Leaving Lampang was hard. I felt like we didn’t have enough time to see everything and I really wanted them to see more of my beautiful home. But, it was time to see more of what Thailand has to offer and I knew 4 days in Chiang Mai was the perfect next destination.
Thankfully, we weren’t leaving till mid-morning so we were able enjoyed breakfast at one of my favorite locations. I like this particular location because it is a cafeteria style restaurant with many options. Then, we enjoyed a cup of coffee from one of the many, MANY cafes nearby my apartment. This particular cafe, Flat White, offered a true latte, which my dad was requesting.
Before I knew it, we were off to the bus depot. The ease of transportation is an important factor about traveling within Thailand. To get from Lampang to Chiang Mai was no exception.
The bus tickets between Lampang and Chiang Mai cost around 80-90 baht ($3). There are two types of “buses” offered on this route. One is a 12-passenger van, the other is large bus, but both take about 1.5 hours. Don’t worry, the ticket ladies are pretty good at knowing which to put you on.
**Hint, it usually has to do with luggage.**
Our accommodation for our 4 days in Chiang Mai was a beautiful boutique hotel located right in the heart of the Old City. It was an easy decision on the location, since majority of the things to see and do in Chiang Mai are located in the Old City. But, I honestly struggled on which hotel to stay at, because the options are really overwhelming. Not to mention, I typically stay in hostels, so I couldn’t even pick something based on experience. This is one perk of traveling with my parents. It give me the opportunity to stay variety of accommodations.
We stayed at GORD Chiangmai, a boutique style hotel located on the south end of the Old City. It approximately about 4-5 blocks west of Chiang Mai Gate (South Gate). The Chiang Mai Gate is the location of the Saturday Night Market.
We stayed in one of their Deluxe Triple rooms. This room is perfectly designed for a group of three, containing a king bed and a twin. Our particular room design was a two-story set up with the twin bed located on the loft. I felt that it was the perfect set up because I had my own space in the loft. I never felt like we were on top of each other during our 4 days in Chiang Mai.
They do offer a wide range of rooms in addition to the Deluxe Triple. Their largest room is a Duplex room, which is great for two couples traveling together or a family/group of 4. They also have a double room with a king bed and a twin-bed room with two single beds. If you’re looking something bigger, I would recommend the Junior Suite because it does offer a spacious sitting area. Overall, the rooms at GORD are perfect for couples, families, and groups of friends traveling together, who are looking for more comfort.
One of the main reason we chose GORD Chaingmai, was that breakfast was included. Several places we looked at included breakfast at an additional cost, but GORD included breakfast in the final price. I tend to try and stay at places that include breakfast, because it is one less meal to have to think about.
Their breakfast was simple and delicious. They provide four different options; Pancakes and fruit, Yogurt and Fruit, Eggs and Thai Sausage, and Oatmeal, all the fix-ins and drinks, and service was quick.
They also provide bicycles to rent and maps of the city, so if you like biking, this is a huge perk. Although we didn’t utilize the bicycles to explore the city, it was a nice bonus, just in case. GORD Chiang Mai was in close proximity to the temples, night markets, main streets, and restaurants, that we just never felt the need to cycle. Granted, my parents are walkers and like to take strolls, so we walked everywhere, regardless of the heat.
Itinerary: 4 Days in Chiang Mai
Day 1: Arrival and City Exploring
Arrival days are always weird days for me. It’s hard to do anything planned, unless you arrive super early in the morning. But it also doesn’t mean doing nothing. On arrival day, depending on what time you arrive, it is the perfect chance to explore the neighborhood you are staying in and some of the city of Chiang Mai and get acclimated. Thankfully 4 days in Chiang Mai is a good amount of time to truly experience everything the city has to offer, including multiple chances for Thai massages.
My parents and I arrived in the afternoon and exploring is exactly what we decided to do.
