Chiang Mai Itinerary

Chiang Mai Itinerary: How To Spend 5 Days In Chiang Mai

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When deciding where to go in Thailand, Chiang Mai should be one of the top destinations on your itinerary. Chiang Mai is starting to be known as a backpackers’ hotspot because of its cheap delicious food, picturesque views and care taken in elephant sanctuaries among other things. 

I have been to Chiang Mai a few times and there is so much to do and see in the city and surrounding areas so it is hard to fit everything in five days. This Chiang Mai itinerary will be focused on what I believe are the top activities to consider when in Chiang Mai and how the city can leave a lasting impression on you. 

Chiang Mai is one of my favourite cities in northern Thailand and you could comfortably spend over a week here but if you only have five days this is EXACTLY what I would do.

Chiang Mai Itinerary: Day 1 (Tour Of The Old City and Doi Suthep)

It’s the morning and you have just arrived in Chiang Mai, now what?

Part of your Chiang Mai itinerary will be exploring ancient buildings and learning about the unique culture of the area so while you have no bed to lay on let’s start with something more relaxed.

Head to your accommodation, drop your bags off and start your first day with a tour of the Chiang Mai old city. Whether you want to walk the route or get a private tuk-tuk tour of city artefacts there are a few key destinations to visit. 

There are many sites to see in and around Chiang Mai city so it is important to immerse yourself deep into the culture.

The route I would take is as follows:

  1. Start at Tha Phae Gate: Begin your journey at Tha Phae Gate, one of the main entrances to the old city. Admire the gate’s architecture and take some time to capture photographs of this iconic landmark.
    • It is common to find this gate covered in pigeons, there is a man who walks around the front taking pictures for people who want a dynamic image of pigeons flying with the gate in the background.
    • This is also the start of the Sunday Night Market but I’ll discuss this later.
  2. Visit Wat Chedi Luang: From Tha Phae Gate, head west towards Wat Chedi Luang, a short walk away. Explore the temple grounds, marvel at the ancient golden pagoda, and learn about its historical significance.
  3. Proceed to Wat Phra Singh: Continue westward to reach Wat Phra Singh, another significant temple in the old city. Spend time admiring the intricate details of the temple’s architecture and the revered Buddha image inside.
    • This is an active temple with hundreds of monks still living inside!
  4.  Explore Wat Chiang Man: Next, head north towards Wat Chiang Man, the oldest temple in Chiang Mai. Explore the serene surroundings and learn about the ancient artefacts and statues housed within the temple.
  5. Visit Three Kings Monument: Walk south from Wat Chiang Man to reach the Three Kings Monument located in the city centre. Take a moment to appreciate this historical monument and its symbolic representation of Chiang Mai’s founders.

As the early afternoon progresses, hop on your motorbike or find a local communal taxi to take you to Doi Suthep. You can go up the mountain by yourself or you can get a guided tour. I did mine alone but I have heard guided tours help you to understand the culture more!

Doi Suthep is a beautiful mountain near Chiang Mai with a stunning Buddhist temple on top called Wat Phra That Doi Suthep. The temple is not just a religious site; it’s a fantastic piece of architecture and offers breathtaking views. Make sure to wander around the whole temple and appreciate the great culture.

You will need to wear respectful clothing so make sure you have stuff to cover your knees etc.

Now that you are approaching the evening progress further up the mountain and witness the sunset. All travellers will assemble at the same point to witness a gorgeous sunset before heading back to the Chiang Mai old town. 

It’s a great way to finish off day 1 of your Chiang Mai itinerary.

Chiang Mai Itinerary: Day 2 (Elephant Sanctuary, Sticky Waterfall, and Water Rafting Package)

My favourite activity when I was in Chiang Mai was by far the elephant sanctuary package day trip which is a must for your Chiang Mai itinerary.

So on the second day in Chiang Mai that is exactly what I will recommend for you!

The activities in total cost us 2200 baht per person and included a guide, free water and a free lunch. It is important to research the ethical nature of the elephant sanctuary before visiting.

First, research online to find sanctuaries that prioritise elephant welfare and conservation.

Look for places that allow elephants to roam freely, avoid riding or shows, and promote natural behaviour. Next, read reviews and testimonials from previous visitors to gauge the sanctuary’s reputation. Prioritise facilities that focus on education, ethical treatment, and environmental sustainability.

There are multiple different trips so make sure to check Get Your Guide, Klook and Viator to find the deal that suits you best.

You will be picked up from your accommodation in an air-conditioned vehicle and taken to your first stop.  

Buatong Sticky Waterfall

Unlike regular waterfalls, these falls boast a mineral deposit that creates a grippy surface, allowing you to climb and explore the different tiers safely. Surrounded by lush, scenic forests, the experience of scaling these natural steps is exhilarating and unforgettable.

