Top Day Trips From Chiang Mai:
Chiang Mai is a great jumping off point for a ton of amazing day trips through Northern Thailand. The activities on the top day trips from Chiang Mai vary a lot so here are our favorite ones to help you out. Enjoy our suggested side trips and let us know if you have any questions.
Group Tour Or Taxi:
While you will likely be on a group tour for any elephant treks or visits near the Golden Triangle, most of our other top day trips from Chiang Mai can be seen with a local taxi. The taxis from town are extremely cheap, especially for the side trips that are within an hour of town. With the Tiger Kingdom as an example you can pay for the taxi round trip and have them wait the entire time for you for cheaper than a group tour and you can split the bill among your group.
Best Side Trips From Chiang Mai:
1. Elephant Camps & Treks (45-60 Minutes Away):
About Elephant Camps Near Chiang Mai: If you want one of the most magical experiences on the planet, you need to take a day trip from Chiang Mai into the Thai jungle and spend time with the elephants. A full day visit is as educational as exciting as you will spend ample time bonding, doing health checks, feeding, and bathing the elephants.
At the best places, your day trip will include plenty of time working one-on-one with an elephant aided by a mahout. A mahout is a guy who basically dedicates their life to just one elephant, spending in upwards of 18 hours a day with them. Expect to get plenty of river time swimming with and washing your new elephant pal. While many elephant camps also take you on a ride through the jungle, the best camps only do authentic bareback riding with a limit of one person per elephant.
A couple of camps even skip the riding portion altogether so you can focus 100% of your time dedicated to volunteering instead. Don’t worry about cameras or taking selfies as the high-end places will keep you in small groups and will have a dedicated photographer to capture every moment while you focus on your elephant. Our two favorite elephant camps near Chiang Mai are Patara Elephant Farm and the Elephant Nature Park.
Ethical Issues: Not all elephants camps are created equal as some are focused more on making money off of tourists than looking out for the well being of the animals. Our full article on the elephant camps will help weed out the shady circus-like places for one of the amazing ones.
Read More: Best Elephant Camps In Chiang Mai.
2. Wat Doi Suthep Temple (45 Minutes Away):
About Wat Doi Suthep Temple: They say you haven’t truly arrived in Chiang Mai until you visit the temple on Doi Suthep Mountain which was built in 1383. A few years earlier a relic of Buddha was being placed in Chiang Mai’s Wat Suan Dok Temple when it split in two. Astonishingly it is said that one of the halves of the broken relic was somehow still as large as the original and was deemed a miracle. King Ku Na declared that a new temple must be built to honor the miracle but he wanted divine guidance on where to build it. The King placed part of the relic onto one of his White Elephants and sent him off into the jungle. The elephant climbed and climbed until he reached the top of Doi Suthep then trumpeted 3 times, made three counterclockwise circles, and laid down refusing to go any farther.
Visiting the hilltop today leads you past many worthwhile sights highlighted by the main temple. The 306 steps up the carved snake (naga) staircase bring you the final stretch up to the temple. From a replica of the famed Emerald Buddha Statue, to a large golden pagoda, and the International Buddhism Center, there are a bunch of things to keep you busy at Wat Doi Suthep.
Read More: Visiting Wat Doi Suthep.
3. Tiger Kingdom + Baan Tong Luang (20 Minutes Away):
About Tiger Kingdom & Baan Tong Luang: If playing with baby tiger cubs for an afternoon is your idea of fun, then the Tiger Kingdom may be for you. During your visit, you’ll be able to get hands-on with the cubs along with other age groups up to 3 years old. If you are lucky you will even be able to do bottle feeding. The Tiger Kingdom will limit you to small groups with staff for safety and never lets guests in with the adults, although even the 3-year-olds are quite large. They even provide a photographer so you can focus on the tigers instead of you camera.
Although the amazement of the Tiger Kingdom is usually only a quick 2-3 hour adventure on the edge of Chiang Mai, we suggest adding on some additional sights nearby to make it a full on day trip. The coolest thing to add on is the Baan Tong Luang Village just west of Tiger Kingdom which features a 5 Hill Tribe exhibition village. The exhibition village isn’t as authentic as the more rural stand alone villages, but it will give you a great opportunity to learn about the different Tribes. Three of our favorite Tribes to visit here are the Hmong (Meo), Big Earring (Akha) and the Long Necks (Karen). You’ll be able to take photos with the women and we encourage you to buy unique souvenirs from them. On your way to the exhibition village, you’ll also pass right by Mae Sa Waterfall which is a cool 8 tiered rolling waterfall in a heavily wooded setting.
