar that now stands in the compound of nearby Wat Chedi Luang. In front of the museum sit statues of the three kings who founded Chiang Mai.

Chiang Mai, Chiang Mai, 50200, Thailand
sights Details
Rate Includes: B90; B180 includes admission to Lanna Folklife Museum and Chiang Mai Historical Centre, Closed Mon. and Tues.

Chiang Mai Tribal Museum (Highland People Discovery Museum)

The varied collection at this museum, more than 1,000 pieces of traditional crafts from the hill tribes living in the region, is one of the finest in the country and includes farming implements, hunting traps, weapons, colorful embroidery, and musical instruments. The museum was extensively renovated in 2021. It's off the road to Mae Rim, about 1 km (½ mile) from the National Museum.

Chiang Mai, Chiang Mai, 50300, Thailand
sights Details
Rate Includes: Free, Closed weekends

Chiang Mai Zoo

There aren't a lot of activities in Chiang Mai geared toward kids, so this is a good bet if you're traveling with children. The enclosures of this zoo on the lower slopes of Doi Suthep are spaced out along paths that wind leisurely through shaded woodlands. If the walk seems too strenuous, you can hop on a shuttle that stops at all the sights. The most popular animals are the giant pandas and and the koala bears.

The aquarium is within the zoo (additional cost) but is not worth a visit.

Dara Pirom Palace Museum

This Lanna-style mansion was the last home of Jao Dara Rasamee, daughter of a late-19th-century ruler of Chiang Mai and the favorite wife of King Chulalongkorn. The low-eaved and galleried building has been restored and furnished with many of the princess's antiques, including clothes she designed herself. It's a living museum of 19th-century Lanna culture and design, and if you have extra time in Chiang Mai, it's worth the 35-minute drive.

Doi Suthep National Park

You don't have to head to the distant mountains to go trekking during your stay in Chiang Mai. Doi Suthep, the 3,542-foot peak that broods over the city, lends its name to a national park with plenty of hiking trails to explore. One of these, a path taken by pilgrims over the centuries preceding the construction of a road, leads up to the gold-spired Wat Phra That Doi Suthep (see that listing for details). There's also an easy hiking trail (about 45 minutes) that'll bring you to one of Chiang Mai's least known but most charming temples, Wat Pha Lat. This modest ensemble of buildings is virtually lost in the forest. Make sure to explore the compound, which has a weathered chedi and a grotto filled with images of Buddha. After you leave Wat Pha Lat, the path becomes steeper. After another 45 minutes you emerge onto the mountain road, where you can flag down a songthaew if you can't take another step. Otherwise, follow the road for about 200 yards; a break in the forest marks the uphill trail to Wat Phra That. Keep a sharp lookout for snakes; they thrive on the mountain, and some of them are highly venomous.

Elephant Nature Park

Old City

There are several elephant reserves north of Chiang Mai, but there are few where elephants are not ridden. Here more than 100 rescued elephants, including a few youngsters, roam freely in the natural enclosure formed by a narrow mountain valley an hour's drive away. Visitors can volunteer to care for the elephants or simply stroll among the elephants, observing them in the river that runs through the park. There are no elephant rides or circuslike shows; Sangduen ("Lek") Chailert, a Ford Foundation laureate who runs the reserve, insists that the animals in her care live as close to nature as possible. Visits, which last a full day, can be arranged online or at the park's Old City office; the rate includes pickup at your Chiang Mai hotel and your return. Longer overnight volunteer packages are also available.

Hariphunchai National Museum

Just outside Wat Phra That Hariphunchai, the National Museum has a fine selection of Dvaravati-style stuccowork. The collection of Lanna antiques is also impressive.

Chai Mongkol Rd., Lamphun, Lamphun, 51000, Thailand
sights Details
Rate Includes: B100, Closed Mon. and Tues.

Ku Chang Ku Ma

Lamphun has one of the region's most unusual cemeteries, an elephant's graveyard called Ku Chang. The rounded chedi is said to contain the remains of Queen Chamthewi's favorite war elephant. On the same grounds is Ku Ma, a chedi containing the remains of the same queen's most revered horse.

