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Hidden Gem Lover’s Guide to Chiang Mai 

Here's everything you need to know to plan an amazing Chiang Mai trip!

Last updated: 04 Jul 2024 - 9 min read
Hidden Gem Lover’s Guide to Chiang Mai 
Hidden Gem Lover’s Guide to Chiang Mai 
Hi! Welcome to Seek Sophie
We're obsessed with finding the best local guides and experiences. We only recommend what we love and hope you love them too.

Chiang Mai is one of our favourite northern cities in Thailand, a hipster haven with a ton of nature and heart and the laidback sister to its more popular counterpart Bangkok.

Here, ancient traditions meet modern creativity and you can sip coffee roasted on a mountainside, and trek through lush forests alongside rescued elephants. It’s the best week-long getaway for all things nature, art, adventure, with just the perfect amount of chill!

Here's everything you need to know to plan an amazing Chiang Mai trip!

The Basics

1

How to get to Chiang Mai

Direct flights: You can fly directly to Chiang Mai International Airport (CNX) via international flights from most major cities in Asia, and domestic flights if you’re coming from other parts of Thailand.

How to get to Chiang Mai
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Navigating Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai International Airport is a quick 20-30 minute ride to the city center. Transportation is also readily available and affordable! You can easily hail a car or motorbike taxi via Grab to get around quickly. 

Bonus: For larger groups, we suggest booking a Rod Daeng (Red Trucks) via Grab. These iconic red trucks are a must-try here!

Navigating Chiang Mai
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Best time to go

November to February is Chiang Mai's sweet spot. Think cool breezes, sunshine that won't leave you fried, and perfect weather for exploring pagodas, hiking, and enjoying the outdoors. January is peak season, so expect more people.

The months between March and May bring hotter temperatures and increased haze levels. It's a good option if you hate crowds, but be prepared to sweat and maybe skip some outdoor activities. We personally prefer visiting in November!

Best time to go

Where to Stay

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Old City

Old City is the heart of Chiang Mai and a great choice if you want to immerse yourself in history and culture. Plus, it has a ton of affordable options! These are our top 2 fave picks:

Your Space Hotel: One of the most budget-friendly and comfortable stays we found! It even has a pool you can dip in. 

Hidden Garden Hostel: This hostel is known for being gorgeous yet affordable! It’s perfect for backpackers and budget-conscious travelers who still want some comfort. Even their private rooms are affordable and chic.

Old City
5

Nimman Area

The trendy Nimman area is all about cafes, swanky shops, and a cool vibe. 

Boutique Hotel: G Nimman is a great choice  if you’re looking for a stylish and modern stay in the heart of this hip area. There’s also a very Instagrammable pool to relax in! 

Nimman Area
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Luxury Escape

If you’re looking to treat yourself to a more luxe and upscale experience, we recommend these! 

137 Pillar House: A historic stunner right by the night market, dripping with old-world charm.

Glamping in Style: Fancy sleeping under the stars? Check out Mt Cloud. It’s a 1 hour ride from the city but that means you can get away from the crowds! Think misty mornings, epic mountain views, and a luxurious bathtub – all in a glamorous tent! 

Luxury Escape

Chiang Mai Highlights: Ethical Wildlife Experiences

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Chang Chill Elephant Sanctuary

Say goodbye to dodgy elephant rides. Chiang Mai is home to amazing sanctuaries where you can meet these gentle giants on their terms, and where elephants just get to be elephants!

If you're short on time but still want to see elephants in their natural environment, Chang Chill has amazing half-day or full-day programs and it’s located closer to the city. You’ll get to go on a short trek into the forest to find them, learn about their past experiences, see their playful interactions, and contribute to their continued rehabilitation.

Chang Chill Elephant Sanctuary
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Burm & Emily's Elephant Sanctuary (BEEs)

If you have 2 days to spare, we highly recommend visiting BEEs elephant sanctuary for a fully immersive experience.

Here, you’ll get to spend quality time observing these gentle giants in their natural habitat on a full-day observation walk and even get involved in their daily care (think mud baths and yummy fruit buffets!).This 2D1N stay allows you to truly bond with these majestic creatures and was one of the highlights of our Chiang Mai trip.

