The best 3 days in Chiang Mai itinerary

Chiang Mai is the cultural capital of the north of Thailand. Chiang Mai is one of the best destinations to visit in Thailand, we stayed for 5 days in Chiang Mai and can tell you all the things you need to know. Chiang Mai is the second-largest city in Thailand after Bangkok, but the city has a very relaxed atmosphere. This is because many sights are located in the old city center which is very quiet. You are probably wondering: what are the best things to do in Chiang Mai? How many days in Chiang Mai? Where to stay in Chiang Mai? We will tell you everything you need to know. Planning can be difficult because there are so many choices. We created this 3 days in Chiang Mai itinerary to help you planning.

Chiang Mai Cynthia & Alexander
elephant sanctuary bath

How many days in Chiang Mai?

The answer to the question of how many days in Chiang Mai is easy: we recommend staying for at least 3 days in Chiang Mai. If you follow our Thailand itinerary you will visit the best places of Thailand, we advise staying enough days at a certain place to really get to know the place you are visiting.

If you have the option it is better to stay 4 days in Chiang Mai. You can expand these 3 days in Chiang Mai itinerary with the 4 days recommendation at number #4.

3 days in Chiang Mai itinerary

Below you read per day the 3 days in Chiang Mai itinerary. Be aware that the activities are building blocks to give you an idea and to help you. Of course, you can organize it in the order you prefer. The program is composed in such a way that it minimizes travel time and takes into account the intensity over the days.

  • Day 1
    • 1.1 Follow an authentic cooking class
    • 1.2 Discover the beautiful temples in Chiang Mai
    • 1.3 Visit the night market and enjoy live music
  • Day 2
    • 2.1 Visit Doi Inthanon national park
    • 2.2 Eat delicious fish at Lert Ros
    • 2.3 See a local authentic night market*
  • Day 3
    • 3.1 Volunteer at an elephant sanctuary
    • 3.2 Relax in the historic center
    • 3.3 Have a drink
  • Day 4 (optional)
    • 4.1 hike in the Chiang Mai area

*The market is every Sunday. It isn’t necessary to visit it on the 2nd day.

Chiang Mai temple city

3 Days in Chiang Mai | Day 1

#1.1 Follow an authentic cooking class

You start your 3 days in Chiang Mai itinerary with a morning cooking class. It is also possible to do a full-day tour. Personally, we think a whole day is too long because there are a lot of other things to do in Chiang Mai. The cooking class is fun because you learn a lot about Thai cuisine in a short period of time. The cooking class begins with a visit to a local market, the ingredients that you buy will be used to make some fantastic dishes. At this cooking school, you cook 5 dishes and 1 curry dish. The advantage of the cooking class that we recommend is that only 10 people can follow the class. The cooking class starts at 9:00 AM and you will be picked up between 8:15 AM and 8:45 AM.

Half day morning cooking class | $28 per person

Tip: if you prefer to discover the temples in the morning and follow the cooking class in the afternoon, this is also possible. Book for the evening cooking class via this link. You will be picked up between 15: 15-15: 45.

Tip: If you are staying in the historic center or you are visiting the temples, you can easily walk there in 10 minutes. It is located between Wat Phra Singh temple and the Chiang Mai police station.

Chiang Mai cooking class
Chiang Mai cooking class instructions

#1.2 Discover the beautiful temples in Chiang Mai

After the cooking class, Wat Phra Singh and Wat Chedi Luang are within walking distance. First, visit Wat Phra Singh, a Buddhist temple and monastery founded in the 14th century. This temple is known as the temple of the lion Buddha. There are several beautiful buildings, a great temple to visit. Nowadays still 700 monks living there, if you are interested you can have a conversation with a monk. Very interesting to hear their view of the world.

In 10 minutes you walk to Wat Chedi Luang, an old temple in the center of Chiang Mai. Large parts of the temple were destroyed by an earthquake. Before the earthquake, the Emerald Buddha was located in this temple. This is Thailand’s most sacred object. Today they still perform worship services and you see monks doing their daily work. You can also see several Buddhas.

After the two temples in the center of Chiang Mai, you need to travel by tuk-tuk to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep. This is the most beautiful temple that is located close to Chiang Mai, because it is located on a mountain you will have a fantastic view over the entire city. This temple dates back to the 13th century, here you will see a replica of the Emerald Buddha. The biggest advantage if you visit the Wat Phra That Doi Suthep in the late afternoon that it isn’t that hot anymore. Climbing the stairs will be easier. Also, you can already see the sunset over the city, which is a fantastic picture.

