Top Places to Visit Near Chiang Mai
Chiang Mai is the second largest city in Thailand, yet a world away from Bangkok. This quieter northern Thai city is surrounded by stunning mountain ranges filled with thick rainforests, waterfalls, wild animals, and the occasional hill tribe.
Every so often you may be cruising down the road when you come across an unexpected hot spring or another waterfall that you had no idea existed.
That is the beauty of northern Thailand, and this ever-growing list of places to visit near Chiang Mai is just the start.
I have spent about four months exploring Chiang Mai over the past few years. Not nearly as much time as I have spent in Chiang Rai, but enough to get to know this place for more than its face value.
There is so much to see in Chiang Mai’s surrounding region beyond the old city walls.
So, if you are planning a trip to Chiang Mai then you’ll definitely want to read on. These are twelve awesome places to visit near Chiang Mai that you won’t want to miss.
- A Brief History of Chiang Mai
- Top Places to Visit Near Chiang Mai
- How long should I spend in Chiang Mai?
A Brief History of Chiang Mai
Chiang Mai was originally founded in 1296. It served as the capital of the ancient Lanna Kingdom (Kingdom of Northern Thailand) until 1558. All around the old city center you will find remains of the ancient walls, moats and lots of old and active Buddhist temples.
The mountain ranges near Chiang Mai have been inhabited by the hill tribes (Akha and Hmong) for many years. In more recent times coffee and tea plantations have become a booming industry in the mountainous areas around Chiang Mai.
In this article, you will get to experience a bit of the old and a bit of the new Chaing Mai.
Top Places to Visit Near Chiang Mai
1. Wat Umong
Wat Umong is one of the most unique temples I have ever visited, with at least part of the temple being built inside a cave (or series of tunnels). This temple is built at the foothills of Doi Suthep, that huge mountain just outside of Chiang Mai. It was originally constructed in 1297 by King Manglai of the Lan Na Dynasty. It was abandoned in the 15th century, then resorted and reopened in 1948.
Wat Umong is located about 20 minutes west of Chiang Mai’s old town. It is easy to get there either by taxi, tuk-tuk, or motorbike. The temple is open from 6am to 5pm. While entry to the temple grounds is free there is a small charge to get into the tunnel section.
2. Baan Mae Kampong
Baan Mae Kampong is a peaceful, small village located in the mountains about 50 kilometers east of Chiang Mai. The village is around 100 years old, with most of the inhabitants having migrated here from the Doi Saket District.
You will find traditional wooden houses on either side of the steep road which ascends its way up the mountain. A small creek runs through the village, and in between some of the houses. Towards the top of the village you can visit the Mae Kampong Waterfall, the Wat Mae Kampong temple and a couple of nice coffee shops.
You should also take the opportunity to try the popular northern Thai dish known as Kao Soi. This is a rich creamy soup with slow-cooked chicken legs, crunchy noodles and topped with pickled onion and chili. It’s one of my favorite dishes in Thailand!
Make the most of your experience and spend a night in the village at the traditional Mae Kampong Homestay.
3. Chae Son National Park
We found the Chae Son National Park completely by accident. We were actually on the way up the mountains to The Giant Chiang Mai Tree House when we got lost and ended up in the neighboring Lampang Province.
The Chae Son National Park lookout is located way up in the mountains. The small winding concrete road is seriously steep, and quite poor quality in some sections. While we made it up to the top in a small 1.6L Toyota hatchback, it is highly recommended to use a proper 4WD to get up here.
Up in the Chae Son National Park, you will a nice clean campground where you can hire camping gear from the national park headquarters. Camping in the mountains is an awesome overnight escape where you will enjoy the cool mountain air. There are also hiking trails, waterfalls, hot springs, and a stunning lookout.
If you want to get out in nature, then the Chae Son National Park is one of the must visit places near Chiang Mai!
4. Giant Chiang Mai Tree House
For the perfect coffee with a fresh air escape, you must visit the Giant Chiang Mai Tree House. This impressive coffee shop is located in the Mae On District, about 40 kilometers east of Chiang Mai.
As the name suggests, this coffee shop is built in a giant tree overlooking the forest up in the mountains. You will be surrounded by nature with plenty of birds (and perhaps annoying insects).
A trip to the Giant Chiang Mai Treehouse requires about 3-4 hours and can be easily combined with a trip to Baan Mae Kampong and the Chae Son National Park.
5. Queen Sirikit Botanical Garden
The Queen Sirikit Botanical Gardens are located in the mountains approximately 30 minutes to the west of Chiang Mai. You will find the most diverse collection of jungle plants and flowers from all around Thailand.
There are multiple sections to explore. At the top of the botanical gardens, you will find greenhouses with stunning orchids, a wide range of cacti, and an indoor jungle and waterfall. Midway up the mountain, there is the impressive 400-meter long canopy walk which is suspended over the jungle.
Entry to the Queen Sirikit Botanical Gardens is 50 THB per person (USD 2). You will receive a map of the Botanical Gardens with your entry fee which shows the layout of the various sections. It is ideal to allow 2-3 hours to explore the entire area.
Note that the canopy walk may be closed when it rains.
6. Ban Hmong Mae Sa Mai
There are many hill tribes in the mountain ranges near Chiang Mai. Some of these have become busy tourist attractions, while others remain in their original undeveloped state. Baan Hmong Mae Sa Mai offers an authentic view of the hill tribe culture surrounding Chiang Mai.
The Hmong villagers make their income through agriculture and selling their handicrafts. The Hmong culture has migrated into northern Thailand from southern China many years ago. Their culture and language are quite different from typical Thai culture.
