What To Do In Three Days in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Chiang Mai stole my heart with more temples and Buddhist monks than you can even imagine. Try to time your trip to visit over a weekend so that you can take advantage of the best street markets. Located in the verdant mountains of northern Thailand, Chiang Mai is a city steeped in cultural heritage and natural beauty. 

With its captivating temples, bustling markets, mouthwatering cuisine, and vibrant nightlife, Chiang Mai offers an unforgettable experience for every traveler. If you’re planning a short getaway to this charming city, we’ve curated a delightful itinerary for you to make the most of your 3-day adventure.

Day 1 in Chiang Mai: Unveiling the Cultural Treasures

First stop: temples! You’ll enjoy learning about local culture and see the beauty that the temples offer. Remember to dress conservatively with shoulders and knees covered.

Morning: Visit Doi Suthep Temple

Some travelers enjoy hiking up the mountain to the temple, and you can do that, but we hired a car from our hotel. Our driver took us up to the temple, waited for us, stopped at Wat Palad (or Wat Pha Lat or Wat Sakithaka, same temple, different names) on the way down, and then returned us to the hotel.

Start your first day by visiting the iconic Wat Phra That Doi Suthep Temple, a must-see attraction that offers panoramic views of the city. Perched atop Doi Suthep mountain, the temple is a sacred site for locals and a spiritual haven for visitors. 

Climb the 306 steps flanked by magnificent Naga (serpent) statues. Marvel at the intricate golden chedi and elaborate murals that adorn the temple’s interior.

Constructed in 1383, Wat Phra That Doi Suthep enshrines a piece of bone from Buddha’s shoulder. A monk from Sukhothai brought the bone to Lanna. Find one piece of the bone at Wat Suan Dok. A white elephant bore the other piece to the top of the mountain, where it then trumpeted three times and then died. The locals interpreted the elephant’s actions and death as an omen to construct the temple.

At the top, we walked with the locals praying around the golden chedi. Then sat in the treed courtyard to enjoy the shade and eat a free bowl of noodle soup. We aren’t sure if that’s a daily offering or if we happened to visit on a holy day.

Wat Palad

On your way back down the mountain, have your driver stop at Wat Palad. It is amazing, and in some ways, we enjoyed our time there more than at Doi Suthep. This temple is built within the mountainside, with many areas to explore. There’s even a waterfall with magnificent views of Chiang Mai.

Afternoon: Wandering in the Old City

Head to the heart of Chiang Mai’s history – the Old City. Enclosed by ancient walls and moats, the one-mile square Old City is brimming with charming temples, bustling markets, and cozy cafes. 

Stroll along the narrow alleys and explore Wat Chedi Luang, a partially ruined temple that stands as a reminder of the city’s glorious past. Don’t miss Wat Phra Singh, housing the revered Buddha Phra Singh statue.


Saturday and Sunday Walking Streets are a treat to experience. Entire streets close to traffic while vendors set up hundreds of stalls. Get a foot massage, eat street food, and shop for the most interesting souvenirs.

Evening: Experience the Night Bazaar

As the sun sets, the multiple Night Bazaars come alive with colorful stalls, vendors, and entertainment. Bargain for souvenirs, handicrafts, and clothing while immersing yourself in the vibrant atmosphere. Sample local delicacies at the numerous street food stalls and enjoy a traditional Thai massage to unwind after a day of exploration.

Night Bazaar

Check out my article about where to stay in Chiang Mai for all the details about the Walking Streets and Night Bazaars and Markets around the city.

Day 2 in Chiang Mai: Nature’s Bounty

Leave the city for a trip into Thailand’s northern mountains.

Morning: Excursion to Doi Inthanon National Park

Escape the city’s hustle and bustle and venture into the lush greenery of Doi Inthanon National Park, Thailand’s highest peak. Embark on a nature trail to experience the diversity of flora and fauna unique to this region. Marvel at the stunning Wachirathan and Sirithan waterfalls, and visit the Twin Chedis, dedicated to the King and Queen of Thailand.

Afternoon: Explore Local Art and Handicrafts

Return to Chiang Mai in the afternoon and indulge in the city’s artistic side. Discover the Bo Sang Handicraft Village, famous for its colorful umbrellas and parasols. Watch skilled artisans craft these exquisite pieces, and you can even try your hand at painting one. Along San Kamphaeng Road are many silk, gem, and silverware shops.

If you’d rather stay nearer to Old Town, take a couple of hours to explore Warorot Market (Kad Luang.) You’ll find local shopping and eating until your heart is content. Also, along the outside of the market are streets and tiny covered alleys with Hmong handiworks and materials. I dug through baskets of beautiful, hand-beaded antique materials and wished I were creative enough to know what to make from them.

where to stay in Chiang Mai
Alley near Warorot

Evening: Khantoke Dinner and Cultural Show

Savor a traditional Khantoke dinner at the Old Chiang Mai Cultural Center, a local culinary experience where you’ll enjoy a variety of delicious Northern Thai dishes served on a low table while seated on cushions. And as you feast, be entertained by an enchanting cultural show featuring classical dance, traditional music, and graceful performances. It’s a delightful way to immerse yourself in the region’s rich cultural heritage.

Or head to the North Gate Night Market to savor sweet pork and rice from the Lady in the Cowboy Hat. Anthony Bourdain brought her to the public, but her food is what makes people wait in line! Pro tip: skip the long line and sit at a table. One of her servers will come to take your order and serve you without the wait.

where to stay in Chiang Mai
The Lady with the Cowboy Hat

Day 3 in Chiang Mai: Adventure and Discovery

Many people equate Northern Thailand with elephants. And if you want to experience these beautiful animals, be sure to choose an ethical sanctuary. Ask for recommendations from your hotel, as this isn’t an option we chose for ourselves. However, other travelers we met loved their experience, so I’m including it here.

Morning: Elephant Sanctuary Experience

Engage in an ethical elephant encounter at a reputable sanctuary near Chiang Mai. Spend time with these majestic creatures in their natural habitat, learning about their behavior and participating in responsible interactions. But please avoid attractions that promote riding or unnatural performances and opt for a sanctuary that prioritizes the well-being of the elephants.

Afternoon: Head Back to Old Town for a Monk Chat

If you only have three days in Chiang Mai, I’ll suggest one of our most enjoyable experiences. Go to a Monk Chat. Most of the larger temples have them, so you won’t have trouble finding one. We chatted with a group of young monks at Wat Chedi Luang, one of the central temples. Look for signs that literally say Monk Chat, where you can share experiences and learn what a day in the life of a monk is like.

Monk Chat, Chiang Mai
Monk Chat

Evening: Rooftop Dining and Farewell

As your three days in Chiang Mai come to an end, enjoy a farewell dinner at one of Chiang Mai’s rooftop restaurants. Delight in delectable Thai cuisine while soaking in the breathtaking views of the city’s skyline. Then take a moment to reflect on your unforgettable adventure, appreciating the blend of culture, nature, and warm hospitality that Chiang Mai has offered you. There’s a special feeling to dining outdoors and overlooking the city lights. Plus, you’ll enjoy the cooler night breezes after hot days of exploring.

Conclusion Three Days in Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai, with its mesmerizing landscapes and rich cultural heritage, is a destination that captivates the hearts of travelers from around the globe. So in just three days, you can immerse yourself in the city’s ancient temples, explore its lush national parks, partake in authentic cultural experiences, and create lasting memories. Whether you’re an art enthusiast, nature lover, or food connoisseur, Chiang Mai has something to offer everyone. So, pack your bags, and get ready for an adventure that will leave you longing to return to this enchanting city again and again.


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