For those of you who really love elephants, there's even a 4D3N or a week-long volunteer programme!

Burm & Emily's Elephant Sanctuary (BEEs)
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Seeing rehabilitated Gibbons in the wild

Channel your inner Indiana Jones and embark on a thrilling jungle adventure to see rehabilitated gibbons!

We're talking lush rainforests, hidden waterfalls, and the chance to see these incredible primates swinging through the tree.

Do note that since it’s wildlife, the chances of seeing the gibbons are 50/50! Nevertheless, it's an unforgettable way to connect with nature, and a true testament to successful conservation efforts.

Seeing rehabilitated Gibbons in the wild

Chiang Mai Highlights: Mountain Temples

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Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

Chiang Mai boasts stunning mountain ranges dotted with ancient temples and pagodas. Prepare for breathtaking views and a touch of spiritual exploration here!

No trip to Chiang Mai is complete without visiting Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, one of the most famous temples with breathtaking views!

Doi Suthep has many hikes and trails, but we like taking the less touristed path so we recommend hiking a hidden Doi Suthep trail with Kui! You get to visit a local coffee village, enjoy an authentic meal and just experience the mountain and Thai village life in a new way.

Wat Phra That Doi Suthep
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Doi Inthanon National Park

If you have more time, head to Thailand's highest peak to see a stunning temple complex amidst clouds.

It’s slightly further away than Doi Suthep but totally worth the trip for its unique diverse landscapes, numerous waterfalls, and the cool mountain air. 

Doi Inthanon National Park

Chiang Mai Highlights: Local villages

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Mae Kampong Village

Nestled amidst rolling hills, Mae Kampong offers a taste of rural life in Thailand. Explore the village's charming streets lined with traditional wooden houses, learn about their innovative sustainable practices like organic farming, and maybe even indulge in some delicious local coffee. You'll get to see this village if you go for the gibbon spotting jungle hike.

Mae Kampong Village
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Hmong Village

If you go on the Doi Suthep hike, this is one of the villages you will get to see on the way. Hmong villages perch at 1400 meters, with stunning mountain views.

Immerse yourself in their way of life, crafts, and culture. You can even pick up a handmade souvenir and savor their high-altitude coffee here! 

Hmong Village

Chiang Mai Highlights: Cycling adventures

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Explore the city with a Twilight Cycling Tour

Ditch the tuk-tuks and explore the city like a true local on a bicycle! Discover hidden gems, snap pictures at iconic locations like Tha Phae Gate and Warorot Market, and explore beautiful temples such as Wat Chedi Luang.

Our favourite part of this cycling tour was enjoying our night bazaar food on a hidden rooftop (which you can only find via our experience!) – the vibes were amazing. 

Explore the city with a Twilight Cycling Tour
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Explore the outdoors with a Sticky Waterfalls Cycling Trip

Combine cycling through the scenic countryside with a refreshing dip at the Bua Tong Sticky Waterfalls with this cycling trip. Climb the unique limestone formations, take a refreshing dip in the cool water, and soak up the stunning scenery.

Explore the outdoors with a Sticky Waterfalls Cycling Trip

Highlights in Chiang Mai: Art & Culture

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Artist Village Bann Kang Wat

Calling all art enthusiasts! This hidden gem is a labyrinth of studios and workshops showcasing local creativity. Browse handicrafts, or even take a pottery or batik painting class. It was such a cute and unique village that’s definitely worth a visit! 

Artist Village Bann Kang Wat
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Jing Jai Market (only on weekends!)

This rustic haven for local artisans is a feast for the senses. Immerse yourself in the colorful displays of handmade jewelry, silks, and traditional lacquerware. We scored ourselves some gorgeous handmade pottery cups and locally designed clothing! 

Jing Jai Market (only on weekends!)
18

Night Markets

No Chiang Mai trip is complete without experiencing the iconic night markets! There are a bunch of night bazaars in Chiang Mai, but our favourites are the Sunday Night Market. This walking street stretches for over a kilometer, offering everything from traditional crafts to trendy clothing and delicious lanna (traditional northern thailand) street food.

