Find out the perfect 3 days in Chiang Mai itinerary to ensure you have the ultimate time in Northern Thailand. Let’s talk about the best things to do, restaurants, where to stay, and more for your three days exploring my personal favorite city!
The gateway to Northern Thailand, Chiang Mai is a must when you are backpacking through Thailand. Even though it doesn’t offer the sparkling blue waters down south, this land-locked city has plenty of other things to keep you entertained.
As previously said Chiang Mai is one of my favorite cities in Southeast Asia. Though in all honesty, I could spend weeks here, but for the sake of you reading this I will cut my Chiang Mai itinerary down to showcase the best of what this city has to offer. For your 3 days in Chiang Mai, we will discover the amazing cuisine, the countryside and spend some time with some incredible creatures.
I have actually spent quite a few weeks in Chiang Mai over individual trips to Thailand. That is why I have written this best 3 day Chiang Mai itinerary so you can make the most out of your time.
From where to stay, where to eat, and what to do. I have included everything you could ever want to know and need to know in your Chiang Mai itinerary. That way you can really get into that relaxed Northern Thailand vibe and have a stress-free time here.
Chiang Mai Itinerary: 3 Days In Chiang Mai For The Ultimate Time
- Day One Of 3 Days In Chiang Mai Itinerary: Temples, Souvenirs & Markets
- Day Two Of 3 Days In Chiang Mai Itinerary: Elephants, Relaxations & Ladyboys
- Day Three Of 3 Days In Chiang Mai Itinerary: Cooking, Views & Food
- Chiang Mai Travel Tips
Day One Of 3 Days In Chiang Mai Itinerary: Temples, Souvenirs & Markets
Morning: Temple Hopping
There is no better way to start your 3 days in Chiang Mai itinerary than starting off with checking out some of the incredible temples which are located in the Old City. The Old City is also the best area to stay in if this is your first time visiting Chiang Mai, so you won’t need to be traveling far. The best way to get around will be to hire a bicycle or to walk. You can get a Grab taxi if it is a bit hot for you, but Chiang Mai is a great city and you will really want to immerse yourself in it. Many hostels in Chiang Mai offer bicycles for hire or even for free during your stay.
Though before we get on our way it’s time for breakfast. I highly recommend a visit to Blue Diamond Breakfast Club which is nearby our first temple stop of Wat Chiang Man. There are plenty of vegetarian and vegan options here as well, catering perfectly for everyone and they also have a beautiful garden where you can eat your meal and relax.
There are over 300 temples in Chiang Mai, with many of them located inside the Old City, which is why we are ticking this off first. We will explore some other further afield on another day.
Wat Chiang Man: We will start in Chiang Mai’s oldest temple, Wat Chiang Man. This is a beautiful temple with gold accents. One of the stand-out features of this temple is the impressive elephant Chedi.
Opening Hours: 6am to 5pm
Entrance Fee: Free
Wat Saen Muang Ma Luang: This is one of the grandest temples here in Chiang Mai, so it’s definitely worth a visit. Marvel at the well-maintaned buildings and the fine details in the various designs.
Opening Hours: 6am to 6pm
Entrance Fee: Fee
Wat Inthkhin Sadue Muang: What makes this temple unique is that it is made of dark wood with gold accents which really makes it stand out. The name translates to “temple of the city navel” showcasing that this is the center of the Old City where it was built over 700 years ago. There has since been a road built next to it that actually separates the 2 chedis.
Opening Hours: 6am to 5pm
Entrance Fee: Free
Wat Phan Tao: This beautiful temple is made out of gorgeous dark teak wood and is usually overlooked by a lot of travelers. Though personally, this is one of my favorites in Chiang Mai’s Old City. The grounds are also beautiful with a river running through them. If you happen to be visiting during a festival they also decorate the grounds in celebration.
Opening Hours: 8am to 5pm
Entrance Fee: Free
Wat Chedi Luang: This is the most popular temple in Chiang Mai’s Old City. At the peak of the Lana Kingdom, Wat Chedi Luang was the tallest structure in Chiang Mai. Then, the Chedi stood at 82 meters, though it is said that it fell over in an earthquake. The Emerald Buddha which once called this temple home has since been relocated to Wat Phra Kaew, which is one of my stops in my 2 days Bangkok itinerary.
