The Perfect 3 Day Chiang Mai Itinerary and Travel Guide for First-Timers

by The Belle Voyage

If you’re planning on spending 3 days in Chiang Mai, Thailand, I’ve got the perfect Chiang Mai itinerary for you!  If you’re wondering how many days to spend in Chaing Mail, or what to do in Chiang Mai for 3 days, this Chiang Mai itinerary and travel guide has everything you need to know for your perfect trip to Chiang Mai, Thailand!

Chiang mai itinerary travel guide 6

How Long to Spend in Chiang Mai

Many tourists to Chiang Mai visit the city as part of a longer Thailand itinerary.  If that is the case for your trip, you’re probably wondering how many days to spend in Chiang Mai.

How Many Days Should You Spend in Chiang Mai?

If you’re wondering how long to spend in Chiang Mai as part of a longer Thailand itinerary, I’d recommend staying in Chiang Mai for at least three days.

Three days in Chiang Mai is enough time to see this cultural capital’s main sights, but to do so at a relaxed pace.  The plan in this post will help you figure out exactly what to do in Chiang Mai in 3 days.

If you only have one or two days in Chiang Mai

If you only have one day in Chiang Mai, I recommend following “Day 1” of the itinerary below.  You’ll be able to see some of Chiang Mai’s most famous temples, and also visit some of the highlights of Chiang Mai’s Old City.

If you have two days to spend in Chiang Mai, I recommend following “Day 1” of the Chiang Mai itinerary below for your first day.  Choose either “Day 2” or “Day 3” below depending on your travel interests.

What to Do in Chiang Mai in 3 Days

When you’re planning your Chiang Mai itinerary, it’s helpful to know that three days is the perfect amount of time to spend in Chiang Mai.

It’s enough time to give you the flavor of the city and see several of the highlights.   With 3 days in Chiang Mai, you can cover quite a bit of ground without feeling rushed.  At the same time, it also leaves enough time to visit other parts of Thailand.

Wondering what to pack for Chiang Mai?  Check out my packing list for a trip to Asia, as well as my best packing tips for women!

Before You go to Chiang Mai…

Important Packing tip for Chiang Mai and Thailand: Get yourself one of these.  You’ll need it if you plan to visit any of Chiang Mai’s temples when the weather is warm, since visitors must dress respectfully. AND it’s less than $10!

Where to Stay in Chiang Mai for First Timers

A key piece to any travel guide to Chiang Mai is where to stay in Chiang Mai.  Fortunately, there is a broad range of  places to stay in Chiang Mai – from the very budget-conscious backpacker hotspots, to the highest standard of luxury.

Here are my picks for the best places to stay in Chiang Mai for your first visit, depending on your budget:

Luxury: If you’re going to splash out on accommodation while you’re visiting Chiang Mai, the Anantara is phenomenal.

Another fabulous option is 137 Pillars House.  Both of these properties in Chiang Mai have gorgeous grounds, and the Thai architecture and charm are absolutely stunning.

Mid-range: Good mid-range hotel options in Chiang Mai are BED Phrasingh (adults only) or U Chiang Mai.

Budget: Kate and Hasu Boutique has all of the creature comforts of a luxury hotel, but at an affordable price point.

With the pool, a gym and chic, modern rooms, you’d never guess that the rate is around $50/night!  It’s so cute – check it out!  Not to mention, there’s also a rooftop lounge and a perfect central location.  This hotel truly has it all.

Pro Travel Tip: These days, travel can be more uncertain than ever. Check for any COVID-related restrictions at your destination, and never travel without travel insurance! I recommend SafetyWing, because they have flexible + affordable insurance plans, and also cover COVID-related impacts on your trip (not all companies do)!

Where to Stay in Chiang Mai with Hotel Points

I’ve stayed at the Le Meridien when I’ve had extra Marriott Convoy points, and this hotel has great value for points.

My three-night stay in Chiang Mai only ended up costing 9,000 Convoy points, which is pretty unheard of.  The Le Meridien was upscale and modern, and I loved that it was located a stone’s throw from one of Chiang Mai’s night markets.

Chiang Mai itinerary travel guide

Chiang Mai Itinerary Day 1: Welcome to Thailand’s Cultural Capital!

Here’s the lowdown on what to do in Chiang Mai in 3 days.  I’ve broken this itinerary down into a day-by-day plan that’s perfect for first-time visitors to Chiang Mai.

