One Day in Chiang Mai, Thailand: Itinerary & Where to Go in 24 Hours

Whether you have 10 days in Thailand or a month, carving out at least one day in Chiang Mai is a must.

Surrounded by a mountainous landscape, Chiang Mai hides many treasures. Any Chiang Mai itinerary is bound to uncover everything from ancient temples to tribal villages. But what should you do with just 24 hours in Chiang Mai?

Chiang Mai has 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 Thailand, people flock here to relax and leisurely explore the attractions.

Along with cultural sightseeing, the Chiang Mai area includes a wide array of things to see & do. If you head out from the city in any direction, you’ll discover lush countryside, and stunning rainforests dotted with impressive waterfalls.

Inside the city itself, you’ll explore beautiful wat (temples) and an array of welcoming side streets. Or, to throw a little more fun & relaxation into your Chiang Mai trip plan, experience a traditional Thai massage or indulge in the lively nightlife scene.

Visiting Chiang Mai in 24 hours 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 where to go in Chiang Mai in one day? Get started with this complete 1-day itinerary…

What to do in Chiang Mai in 24 hours: A complete one-day itinerary

Like most of our city itineraries, this itinerary 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.

Wat Lok Moli

While you’ll get to experience some of the best things to do in Chiang Mai, 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 itinerary 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 this 24-hour Chiang Mai itinerary 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.

Mae Sa Waterfall Doi Suthep-Pui National Park

You could easily spend an entire day within Doi Suthep-Pui National Park. For this 1-day Chiang Mai itinerary, you’ll only have enough time to take in the beauty of the landscape for an hour or so.

The mountainous terrain at Doi Suthep-Pui National Park includes an evergreen forest with several waterfalls that will make the perfect backdrop for a few vacation pics.

The national park 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 in Chiang Mai, 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

Doi Suthep-Pui 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.

Wat Phra Singh

When you get back to the city, you can cross a trip to a temple off of your itinerary.

Thailand 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 this itinerary are a short walk from each other and within the boundaries of the old moat.

As you approach Wat Phra Singh, you’ll see the tops of the pagodas peeking out behind the surrounding modern developments. Wat Phra Singh is the most famous and most visited temple in Chiang Mai.

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.

Wat Chedi Luang

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 heart of Chiang Mai Old City.

Saturday Night Market

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.

Elephant Jungle Sanctuary

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 check out 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—even with one day in Chiang Mai.

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 in Chiang Gai.

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.

Night Bazaar

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 Chiang Mai and attracts all types of merchants. You can shop for bootleg DVDs and CDs, toys, clothing, gadgets, and local handicrafts.

Of course, the Chiang Mai Night 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.

Ping River

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 24-hour 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.

Ryan O'Rourke is a seasoned traveler and the founder & editor of Treksplorer, a fiercely independent guide to mid-range luxury travel for busy people. With over 20 years of extensive travel experience, Ryan has journeyed through over 50 countries, uncovering hidden gems and sharing firsthand, unsponsored insights on what to see & do and where to eat, drink & stay. Backed by his travel experience and in-depth research, Ryan’s travel advice and writing has been featured in publications like the Huffington Post and Matador Network. You can connect with Ryan on Twitter/X at @rtorourke.

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