Opening Hours: 6am to 5pm
Enterance Fee: $1.33 / 40 THB
Wat Phra Singh: This is another popular temple in the Old City and is the perfect showcase of architecture during the time of the Lanna Kingdom. It was built by King Pha Yu in 1345 to house his father’s ashes. The name Wat Phra Singh translates to Lion Buddha and as such, the temple hall was constructed to accommodate the 14th century Lion Buddha.
Opening hours: 6am to 5pm
Enetrance Fee: $0.67 / 20 THB
Afternoon- Create Your Own Souvenirs
Stop for lunch nearby at Baan Buri Cafe. Enjoy the relaxed Chiang Mai vibes why you try some of the delicious local meals on offer. Then your best to head back to your hotel or hostel and have a quick relax and refresh before being picked up for the second part of our Chiang Mai itinerary.
Next up, time to do something a bit more local whilst learning a new skill with Backstreet Academy. I recommend just choosing one option which you prefer the sound of best. Though I will explain the two different choices which I did when in Chiang Mai.
Art Of Soap Carving: Soap carving is extremely popular in Chiang Mai. It is certainly an art form and is a unique souvenir that you will take home that will remind you of the city for years to come. The course takes 2 hours and in this time you will be able to carve 2 different flowers with a local master teaching you how to do so. You can book this class with Backstreet Academy for $29.00.
Gold Leaf Lacquerware: The Tai Khern lacquerware artisans migrated from Chiang Toong to Chiang Mai in the 18th and 19th centuries. The Tai Khern Gold Leaf lacquerware requires sophisticated workmanship. You will be able to choose a variety of patterns from the traditional designs used to adorn numerous temples and lacquerware in Thailand. You can book this class with Backstreet Academy for $24.00.
Evening – Chiang Mai Night Market
One of the best things to do in Chiang Mai is visiting some of the incredible night markets. Depending on which day of the week it is you can interchange this evening with another night on the Chiang Mai itinerary so it falls on the appropriate day.
My personal favorite night market, so much so I can my whole trip here around it, is the Chiang Mai Sunday Night Market. The Sunday Walking Street Market is held every Sunday from4pm until about midnight. It draws in thousands of people, both locals, and tourists alike. This is the best place to come and do your own DIY food tour and buy all your Chiang Mai souvenirs.
If your trip, unfortunately, doesn’t fall on a Sunday, don’t worry there are other night markets here. The Chiang Mai Night Bazaar is a good shopping spot located a short drive outside of the Old City. Here you will find all the souvenirs you could ever need. For street food, I recommend heading to the Chang Puak Market. This is located north just outside of the Old City Gates. Prices are incredibly cheap with most dishes around $1.33 / 40 THB. You can buy chicken satay skewers for as little as $0.33 / 10 THB a piece! It is open from 5pm until 11pm every night.
Day Two Of 3 Days In Chiang Mai Itinerary: Elephants, Relaxations & Ladyboys
Morning – Elephant Sanctuary
Before heading out for a busy day, time to have a delicious breakfast to fuel you up for the rest of the day. My personal favorite breakfast spot is The Bagel House Cafe & Bakery. They have a whole range of delicious freshly made bagels with a variety of toppings. Next, up get ready for a highlight on everyone’s Chiang Mai itinerary.
Visiting an elephant sanctuary in Chiang Mai is a must-do when you are here. Though it is important you book with an ethical sanctuary that has the elephant’s best interests at heart. Though there is no law in Southeast Asian countries as to what is considered a sanctuary. Therefore nearly every elephant experience you will come across in Chiang Mai will call itself a sanctuary, though that doesn’t mean it’s ethical. Though that is why it’s important for you to research into the sanctuary you are thinking about before visiting or even look into a few different options before deciding.
My personal favorite and one of the most ethical options in Southeast Asia is visiting Elephant Nature Park. They have 2 different options when booking, either visiting their famous elephant park or visiting one of the many projects they are working on with the local community to show how ethical elephant experience can still provide an income.
The actual park gets booked out months in advance so if you have your heart set on visiting you better book asap! Though it is certainly worth it and the highlight of many travelers’ trips. There is nothing better than seeing the elephants feeling comfortable and happy.
If you are looking at visiting one of the projects run by Elephant Nature Park then you can book about a week out for spots. As there are so many choices it’s rare that they get completely booked out. I have actually done 2 different projects through Elephant Nature Park and loved each one. There are certainly fewer elephants on the project, though with smaller traveler groups it feels like a more special experience.