A Visit to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep is a must for any Tour of Chiang Mai

An absolute must for any Chiang Mai itinerary is a visit to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep.  Get an early start, and plan to spend most of the morning of your first day in Chiang Mai visiting this temple.

The views from the temple are incredible, and the golden Lanna art everywhere you look is stunning.

Chiang Mai itinerary best temples

How to Get to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

Wat Phra That Doi Suthep is on top of Doi Suthep’s summit, and it’s about 30 minutes outside of the city of Chiang Mai.

For more info on how to get there, check out this guide to getting to Doi Suthep – it has all of the information you need to know!

If you don’t want to make arrangements on your own, there are plenty of tours that will take you to War Phra That Dog Suthep.  But either way, it’s an absolute MUST as part of your itinerary for Chiang Mai.

Your Itinerary for Chiang Mai Should Include a Visit to Chiang Mai’s Old City

After your visit to Doi Suthep, head back to Chiang Mai’s Old City, to wander around and check out some of the city’s 300+ Buddhist temples.  The Old City is a walled quarter filled with temples that showcase Thai culture and northern Thai (Lanna) architecture.

There are a few must-see temples that should be part of your Chiang Mai Old City itinerary.

I’ve highlighted those temples as part of this guide, but it’s also fun to just wander around the Old City and see what you stumble upon.  Getting around Chiang Mai’s Old City is pretty easy to do either on foot or by bicycle.

Next on your Tour of Chaing Mai’s Old Town: Visiting Wat Chedi Luang

As you wander through the Old City in Chiang Mai, make sure to stop by Wat Chedi Luang.  This temple, located in the center of the city, dates back to the 14th century.

The chedi (or pagoda) here is one of the tallest structures in the Old City, but you’ll notice that the top has crumbled due to damage from an earthquake back in the 1500’s.

Participate in a Monk Chat at Wat Chedi Luang

After checking out the temple and walking around the grounds, you can also participate in a Monk Chat, which is something I highly recommend.

Monk Chats offer visitors to Chiang Mai the opportunity to meet and speak with young Buddhist monks.  You can ask them questions about anything – their daily routines, Thai culture, Buddhism – anything!

Funny enough, the monks I spoke with were also keen to talk about pop culture, so brush up on your Us Weekly on the flight over to Thailand.

It’s a great way for young monks to practice their English, and for visitors to Thailand to learn more about the culture.  Win-win.

Tour Wat Phra Singh

Up next on your Chiang Mai itinerary of temple-spotting on Day 1: Wat Phra Singh.  This temple is one of the most frequently visited in Chiang Mai due to the Buddha image that it contains – Lion Bhudda.

If you can time your visit to coincide with the monk chant that begins at 5pm, you’ll have the opportunity to listen in.  It’s a phenomenal experience.

Spend the Rest of your First Day in Chaing Mai With an Evening by the River

Wind down your busy first day in Chiang Mai with a relaxing sunset stroll along the River Mae Nam Ping.  A great riverside spot for dinner is Deck 1.

I loved their water views, modern decor, and incredible food.  If you can stay late enough, the restaurant often has live music, too, so the overall atmosphere can’t be beat.

Chiang Mai Itinerary Day 2: Gentle Giants

No visit to Chiang Mai would be complete without spending some time with elephants, Thailand’s majestic and gentle giants.

Sadly, there is a dark side to many of the animal-based attractions in Chiang Mai, where animals are mistreated, abused and exploited for the sole purpose of attracting tourism dollars.  It’s so incredibly important to be aware of this before you visit Chiang Mai.

Spend Your Second Day in Chiang Mai at the Elephant Nature Park

With the above in mind, I highly recommend the Elephant Nature Park for the second day of your Chiang Mai itinerary.  The Elephant Nature Park is truly a sanctuary for elephants that have been rescued from abusive situations throughout Thailand.

The Elephant Nature Park is a registered Thai Nonprofit, and the animals are free to roam around the park, and are rehabilitated by the Park’s employees and volunteers.

Chiang mai itinerary travel guide

Visitors to the park can get up close and personal with elephants, including helping to feed and bathe them.  Most people visit the park on a day trip, but if you’re interested, the park also offers overnight and week-long volunteer stays.

What Not to do When Visiting Chiang Mai

It’s also important to know what NOT to do when you’re visiting Chiang Mai.