The refreshing, crystal-clear water invites you to cool off and bask in the breathtaking surroundings. 

It’s truly something I haven’t experienced anywhere else in the world and an activity you must have on your Chiang Mai itinerary.

Dry yourself and it’s time to move on…

Elephant Sanctuary

Next, you will make the journey to the elephant sanctuary.

Upon arrival, you will be presented with a free lunch, and Thai buffet cuisine, as the elephants will appear around you.

Following lunch, you will be asked to wear traditional Karen clothing (provided by your host) and share their rich heritage and spiritual beliefs.

Now it is time to meet the elephants! You will be allowed to do the following:

  1. Observation: You can observe elephants in their natural habitat, witnessing their natural behaviours, social interactions, and daily routines.
  2. Feeding: You are allowed to feed the elephants, offering them fruits or vegetables as a way to interact with the animals in a non-intrusive manner. Impress your group by raising your arm above your head and say “Bon” to indicate to the Elephant you will feed it directly to its mouth.
  3. Bathing: You’ll be allowed to join the elephants in a river or mud bath, which not only provides a fun experience but also helps in the elephants’ physical well-being.
  4. Walking alongside: You can walk alongside the elephants as they roam freely, experiencing a close connection with these gentle giants.
  5. Educational Programs: Many sanctuaries offer educational programs where you can learn about elephant conservation, their natural habitat, and the challenges they face.

Water Rafting

Finally, you head to the rapids, hop on a raft and head downstream.

Certainly not a wild raft ride but you’ll be kept thoroughly entertained by your guides as you find a way to navigate through the rocky rapids.

It is a good way to interact with your group members and finish off the day trip. Not essential for your Chiang Mai itinerary but a nice touch to add in!

Once you’re all dried off you’ll hop back in your minivan back to the city of Chiang Mai for any evening plans you may have.

Chiang Mai Itinerary: Day 3 (KingKong Zipline and Gun Range)

Next on the Chiang Mai itinerary is a day full of excitement through ziplines and a gun range.

The KingKong zipline cost us 1800 baht per person and the gun range 2000 baht for 2 guns (assault rifle and pistol with ammunition).

Pick up and drop off will be from your accommodation at the time you select

  1. 7:00 AM – 7:30 AM
  2. 9:00 AM – 9:30 AM
  3. 12:00 PM – 12:30 PM
  4. 1:00 PM – 1:30 PM

This activity will take around 5 to 6 hours all in.

I recommend you pick from the early-morning options so that for half a day you can zipline but make it back in time for a second activity.

Once you arrive on sight the zipline guides will have you change into your safety equipment and brief you on how to stay safe while you fly through the trees. 

Once all safety precautions have taken place it is time to take on the longest zipline in Chiang Mai!

This adrenaline-pumping adventure not only provides an exhilarating rush but also promotes a sense of adventure and accomplishment. It offers a unique perspective of Chiang Mai’s picturesque landscape, making it a must-try for thrill-seekers and nature enthusiasts alike.

There are various ziplines you can include in your Chiang Mai itinerary so it is important to select the package that suits you best:

KingKong Zipline

Skyline Zipline

Jungle Flight Zipline

Upon arrival back in the city in the late afternoon, I recommend that you get on your preferred method of transport and head out to Shooting Club CM.

How often do you get to fire guns? If you’re from the UK like me the answer is pretty much never. 

In a lesser-explored part of Chiang Mai, you will be briefed on all the safety measures, how to reload, how to fire and see how accurate you were with the dummies on the range.

It’s not a cultural activity but it’s certainly a fun one bringing the soldier out of you. 

The recoil is no joke! and make sure to have your ear defenders on before you shoot, trust me my ears were ringing for days haha. 

Head back to Chiang Mai after you have finished and ensure you get some good rest in preparation for the fourth day of your Chiang Mai itinerary.

Chiang Mai Itinerary: Day 4 (Doi Inthanon National Park)

For day 4 of your Chiang Mai itinerary, take a full-day trip to Thailand’s highest point at Doi Inthanon National Park.

What’s a Thailand trip without seeing Doi Inthanon ay!

So what is there to do?

  1. Hike to the summit of Doi Inthanon – the highest mountain in Thailand (2565 metres above sea level. The trek will take you through forests, scenic trails and visit beautiful waterfalls. Within the park, there are a wide variety of bird species, orchids, and mosses.
  2. Visit stunning waterfalls – The park is home to several stunning waterfalls such as Wachirathan Waterfall and Siriphum Waterfall, a perfect place to relax and enjoy the natural beauty of your surroundings.
  3. Learn about the hill tribes – Doi Inthanon is home to several indigenous hill tribes, including the Karen and Hmong communities. You have the opportunity to learn about their unique traditions, crafts, and way of life
  4. View exceptional architecture – The park features two magnificent chedis (stupas) dedicated to the King and Queen of Thailand, surrounded by beautiful landscaped gardens. Look on into the breathtaking panoramic views of the surrounding mountains and valleys.