38 Soi Ku Chang, Lamphun, Lamphun, Thailand

Night Bazaar

City Center

Sandwiched between the Old City and the riverside, this market opens for business every evening at around 6 pm. More than 200 stalls—selling food, fake fashion brands, knickknacks, and some pretty handicrafts—line a half-mile section of Chang Klan Road. Some people find the scene a bit too chaotic and commercial, but many love it, especially for the many food purveyors and souvenir opportunities. The area is also a major nighttime entertainment zone. Loi Kroh Road, which bisects the market, is Chiang Mai's (perfectly safe) red-light district.

Chiang Mai, Chiang Mai, Thailand
sights Details
Rate Includes: Free

Nimmanhaemin Road

Chiang Mai's version of Bangkok's hip Sukhumvit area is simply called Nimman (the full Nimmanhaemin is a bit of a mouthful), a mile-long strip west of the Old City. Cafés, pubs, bars, restaurants, art galleries, boutiques, and the trendy One Nimman shopping plaza line the street, which is usually packed with students from the nearby Chiang Mai University. It's definitely worth exploring the jumble of side streets off the main drag, too, where hipper restaurants, shops, and nightlife venues jostle for space.

Nimmanhaemin Rd., Chiang Mai, Chiang Mai, Thailand


Chinese traders originally settled this area 1½ km (1 mile) east of the Old City, and some of their well-preserved homes and commercial premises now house upscale and midrange restaurants, guesthouses and hotels, galleries, boutiques, and antiques shops. Unlike in Bangkok where many of the riverfront spots tend to be full of foreigners, the restaurants, hotels, and bars along the river are enjoyed by Thai couples and families on evenings out.

Charoen Prathet Rd., Chiang Mai, Chiang Mai, Thailand

San Kamphaeng Hot Springs

Among northern Thailand's most spectacular hot springs, these include two geysers that shoot water high into the air. The spa complex, set among beautiful flowers, includes an open-air pool and several bathhouses of various sizes. There's a rustic restaurant with a view over the gardens, and small chalets with hot tubs are rented either by the hour (B300) or for the night (B1,000). Tents and sleeping bags can also be rented for B150. The spa is 56 km (35 miles) north of Chiang Mai, beyond the village of San Kamphaeng. Songthaews bound for the spa leave from the riverside flower market in Chiang Mai; be sure to negotiate return transportation.

Warorot Market

Old City

Chiang Mai’s oldest market is a great place to explore during the day. This is where locals actually do their shopping so prices and quality tend to be better than what you’ll see at the more tourist-oriented markets.

Wichayanon Rd., Chiang Mai, Chiang Mai, 50300, Thailand

Wat Chaimongkhon

Although rarely visited, this small temple is well worth the journey. Its little chedi contains holy relics, but its real beauty lies in the serenity of the grounds. Outside the Old City near the Mae Ping River, it has fewer than 20 monks in residence.

Wat Ched Yot

Wat Photharam Maha Viharn is more commonly known as Wat Ched Yot, or Seven-Spired Monastery. Built in 1455, it's a copy of the Mahabodhi temple in Bodh Gaya, India, where the Buddha is said to have achieved enlightenment. The seven intricately carved spires represent the seven weeks that he subsequently spent there. The sides of the chedi have striking bas-relief sculptures of celestial figures, most of them in poor repair but one bearing a face of hauntingly contemporary beauty. The temple is just off the highway that circles Chiang Mai, but its green lawns and shady corners are strangely still and peaceful.

Wat Chiang Man

Old City

Chiang Mai's oldest monastery, dating from 1296, is typical of northern Thai architecture. It has massive teak pillars inside the bot, and two important images of the Buddha sit in the small building to the right of the main viharn (assembly hall). The Buddha images are supposedly on view only on Sunday, but sometimes the door is unlocked.

