We have put together a Chiang Mai itinerary that will leave you believing that this is the best city in all of Thailand. We will tell you about the best elephant sanctuary Chiang Mai has to offer, which also is extremely ethical, and walk you through all of the incredible Chiang Mai temples around town. On top of that, we will talk about where to stay in Chiang Mai, and of course a few tidbits on what to eat! Hint: lots of Pad Thai. Now let’s get to it!
Chiang Mai is nestled in Northern Thailand, sandwiched between Myanmar and Laos. Though it isn’t on the coast, we think you’ll have as much adventure in Chiang Mai as you would anywhere else in Southeast Asia (or on earth for that matter)!
Chiang Mai has elephants. That should be enough to get you there, but the adventure doesn’t stop there. There are beautiful eye-catching temples scattered throughout the city. An Old Town complete with a moat and brick wall around the entire town is an incredible site. And of course the food is so good that you will not want to leave!
Are you ready to get into the details of what makes Chiang Mai so awesome?? Here is everything you need to see on a Chiang Mai itinerary to have the experience of your lifetime.
Day 1 – The Chiang Mai Temples!
Until the elephants started gaining popularity, the number 1 tourist destination in this part of Thailand was the Chiang Mai temples. We recommend taking your first day to explore these incredible masterpieces around town.
The city of Chiang Mai is full of treasured temples spotted all across the city. The temples are each a truly stunning combination of gold and red, with jewels of all colors decorating the entirety of each building.
Get a map of Chiang Mai, or use the map we put below, mark out all the temples you want to see. We recommend getting a bike and setting out to explore for the day! This way you’ll be able to cover more ground. However, if you would rather walk, that is more than okay too! Either way you’ll have a blast seeing things you won’t be able to see anywhere else on earth.
Day 2 – Elephant Jungle Sanctuary Chiang Mai
The second day of our Chiang Mai itinerary is going to be the best day BY FAR. We are going to plan a trip to the best and most ethical elephant sanctuary Chiang Mai has to offer: Elephant Jungle Sanctuary!
Visiting an ethical elephant sanctuary when you visit Chiang Mai should be required. It is an ABSOLUTE MUST PEOPLE! Why? Let us tell you.
First off, because elephants are the kings of the animal kingdom. Lions have NOTHING on them. They are somehow the largest AND cutest land animals on earth. How is that even possible? Seeing and playing with elephants will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. You will treasure these memories, trust us.
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Second, because all of the money you spend (if you go to an ethical elephant sanctuary) goes towards saving elephants from terrible lives. Although it is tough to hear and see, some elephants raised in Southeast Asia are treated poorly and made to work their entire lives in terrible conditions. These sanctuaries, like Elephant Jungle Sanctuary, raise money to purchase an elephant and save that creature from these conditions. Sounds like a cause that everyone can get behind.
Third, because you will have the time of your life! You will get to feed them bananas, sugar cane, pumpkins, and more. You will get to have a FREAKING MUD BATH with them (Zach literally fell and slid down the mud/poop mountain on the way down… what an oaf). And finally, you will get to finish it off by rinsing off in the river, with elephants playing and using their trunks as super soakers all around you. It is paradise, folks, simple as that. Here is our Instagram Story from that day.
Elephant Jungle Sanctuary Details
Getting to the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary was actually extremely easy, as long as you do one thing: book your transit as a part of your elephant adventure package! You can book your tour online, or by visiting the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary office in Chiang Mai. We recommend booking online since the tours can book up quickly.
The trip to the sanctuary itself is far enough (and straight uphill) that it would be a real challenge on a bike or in a tuk-tuk. Also, as far as we’ve seen, any day-trip you book in Chiang Mai will come with a pick-up from your hotel or homestay. Therefore, book the trip with transit included and you’ll get picked up & dropped off right at your hotel!
One of our favorite parts of the day was actually getting to FEED the elephants! You might as well have tattooed a smile on Julie’s face for the ENTIRE day. Elephants eat over 350 pounds every day. Sounds like a hungover brunch for us…
And on top of all that, you will get to keep the shirt they give you (which we are wearing in all the pics)! This is the best souvenir we got in all of Thailand, since it reminds us of our day in the best elephant sanctuary in Chiang Mai.
Day 3 – Walk Around the Square
Chiang Mai is literally shaped like a square, with a moat and brick wall surrounding the entire town. It is a beautiful set-up, and you’ll find a surprise around every corner as you walk around town.
We recommend that you take one day to go out with no agenda, and find things to do at the drop of a hat. During our walk we stumbled upon a street food festival that we would have not found without aimlessly wandering, and the food was INCREDIBLE! We ate fresh sushi and Thai delicacies for $.50 my friends, and we ate until our bellies couldn’t fit any more!
Where to Stay in Chiang Mai
We know exactly where to stay in Chiang Mai. Holy cripes of all the places we’ve been around the world, our hotel in Chiang Mai was probably our favorite! We stayed at Plern Plern Bed and Bike located right outside the Old Town neighborhood.
First off, Plern Plern is an epic name. Right off the top, best name of any hotel in the world. Whenever someone asks where we were staying, we could spit out PLERN PLERRRRRRN and turn it into a little song and dance. Can’t do that at any other hotel, can ya?
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Second, and most importantly, the owner/manager was the nicest person we met in all of Thailand, and that is saying something because people in Thailand are awesome! She was the kindest person ever, helping us settle in to the city with some tea and home-baked bread upon arrival. She then told us EVERYTHING we needed to do in the city during our stay, and pointed out things happening while we were there that we would have never known otherwise.
Third, we had a DELICIOUS home-cooked breakfast every morning, all included in the price of our booking. We’re not talking a few things on a continental breakfast buffet table, folks. We could order anything we want (pad thai, eggs, fruit and yogurt, home-baked bread and jelly, bacon) and they will cook it up FRESH! Perfect way to start every day, especially when each day was full of biking, walking, and elephants, have to fuel up.
Fourth, and finally, free bike rentals at Plern Plern! Seriously, free. We could barely believe our ears. Just tell the manager you’d like to book one and it is all yours the next day! She will even draw out a route for you on a map and send you off in style.
Plern Plern had everything you’ll want on your Chiang Mai adventure. If you are wondering where to stay in Chiang Mai, this is it. And perhaps the best part, at less than $20 per night, the price is pretty unbeatable.
More Temple and Elephant Photos!
Thank you SO much for taking the time to read our Chiang Mai itinerary! If you want any more advice on your trip to Chiang Mai, reach out in the comments or on the About Us page and we would love to help out.
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