From the bustle of Bangkok to the holiday fever of Pattaya, every city in Thailand is bursting with personality. But for the ancient city of Chiang Mai, the charm lies in its laid-back atmosphere. This growing backpacker destination is scenic and peaceful, without ever being boring. Here’s what you can do with 4 Days in Chiang Mai.
Day 1: Play with the Elephants
For the Thai, the elephant carries immense cultural significance—from the ancient kings of Siam who rode them into battle, to common folk hauling materials to build temples. And if you only have a day in Thailand, spend it with these gentle giants in their natural habitat, deep in Thailand’s mountain region.
Change out of your day clothes into traditional Karen attire and get a quick lesson on elephant history, behavior, and Chiang Mai’s elephant preservation efforts. You won’t be riding the elephants or see them perform along the town streets. Instead, you’ll feed them bananas and sugarcane, while you have traditional Thai food lunch for yourself.
Go down and join the elephants by the river where you can bathe and brush them. After the river, they’ll lead you to a therapeutic mud spa, where the baby elephants become especially playful! Snap a picture with your new animal friends before saying good-bye, as you end your day with a scenic drive back to your hotel.
Day 2: Nature Calls
Get up early and make the most of the day when you visit Doi Inthanon National Park, part of the Himalayan mountain range and an incredible expanse of Thailand’s most stunning natural attractions. d
As you hike along the trails, the next thing you’ll hear are the Wachirathan Waterfalls, crashing from heights of up to 80 meters.
You’ll also notice the birds, which you’ll hear before you see. The lush mountain landscapes make the park one of the best bird watching sites in the country.
Be sure you’ve packed a jacket before making your way to the peak of Doi Inthanon, where temperatures drop to as low as 10 degrees Celsius. At 2565 meters, you’ll overlook all of Thailand and beyond.
Day 3: An Old New City
While Chiang Mai translates to ‘New City,’ the former seat of the Lanna kingdom is steeped in over 700 years of history. The most prominent sign of this is Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, one of Thailand’s oldest and most sacred temples. To reach the wát, many Buddhist devotees climb the 306-step staircase, but you can opt to take an elevator lift for 20 baht.
The temple enshrines a bone fragment said to belong to Buddha himself, carried by sacred white elephant. Follow the walkway to the glimmering gold chedi that holds the relic, where you can leave lotus blossoms as an offering.
Not far from Doi Suthep is the Bhubing Palace, the Thai royal family’s summer home. Because of the cool mountain climate, Queen to raises a stunningly colourful garden filled with exotic flowers, especially roses.
The late and well-loved Thai King—who was also a saxophonist and inventor—left his own imprint in the gardens: the musical water fountain plays his compositions.
End the day with a Khantoke Dinner, the northern Thai way of eating—seated on a floor mat at a low table with the food served on large platters. As you eat, enjoy a traditional dance performance. The shows include the Fon Lep (‘Finger Dancing’), Fon Thean (‘Candle Dancing’) and Ram Dab (‘Sword Dancing).
Day 4: Do as the locals do
On your last day in Chiang Mai, find ways to bring a bit of it home with you. You’ll start by selecting ingredients from the local market. With the help of the chefs, you’ll be able to prepare green curry, pad thai, and the sweet, sticky rice with mango.
Bargain Hunting at the Marketplace
End your trip with a leisurely trip to any of Chiang Mai’s marketplaces as you haggle your way to the perfect outfit, jewelry piece, or souvenirs to bring home.
Check out the Night Bazaar, open seven days a week, that has all your shopping desires as well as live music and traditional Thai dancers. If you’re in for the weekend, visit Saturday & Sunday Night Walking Street, which is filled with artisan items, local handicrafts, and unique clothing. Our advice? Purchase a handmade elephant pendant to wear as a small, happy reminder of your trip.