Buy Tickets Now

Wat Ku Tao

In the heart of Chiang Mai’s Shan Burmese community, this rarely visited temple was built in 1613 to inter the remains of Tharawadi Min, son of King Bayinnaung, who ruled the then-Lanna kingdom from 1578 to 1607. The temple incorporates Burmese design elements and has a distinctive chedi (stupa) made up of five stone spheres, rising largest to smallest. With its bulbous shape, it's been nicknamed “the watermelon stupa” ("tao" is the word for watermelon in Northern Thai dialect). Every spring, the festive Poy Sang Long coming-of-age ceremony takes place here, drawing most of the Shan community.

Lang Sanam Kila Road, Chiang Mai, Chiang Mai, 50200, Thailand

Wat Phra Kaew Don Tao

Near the banks of the Wang River, this temple is dominated by its tall chedi, built on a rectangular base and topped with a rounded spire. More interesting, however, are the Burmese-style shrine and adjacent Thai-style sala. The 18th-century shrine has a multitier roof. The interior walls are carved and inlaid with colored stones; the ornately engraved ceiling is painted with enamel. The sala, with the traditional three-tier roof and carved-wood pediments, houses a Sukhothai-style reclining Buddha. Legend has it that the sala was once home to the Emerald Buddha, which now resides in Bangkok. In 1436, when King Sam Fang Kaem was transporting the statue from Chiang Rai to Chiang Mai, his elephant reached Lampang and refused to go farther. The Emerald Buddha is said to have remained here for the next 32 years, until the succeeding king managed to get it to Chiang Mai.

Wat Srichum

Workers from Myanmar were employed in the region's rapidly expanding logging business, and these immigrants left their mark on the city's architecture. Especially well preserved is Wat Sri Chum, a 19th-century Burmese temple. Pay particular attention to the viharn (assembly hall), as the eaves are covered with beautiful carvings. Inside you can find gold-and-black lacquered pillars supporting a carved-wood ceiling. To the right is a bronze Buddha cast in the Burmese style. Red-and-gold panels on the walls depict temple scenes.

211 Tippawan Rd, Lampang, Lampang, 52100, Thailand
sights Details
Rate Includes: B100

Wat Suan Dok

One of Chiang Mai's largest temples, Wat Suan Dok is said to have been built on the site where bones of Lord Buddha were found. Some of these relics are believed to be inside the chedi; others were transported to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep. At the back of the viharn is the bot housing Phra Chao Kao, a superb bronze Buddha figure cast in 1504. Chiang Mai aristocrats are buried in stupas in the graveyard.

Chiang Mai, Chiang Mai, 50200, Thailand
sights Details
Rate Includes: Donations welcome

Wat Umong

One of the most unusual temples in Chiang Mai, Wat Umong dates from 1296 and is set in a forest near Chiang Mai University—this style of temple is usually far from urban areas and hard to access. According to local lore, a monk named Jam liked to go wandering in the forest. This irritated King Ku Na, who often wanted to consult with the sage. So he could seek advice at any time, the king built this wat for the monk in 1380. Along with the temple, tunnels were carved out and decorated with paintings, fragments of which may still be seen. Beyond the chedi is a pond filled with hungry carp. If you come early enough in the morning you might see people on mediation retreats clad in white doing their walking meditation around the vast property. Throughout the grounds the trees are hung with snippets of Buddhist wisdom such as "Time unused is the longest time."

Within the Old City is a small temple with the same name. For the bigger Wat Umong, tell your driver you're going to Wat U Mong Thera Jan.

Buy Tickets Now

Wiang Kum Kam

When King Mengrai decided to build his capital on the Ping River, he chose a site a few miles south of present-day Chiang Mai. He selected a low-lying stretch of land, but soon realized the folly of his choice when the river flooded during the rainy seasons. Eight years after establishing Wiang Kum Kam, he moved to higher ground and began work on Chiang Mai. Wiang Kum Kam is now being excavated, and archaeologists have been amazed to uncover a cluster of buildings almost as large as Chiang Mai's Old City. Several agencies run trips to Wiang Kum Kam, with some taking visitors by boat and then horse-drawn carriage. You can book with one, or simply hire a horse and carriage in downtown Chiang Mai (or ask your hotel to; expect to pay around B500 to B650). Horse and carriages hired at the ruins cost B300.