Ethical Issues: Drugs and sedation are both huge concerns when choosing a Tiger enclosure, but during our visits it didn’t seem to be a problem. The tiger experience does feel slightly zoo-like which may bother some people, but we felt the tigers were treated well. With the nearby long neck village, this one is a little touristy so if you want a more authentic feel that is less like of a human zoo you’ll want to go to a real village toward Chiang Rai, explained below.
Read More: Tiger Kingdom In Chiang Mai.
4. Long Neck Hill Tribes (Various Locations):
About The Long Neck Hill Tribes: Get ready for an experience straight out of National Geographic as you visit the Karen Hill Tribes of Northern Thailand. Nicknamed the Long Necks, for their decorative brass neck rings, we find the women to be extremely interesting. Their heavy neck rings don’t actually make their necks longer, but instead push their collar bones and shoulders downward. It is interesting to learn that many of them established their traditional villages as wartime refugees from neighboring countries. The Karen, known for their textile making will be happy you sell you a handmade blanket or carved souvenir.
If you aren’t able to fit in an authentic Karen village trip near the Golden Triangle, at least stop by the touristy Exhibition Village near the Tiger Kingdom to experience a peek into the unique Long Neck culture. Other Karen villages near Chiang Mai such as Ban Sop Had by Doi Inthanon National Park are okay, but you won’t find many women actually wearing the brass rings there. Three of our favorite Tribes to visit here are the Hmong (Meo), Big Earring (Akha) and the Long Necks (Karen).
Human Zoo?: In our opinion having been to rural Karen Villages we’ve never felt out of place and it only seems like a human zoo if you let it. Trying breaking the ice by either talking to the ladies or buying some of their work and you’ll feel much more involved. Taking the extra step to engage inside of stare is a great way to get the women to open up to you as well. The further you get into the country the more authentic a visit will feel. For more in-depth visits, you can even arrange an overnight visit to stay with a Karen family.
Read More: Long Neck Hill Tribe Village Tours.
5. The White Temple (3 Hours Away):
About The White Temple: With a modern artistic twist to class Thai architecture, the playful White Temple (Wat Rong Kuhn) is one of the most memorable temples to visit in Thailand. From its white-washed facade, hidden symbolism, and neighboring building complexes, the White Temple has to be seen to be believed. Since it is 3 hours north of Chiang Mai, typically the temple is best seen as a stop on a Golden Triangle day trip. We wouldn’t do a Golden Triangle trip that doesn’t include the White Temple, it really is awesome.
Read More: White Temple Tours From Chiang Mai.
6. The Golden Triangle (3.5-4 Hours Away):
About The Golden Triangle: About 3.5-4 hours North of Chiang Mai, a round trip day trip to the Golden Triangle awesome as there are so many things to see on the way. If you have 3 full days in Chiang Mai it would be a shame not to swing up the Golden Triangle. Common tours will stop at the White Temple on the way up before stopping at the Golden Triangle itself. Once there you can check out the huge Floating Buddha Boat, take a long tail boat to Laos, or search out traditional dancers.
The nearby border cities of Mae Salong with its bridge market that stretches into Myanmar and Doi Tung with its large flower gardens are also popular on return visits. The most popular Golden Triangle day trip from Chiang Mai option visits the White Temple on the way to the Golden Triangle where you take a boat across the river to the Laos market followed by a Long Neck Village visit on the way back.
Read More: Tours To The Golden Triangle.
7. Doi Inthanon National Park (1 Hour Away):
About Doi Inthanon National Park: At 8415 feet tall Doi Inthanon is the highest spot in Thailand. The highlight as a day trip from Chiang Mai to the National Park are the stunning views and the Royal Chedis. The Thai Royal Air Force built both of these Chedis to honor the 60th birthday of both the King (1987) and Queen (1992) of Thailand. The King’s Chedi is the darker one with the brown tint called Phra Mahathat Chedi Nophamethanidol. The Queen’s Chedi is the light blue or lilac one called Phra Mahathat Chedi Noppholbhumsiri. Most professional tour groups avoid the national park during the rainy season and only offer tours the end of November through February.
Cost: 200 Baht adult admission (100 children). Getting Here: Many people hire a red Songthaew truck taxi for the day or afternoon which makes the 34-mile journey in less than an hour. Rate vary and you can talk them down but under 1000 Baht is a good deal as it covers up to 6 or 8 people. Tour Groups: You can get here from Chiang Mai for about 1,000 Baht ($30) a person with a tour group that will also take you to multiple other tourist stops on the way. 360 Degree Photos: (Mossy Path).
Read More: Other Sights Near Chiang Mai.
8. Flight of the Gibbon Zip Line:
About The Flight of the Gibbon Zip Line: Fly like a Gibbon over the jungle on Flight of the Gibbon’s zip line course. They have 5km of zip lines woven throughout the jungle, 33 platforms, 2 suspended sky bridges, 2 abseil descents, 1 tree house, and a double zip line to race your friends.
