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This is the sunset view of the Chiang Mai Grand Canyon

5 day itinerary in and around Chiang Mai

After Bangkok, Chiang Mai is Thailand’s second most-visited city. There is a lot to see in Chiang Mai, especially if you are interested in history and religion. Even if you are not, fret not because Chiang Mai offers a wide range of activities and experiences. To help you plan your next trip to Chiang Mai, here is a 5-day itinerary in and around the city. In this 5-day itinerary, you will find things to do in and around Chiang Mai, how to get to places and where you can stay for the night.

Day 1: Chiang Mai

Morning:

Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep

The is the main prayer hall of Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep

Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep sits along the slopes of Mount Suthep. At more than 1000m above sea level, the air is cool and you have amazing views of Chiang Mai and the surrounding mountain ranges. Songthaews leave from the Northern city gate of Chiang Mai’s old city (Chang Phuak Gate) whenever they fill up and the journey takes 30 minutes.

Tourists have to pay a nominal fee to enter the temple. Once you are in the compound, there are two ways to get up the mountain: Climb up about 300 steps or take a 5 minute cable car ride.

Join the locals in their prayers at various temple halls, or head straight to the lookout points to take in the breathtaking views. Once done, you can explore the area, which includes the Bhuping Royal Palace Gardens 4km away and hill-tribe villages along the way. You can take the shared songthaew down the mountain back to Chiang Mai.

Afternoon:

Chiang Mai Grand Canyon

This is the sunset view of the Chiang Mai Grand Canyon

The Chiang Mai Grand Canyon is also known as the Chiang Mai Quarry or Hang Dong Quarry. As there is no regular public transportation there, I suggest that you rent a scooter for the day. If you are not comfortable riding, you can hire a tuk-tuk for a return trip.

The Chiang Mai Grand Canyon is nothing like the Grand Canyon we all know. Rather, it is an abandoned quarry mine that is converted into a beautiful spot for swimming and diving. There are various diving heights around the quarry lake, and you can choose which height you prefer. Of course, you can always challenge yourself to the highest diving spot!

This is the main quarry lake of Chiang Mai Grand Canyon.

If you are tired, you can always rest on the bamboo rafts around the quarry lake. If you stay until sunset, you get to see the entire quarry glow in a dark orange hue, which is an extremely pretty sight.

Evening:

Chiang Mai is famous for its nightlife. Have dinner at any of the restaurants within the city walls. For a more local experience, head to the night food market at the Northern city gate (Chang Phuak Gate) and dig in a plate of pig’s trotters with the locals. Alternatively, there are a few barbecue buffets along the food market street. Head back into the old city for a beer at a bar, or run straight into a club if you still have the energy.

Stay:

Mid-range – Hotel de Origin

Budget – 168 Chiangmai Guesthouse

Day 2: The Golden Triangle and Chiang Rai

Morning:

Golden Triangle

This is the Golden Triangle, a point in the Mekong river where Myanmar, Laos and Thailand meet.

Make your way to the Arcade Bus Terminal, which is about 3km northeast of the old city. You can flag down a shared songthaew that plies this route. Take a bus to Chiang Rai, which leaves every 15 to 30 minutes. The journey will take 3 hours. From the bus station at Chiang Rai, take a minivan to the Golden Triangle. This minivan leaves regularly and takes about an hour and half.

Early afternoon:

Hall of Opium Museum

The Hall of Opium Museum is about 2 km north of the Golden Triangle. This is one of the best museums I have visited in Thailand. It provides a very detailed and objective perspective of the opium trade that was rampant in Thailand in the 20th century. You can walk to the museum or take a short tuk-tuk ride from town.

Late afternoon:

This is the viewpoint of the confluence of the Mekong river. From here you can see Myanmar and Laos.

Return to the Golden Triangle and climb up to the temple on the hill facing the Mekong river. This temple offers amazing views of the confluence of the Mekong river. From the viewpoint, you can distinctly see Myanmar and Laos on each side of the confluence. You will also notice the distinctly different living conditions in each part of the confluence. The way locals are dressed, the architecture of the houses and even the conditions of the roads are strikingly obvious, despite the close proximity of the three regions.

The last minivan to Chiang Rai leaves at 5pm. Take the minivan back to Chiang Rai and stay there for the evening. You can leave your bags with the minivan company at the bus terminal in Chiang Rai before heading to the Golden Triangle.

Evening:

These are the colourful flowers blooming at Chiang Rai Park.

Have dinner at the night bazaar in central Chiang Rai, located off Phaholyothin Road. If you are in Chiang Rai at the right time, you can also visit Mueang Chiang Rai Park, which is a short walk north of the night bazaar. Depending on the season, you can see various types of flowers bloom around the park. When I was there, tulips and roses were in full bloom amongst many other brightly coloured flowers.

Stay:

Midrange – Inn Homey Domey

Budget – Mercy Hostel

Day 3: Chiang Rai and Mae Salong

Morning:

Wat Rong Khun (White Temple)

This is the view of the main prayer hall and bridge at Wat Rong Khun White Temple.

Take the public bus from the old bus station to Wat Rong Khun, otherwise known as the White Temple. Go early so that you can avoid the tour buses and crowds. The journey there takes about 20 minutes.

