Surrounded by a mountainous landscape, the city of Chiang Mai hides many treasures. From ancient temples to tribal villages, it’s filled with culturally important sites.
What should you do with just one day in Chiang Mai?
It’s become one of the best destinations in Thailand for those wanting a more laid back vibe compared to Bangkok. While it’s still one of the largest cities in the country, people flock to Chiang Mai to relax and leisurely explore the attractions.
Along with cultural sightseeing, the area includes a wide array of things to see and do. If you head out from the city in any direction (truly a must whether you have 10 days in Thailand or month!), you’ll come in contact with lush countryside, and stunning rainforests dotted with impressive waterfalls. Inside the city you’ll find beautiful wat and an array of welcoming side streets. Experience a traditional Thai massage or indulge in the lively nightlife scene.
Chiang Mai also offers a diverse range of shopping and dining options. Travel the backstreets to find small markets and shop for handicrafts and souvenirs. Near the hotels, you’ll find modern commercial districts with malls and department stores.
Not sure how to plan your trip? Get started with this complete 1-day Chiang Mai itinerary…
Table of Contents
- What to do in Chiang Mai in 24 hours: A complete one-day itinerary
- Wander around Doi Suthep-Pui National Park
- Climb 306 steps to reach the platform of Wat Phra Singh
- View one of the largest Pagodas at Wat Chedi Luang
- Shop and feast on the streets of Chiang Mai Old City
- Visit the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary
- Take in a treatment at Zabai Thai Massage & Spa
- Continue shopping and eating at Chiang Mai Night Bazaar
- Enjoy a late-night cruise or explore the nightlife
- Where to stay: The best hotels for 24 hours in Chiang Mai
- Beyond Chiang Mai in one day: More Thailand & Southeast Asia itineraries
What to do in Chiang Mai in 24 hours: A complete one-day itinerary
Like most of our city itineraries, this trip to Chiang Mai includes stops at historic sites, crowded markets, and various landmarks. You’ll cover a lot of ground but won’t be able to see it all.
24 hours in Chiang Mai doesn’t give you the time needed to truly explore this city. You’ll have to skip the Hmong Tribal Village, the zoo, and other attractions located outside of the city centre.
Luckily, you’ll still have the chance to visit temples, shop at a local bazaar, and even have time to visit a national park.
Most of the trip centres around Chiang Mai Old City, with destinations within easy walking distance of each other. Other than one or two taxi rides, you can spend most of the trip on foot.
Wander around Doi Suthep-Pui National Park
Located in the hills to the west of the old city, Doi Suthep-Pui is a sprawling national park with waterfalls, wildlife, and walking paths. It’s even got a Buddhist temple, an ancient palace, and the Hmong Tribal Village.
You could easily spend an entire day within the national park. For this Chiang Mai itinerary, you’ll just have time to take in the beauty of the landscape for an hour or so.
The mountainous terrain includes an evergreen forest with several waterfalls that will make the perfect backdrop for a few vacation pics.
It’s also home to many native animals, including wild boar and over 300 species of birds. While walking around the park, keep an eye out for reptiles, including a few different species of geckos.
If you come back for a longer trip, you should try summiting one of the three peaks. In the early mornings, the mountains offer magical views of the surrounding landscape.
Climb 306 steps to reach the platform of Wat Phra Singh
The national park is a few kilometres west of the central part of the city, so you’ll need to take a taxi to reach Wat Phra Singh. You should also check with your hotel, as some of the top hotels in Chiang Mai offer free shuttle service to and from the park.
When you get back to the city, you can cross a trip to a temple off of your itinerary. The country is known for its wide range of ancient wats, including Wat Phra Singh. After you cross the old city moat, it’s just a few blocks away.
In fact, most of the sites on the rest of the itinerary are a short walk from each other and within the boundaries of the old moat.
As you approach the temple, you’ll see the tops of the pagodas peeking out behind the surrounding modern developments. It’s the most famous and most visited temple in the city.
In a city with over 300 temples, Wat Phra Singh stands out. The temple complex includes several buildings, many covered in gold leaf and featuring hand carvings and intricate details along the facades.
Tour the pagodas and temples after you climb the 306 steps outside the main building’s platform. Once you reach the top, you’ll be treated to panoramic views of the old city.
View one of the largest Pagodas at Wat Chedi Luang
When you finish enjoying the view from the top of the temple platform, walk a few blocks east to reach the next temple on your itinerary. You’ll eventually reach Wat Chedi Luang and pass a few other temples along the way.
