Chiang Mai, Thailand’s second largest city, is called the “Rose of the North”. From it’s time as the capital of the Kingdom of Lanna, Chiang Mai has retained some of its historic city walls, gates and the moat, giving it an old town feel you rarely find in Asia. The surrounding mountains provide a beautiful landscape and a slightly cooler climate than Bangkok, making Chiang Mai a great weekend getaway from the city!
Perfect Weekend Itinerary: After arriving at your hotel in the old town, you take off for a stroll towards the Tha Pae Gate, marking the old town’s boundary.
From here it’s just a short walk to the vibrant night market where you can find anything and everything, from t-shirts and silk to incense burners and elephant figures, the symbolic animal of Thailand. After you have done all the shopping, head back to the old town for dinner at “Dash” where you’ll find good Thai food in a beautiful garden setting.
You’ll start your Saturday with a leisurely breakfast at your hotel or one of the many cozy coffee shops in the old town. Once you are awake and strengthened, it’s time to explore Chiang Mai’s story. Start at the Chiang Mai City Arts & Cultural Center, The museum is housed in the former provincial government building with the Three Kings Monument in the square in front!
It’s very well curated and provides some background on the history, culture and people of Chiang Mai. If you enjoyed it and want to see more, check out the Historical Centre to learn about he history of the Lanna Kingdom (behind the Cultural Center) or the Lanna Folklife Museum across the street.
A visit to Chiang Mai wouldn’t be complete without seeing some of the impressive Buddhist temples. A short walk from the Cultural Center is Wat Phantao, a wooden temple founded in the 14th century.
On the grounds is a beautiful pond and trees, decorated with lanterns!
Next door is Wat Chedi Luang and the shrine houses the Chiang Mai city pillar. According to legend, the pillar was giving to the local people by god Indra to protect them from disaster. As long as they would venerate the pillar and live virtuous lives, the city would be prosperous.
It is said that it was first erected by King Mangrai at the founding of the city as the capital of the Lanna Kingdom in 1296 and has been venerated since.
After all this history and exploration, you’ve earned yourself some pampering and head to one of the many spas for a massage treatment. Lila Thai Massage offers Traditional Thai Massages for less than $10/hour in simple rooms and gives former female prisoners training and a job opportunity. For a more luxurious treat, head to the Thai HeXi Spa, with beautiful rooms and very attentive, friendly staff. A great massage will still cost you less than $20/h here!
On Saturday evening you’ll find another night market just South of the city moat. You’ll find lots of delicious street food offered at little stalls, crowded with people. You can try local dishes – don’t worry, food is selling so quickly, it’s safe to eat!
You spend your Sunday morning with a relaxing breakfast and some time by the pool, before you have to head to the airport and back home. If you enjoyed Chiang Mai as much as I did, I’m sure you’ll be back for more!
How to get there & around: Chiang Mai’s International Airport offers countless inexpensive flights from Bangkok and most major Thai cities, as well as many airports in the region, including hubs like Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Hong Kong or Seoul.
Fortunately, ride hailing service grab has arrived in Chiang Mai, putting and end to the taxi scams in the city and making life better for travelers. It’s easy to hail from the airport (price to the old town is less than $10) or any place in the city. Read my review of grab here!
If you are adventurous, you can try out the red songthaews, pick-up trucks that ply mysterious routes through the town for a fare of THB30 pP.
Where to stay: To make the most of your weekend and be able to see everything on foot, it’s best to stay in or near the old town. We stayed at the Thai Akara Lanna Boutique Hotel inside the walls, an upscale property with beautiful pool and garden and friendly staff.
Other options include the upscale Le Meridien near the night market. The Mercure Chiang Mai is a great mid-scale bargain, located just North of the wall. There are a number of small boutique hotels inside the walls or budget options outside. You can find a comparison in the table below:
|Thai Akara - Lanna Boutique Hotel||4*||Old Town||Location, Style, Service, Pool|
|Villa Sirilanna Hotel||4*||Old Town||Location, Style|
|Bodhi Serene Hotel||4*||Old Town||Location, Style|
|Le Meridien Chiang Mai||5*||Night Bazar||Marriott Rewards||Luxury, Rewards|
|BED Phrasingh||3*||Old Town||Location, Value|
|Mercure Chiang Mai||3*||North of Old Town||Accor LeClub||Value, Rewards|
When to go: Chiang Mai’s dry season is from November to March, making it the best time to visit. It gets hotter after that and the rainy season can last from August to October, making walks in the old town less pleasant.
Explore More: To get a “lay of the land” and see where all the hotels, restaurants and sights are, check out my map below and plan your perfect weekend itinerary in Chiang Mai! Click on the box in the upper right corner for a full map! Where are you going to stay? What’s your number one thing to do? Or have questions – feel free to comment below and I’ll help with your trip!
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