After we settled into our accommodation, we walked up to the main road, Rachadamnoen Road, where Tha Phae Gate is located (east gate), looking at shops and stores along the way. We stopped on the way home for some traditional Thai pineapple fried rice and some Chang beer. We also walked past several temples, but we weren’t dressed appropriately so we didn’t stop.
Wua Lai Walking Street Market
After a short break at the hotel, we ventured to Wua Lai Walking Street Market, Chiang Mai’s Saturday market. This market is one of their larger street markets and worth a visit. My parents at this point hadn’t truly experienced a street market, and you really can’t go to Thailand without experiencing a walking street.
Wua Lai Walking Street is located across the river outside Chiang Mai Gate, or the south gate. Our hotel told us the walking street was really hard to miss. Just don’t confuse it with the South Gate Market, which happens every night, like we almost did.
Wua Lai Walking Street is lined with small shops filled with every type of clothing item, trinkets, souvenirs, purses, jewelry, toys, you name it. The list goes on and on. Not to mention, the amount of food options this walking street has to offer. I made my dad get Khao Soi, the best northern Thai food dish, though, it wasn’t the easiest to eat at a walking street market.
After some time wandering the street market, eating Thai food, and doing a little shopping, we headed home. But not before we stopped for some roti and crepe.
Day 2: Take a Day Trip
The city of Chiang Mai has a variety of things to do for any ages, group styles, etc. But don’t limit your time to only staying in the city. I highly recommend spending at least one day on a day trip.
Day Trip Ideas
- Doi Inthanon National Park: The highest mountain in Thailand at 2,565 meters (8,415ft) and a beautiful park with two chedis built for King Bhumibol’s 60th birthday (1987) and for his Queen Sirikit’s 60th birthday (1992). To get there you can rent motor-scooters and drive or schedule a day trip.
- Bua Tong Waterfall: known as the Sticky Waterfall, the Bua Tong Waterfall is a perfect place to spend a half day. It’s in the mountains and you will get wet, but it’s truly a unique experience. To get there you can hire a songthaew, rent motor-scooters, or take a tour.
- Doi Suthep: visit the large temple Wat Phra That Doi Suthep at the top of this mountain, located about 15 km outside the main city. It sits at roughly 1000 meters and was built around 1383. I have heard that there is a hike up the mountain, but haven’t done it personally. Also, this can be combined with Bua Tong Waterfall
- Chiang Dao: I personally haven’t been, but I have had friends who said it was amazing. Located north of Chiang Mai, Chiang Dao is a nature lovers dream. With limestone caves, hot springs, hikes, and a wildlife sanctuary, this places offers a wide range of activities. You can even do a multi-day trip with homestay if you’re looking for a trek.
- Chiang Rai: Located northeast of Chiang Mai and roughly 4 hours by bus, Chiang Rai is home to “The White Temple”, a popular tourist destination. Read On…
If you are with a large enough group, you can hire a private driver or songthaew (for the more local ones). This would give you more freedom to create your own schedule, but also could save money. There are also buses that head to Chiang Dao and Chiang Rai, but watch the return times.
Our Day Trip Choice: Chiang Rai and the Golden Triangle
As for my parents and I, my mom asked to see was The White Temple, or Wat Rong Khun in Chiang Rai. I knew it was possible to visit Chiang Rai as a day trip, like I did when I first moved to Thailand. However, I wanted them to see more. I’m not always down for organized tours, but it is the easiest way to see the most for a decent price.
After doing extensive research, I ultimately decided on Get Your Guide’s From Chiang Mai: White Temple & Golden Triangle Day Trip. This was a 13-14 hour tour with hotel pick up included and cost roughly $65/person (total of 6000 baht). We knew it was going to be a LONG day, but it included several stops and lunch.
The tour started at 6:30-7am from our hotel with a 2 hour drive to Mae Kachan Hot Springs. The hot springs were pretty small, and RIDICULOUSLY hot. I could barely put my feet in the hot spring, but it was a good stop for a cup of coffee.