Tip: you can easily visit the temples on your own. If you are interested in visiting the Hmong Hill Tribe, you can combine this with Wat Phra That Doi Suthep. You can easily book a ticket via this link.

Wat Phra That Doi Sethep
Wat Phra That Doi Sethep statue

#1.3 Visit the night market and enjoy live music

In the evening you have three choices, go to Hang Klan Road, Nimmanhaemin Road or stay in the historic center. Nimmanhaemin Road is the trendiest part of Chiang Mai full of chic bars and restaurants. We didn’t visit this place because we don’t like trendy places. You need to determine for yourself whether you think it is worth a visit. We are a much bigger fan of the Hang Klan Road which can be found on the east side of Chiang Mai. It is around 15 minutes to walk. In the evening there are stalls everywhere where you can buy different products. The best are the small squares with food trucks and live music. Very nice to be and enjoy your evening.

Chiang Mai drink
Chiang Mai street food

3 Days in Chiang Mai | Day 2

#2.1 Visit Doi Inthanon National Park

On the 2nd day of your 3 days in Chiang Mai itinerary, you visit Doi Inthanon National Park. This National Park has the highest mountain (2565 meters) in Thailand. The nature park is beautiful, especially the diversity of plants and birds. You will find most of the bird species in Thailand in this park. During a full-day excursion, you will visit the King and Queen Pagodas, you will of course visit the highest point in Thailand, take a walk through the beautiful nature park, and visit an amazing waterfall. Also, you visit a village and a market where you can see products from the royal projects.

The advantage of this excursion is that you travel in a small group, the maximum is 12 people. You can easily book an excursion via the link below.

Doi Inthanon National Park | $42 per person

Chiang Mai water hike waterfall

#2.2 Eat delicious fish at Lert Ros

After you’ve visited Doi Inthanon National Park, it’s time to relax and find a special place to eat. We can highly recommend Lert Ros. It is located on the east side of the old center. It is a restaurant where you will find many locals. When you arrive you will see someone preparing fish above the fire. We recommend ordering such a fish and a drink, enjoy!

Chiang Mai food

#2.3 Behold a local authentic night market

Every Sunday there is a market in the old town where locals sell their handmade products. It is a great market where you can find everything. The atmosphere is great because it is people like you and me who want to earn a little bit of money. They aren’t real sellers like most markets, which makes it very pleasant. You can easily spend the evening here because certainly, you will buy something. For us, this is and will remain the most beautiful market we have ever seen. Without a doubt a highlight during your 3 days in Chiang Mai itinerary.

Tip: this market is only on Sundays, so planning is essential. You don’t necessarily have to visit the market on the 2nd day. The most important thing is to visit the market.

3 Days in Chiang Mai | Day 3

#3.1 Volunteer at an elephant sanctuary

On the 3rd day of your 3 days in Chiang Mai itinerary, you will volunteer at an elephant sanctuary. Visiting elephants is one of the highlights of your Thailand trip. Chiang Mai is one of the most famous places to get close to an elephant. There are a lot of elephant camps around Chiang Mai that you can visit. Unfortunately, there are still many camps that offer elephant rides or circus-like activities. This is wrong and we shouldn’t keep these kinds of activities in life. What you can do to volunteer for one day at an elephant sanctuary. During your visit, the history of the elephant in Thailand will be told, you will help to feed the elephants and wash them. It is one of the best activities you can do in Thailand. It is a small effort to help, but the effect that we can make is great. The money that will be raised by the organization will be used to help the elephants. In our view, this activity cannot be missed in the 3 days in Chiang Mai itinerary.

We recommend Chiang Mai Elephant Home. This is one of the first shelters established around Chiang Mai. You can easily book a ticket via the link. It is wise to book in time because not many people are admitted per day. Another recommendation is Elephant Nature Park.

Chiang Mai Elephant Home | $43 per person

Tip: Make your reservation on time, because a maximum number of people can enter daily.

elephant sanctuary
elephant sanctuary close
elephant sanctuary river

#3.2 Relax in the historic center

After you volunteer at Chiang Mai Elephant Home (or Elephant Nature Park), you probably don’t have the energy to do any major activities. We, therefore, advise you to relax this evening. You can do this in the historic center of Chiang Mai. Walk-in Rachadamnoen Street (the main road between the east and west entrance of the old center) and for certain you will see a place which you like.

#3.3 Have a drink

After relaxing in the historic center you can stay in the historic center or go to the evening market as you did the first evening. Look in the moment itself if you still have enough energy to do this kind of activity.

