Chiang Mai Travel Itinerary: 5 days

by Jan

In this post, we’ll share our 5-day itinerary in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

This summer we visited Chiang Mai as part of our 4-week family trip to Thailand.  Having arrived from Chiang Rai and Bangkok, where we’d visited lots of temples, we were seeking adventure, nature, and culture.

With jaw-dropping natural beauty, exhilarating activities, and plenty of historic landmarks Chiang Mai is a popular destination for anyone wanting an authentic Thai experience.  It is popular with back-packers looking for a laid-back vibe and a brilliant destination for families.

When planning our family-friendly 5-day Chiang Mai itinerary, we wanted to include as much variety as possible.  We wanted to hike, enjoy the mountainous landscape, try adventure activities, eat Thai food and absorb the amazing heritage.  And all in less than a week!

It wasn’t my first time, having been a long time ago as a traveller, but it was a family first.  We wanted to immerse ourselves in everything Chiang Mai has to offer, with elephants being top of the list!

So, to find out what we got up to and how to spend 5 days in Chiang Mai.

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Know before you go

Where is Chiang Mai?

Chiang Mai is in northern Thailand,  435 miles (750 km) north of the Thai capital, Bangkok.  It is the second largest city in Thailand.

It is near several national parks, including Doi Inthanon which is home to Thailand’s highest peak.  As well as its outstanding natural landscape, Chiang Mai has a rich heritage, with hundreds of temples and historic sites.

How many days do you need for a visit to Chiang Mai?

To make the most of all that Chiang Mai has to offer, you really need to spend at least 4-5 days in the region.  This will allow time to explore the old city, visit some of the best temples and do some excursions.

We planned our itinerary to have a leisurely pace, so that we could enjoy time wandering around the city, seeing the night markets and downtime at the pool.

When is the best time to visit Chiang Mai?

The rainy season in Chiang Mai is from May to October.  We went in August and it rained most days.  However, it generally only rains for a short time and it didn’t spoil our fun.  It was still hot every day.

The burning season takes place in Chiang Mai between February and April, so avoid this period.  During this time farmers burn large areas of land, which can create a lot of pollution.

Accommodation in Chiang Mai

View of swimming pool ,At Chiang Mai Hotel, Chiang Mai, Thailand

You’ll find plenty of choice of accommodation in Chiang Mai to suit all budgets.

We stayed in a fantastic mid-range hotel At Chiang Mai in the heart of the Old Town.  It had a fantastic location, just 2-minutes from Sunday Walking Street and local restaurants and temples.  We shared a large family room, which had the biggest bathroom ever.  However, the best thing about the hotel was the pool!

If you’re looking for budget accommodation, Chiang Mai is ideal.  There are plenty of budget hostels within the walls of the old city for as little as £6 per night.  Khunluang Hostel and Pakping Hostel are both in the city centre and have excellent reviews.

For luxury accommodation in Chiang Mai’s Old Town, try Chala Number6, The Chiang Mai Old Town, or Smile Lanna Hotel.

How to get to Chiang Mai from Bangkok

The quickest way to get to Chiang Mai is by plane.  The flight takes 1 hour 15 minutes.  Chiang Mai has its own international airport, which is just 15 minutes from the city centre.

Check Air Asia or Nok Air for cheap internal flights.  Other airlines which fly to Bangkok include Bangkok Airways, Thai Airways and Thai Vietjet.  Prices vary depending on when you are flying.  You should also check whether the prices include checked baggage, as sometimes this is an additional cost.

The cheapest way to get from Bangkok to Chiang Mai is by train or bus.  You can take an overnight sleeper, which takes 11 hours or a bus, which takes 10 hours.

Getting around Chiang Mai

Red songthaew, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Chiang Mai Old Town is very compact, so is easy to navigate by foot.  If you want to go further afield, the easiest way is by Grab (like uber).

If you want a cheaper option, take one of the red songthaews, which drive around the city.  The songthaews are converted pick-up trucks, which you can hail from anywhere.  Tell the driver your destination and agree your price in advance.  You may have to share with other passengers and have to drop them off first.

It’s also easy to get a tuk tuk in Chiang Mai.

If you do an organised tour, the trip will include transfers from your accommodation.

Our perfect 5-day itinerary in Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai itinerary: Day 1

Travel to Chiang Mai

We spent the morning getting to Chiang Mai.  We travelled by car from Chiang Rai, where we’d spent a couple of days exploring the area.  We used a private transfer, which took about 3 hours.