We arrived at Wat Rong Khun around 10:30 am and had a good hour to wander the grounds. It wasn’t crowded, so we were able to spend extra time looking at all the details. Seriously, the mural inside the temple is one of the most unique ones I’ve seen. There are no photos allow inside the main temple, but I promise it will catch you off guard.
One of the must-dos at Wat Rong Khun is to make a wish on a Lucky Silver Leaf. You can purchase a lucky leaf for 30 baht and you can hang it in several places. You can see the 1000s and 1000s of hanging lucky leafs around the grounds and on the Leaf Tree.
From the White Temple, we continued further north to Chiang Saen, where Wat Phra That Chedi Luang is located. Don’t mistake this Chedi Luang with the one in Chiang Mai. This Chedi Luang use to be Chiang Saen’s main temple and has little known history about it. Built around the 13th century, the center chedi is about 18 meters tall. It is considered the tallest religious Lanna monument in Chiang Rai province.
The Golden Triangle
Next, we went to a local restaurant for a traditional Thai lunch before continuing to the Mekong River and the Golden Triangle. The Golden Triangle is a location definitely worth visiting because of the historical importance to Thailand.
The Golden Triangle is the intersection of three countries: Thailand, Laos, and Myanmar. It was the center of the Opium Trade in Southeast Asia. There is a museum that explains the importance of this trade, and the change that occurred within Thailand. We did visit this museum, but it was after we took the boat along the Mekong to Laos.
Getting on the boat at the Mekong River was super easy. We just followed our guide/signs and walked right onto a boat. The boat took us to the official intersection of the three countries: Thailand, Laos, and Myanmar, before heading down the river.
We didn’t head too far down the river before we docked at a riverside street market in Laos. No passport stamp was necessary crossing over with this tour, and we had about 30 minutes to explore the market before returning to Thailand.
To end the tour, we visited the Golden Triangle-Opium Museum. We learned about the history of the trade, learned about the equipment and the process for obtaining opium, and how Thailand changed from being the world’s number 1 producer of opium. It really is an interesting part of Thailand’s history and I couldn’t recommend it more.
After the museum, it was time to take the 4 hour drive back to Chiang Mai.
Even though we arrived to our hotel around 8:30pm, my parents and I headed to the Tha Phae Sunday Street Market. The Sunday Street Market is the largest street market in Chiang Mai and extends for about 1km. The entire main street, plus side streets, get shut down from traffic. This market is the BEST place to get souvenirs and clothes. Don’t miss it!
Day 3: Temple Exploring and Food Tour
Day trips are always exhausting and I don’t like combining them back to back and I don’t recommend doing that. Taking a day break between two busy days, allows one to truly enjoy the place they are at. With 4 days in Chiang Mai, it provides ample time to spend a day visiting the famous temples and then enjoy a food tour at night. Plus, you can throw in getting an hour or 2-hour massage. This itinerary combines history, food, and culture all in one day.
This is exactly how my parents and I spent our third day in Chiang Mai; exploring temples, getting a massage, and going on a food tour.
Our Day 2 was super long and none of us felt the need to wake up super early. Unfortunately, that meant we would be exploring in the middle of the day. In Thailand, that means sunny and hot. We were hopeful that it meant less people. (we were right).
Temples in Chiang Mai
Chiang Mai is home to many temples, and even though I lived here for 1-month, I never really explore them. Thankfully, I found a few that combined history and uniqueness.
Wat Suan Dok
We started our day at the furthest temple, Wat Suan Dok, built in 1370. Located roughly 1km west of the Suan Dok Gate (West Gate) on Suthep Road, Wat Suan Dok is known as the Royal Cemetery. Multiple white mausoleums house the cremation ashes of members of the royal family of Chiang Mai. At the south end of the cemetery stands a large 48 meter chedi, built in the Sri Lankan style, covered in gold, and truly is a sight to see.