Cost: Listed price is 3299 Baht but usually if you book through a travel agent in CM it’s only 1,800 baht. Zip Line Website: (HERE).
9. Chiang Dao Cave (3 hours Away):
About Chiang Dao Cave: The Chiang Dao Cave is about 45 miles north and 3 miles from the city of Chiang Dao. The cave extends about 12km into the mountain and has a large number of big caverns and both stalactites and stalagmite rock formations. Most of the photos of the cave are of the temple with Buddha statues in one of the first lit caverns.
If you can to extend further into the cave then the first couple rooms you will need to have a flashlight and we highly recommend spending the couple bucks to have a local guide there show you around. For the average tourist the cave won’t be worth a stop unless it is on the way to another attraction, but cave enthusiasts will love the freedom to explore.
Cost: 10 Baht admission; 40 Baht to rent a flashlight; 100 Baht for a guide to take you deeper in the cave.
10. Lamphun (90 Minutes Away):
About Lamphun: The ancient city of Lamphun to the South of Chiang Mai was founded in 663 AD by Queen Chamadevi as the capital of the Nakhon Hariphunchai Empire. This dissolved dynasty had sprung up from the Mon Empire and later led to the Lanna Kingdom which had capitals in Chiang Rai followed by Chiang Mai in 1296.
There are only a couple of sites to tour in Lamphun including the 148 foot tall Wat Phra That Hariphunchai which Chiang Mai’s Wat Doi Suthep was modeled after. This Temple also has the hair of Buddha as a relic and claims to have the World’s Largest Gong. Another temple of note in Lamphun is Wat Phra Phuttabat Tak Pha which lies 10 miles from town on a hill where Buddha is said to have visited and left a footprint.
11. Natural Hot Springs (Various Locations):
About The Hot Springs: All the Hot Springs near Chiang Mai are pretty underwhelming, but because they are still popular we felt obligated to mention them. There are 3 different hot spring that are often visited by tourists. Mae Khajan Springs is located almost halfway between Chiang Mai and the White Temple at about an hour either of them. This Hot Spring is the ultimate tourist trap with tons of vendors stalls and a man-made geyser but if you blink you might miss the small well-like Springs. Local women clutter around the small Spring selling eggs for you to boil.
The other two Springs are right next to each other and are about 25 miles East of Chiang Mai. Roong Aroon Springs costs 90 Baht and San Kamphaeng Springs costs 40 Baht for Adults and 20 Baht for Kids. The advantage of these two hot springs are that they won’t filled with tourists and the springs themselves seem less man-made than Mae Khajan does.
12. Chiang Rai (3 Hours Away):
About Chiang Rai: This small northern city could have become a real jewel except the capital of the Lanna Kindom was move from Chiang Rai to Chiang Mai in 1296 which stunted its development. There really isn’t much to see in Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai is 1,000 times cooler. The only time you are bound to go through Chiang Rai is on a Day Trip on your way to the Golden Triangle. Getting Here: About a 3-hour car ride or a short plane trip North of Chiang Mai.
Side Trips Further From Chiang Mai:
13. Pai Mountain (3-4 Hours Away):
About Pai Mountain: A 4 hour very windy drive up Highway 1095 leads to a backpackers paradise and the best camping in Thailand. When we say windy drive, we mean it as the road to Pai is famous for its 762 curves. The mountain itself is loved by Outdoorsmen and Hippies alike. Maybe the coolest thing to see near Pai Mountain the secluded Pem Bok Waterfall which drops 60 feet from the top of an enclosed cave. Te top of the cave is open allowing plenty of light and the pool of water below the cave is safe enough to both swim and wade in.
Even if you are not into the Backpacker or Hippie scene the town of Mae Hong So is located close to the top of the mountain an has a ton of hostels, hotels, resorts, and spas. Expect that most of the 350 hotels will be full in the Winter months if you don’t book ahead of time. Pai Mountain may be accessible within a day either by plane or bus/van, but you really need to commit a couple days to be able to enjoy it.
Getting To Pai Mountain From Chiang Mai: You can take a bus from Chiang Mai’s Arcade Station (across from the new bus station) right to Mae Hong So in 4 hours for just 75 Baht. The Public Buses kind of suck though and you are better off taking the White/Orange vans from the Bus Station cost 150 Baht but only take 3 hours and leave every 30-60 minutes. You can also fly to Mae Hong So right from Chiang Mai if you have a higher budget and the flight takes less than an hour.
Local Tour Guides For Day Trips:
http://www.chiangmai-carnival.com/3.html, 500 Doi Suthep tour, 1400 Doi Inthanon only Nov-Feb
http://somethingdifferenttour.blogspot.com/, highly rated, more adventurous tours