You’ll see that a visit to the Elephant Nature Park does not include riding the elephants.  An elephant’s spine isn’t meant to support the weight of a human, and because of that, riding an elephant can cause serious long-term damage to the animal.  

So please, please, when you visit Thailand, don’t support anywhere that allows elephant rides!

Chiang Mai Itinerary Day 3: Indulge in Thai Food and Massage

Spend the last day of your Chiang Mai itinerary indulging in some of Chiang Mai’s treats for the senses – food and massage!

A Thai Cooking Class will Be a Highlight of your 3 Day Itinerary for Chiang Mai

Start off the last day of your time in Chiang Mai with a half-day cooking class.  Even if cooking isn’t usually your thing, this is a great way to get acquainted with the staples of Thai cuisine, and learn how your favorite dishes are made.  

Many of the dishes are very simple to put together.

Chiang mai itinerary travel guide Khao soi

Half-day cooking classes usually include making three or four dishes, as well as a trip to a local market or garden, depending on the school where you take your class.

At the end of the class, you get to feast on your “projects” and you’ll go home with a cookbook to help you re-create the dishes at home.  It’s a ton of fun, and also a great way to meet other travelers.

If you have the chance, I highly recommend making Khao soi (pictured above).  This noodle dish is a Northern Thai specialty and it is to die for!

Relax with a Thai Massage

In terms of what to do in Chiang Mai in 3 days, I highly recommend enjoying a Thai Massage.  So next up in your Chiang Mai itinerary – some time to relax from a morning spent cooking!  

Indulge in one of Chiang Mai’s many day spas, and enjoy a Thai or Swedish massage.

For day spas, I love this package because it includes transportation to and from your hotel, as well as 2 hours’ worth of spa treatments.  If you prefer something more casual, it’s easy to find a spa with good foot massages for a few dollars.

Another alternative that’s unique to Chiang Mai?  Head over to the Chiang Mai Women’s Prison where inmates (non-violent offenders) are trained in massage techniques.  You can get a one-hour massage for about $5.

Explore the Night Market in Chiang Mai’s Old Town

Refreshed from your massage or time at the spa, the last stop on your Chiang Mai itinerary is to check out one of Chiang Mai’s night markets.

Explore what’s on offer for souvenirs, people-watch, and grab a casual, cheap dinner of local specialties.  It’s a safe bet that dinner won’t cost you more than $5!

3 days in Chiang Mai

The Night Bazaar begins every night at 6pm, and takes place just east of the old walled city, on Chang Khlan road.

Getting Around Chiang Mai

There are quite a few ways to get around Chiang Mai.  The good news is that none of them are expensive!

  • Walking: walking is a great way to explore Chiang Mai’s Old City.
  • Renting a bicycle: Getting around Chiang Mai by bike is another good option.  Within the city, the streets are flat, and in general, other vehicles will give you plenty of room.  Renting a bike will cost around 200 – 300 bhat/day.
  • Renting a scooter: If you’re comfortable on a scooter, renting one in Chiang Mai will let you zip around the city.
  • Tuk-tuk: You haven’t experienced Thailand until you’ve taken a ride in a Tuk Tuk!  A ride within Chiang Mai’s Old Town by Tuk Tuk will run 60-80 Bhat.  Plan to negotiate down to that from a higher starting number and make sure to agree on a price ahead of time.
  • Songthaew: These red trucks are similar to shared taxis.  Hail one down, tell the driver where you’re heading, and if they’re going in the same direction, they’ll bring you along.  Shared rides usually cost 20 – 30 bhat.
getting around Chiang mai

Getting to Chiang Mai from the Airport

Coming to and from the airport, the easiest transport is a taxi, which will take you to most Chiang Mai hotels for about 200 bhat.

You can also book a private  transfer ahead of time to and from the airport.  At less than $20, the cost is very reasonable compared to cities in Europe and the US.  Knowing that someone will be waiting for you when you arrive in the city can also give you peace of mind.

Many activities in Chiang Mai Include Transportation

Finally, when you’re thinking about what to do in Chiang Mai in 3 days, keep in mind that many activities (including the Elephant Nature Park and most cooking classes) include transportation to and from your accommodation.

So, you may only need transportation around Chiang Mai on days when you’re not booked in to any of these.

There you Have it – The Perfect 3 Day Chiang Mai Itinerary!

I hope this travel guide has helped plan your trip to Chiang Mai!  Headed elsewhere in Asia?  Check out my recommendations for the perfect Hong Kong itinerary!

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