The top attraction in Chiang Rai is the magnificent White Temple, but there are plenty of other things to see too.  Click here for our 2-day itinerary in Chiang Rai.

However, if you’re short of time, there are plenty of organised tours to Chiang Rai for one or two days.  Click here for a one-day trip to Chiang Rai.

Exploring Chiang Mai Old City

The Three Kings, Chiang Mai, Thailand

After checking into our hotel, we spent the afternoon exploring Chiang Mai Old Town.

The Old Town lies within the old city walls, a reminder of its time as a religious centre.  We stopped for lunch and then did a self-guided tour of the city.  It was very easy to explore by foot and plenty to see.

Another way to explore Chiang Mai Old City is with a 4-hour guided bike ride.

Saturday Walking Market

Sunday Walking Market, Chiang Mai, Thailand, UK

If you’re in Chiang Mai at the weekend, head to one of the night markets.  The Saturday Walking Market is in Wualai Road, to the south of the Old Town.  It starts at 5pm.

It’s a bustling market with lots of stalls selling a variety of Thai handicrafts, souvenirs, gifts, and clothes.  We bought elephant trousers in readiness for our hike the next day.  You’ll find plenty of choice of Thai street food here, and live music.

If you’re not in Chiang Mai at the weekend, you’ll find a daily Night Bazaar near Wat Uppakut (on the west side of Old Town).  There’s also a flower market nearby.

For foodies, you can book a street food tour, which will take you on a culinary tour of Chiang Mai.

Chiang Mai Itinerary: Day 2

Day two of our 5-day Chiang Mai itinerary is all about elephants, rafts, and nature walks.

We booked a full-day tour, which included a visit to an elephant sanctuary, bamboo rafting, and a jungle hike to a waterfall.  The trip included transfers to and from our hotel, as well as a Thai lunch.

A visit to the elephant sanctuary

Of course, you really can’t visit Chiang Mai without seeing an elephant or two.  After all, they are the official animal of Thailand.  You’ll find plenty of elephant sanctuaries near Chiang Mai, but it’s essential you pick an ethical one.

The first stop on our full-day tour was at an elephant sanctuary in the Ob Khan National Park.

Elephants, Chiang Mai, Thailand

On arrival at the sanctuary, we met two rescued elephants and had the chance to feed them and take photos.

It was then bath time – and not just for the elephants!  After rubbing mud into their backs, we joined the elephants in the river for a rinse.

Bamboo rafting

Following our visit to the elephant sanctuary, we had a short drive to the start of the bamboo rafting tour.

Bamboo rafting is a gentle experience, that involves sitting on a bamboo boat floating down the Mae Win (River Win).

A Thai guide accompanied us to navigate the raft, whilst we sat back and enjoyed the stunning scenery.

A waterfall trekking experience

Waterfall, Chiang Mai Trek, Thailand

After a traditional Thai lunch, we headed off on a jungle trek with a local guide.  The waterfall trekking experience was one of the kids’ favourite things to do in Chiang Mai.

As we walked, the guide stopped to talk about local plants, communities, and wildlife.  He even tried to coax a few tarantulas out of their holes, though luckily none accepted.  Phew!

The walk was about 2.5 hours, with a stop at Mae Wang Waterfall.  Remember to take your swim stuff, so you can bathe at the waterfall.  If not, you can buy some drinks at the small cabin.

Click here to book a full-day tour with elephants, bamboo rafting and waterfall trekking.

If you don’t fancy bamboo rafting or trekking, you could book a full-day tour to the Elephant Nature Park.  This is one of the most ethical sanctuaries in Chiang Mai, where you’ll meet loads of elephants and other rescued animals.  You will get to see the elephants bathing but won’t be allowed in with them.

Sunday walking market

On Sunday evening, head to the Tha Phae Walking Street.

The Sunday night market is huge and has a buzzing atmosphere.  It starts at the Tha Phae Gate and continues up the Rachadamnoen Road.  You’ll find a great choice of local handicrafts, souvenirs and artwork at reasonable prices.

You can also stop for street food in front of Wat Cha Phrakiat.  If it’s raining, you’ll get a little bit of shelter under the tree!

Chiang Mai itinerary: Day 3

Temple Hopping in Chiang Mai

What Phan On, Chaing Mai, Thailand

If you haven’t seen enough temples, you could use day 3 to go temple-hopping in Chiang Mai.  There’s over 300 in total, with over 100 in the Old Town.