Be prepared for the crowds, but embrace the vibrant atmosphere – it's a quintessential Chiang Mai experience!

Night Markets

Chiang Mai Highlights: Cafe Culture

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For the Coffee Connoisseur

Head to Akha Ama Coffee, a haven for serious coffee enthusiasts. They source their beans directly from local Akha hill tribes (ethnic groups who live in northern Thailand), ensuring the freshest and most ethically sourced coffee in town.

For the Coffee Connoisseur
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Hidden Gem Cafes

For a truly unique experience, check out WTF Coffee Camp. This hidden gem, located about an hour outside the city, offers an unforgettable escape into nature. While the drive might add a bit of time to your itinerary, trust us, it's totally worth the journey!

Nestled amidst rolling hills and lush greenery, WTF Coffee Camp boasts a laid-back, rustic atmosphere. Imagine sipping your morning coffee on a cozy hammock overlooking breathtaking mountain vistas. It's the perfect place to unwind and reconnect with nature. 

Hidden Gem Cafes

Highlights in Chiang Mai: Flower Fields

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Mae Rim District

Those dreamy flower fields you see all over Instagram? They're real, and Chiang Mai is home to some of the most stunning displays. However, timing is key!

Best time to go: The best time to witness these vibrant fields is typically between November to January during the cooler season.

Our favorites include I love Flower Farm and ​​Kuv Niam Hydenyia for beautiful hydrangeas, and Suan Lung Ron for multi-coloured Margarette and celosia and celosia plumosa flowers. 

Mae Rim District

Chiang Mai Off-Grid: Chiang Dao

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Jungle Art Camp in Chiang Dao

Embrace your inner hipster and prepare for a rustic adventure. If you're looking to truly disconnect, this 2D1N retreat offers a unique opportunity to stay with local families, trek through lush pine forests, and experience the stunning views of Doi Luang mountain.

Be prepared for a true off-grid experience – electricity and internet is weak!

Jungle Art Camp in Chiang Dao
23

Chiang Dao Hot Springs

Soothe your muscles after a day of exploration at the natural hot springs. Picture steaming pools nestled amidst lush greenery – pure relaxation surrounded by nature's beauty!

Chiang Dao Hot Springs

Chiang Mai Off-Grid: Chiang Rai

24

North Thailand Road Trip

Rent a car or motorbike and embark on an epic adventure! Visit the sky-high temples of Chiang Rai, the vibrant Lampang night market, the fascinating Opium Museum, and even take a short boat trip into Laos.

Remember: Chiang Dao and Chiang Rai are more rustic than Chiang Mai. Think fewer fancy cafes, more local charm. Embrace the slower pace! Renting a vehicle provides the most flexibility for exploring these off-the-beaten-path destinations. 

North Thailand Road Trip

Suggested Itinerary

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7D6N

Days 1-2: Arrive in Chiang Mai, relax and explore Old City, the Night Markets, artist markets and the hip Nimman area.

Days 2-3: Ethical elephant experience (BEES or Chang Chill). If you head to Chang Chill, spend the next day spotting gibbons in the jungle, or go cycling to the sticky waterfalls

Day 4: Check out the mountain temples - Doi Suthep or Doi Inthanon

Days 5-6: Chiang Dao trip – coffee, hiking, glamping.

Day 7: Return to Chiang Mai, departure

7D6N

Tips and Tricks

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Respectful Travel

Thailand is a predominantly Buddhist country. Remember to dress modestly when visiting temples, and generally be mindful of local customs.

Respectful Travel
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Hidden Eateries

While the night markets are fun, venture outside these touristy spots to discover incredible local flavours. Khao Soy Maesai has amazing khao soi (a must-try noodle dish!), and Rote Yiam Beef Noodle is a local favourite.

Hidden Eateries
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Speakeasy Scene

If you're into craft cocktails, Chiang Mai has some gems. The White Rabbit is a true speakeasy experience, while The Continental offers a fun John Wick theme.

Speakeasy Scene
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