Here are our DIY suggestions for activities that don't require booking a tour or planning ahead!
If you want to spend time in nature, get some exercise, and see some temples, this is the activity for you! Just on the outskirts of the city you can find the start of the hiking trail. Click here to see the location on Google Maps. We recommend you get there by red truck, bicycle, grab, or maybe even on foot if you are staying near the Chiang Mai University area. The first part of the hike takes you up to Wat Phalad, a temple hidden in the forest surrounded by a waterfall. They are currently in the process of restoring the temple so it will be even more beautiful soon! The first part of the hike takes between 30 minutes and 1 hour and it is not very strenuous. The path is marked by orange monk robes tied around the trees (to bless them and prevent anyone from cutting them down).
You can stop to rest at Wat Phalad for a while before hiking back down, or continuing up to Doi Suthep. You will find the next part of the trail by walking up alongside the waterfall. It gets very steep here, and after climbing for about 5 minutes you will come out onto the road which leads to Doi Suthep. You can either wait here and try to hail a red truck going up to Doi Suthep or back down to Chiang Mai, or you can continue the hike up to Doi Suthep. To find the next trail, you must cross the road and walk up the hill for less than a minute, and enter the first clearing on your right-hand side.
From here you just follow the trail, which is clearly marked. It does get steeper and more challenging, but it is shorter than the first half so manageable for most fitness-levels and ages. You will come out onto the road again after about 30 minutes, and you will have to walk up the road the rest of the way to reach the temple (about 5 minutes). Make sure you take advantage of the many fresh fruit shakes for sale here!
Take your time exploring Doi Suthep and considering whether you want to brave the walk back down, or hail a red truck to take you back to the start of the trail. The walk back down is a lot quicker, so if you're feeling fresh, go for it!
If you're looking for somewhere to relax, think about the world and eat some delicious food, you must visit Huay Tung Tao Lake. Located just 20 minutes outside the old city, you can travel by grab, red truck, or bicycle if you want to get a workout it. Coincidentally there is a great cycling track just by the entrance which is the best place to cycle, run or walk in the shade and away from the traffic/crowds. The entrance fee to the lake is 50 baht (20 baht for Thais), but you can stay as long as you want. If you bring a good book and good company you could spend all day here from when the lake opens at 7am until the sun goes down and the park shuts at 6pm.
There are over 20 "restaurants" located all along the perimeter of the lake. Each restaurant has a number of floating huts in which you can sit cross-legged (no chairs) and enjoy a meal on-top of the water. The food is incredibly fresh and tasty, and cheap too. Our favorites include whole boiled fish "bla tub-tim neung manaow," fried morning glory "pad pak-boong fai daeng," and tom yum soup with shrimp "tom yum goong." Most restaurants have at least pictures, if not an English menu, so no matter what you should be able to order something you like. Throughout the day vendors will stop at your hut to sell fresh fruit, ice-cream, fried bugs and more snacks.
You can also swim in the lake within the cordoned-off area, but we do not know how clean the water is...
If you want to experience nature but not go too far, Huay Kaew Waterfall is where you should go. It's amazing how such a beautiful and peaceful spot is located so close to the city. Just at the foot of the hill leading to Doi Suthep you can find Huay Kaew Waterfall. As you pass through the entrance you'll see a large waterfall and many spots to chill around it. Feel free to relax here, or start exploring!
If you turn left over the bridge you'll find a trail. You can follow this trail up and up for a good 30 minutes, passing many beautiful openings, waterfalls and views along the way. Each time it seems the trail has ended you can go further up. This is a great place to explore, get your feet wet, and if you find a shady spot, relax. If you go there later in the day you can visit the evening student market at Chiang Mai University on the way back to the city centre.
Although located a little further outside of the city, this is a great day out. Just make sure you bring lots of sunscreen and a hat! You will need to get a grab or a red truck here, as it is located about 30 minutes south of the city. It is a great day out for a group of friends or if you have kids to entertain, bring them here!
The canyon is split into two sections. On the left-hand side there is a full water park full of slides and bouncy things to play around on. That section costs 550 baht for adults and 400 baht for children. It's open daily from 9am to 7pm.
If you're looking for something chiller, go to the right-hand side section. Entry is only 100 baht and you can swim, float around in a rubber tube, play football on a (tiny) floating pitch, or try jumping off the 7.5 meter-high "cliff." You can also zipline across the canyon for an added cost. There is also a great restaurant where you can find green papaya salad ("somtam"), roasted chicken ("gai yang"), sticky rice ("kao niaow") and other delicious Thai food at very reasonable prices. They even have a bar onsite, and your ticket gets you a discounted drink. Sometimes on the weekend this side hosts public parties, so maybe check on the Facebook page before going to make sure you are not going to experience anything you did not sign up for!
You can spend a whole day here playing around before heading back to the city for some rest.
Chiang Mai truly has some great spots to enjoy your favorite beverage, relax, and do some work or read a book. It seems like everywhere you look there is a quaint little coffee shop, and many offer modern, vegan-friendly options. There are already many blogs around the internet analyzing the Chiang Mai coffee shop scene so we'll let you do your own research on where to go. But you cannot go wrong with just wandering along the street and dropping into whatever shop takes your fancy!
What should you drink? For us, you have to try iced Thai tea and green tea. Both drinks are incredibly sweet and full of condensed milk, so if you are dairy-free we would avoid it and if you do not have an insanely sweet tooth make sure you ask them to make it less sweet ("wan noi"). We also love getting both of those drinks served blended with ice, all you need to do is ask for a green tea or Thai tea shake. There is also an amazing selection of cakes and sweet treats everywhere you go, just like the delicious matcha crepe cake pictured above.
If you are bored of relaxing in coffee shops and want to take it up a level, why not get a Thai massage? There are massage shops all over the old city but we recommend trying out the Women's Massage Center by Ex-Prisoners which has multiple branches throughout the old city.
To finish off your day, head to Buak Hard Park as the day cools down to enjoy the sunset. From here, you can either head to the Saturday Walking Street Market or check out the nightly Chiang Mai Gate Market. Both markets are located just down the road from the park.
This is a truly unique experience which is easily-accessible in Chiang Mai. You will have the opportunity to talk to young monks about their lives, and they will no doubt have questions for you too. It is a great opportunity for cultural exchange, and for the monks to practice their English skills. They will probably teach you some Thai too! You can stay for as long or as short as you want, and tourists and monks have be known to chat together for many hours. Despite the rules concerning women being around monks, women are also welcome to join the monk chat sessions.
The best place to go is Wat Chedi Luang in the old city. You can chat to many monks every day from 9 am to 6pm. Or, you can combine a monk chat with a trip to Doi Suthep, where you can join a chat every day between 1pm and 3pm.