This is a sculpture of a hell pit at Wat Rong Khun White Temple

Although the White Temple (Wat Rong Khun) is extremely touristic, I cannot deny that the design of the temple is absolutely stunning. Spend some time wondering around the compound and appreciating the murals in the main hall. The artist has playfully expressed his thoughts about various international issues and the role Buddhism plays in them.

Baan Dam (Black House)

This is one of the many houses at Baan Dam Black House.

From the main road, flag down a blue songthaew and head back to the old bus station. From the old bus station, take a public bus to Baan Dam or more famously known as the Black House. This place coincidentally juxtaposes the White Temple in terms of design. The Black House (Baan Dam) is an outdoor museum that showcases everything that is possible dark, both literally and metaphorically.

When you are done exploring the little houses at the Black House (Baan Dam), flag down a bus and head back to the old bus station. Note that Baan Dam is not along the main road. After you alight from the bus, you will have to walk about 500m off the main road. The way is well signposted so it will be a breeze!

Afternoon:

Mae Salong

One of the teahouses up the scenic mountain road to Mae Salong.

From the old bus station, take a bus to Mae Salong. You will board a bus heading to Mae Sai so just request to be dropped off at Mae Salong. The bus will stop at a T-junction in Pasang, and you can transfer to the blue songthaews waiting to take you up the mountain. The total journey should not take more than two hours.

Mae Salong is a Yunnanese village at more than 1100m above sea level. The first generation of villagers were Kuomintang soldiers and family who escaped China during the civil war. Till today, you can see clues of the village’s Kuomintang heritage.

One of the views of the villages around Mae Salong during a hike around the mountains.

Walk around the village and explore the teashops. Mae Salong is famous for its oolong tea and the teashops will be extremely happy to let you taste their collections.

Evening:

It is time to watch sunset! Be ready by 5.30pm. Climb the long flight of steps up the mountain, which is located north of the village (on the road behind Shin Sane Guesthouse). Once you reach the end, marked by a temple, do not stop there. This is the sunrise spot. Follow the main road to the other side of the mountain. After about 20 minutes of walking, you will see a pavilion right at the main road.

This is the view of sunset at Mae Salong.

Catch your breath and wait. This would be one of your most memorable sunsets ever.

Stay:

Midrange – Wang Put Tan Boutique Hotel

Budget – Akha Mud House Mae Salong

Day 4: Mae Salong and Chiang Rai

Morning:

This is the sunrise view at the sunset spot at Mae Salong.

If you have the energy and the motivation, climb up the long flight of steps and be ready for sunrise. The view of the fog shrouding the mountains and slowly clearing up is stunning. From the viewpoint, you can also see various villages down in the valley.

Check out the morning market on the street where Shin Sane Guesthouse is. Many villagers come to Mae Salong to peddle their fresh produce or their freshly made breakfast. Have a bowl of Yunnanese pea paste (yellow in colour), which goes really nicely with fried dough (known as you tiao).

This is a view of the tea terrace surrounding Mae Salong.

Rent a motorbike and explore the surrounding villages and valleys. If you are not comfortable riding, you can always do a short 2 to 3 hour hike from Mae Salong to the nearby villages. Your guesthouse would have a map of the villages in the mountains. As you explore the villages, you will also see beautiful tea plantation terraces and mountain ranges.

Afternoon:

Take a yellow songthaew to Thaton and transfer to a green songthaew to Mae Chan. Take your time, the last songthaew leaves Mae Salong at 5pm. From there, you can take a public bus back to Chiang Rai.

Wat Phra Kaew

This is the replica of the Emerald Buddha at Wat Phra Kaew in Chiang Rai.

Once in Chiang Rai, visit Wat Phra Kaew, one of the oldest temples there. This was the temple where the Emerald Buddha was uncovered. Although the original statue is now in Bangkok, you can still see a replica of it at Wat Phra Kaew. Apart from the prayer halls, there is a Lanna Buddhism museum as well. This is a small, but informative museum that explains the symbolism of various objects in a Lanna temple.

Evening:

Chiang Rai has many places to eat and bars to chill the night away. Alternatively, you can head back to the night bazaar for a sumptuous dinner. If you are in Chiang Rai on a Saturday, you can check out the Saturday night market conveniently located in the city centre on Thananlai Road.

Stay:

Midrange – Inn Homey Domey

Budget – Mercy Hostel

Day 5: Chiang Mai

Morning:

Head to the old bus station in the city centre and catch a bus back to Chiang Mai. The journey will take about 3 hours.

Afternoon:

This is your free and easy afternoon! Spend some time clearing your bucket list of things do to in Chiang Mai. You can visit the various temples in the old city, such as the gigantic Wat Chedi Luang and the well-preserved Wat Phra Singh. Alternatively, roam around the old city and get lost in its many alleys and artisanal shops. The old city of Chiang Mai exudes a beautiful mix of traditional and creative flair.

Evening:

If you are in Chiang Mai on a Sunday, do check out the extensively long Sunday night market off Ratchiangsaen Road. This is a bustling place to walk the evening away, filled with things to eat, buy and play. If not, head to Loi Kroh Road in the old city for your dose of alcohol, music and dance. Have fun, because this night marks the end of your 5 day itinerary in and around Chiang Mai.

Stay:

Mid-range – Hotel de Origin

Budget – 168 Chiangmai Guesthouse

 

Did you find this 5 day itinerary in and around Chiang Mai useful? Share it with your friends so more people can better enjoy their time in and around Chiang Mai. If you have any other recommendations, do tell me through the comment box below.

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