Afternoon- Indulge In A Massage
Lunch is included in your elephant tour so no need we worry about purchasing another midday meal. Also, the tours tend to get back in Chiang Mai in the mid-afternoon which is why today’s afternoon activity is just a short one. Though after all that galavanting under the Thai sunshine which some magnificent animals its time for a bit of relaxation. What better way to chill out than with a massage!
You will be overwhelmed with options for a massage when in Chiang Mai’s Old Town. Though one of the top choices for travelers is The Ex-Prison Women’s Massage Center. This is because the price is affordable and it has a good cause. This is to assist female ex-prisoners to reintegrate into professional society successfully. They do this by professionally training them so they can support themselves and make an income. The massages are extremely affordable being priced at $8.35 / 250 THB for 1 hour.
Evening- Cabaret Show
Grab yourself an early dinner tonight at the delicious By Hand Pizza Cafe. They have an incredible range of woodfired pizzas which will delight any taste buds.
After a delicious bite to eat make your way to the famous Chiang Mai Cabaret Show. For the best seats your best to come to purchase your ticket between 8pm and 9pm. Though the show itself starts at 9.30pm. The ticket cost is $11.68 / 350 THB and includes a drink. If you aren’t aware of what the Cabaret Show is all about it showcases some of Chiang Mai’s most beautiful and entertaining ladyboys. Get ready for singing, dancing, and maybe even being pulled onto the stage as well!
After an entertaining show, you may be in the mood for the night to last a little longer. If so head back into the Old City to continue the party. One of the top clubs for travelers is Zoe In Yellow.
Day Three Of 3 Days In Chiang Mai Itinerary: Cooking, Views & Food
Morning- Cooking Class
For our last day on our 3 days in Chiang Mai itinerary, we will explore come of this city through our mouth and head a bit further afield. Though, first up is a cooking class. Taking a cooking class in Chiang Mai is one of the best things to do here. I am not sure why exactly, but it’s something about the relaxed vibes and delicious food all around which just get you excited. I mean there is nothing better than traveling somewhere and being able to recreate the meals back home. Just be aware you will be cooking quite a lot of different dishes. That means put breakfast on hold for now. Trust me, you will need the room for all the delicious Thai meals to come.
I personally booked a cooking class with Backstreet Academy. The class costs $24.00 and is 100% worth every dollar. We were able to cook 5 separate dishes over a span of 3 or so hours. They even altered the recipes to be vegetarian and had substitutes for ingredients I didn’t like. Yes, I am a fussy eater. But, seriously this class was awesome and I highly recommend booking a cooking class in Chiang Mai!
Afternoon- Doi Suthep
After you’ve mastered the art form of Thai cuisine we will skip lunch as trust be you won’t be needing it. Though time to burn off those dishes with a trip outside of the Old City to Doi Suthep. This incredible temple provides an amazing view over the city and will have you falling in love with Chiang Mai that much more. I won’t give away too much detail on what makes Doi Suthep so amazing, but trust me it is well worth the visit when you are in Chiang Mai.
To get there you have a few different options:
Songthaew: The cheapest way to get to Doi Suthep is by taking a Songthaew. You can get a ride at the North Gate where the food stalls set up in the evening. From there it costs just $1.67 / 50 THB to take you the nearly hour-long journey there.
Taxi: The easiest way will be to take a taxi. This would be good if you are traveling with a group of people and are in a rush. It is quite pricey so haggle beforehand. Just be prepared to pay around $20.00.
Tour: One of the best tours of Doi Suthep is the Get Your Guide 4-Hour Wat Umong and Doi Suthep Evening Tour. For $28.00 you will have the chance to visit Wat Umong and Doi Suthep. The highlight of this tour is watching the sunset over the Chiang Mai from up on Doi Suthep. There are also little crowds around in the evening which is a big bonus in this tourist hot spot.
Evening – Night Food Tour
Next up, for the evening I will provide 2 different options depending on how busy you wish for your final night in Chiang Mai to be. Personally, I prefer a quiet one. Though I understand not everyone is like that.
If you need one last bit of the delicious cuisine up North here in Chiang Mai. Then no better choice than to do a Night Food Tour. This tour costs $59.00 per person and you will have a local showing you some of the best dishes this city has to offer. Examples of what you’ll try to include roasted pork, gaeng hang lae curry, and minced larb salad. In total, you’ll be taken to around 5 different spots around the city.