After visiting Wat Phra Singh, Wat Chedi Luang may not seem as impressive. It’s not as well preserved and appears to be in decay, but that is part of the charm. The massive wooden buildings and partially damaged pagoda showcase the age and history of the temple complex.
It’s also less crowded compared to Wat Phra Singh. You’ll have the chance to explore the sprawling temple grounds without nudging past other tourists.
Wat Chedi Luang remains an active temple. Depending on when you visit, you may get to see monks going about their day.
Shop and feast on the streets of Chiang Mai Old City
When trying to see as much of Chiang Mai in one day as you can, you’ll spend a lot of time around the old city. From the temple, you just need to walk one block north to reach the city’s heart.
The area around the temple includes many open-air markets and narrow streets lined with boutique shops and street-side vendors.
Shop and try the local cuisine and street food as you wander around the centre of the old city. If you’re not a fan of Thai food, you’ll also find a few familiar establishments, including fast-food restaurants and convenience stores that you’re likely to find back home.
Visit the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary
After filling your belly with local cuisine and bags with souvenirs, it’s time to watch the elephants at the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary. To reach the sanctuary, you’ll pass a few more sites worth visiting during a longer stay.
You’ll pass through Tha Phae Walking Street, containing local arts and crafts, before crossing under Tha Phae Gate at the eastern edge of the old city. If you decide to stay longer, try to spend some time visiting these sites. For now, follow the road out of the old city until you reach the sanctuary.
Make sure you book your tour of the sanctuary in advance. You’ll have the chance to feed and bathe the elephants and watch as they go about their usual routines.
The tour typically lasts a few hours, but you should have enough time if you don’t get lost in the old city. Just make sure you buy tickets for the Chiang Mai sanctuary, as there are a couple of other parks operated by the same locals.
Take in a treatment at Zabai Thai Massage & Spa
By the time you finish touring the sanctuary, your legs may need a break. With so many things to do & see in Chiang Mai, you may not think to take time out to relax, but a traditional Thai massage is something you can’t pass up.
Located just a few blocks east of the sanctuary and on the same road, you’ll find Zabai Thai Massage & Spa. It’s one of the top-rated places to go for a traditional Thai massage.
These massages don’t involve oils or lotions. You remain clothed and the masseuse applies constant pressure by pulling, stretching, and rocking your body instead of rubbing the muscles.
Continue shopping and eating at Chiang Mai Night Bazaar
Now that you’ve worked out the kinks in your muscles at the spa, stretch your legs with a short walk to Chiang Mai Night Bazaar. It’s located several blocks south of the spa, on the road behind the establishment.
You’ll find almost everything at the market, with a mixture of traditional and touristy goods. It’s one of the most popular tourist destinations in the city and attracts all types of merchants. You can shop for bootleg DVDs and CDs, toys, clothing, gadgets, and local handicrafts.
Of course, the bazaar becomes quite crowded, but it still retains the laid back vibe that you find throughout the city. Take a leisurely stroll past vendors and check out their goods before travelling to the river.
Enjoy a late-night cruise or explore the nightlife
When you finish perusing the bazaar, walk a couple of blocks east to the riverside. Now that your trip around Chiang Mai in 24 hours is almost over, it’s time to unwind in the entertainment district. The area bordering Ping River includes dozens of bars, clubs, and a few establishments that offer river cruises.
If possible, try to book a dinner cruise. The trip allows you to see more of the city at night from the comfort of a boat.
If you miss out on the chance for a cruise, you can still have fun exploring the riverside area. Simply walk around and peek inside until you find a bar or lounge that suits your tastes. When you’re done partying or riding the river, walk or take a taxi back to your hotel and call it a night.
Where to stay: The best hotels for 24 hours in Chiang Mai
Like most major travel destinations in Thailand, choosing where to stay in Chiang Mai is getting tougher thanks to its growing popularity. Most travellers with a quick layover in Chiang Mai would do well staying in the areas in & around Old Town, Haiya, and Nimman. Here are a few options…
- Rinn Boutique House: One of the best choices for budget-conscious travellers, this modern hotel charms with bright spacious rooms that offer a patio to chill out on after a day of sightseeing in Chiang Mai.
- Pingviman Hotel: For a strong dash of Thai style, travellers will love this mid-range hotel. It offers elegant and luxurious rooms along with a yummy on-site Thai restaurant.
- Thai Akara – Lanna Boutique Hotel: One of the top luxury picks in Old Town, this beautiful hotel features sophisticated rooms and a fantastic outdoor pool for your relaxation pleasure.