Wat Suan Don also houses the Mahachulalongkornrajavidyalaya University Chiang Mai Campus. This is one of two public Buddhist universities in Thailand and the oldest Buddhist universities in the nation.
Before walking to the next temple, we took a mid-morning break at a local cafe for air con and coffee. It was also my mom’s first taste of a Cha Kiew Matcha Latte (green tea latte). If you’re spending anytime in Thailand, it is a must try beverage.
Wat Chedi Luang
Built in the 14th century, Wat Chedi Luang was once home to the largest Lanna building; standing 82 meters high and a base of 54 meters. This temple is unique because it took from the 14th century to the mid-15th century to complete the construction. It was also home to the famous Emerald Buddha from 1468-1551 before relocating to Luang Prabang.
Although it was the largest Lanna building, in 1554 an earthquake caused the chedi’s top 30 meters to collapse. It was reconstructed with the support of UNESCO and the Japanese government but not without controversy.
Wat Chedi Luang is also home to the city pillar and hosts monk chats everyday. I highly recommend taking the time to participate in a monk chat if you have the time.
Wat Chiang Mun
Wat Chiang Mun is known to be the first temple of Chiang Mai and was built in 1297 on Wiang Nopburi, which was home to the Lawa people. This temple was once considered a camp, while the capital of Chiang Mai was being constructed.
The oldest structure at Wat Chiang Mun is the chedi, known as Chedi Chang Lom. “Chang” in Thai means elephants and located along the base are 15 huge elephants. In addition, the main wihan, or monastery, houses the oldest statue of the Lanna Kingdom; a standing Buddha engraved with the year 1465.
At the time of my visit, I was unaware of the importance of this temple. I am glad we decided last minute to visit this temple. I highly recommend visiting and learning about some of the history of Chiang Mai.
After visiting several temples, it was time for a massage. There are countless options for massages in Chiang Mai. One of the more popular places is the Women’s Massage Center by Ex-Prisoners. With several locations throughout Chiang Mai, these centers are vocational training centers for women as they reenter society. I found that they are a little more pricy, but goes to a good cause.
Otherwise, most Thai massages for 1-hour in Chiang Mai run between 200-400 baht per hour, averaging around 300 baht (~$10). Beware of Thai massages. They are not for the faint of heart and can be somewhat painful, but absolutely worth it. My dad struggled with the Thai massages due to a hip injury. But, thankfully, massage parlors have a variety of styles to choose from including a traditional calming massage. There is something for everyone. I HIGHLY recommend getting a massage (or four) while traveling Thailand.
Food Tour or Cooking Class
One thing to experience in Chiang Mai is the Food. Whether through a food tour or a cooking class, the food culture is not something to miss. Especially since, Northern Thai food is very different from the rest of Thailand. I personally feel that a food tour is the best way to experience Thai food because it provides a larger spread/selection.
From private lunch time tours to group evening tours, from 2 hour tours to half day tours, there is something designed for every type of traveler.
When I first moved to Thailand, I went of A Chef’s Tour Chiang Mai Food Tour, which is an evening tour that runs 4-5 hours. You visit 5 to 6 markets to various vendors learning about the different vegetables and spices used in the cuisine. I felt this tour was extremely thorough and provided a great selection of food, drinks and desserts. It was long and I was stuffed by the end.
My parents and I, however, weren’t up for a longer tour. We found a 2.5 hour Evening Local Street Food Market Tour with great review. It has a max participation of 8, but we were lucky that we ended up having a private tour.
We started at the North gate market and visited 3-4 vendors, including the famous Cowboy Hat Lady for Khao Ka Moo and a Chiang Mai speciality of Kanom Jean. Then we headed to the South Gate Market for the Northern Thai speciality of Khao Soi from a popular street cart and a few other delicacies. We ended our night with banana-nutella roti, topped with sweetened condensed milk. This tour was the perfect length and had plenty of food for the three of us. Our guide was amazing and spoken wonderful English. I cannot emphasis enough how much a food tour is worth it, or a cooking class if you fancy cooking your food.