The road to Baan Hmong Mae Sa Mai is quite steep, narrow, and in poor condition. It is recommended to visit with a 4WD only. Up in the mountains you can enjoy the stunning panorama views and see a totally different way of life.
7. Doi Inthanon
At 2565 meters tall, Doi Inthanon is the highest mountain peak in Thailand and is sometimes referred to as “the roof of Thailand.” Along the route from Chiang Mai to the peak of Doi Inthanon, you will find a few waterfalls to visit such as; Mae Ya Waterfall and Wachirathan Waterfall.
The road up the mountain is quite steep in some sections but well maintained. You can visit either by a day trip from Chiang Mai or rent a motorbike and ride to the top.
Near the top of Doi Inthanon, you will find the beautiful King and Queen Pagodas where there is a great view looking out across the mountain ranges. Further up at the peak there are a few short hiking trails that take you through the forest and a sign stating that this is the highest point in Thailand.
With its beautiful view over the mountains and refreshingly cool climate, Doi Inthanon is one of my favorite places to visit near Chiang Mai. It takes about 2 hours to get from Chiang Mai to the peak of Doi Inthanon one way, so it’s best to allow an entire day for this trip.
8. Doi Suthep
If you want to visit a mountain near Chiang Mai with an impressive view, but without the 4-hour round trip, then Doi Suthep is your best option. At 1676 meters tall Doi Suthep might sound like a baby compared to Doi Inthanon, however the view looking over Chiang Mai in the late afternoon it totally worth it.
Near the top of the mountain, you will find the iconic Buddhist temple called Wat Doi Suthep. In the middle of the temple grounds, there is an impressive golden stupa which glows in the late afternoon sun. Visit around sunset while the monks chant in the background for a truly mesmerizing experience.
The trip from Chiang Mai to the peak of Doi Suthep takes about 50 minutes one way. Many people visit Doi Suthep by motorbike, however, it is also possible to get here by songtaew, taxi, or a local tour. It is ideal to allow at least a half-day for this trip.
9. Baan Kang Wat
Baan Kang Wat is a charming little artist village located at the foothills of Doi Suthep, on the outskirts of Chiang Mai. The village was created as space for independent artists to create and promote their works. You will find a wide range of handicrafts such as clothes, wooden boards, ceramics, and other interior design items.
Some of the artists also open their stores as workshops for visitors to join craft lessons.
The village has ten buildings all constructed in a similar Thai architecture style consisting largely of wood. You can walk around the village via a series of small laneways which seem to be surrounded by leafy green plants and flowers in just about every free space.
Baan Kang Wat is easily visited with a trip to Wat Umong before heading up to the peak of Doi Suthep in the afternoon.
10. Pha Chor Canyon
The Pha Cor Canyon is a natural rock formation that was created through a combination of tectonic plate movement and erosion from the Ping River over many years. The rock pillars around the canyon stand at about 30 meters high in the jungle canopy.
Pha Cor Canyon reminds me of the Pai Canyon which is located just outside of Pai, northwest of Chiang Mai. There is a walk that takes you around and down to the bottom of the canyon. It is recommended to allow up to an hour for the walk.
As the Pha Chor Canyon is located in the Mae Wang National Park, there is an entry fee imposed of 100 THB (USD 3) per person and 30 THB (USD 1) for a motorbike.
11. Doi Luang National Park
If you want to explore some seriously off the beaten track waterfalls near Chiang Mai, then you need to visit the Doi Luang National Park. While this national park is spread across the nearby provinces of Chiang Rai, Phayao and Lampang, it is still quite accessible from Chiang Mai.
Phu Kaeng Waterfall is located in the northern end of the national park closer to Chiang Rai. The stream runs through dense green jungle and over nine independent limestone levels. On the east of the national park, you will find the Champa Thong Waterfall which has the hardest hike to the top with small wooden stairs hidden in the jungle. Then there is the Wang Kaew Waterfall on the southern end of the park which consists of over one hundred levels!
The Doi Luang National Park is also home to many wild animals such as boars, civets, lemur, macaques, tigers, deer, squirrels, and more than two hundred species of birds. This is one of the best places near Chiang Mai to experience Thailand’s wild nature.
12. Flight of the Gibbon
For a proper adrenaline adventure near Chiang Mai, you might want to consider the Flight of the Gibbon. This adventure park nearby Baan Mae Kampong has Asia’s tallest zip lines at up to 70 meters above the forest floor. There is a total of 7 kilometers of ziplines with 33 independent stations to explore.
By joining the Flight of The Gibbon, you are also helping to support local conservation efforts aimed at rehabilitating Gibbons and reintroducing Hornbill birds which were once common in the area. It is not only fun but and a feel-good experience too.
Visitors typically spend about 2.5 hours on the ziplines. The Flight of the Gibbon is easily combined with a day trip to Baan Mae Kampong and the Giant Chiang Mai Treehouse if time permits.
How long should I spend in Chiang Mai?
Chiang Mai may be the second largest city in Thailand; however, you only have to venture 30 minutes from the city center to see how vastly different it is from the urban sprawl of Bangkok.
With nature being so accessible, there are so many amazing places to visit near Chiang Mai.
Sure, you might be able to explore Chiang Mai’s Old City in a day or two. However, you should consider spending around one week in Chiang Mai to see what the surrounding area really has to offer.
Then, when you’re done with Chiang Mai, how about an adventure up to Chiang Rai? Make sure you check out my super in-depth guide which contains over 25 places to visit around Chiang Rai.