If you’re looking to do something a bit more low key then head to one of the hot spots for travelers in Chiang Mai, Rock Me Burger. This is a meat lover’s heaven! They have HUGE and delicious burgers on offer. It’s in a more red light district part of town. Though there always seems to be plenty of people around and isn’t too far off the main track.
Add To Your Chiang Mai Itinerary?
If you happen to be staying longer than 3 days in Chiang Mai then there are plenty of other things to add to your Chiang Mai itinerary:
Pai: A must to Pai seems to be on every backpacker’s plans. This chill hippie town up North is a popular hang-out, to simply just hang out. The roads to get there are pretty bad. Even so, many travelers decide to make the journey by motorbike.
Chiang Rai: A bit further up north from Chiang Mai is the city of Chiang Rai. This definitely is less of a traveler hot spot. Though they still do get a few travelers spending a few nights there. There are plenty of amazing temples located around the city, including the famous and wacky White Temple.
Doi Inthanon National Park: Why not visit the highest mountain in Thailand at Doi Inthanon National Park and enjoy the serene surroundings of nature. It is actually part of the Himalayan Mountain Range! How Cool! The entry fee is $10.00 / 300 THB to Doi Inthanon National Park. The easiest way to visit to definitely by doing a group tour. The Doi Inthanon National Park Small Group Full-Day Tour by Get Your Guide is an affordable top choice costing $39.00.
Travel Tips For Your 3 Days In Chiang Mai Itinerary
Where To Stay In Chiang Mai?
You are spoiled for choices when it comes to choosing where to stay in Chiang Mai. There are countless luxury 5-star resorts, locally run guesthouses, and modern hostels. I mainly choose to stay within the confines of the Old City when choosing where to stay in Chiang Mai. The Old City is within walking distance to many beautiful temples, excellent shopping, delicious restaurants, and the famous Sunday Night Market.
On my most recent visit, I stayed at De Lanna Hotel. This is a mid-range hotel located in the heart of the Old City. The location was fantastic and having a pool to enjoy during the afternoon heat was fantastic. Though on the complete opposite side I have also stayed in the cheapest available hostel on my first visit. The owner was great, but the facilities less than, and I think it’s probably a good thing it’s shut down. Though just make sure to read reviews to stay at the best hostels in Chiang Mai.
A modern and upscale hostel. From $13.00 per night including a fab breakfast.
A favorite with travelers. A hostel with all the amenities, from $6.00 per night.
Beautiful private rooms for $25.00 per night and in the heart of the city with a pool.
A walk from the city attractions, starting from $18.00 per night with an amazing pool.
Staying Safe In Chiang Mai
Chiang Mai is a relatively safe place to explore with the exception of the many scams you will find in Asian countries. At the night market try to pay with the exact amount. Don’t drink the water out of the tap. 7/11 has plenty of cheap water bottles. If you already have a bottle botted throughout Chiang Mai are water stations that dispense filtered water.
If you have chosen to hire a motorbike in Chiang Mai just be aware of the police. There are usually multiple checkpoints surrounding the roads around and near the Old City. Unless you have an international driver’s license, you will likely be pulled over and asked to pay a fine. The amount is 300 THB / $10.00. This isn’t much, but if you’re caught multiple times it adds up.
Where To After Your 3 Days In Chiang Mai Itinerary?
North: You could travel north towards the Thai Laos border town of Chiang Khong. Chiang Khong is located on the Thai side and it has some truly affordable and more luxurious accommodation options. I stayed at the Namkhong Guesthouse and Resort. Double rooms are just $5.00 per night and there is a pool as well! Over on the Laos side is the town of Huay Xai and the starting point for taking the slow boat to Luang Prabang.
South: Alternatively, you can end back down South towards Bangkok. If you haven’t already to recommend taking the overnight train from Chiang Mai to Ayutthaya. Once there you can spend the day in Ayutthaya exploring the temples. You can head towards the incredible beaches. About halfway down the country on the east side are the islands of Koh Tao, Koh Phangan, and Koh Samui. First travel from Bangkok to Koh Tao and then from there the rest of the islands will be extremely accessible to navigate between.
Any Questions? Let me know in the comments!
LIKE IT? PIN IT!
Want more Thailand Inspiration? Check out….
Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. So, if you click on it and purchase something, I get a small percentage at no extra cost to you. As always all opinions are my own and your support is much appreciated.