It is highly recommended to book a guided tour when visiting as your guide won’t leave a stone unturned. Your professional guides will provide you with expert knowledge of the area and get you to the top in good time. Absolutely essential for your Chiang Mai itinerary

Here are some tours I would recommend:

From Chiang Mai: Doi Inthanon National Park Day Trip

Chiang Mai: Doi Inthanon National Park Visit and Guided Hike

Chiang Mai: Doi Inthanon National Park & Elephant Sanctuary

Chiang Mai Itinerary: Day 5 (Chiang Rai Day Trip)

For the final day of your Chiang Mai itinerary, I would recommend you get your last nibble of Thai heritage with a visit to Chiang Rai.

If you can spend a few days in Chiang Rai be sure to check out Maddie and Cullen’s article on the best things to do in Chiang Rai for some awesome tips!

The Chiang Rai day tour will take you all day from approximately 7:00 AM – 9:00 PM.

There is much to do when you visit Chiang Rai and here are some activities I consider to be key:

Hot Spring Rest:

Your day can begin with a relaxing visit to the hot springs in Chiang Rai. Hot springs are not only soothing but also offer health benefits. It’s a perfect way to start your day, allowing you to unwind and prepare for the exciting adventures ahead.

Wat Rongkhun (White Temple):

Wat Rongkhun, also known as the White Temple, is one of the most iconic attractions in Chiang Rai.

This stunning contemporary Buddhist temple is renowned for its intricate white architecture with mirror decorations. As you explore the temple, you’ll be mesmerised by its unique design and the symbolic artistry representing Buddhist teachings. The White Temple is not only a place of worship but also a work of art.

Golden Triangle Boat Tour:

The Golden Triangle is a historical region where the borders of Thailand, Laos, and Myanmar meet.

Taking a boat tour in the Golden Triangle allows you to cruise along the Mekong River and enjoy breathtaking views of the surrounding landscapes. You’ll have the chance to visit small islands, see traditional villages, and learn about the region’s rich history. 

Long Neck Village:

Your day tour can conclude with a visit to Long Neck Village, where you can learn about the unique cultural traditions of the Karen Padaung tribe. The women of this tribe are known for wearing brass rings around their necks, giving the appearance of elongated necks.

After your long day, you’ll be ready to crawl into bed. I don’t blame you, but trust me there is so much more to Chiang Mai than what I have presented. So what else can be added to your Chiang Mai itinerary? 

If you have a little more time on your hands or want to spend five days exploring some other things here are some other activities showcasing what Chiang Mai has to offer.

Other Activities You May Enjoy

Pai

Go on a day trip to Pai and explore this northern city. I would recommend you spend a couple of days there actually. It is impossible to see everything in one day! Personally, a trip to Pai should be separate from your Chiang Mai itinerary.

For day trips to Pai click here!

Grand Canyon Water Park

Take on the biggest inflatable waterpark in Chiang Mai. With a range of activities, you won’t be able to wipe your smile off your face. I included this on my own personal Chiang Mai itinerary and we had a great time.

View the water park here

Enroll In A Cooking School

Take part in a local cooking class and learn some of the hidden secrets behind the culinary skills of people from Thailand. Chiang Mai has plenty of cooking classes to add to your Chiang Mai itinerary.

For a Thai cooking class click here!

ATV Adventure

Take on some tough terrain as you fly about on your ATV. This can be done around Doi Inthanon so make sure to plan ahead if you want to add this to your Chiang Mai itinerary.

To ride an ATV click here! or to ride an ATV and visit Doi Inthanon click here!

Sunday Market

If you can fit a Sunday in around your Chiang Mai trip then you MUST have the Sunday night market on your Chiang Mai itinerary. Start at Tha Phae Gate and make your way along walking street where you can purchase all sorts of goods and around the old city where you can buy delicious street food

Chiang Mai Nightlife

Chiang Mai had one of my favourite nightlife throughout my whole trip and should be a part of your Chiang Mai itinerary. Start at Zoe in Yellow or one of the sidebars nearby (we loved the karaoke bar!) until close and then move on to Spicy where you will meet fellow travellers or mingle with the locals. If your appetite is still wet there are further options for late-night clubs I would recommend Candy to finish.

Alternatively, if you want a chilled beer and some funky Jazz music head over to The North Gate for some exceptional music a unique activity for your Chiang Mai itinerary.

How Can You Get To Chiang Mai?

If you are visiting Chiang Mai from Bangkok there are three ways to reach your destination.