Optional activities

There is a lot to see and do in Chiang Mai. It is therefore not a luxury to have an extra day. To help you on your way, we have put together a 4th day (optional). We have made a day trip ourselves which is highly recommended.

3 Days in Chiang Mai | Day 4 optional

#4.1 hike in the Chiang Mai area

The 4th day (optional) of your 3 days in Chiang Mai itinerary is to do a hike in the Chiang Mai area. You have the choice between different hikes. You can do a day trip or a multi-day trip. We have done a day trip ourselves because of the time, however, we have heard many good stories from other travelers about the multi-day trips. If you have the time, do the multi-day trip. The benefit is that you will have more time to go deeper into nature. The day trip we have made is highly recommended, you cross beautiful nature, visit a village in the middle of a valley and enjoy beautiful views.

We recommend the following tours:

1 day private trekking at Mae Sa Pok Doi Inthanon | $80 per person

2 day trekking at Mae Wang National Park: | $75 per person

3 day trekking at Mae Wang National Park | $93 per person

Optional activities

If you can’t get enough of the surroundings of Chiang Mai, you can also visit one of the most beautiful temples in Thailand. The White Temple in Chiang Rai. It is a long day of 14 hours but it is worth it. Besides visiting the world-famous white temple, there are several other fun things you will do during the tour. Book and read about the full tour via the link below.

Chiang Mai hike lunch
Chiang Mai hike

#4.1 Visit the Talat Warorot market

Another market that is definitely worth a visit is the Talat Warorot market. This market unlike most other markets is open during the day. This market is aimed at locals so prices are very low. You can find everything in this market. It is a perfect market to do your shopping because it saves a lot of money.

Where to eat well in Chiang Mai?

Besides Lert Ros (more information at #2.2) there are many other nice restaurants to eat at. If you like cats you should visit Catmosphere Cat Café, you can order tasty smoothies here. Do you want to eat healthily? Visit Khunkae’s juice bar, where you can order delicious bowls for breakfast or lunch. In the evening we recommend Rachadamnoen Street (the main road between the east and west entrance of the old center) and see what you prefer on the spot. Or, as indicated at # 1.3, go to the night market and order something at one of the food trucks and enjoy the live music.

How to get from Bangkok to Chiang Mai?

Probably your travel from Bangkok to Chiang Mai. It is also possible that you travel from Ayutthaya to Chiang Mai, however, if you follow our Thailand itinerary you travel from Bangkok. The way to get to Chiang Mai is the same for both places. You can travel by bus, train, or plane from Bangkok (Ayutthaya) to Chiang Mai. You can buy bus and train tickets via 12Go.asia. The night train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai is very popular, so it is strongly recommended to book a place on time. We recommend 1st class sleeper because then you have a bed with air conditioning. You can easily buy airline tickets via Skyscanner, AirAsia is often the airline with the cheapest flights.

Where to stay overnight in Chiang Mai?

In Chiang Mai, you have many choices in finding your perfect place to sleep. We recommend staying in the historic center because it is quieter than in other parts of Chiang Mai. Both accommodations that we recommend are very popular because the price-quality is good. Green Sleep Hostel is mainly for budget travelers and My ChaingMai Boutique Lodge slightly more luxurious. It is strongly recommended to book in time, otherwise, you have the risk that it is fully booked.

Green Sleep Hostel

chiang mai v2

If you want to stay in one of the best low-budget hostels in Chiang Mai you have to stay at Green Sleep Hostel. The rooms are clean, the hostel is centrally located, and offers a really good breakfast. With an average of 9.2 on Booking, it scores incredibly well. Book your room quickly, because it is very popular.

Price per night from:
$ 8 dorm | $ 10 double room

My ChiangMai Boutique Lodge

chiang mai

Are you looking for luxury at an affordable price? Then My ChiangMai Boutique Lodge is recommended. The swimming pool is a huge plus where you can relax. The rooms are also fully equipped. It is located in a quiet area of Chiang Mai and you are in the old center within 5 minutes walk. If this lodge is fully booked and you want something similar, we recommend Vieng Mantra Hotel.

Price per night from:
$ 26 double room
| $ 48 suite

Next destination

If you follow our travel route through Thailand your next destination is Koh Samui. If you now have more time, we recommend a visit to the village of Pai north of Chiang Mai. You can add Pai to our Thailand itinerary and then continue your journey to Koh Samui. Open this article to read the Koh Samui travel guide.

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