Chiang Mai, also written as Chiengmai or Chiangmai, is the biggest city in northern Thailand.
If you can spend a week in the city, you can tick some places off your itinerary. But if you only have 2 days in Chiang Mai, that will suffice. In English, “Chiang Mai” translates to “new city.”
The new city was founded in the old city of Wiang Nopburi.
Don’t get Chiang Mai province and Chiang Mai District confused. And make sure those ears are clean cause there is also Chiang Rai province to the northeast of Chiang Mai.
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The famous city is 700 km (435 mi) north of Bangkok in the mountainous region. It touches the border of the neighboring country Myanmar, formerly known as Burma.
The Ping River runs through the province which is part of why the city holds so much history.
The Old City in Chiang Mai is about 1.5 square kilometers (.6 square miles). It’s just a big square that is west of the Ping River and northeast of the international airport.
The medieval moat and fallen brick wall surround the city and inside there are countless cafes, temples, and places to stay during your visit.
There are over 100 temples in just the Chiang Mai district alone and 5 national parks around the area, including the well-known Doi Inthanon National Park.
To Chiang Mai From Bangkok
Getting from one huge city to the next will be no problem. It is just the amount of time that it takes because they are quite far apart.
If you want to take the train from one city to the next, it will take around 11-14 hours. A bus can be around 10-11 hours and a flight can only be 1-2 hours.
If you can sleep on trains or buses, you can always take an overnight train/bus. If you are in a hurry, taking a plane is the best option. Flights are usually rather cheap, along with the bus and train. They can be as low as USD 30-50 if you book at the right time.
How to Travel Around Chiang Mai
If you haven’t heard of the Grab app, I highly recommend downloading that before your trip to Thailand or Southeast Asia.
Check what other apps you should download for Thailand here.
Other options for transportation include a taxi, a tuk-tuk, songthaew, or walk.
Grab is just a taxi app. You can choose between a car or a motorbike.
Take note that taxis are not too widely used in Chiang Mai.
If you want to take a taxi, check the Grab app to compare prices. Sometimes the taxi driver will agree to take you based on the Grab price.
I’m sure you’ve heard of or at least seen a tuk-tuk before. But for those who don’t know, a tuk-tuk is a three-wheeled rickshaw kind of thing. They will be in all areas of Thailand, especially in touristy spots. They are usually cheap. And if you run out of gas, not be shocked. That only happened to me a few handfuls of times while I was living in Thailand.
And a songthaew is basically just a truck with benches in the back. They can fit a good amount of people and are run like a bus.
Where to Stay in Chiang Mai
If you decide to book your stay in the old city, you can sometimes find cheap accommodation.
The Old City is less than a 15-minute drive from Chiang Mai International Airport (CNX). If you stay around that area, you will be good to go.
Check out Agoda to book your accommodation in Chiang Mai.
Where to Eat in Chiang Mai
Chiang Mai has many options for both vegans and vegetarians.
The region is also known for its dish: khao soi so you should definitely try it while you’re there!
There are going to be street vendors everywhere so check out some of what they have and fill your stomach for less than USD 5 per meal. If you’re on a budget and love Thai food, this will be an easy choice.
Of course, there are other restaurants to eat at if you want but street food is always cheap and delicious.
How to spend 2 days in Chiang Mai
There are a plethora of things to do in Chiang Mai. If you have a lot of time in the city, you won’t run out of things to do and if you spend one day in Chiang Mai, your day will be filled with adventure.
I do think that two days will be enough to see some good spots in the region.
You can take a Thai cooking class, see some elephants, and go to a national park or nature park. There are plenty of day trips that you can add to your Chiang Mai itinerary, particularly if you are staying in or near the Old City.
Inside the Old City, you will find many temples and you can easily walk from one to the next.
You can always book a tour if you can’t decide on what to do and how to get there!
You will find many different markets inside the Old City and outside.
Wua Lai Walking Street has multiple food street vendors to choose from so you can take a walk and find what you like. There are many handcrafted items and other types of art in this market.
Side note: If you decide to book an all-day tour with the elephants, please make sure that the place you go to is ethical. And please do not ride the elephants, that will be the first red flag if you look into an elephant park. Some of the elephant nature parks do not actually treat their elephants kindly. The same goes for any tiger kingdom. Just basically everything that has to do with animals, please do research before you book!
I have to be honest and say that I had no idea how badly some of the animals can be treated, especially for tourism. And that is what makes it even worse because humans can do their own investigation and choose not to support the businesses that make money from these animals but we choose not to educate ourselves. So I’ve learned to either do my own research beforehand or not participate at all.
Here is a useful article that I found that compares the two “elephant sanctuaries.”
The Elephant Jungle Sanctuary in Chiang Mai Camp 6 is supposed to be ethical but if they have a location in Phuket and they are not taking proper care of their elephants there, is the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary actually an ethical company?
I ended up spending a day at The Elephant Jungle Sanctuary in Chiang Mai and it seemed to be a great place.
The company might pick you up if you’re close enough to the Old City in Chiang Mai. You will most likely ride to the sanctuary in a songthaew. It will take about an hour and a half and you will ride up some curvy narrow roads, so if you get motion sickness, be prepared.
Once you get to the sanctuary, your guide will give you instructions on how to deal with the elephants. The sanctuary will provide you with Karen clothing which is the shirt that I’m wearing below.
The tour will provide you with a buffet-style meal and if you are lucky, you get to hang out with the elephants in the nearby lake. You can bathe the animals and possibly get a chance to feed them.
Of course, a trip to one of Thailand’s most famous cities wouldn’t be complete without a visit to a temple or two.
Don’t forget: you have to cover your shoulders and knees and you will have to take off your shoes.
If you are not prepared, don’t worry too much. Sometimes the temples will lend you something to cover up or you can just buy something right outside/near the temple. However, if you do not have the correct clothing, you cannot go inside the temple.
Some of the popular or touristy temples will offer clothing that you can borrow while you are visiting. If so, I recommend putting some money in the donation box that is nearby.
Also, keep in mind that most of the temples will be congested, mainly if you go during the weekend and especially if it is a more popular one.
Some of the temples may offer a monk chat in English. You will be able to ask the monk about their daily lives.
Some of the temples located in Chiang Mai include:
- Wat Chedi Luang
- Wat Chiang Man
- Wat Pan Ping
- Wat Phra Singha
- Wat Phra That Doi Suthep
The most famous one in Chiang May is Wat Phra That Doi Suthep which is from 1383. The temple is on top of Doi Suthep Mountain.
The entrance fee for Wat Phra That Doi Suthep is THB 30 (less than USD 1).
You will have to climb a bunch of stairs to reach the top, but it is most definitely worth it.
There will be trees to block some of the harsh sun as you walk up the never-ending stairs. Once you enter Wat Phra That Doi Suthep temple, you can see Doi Suthep Viewpoint. The elevation of the temple is 1,073 m (3520 ft). The views from this temple are stunning. You can see planes taking off and landing in the distance.
You can take a guided tour if you wish. You can easily spend 1-2 hours at the top of the mountain and inside the temple.