By Train

The most traditional way to arrive in Chiang Mai.

If you are a backpacker in Thailand it almost feels like a right of passage to experience the sleeper train at least once.

Departing in the evening and arriving in Chiang Mai in the early morning the sleeper train is a popular option for travellers looking for a budget-friendly option.

The journey is approximately 11-14 hours and has three options on what class you’re in:

  1. First Class
  2. Second Class
  3. Third Class (I DO NOT RECOMMEND THIS OPTION) 

The most cost-effective option is the third-class sleeper, however, you will be sat knee-to-knee with a fellow passenger with nowhere to get space, which is an extremely uncomfortable experience.

The option I recommend is the Second Class option.

You will have an air-conditioned unit and your own private bed with a curtain to draw when you want privacy. You will have plenty of space to put your bags so for the small additional cost, the second class option is a clear winner.

To compare prices Click Here!

By Plane

If you’re not concerned about the cost of the travel and want to arrive in Chiang Mai in the quickest time possible, grabbing a flight is the obvious option.

The Flight time is around 1 hour and 15 minutes and there are multiple flights running a day – you can check Skyscanner for times that suit you and the best rates.

The convenience will come at a price so if taking 10+ hours is too much for you book that ticket and fly into Chiang Mai International Airport.

By Bus

As competitive as the Sleeper train, taking the bus offers travellers a budget-friendly option when looking to travel to Chiang Mai.

Book online through 12Go Asia or arrive at the main bus terminal (bus terminal 1) in Bangkok and book on arrival. 

The journey takes between 9-11 hours and like the sleeper train you are able to admire the countryside of Thailand on your trip. 

Buses depart during the day and at night so it is important to consider when you want to arrive in Chiang Mai.

I recommend early morning so you can get a full first day in Chiang Mai.

Where To Stay In Chiang Mai?

5 days in Chiang Mai is a short period of time, but with all the activities you will be doing it is important to be in accommodation that is comfortable and suits your needs. Here are my opinions of the best hostels and hotels in Chiang Mai.

Stamps Hostel

Stamps Hostel in Chiang Mai is an excellent choice for solo travellers due to its vibrant atmosphere and social environment.

The hostel offers comfortable dorms, friendly staff, and common areas where guests can easily mingle and make new friends.

Additionally, its central location provides easy access to local attractions, markets, and cultural experiences.

The hostel often organises social events, creating opportunities for solo travellers to let loose and explore the Chiang Mai nightlife.

Hint – I found Stamps EXCELLENT for pre-drinks hint hint.

To book Click Here! Stamps can be fully booked for months in advance so you make sure you pre-book if you want Stamps to be part of your Chiang Mai itinerary.

Baan Lung Poshtel

Its unique blend of hostel affordability and boutique hotel comfort caters to a wide range of guests, from solo travellers and couples to families and groups.

The poshtel offers a variety of room options, including dormitories for budget-conscious travellers and private rooms for those seeking more privacy.

The inviting communal spaces create a friendly atmosphere, ideal for socialising and meeting fellow travellers. Its central location ensures convenient access to local attractions, restaurants, and cultural experiences, making it a convenient choice for all travellers looking for a memorable stay in Chiang Mai.

To book Click Here!

Baan Heart Thai

This is a non-party hostel so perfect for those looking for a more relaxed time away.

Perfect for solo travellers or families this is one of the friendliest hostels in Chiang Mai.

Offering great value for money but also great quality Baan Heart Thai is one of the most cost-effective places to stay in Thailand!

Being within walking distance of the old city’s main gate, you have many amenities around you.

To book Click Here!

BED Phrasingh-Adults Only (Hotel)

If you’d prefer to stay in a hotel rather than a hostel why not try out BED Phrasingh-Adults Only.

With 10/10 ratings across multiple platforms if you’re looking for the highest level of comfort this hotel should be high u on your list.

This hotel is within the heart of the Old City and certainly offers a luxury way to stay in Chiang Mai

To book Click Here!

Le Canal Boutique House (Hotel)

The wildcard selection comes in the form of the Le Canal Boutique House.

With friendly staff and spacious rooms, this hotel offers a comfortable place to stay in Chiang Mai.

They also have a communal area should you want to talk to fellow guests. A small walk away from various top-rated restaurants this hotel should be high up on your list if you want to re-charge that social battery from the hostel lifestyle.

To book Click Here!

Final Thoughts

So there you have it your five day Chiang Mai itinerary.

In my opinion, the perfect way to spend your five days in Chiang Mai.

With a range of activities presented to you, you can either follow my exact Chiang Mai itinerary or alter it to suit what suits you best. Chiang Mai has so much to offer travellers in Northern Thailand so make sure you use your time effectively to see as much as possible before moving on to your next city.