One of the must-visit temples in Chiang Mai is Wat Chedi Luang, an impressive stone temple in the historic centre.   This famous temple used to be home to the famous Emerald Buddha, which is now in Bangkok’s Grand Palace.

Another of the best temples in Chiang Mai is Wat Phra Singh, a 14th century Buddhist temple built in classic Northern Thai-style architecture.

One of the more unique temples in Chiang Mai is Wat Sri Suphan, an ornate silver temple just outside the City Walls.

As many of the temples are in close proximity, you’ll see them when walking about or heading to night markets.  You could just use this morning to chill by the pool or in a café.

Take a Thai Cooking Class

One of the best things to do in Chiang Mai is join a Thai cooking class.  It’s a fun, hands-on experience learning how to cook your own amazing Thai cuisine.  You don’t need cooking experience, and the teenagers got on just fine.

We booked a half-day cooking class with the Smile Organic Farm Cooking School, located 45 minutes from Chiang Mai Old Town.  The trip includes transfers to-and-from your accommodation.

Four types of Curry paste made at Smile Cooking Class. Chiang Mai, Thailand

At the cooking school, everyone makes 4 Thai dishes of their choice from the menu.  Each person has their own cooking station and learns to cook spring rolls, a soup, a curry, and a stir fry.  It was well organised and at the end of the session we sat down to eat with our group.

Our class was from 3-9pm, so it worked well for evening dinner.  For anyone who can’t eat it all, you can take a doggy-bag home!  Afterwards, they send a digital copy of the recipes, so you can try them on friends at home.

Click here to book your half-day cooking class in Chiang Mai.

Chiang Mai itinerary: Day 4

White-water rafting

One of the most adventurous activities in Chiang Mai was our white-water rafting experience.  If you ask the kids, they’d probably say this was their favourite day of the whole 4-week trip in Thailand!

The full-day white-water rafting tour takes place on the Mae Taeng River, about 90 minutes north of Chiang Mai.

On arrival we started with a Thai lunch, before heading for our safety talk.  Don’t let this put you off, as they do have to go through every worst-case scenario!

Two rafts enjoying White water rafting, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Once in your boat, you’ll go down 10 km of rapids, ranging from a gentle cruise to thrilling Level 4 rapids.  It is one of the most exhilarating experiences ever, just so much fun (in a slightly scary sort of way!).  There are a few calmer spots where you can swim, and the kids even went down rapids without the boat!

We booked our white-water rafting trip with Siam River Adventures, who I’d highly recommend.

Click here to book your full-day white-water rafting trip.

White water rafting, Chiang Mai. Thailand

Chiang Mai itinerary: Day 5

Monks Hike to Wat Pha Lat

On day five of our Chiang Mai itinerary, we did the Monks Hike to Wat Pha Lat (Monastery at the Sloping Rock).  The hike follows the route the monks used to take to the temple, a resting place for people climbing up to Doi Suthep.

The monks’ hike starts at the end of Suthep Road, just past Chaing Mai Zoo.  Take a taxi or songthaew to get there.  From the start point, it’s a 40-minutes’ walk to the temple complex

Monks walk, Chiang Mai, Thailand

The walk is easy to follow, but muddy and steep in places.  However, it’s extremely pretty with flowers,  butterflies and a waterfall.

At the temple complex you’ll find several temples and statues, as well as ornate staircases and impressive views over Chiang Mai.  The Monks Hike is undoubtedly one of the best free things to do in Chiang Mai.

If you’re feeling energetic, continue up to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, one of Chiang Mai’s most famous temples.  However, it was very hot, so we turned back.

Monks walk temple, Chiang Mai, Thailand

The following morning we hung out by the pool until it was time to fly to Surat Thani.  From here we were able to take the Lomprayah ferry to Koh Samui.

Click here for the best things to do in Koh Samui.

Other things to do in Chiang Mai

Jungle HIke, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Travel Guide for Thailand

Here are some of the websites we use when planning our trips.

Discover accommodation to suit all budgets at

Get some of the most affordable prices on internal flights with Air Asia

Look at some of the tours with Get your Guide.  (Alternatively there are several travel agencies in Chiang Mai).

We hope this helps you plan your own Chiang Mai itinerary?  We would love to hear your questions or comments below.

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