Suggested Travel Itinerary for 3 Days in Chiang Mai
Let’s begin your discovery of Chiang Mai with a day of history and culture. Start off at about 8am to Wat Prat That Doi Suthep, the temple on the hill. You can rent a motorbike or take a red songtaew (pickup) to get here. This is the holiest temple in northern Thailand, with unique architecture and you can get a good view overlooking Chiang Mai city on a clear day. You can spend at least half the morning here. The rest of the morning, you can go further up the road to Phuping Palace, the royal winter residence.
After lunch, head back into the old city of Chiang Mai that is still surrounded by a square moat. There are many magnificent temples here and you can continue your temple hopping with Wat Phra Sing or Wat Chedi Luang. Both are magnificient and within walking distance of each other.
After a day of walking, it’s a good idea for a traditional Thai massage. There are many choices available in the old city and typically cost 200 baht or less for 1 hour of massage.
Massage usually makes you hungry. So take a tuk tuk or songtaew to one of the restaurants by the river. These restaurants are hugely popular with the tourists and locals alike. Cool off with the many drinks at the bar too.
Your second day will be spent exploring the rich natural landscape surrounding Chiang Mai. It’s off to Thailand’s highest mountain Doi Inthanon and you will see many spectacular waterfalls. Although you can explore on your own, it’s easier if you book a day tour from any of the travel agencies in town.
This day tour typically includes a visit to the twin pagodas Phra Mahathat Napha Methanidon and Phra Mahathat Naphaphon Phumisiri. These were built to commemorate the birthdays of the Thai king and queen. Also, a visit to a Meo hill tribe village, the humongous Vachiritharn Falls and the twin cascades Siriphum Waterfalls. The flower garden at the Royal Project Research Station is usually part of the trip too.
For dinner, try the traditional Lanna dinner unique to Chiang Mai: Khantoke dinner. Dishes of northern Thai delicacies are served on a pedestal tray and eaten with a minced pork dip. There are many places in town that offer this dinner coupled with traditional Thai dancing or hill tribe performance.
One should not leave Chiang Mai before getting some of the wonderful handicrafts. Many of the handicrafts you see around Thailand are made here. And the best place to shop for these is along the “Handicraft Highway”- on the road to San Kamphaeng from Chiang Mai. You can take a white songtaew from near Warorot Market to get here. Though, I’d recommend hiring a songtaew for half a day to take you here as the whole stretch is 12km long. Here, you’ll find shops and factories of umbrellas, silk, woodcarvings and more. You can see the craftsmen at work in the factories too.
And if you still have time after your shopping, relax in the San Kamphaeng hot springs. They have geysers, gardens and private baths. Also, you can see a popular activity among Thais at any hot spring: cooking eggs in the hot mineral water.
For today’s dinner, try one of the hillside restaurants that offer great views overlooking Chiang Mai city. The better and popular ones are Palaad Tawanron and Galae.
In case you’re still hungry for more shopping, the Night Bazaar has stalls selling all kinds of products. If you’re here on a Sunday, don’t miss the Sunday Walking Street starting from Thapae Gate.