Day 4: Visit Elephants
For the final day in Chiang Mai, I highly recommend visiting an elephant park or sanctuary. There is a lot of good and bad information related to elephant parks in Chiang Mai. I highly encourage you do to your own research before choosing which park you visit. Some parks have more ethical practices and do not allow riding of elephants.
There are many various options for interacting and visiting with elephants. From whole day trips to half day trips, you can really find something that meets your needs.
Chai Lai Orchid
For me, I visited Chai Lai Orchid Nature Bungalows back in June 2019. It a elephant rescue came as well as a resort with riverside and jungle bungalows. It is also safe haven for victims of trafficking and exploitation and a place where women can be empowered. I personal felt that it upheld ethical practices and still maintained a sense of the culture of the Karen Tribe villages.
I wanted my parents to spend time with elephants while in Thailand and since I loved my experience at Chai Lai Orchid, I knew they would too. We did the Elephant Jungle Expedition, 1-day tour at 3500 baht per person. This excursion includes bamboo rafting, visiting a Karen Hill Tribe Village, jungle trek and swimming in a waterfall, picnic lunch, and visiting the elephants at the rescue camp.
Each day is designed to fit the needs of the elephants at the rescue camp. At this location, it has a strict 1:1 elephant-human ratio. This prevents overcrowding and over exposure with the elephants.
Our Day Itinerary
For our day, we started out feeding the elephants and learning about the two we were engaging with. They were very calm, but weren’t patient when it came to eating bananas. Then, we went on a jungle walk with them before arriving at the river.
We didn’t engage too much with the adult elephants in the water. We mostly watched them play and dunk their heads as their Mahots took short break.
One of my favorite parts was getting to interact and take photos with a juvenile elephant (teenage). The best part of this interaction, was when the elephant shot water at my mom and when she gave my dad a big kiss. I couldn’t stop laughing. It was truly memorable.
After the elephants, we jumped in a songthaew and headed north to another location where we boarded a bamboo raft. It takes about 40 minutes, but it very peaceful and a good way to end the morning.
The afternoon started with an hour trek through the luscious jungle, located southwest of Chiang Mai (eat of Doi Inthanon). Our guide was teaching us about the flora and fauna of the jungle, and built us bamboo utensils for our lunch.
After the hour trek, we arrived at a beautiful Karen Hill Tribe Village built near a waterfall. We enjoyed a delicious Pad Thai lunch and spent some time cooling off in the waterfall.
Our trek back took a different route (highly recommend) that went through a huge rice field, and along the river. Our guide continued teaching us about the flora and fauna, and how it has been used in the past by the hill tribes.
Overall, the entire day at Chai Lai Orchis was well spent. It wasn’t solely about the elephants and included so much cultural learning about the hill tribes. I cannot recommended experiencing something like this enough.
After an exhausting 4 days in Chiang Mai, we ultimately decided to take the night off. We simply went to a market, grabbed dinner, and relaxed at the hotel.
Day 5: Departure to the Next City
One of the many benefits of visiting Chiang Mai is the international airport. There are plenty of options and plenty of daily flights to cities throughout Thailand. If you are short on time or traveling with parents (family), like me, than flying is the best choice. It not only cuts out on time but also opens up options of where to visit.
If you are a budget backpacker, like I usually am, then taking the trains and buses is going to be your cheapest option. However, don’t rule out flying, because national flights in Thailand can be as low was $20.
After our 4 days in Chiang Mai were over, we were packing up and heading to the airport to fly to our next destination, Krabi. We flew Bangkok Airways, non-stop 2 hour flight at 12pm for roughly $65 each. It saved a huge portion of our time. Plus, it allowed us to still be able to enjoy some of the day in Krabi.