Chiang Mai is a wonderful city to visit when you are in Thailand. It’s home to over 300 temples, has lots of great places to eat and shop, and has an incredibly vibrant nightlife. Another big draw is the number of places outside the city which also make lovely places to visit. Here’s a guide to the best places to visit outside of the center of Chiang Mai.
5 Places to Go Outside of Chiang Mai
If you are wondering what is there to do around Chiang Mai, here top 5 places nearby that you can visit easily.
Lampang is the third largest city in northern Thailand and, although it’s not as popular as Chiang Mai, there are certainly many reasons to visit. Famous for its horse-drawn carriages, Lampang has plenty of interesting sights, such as Wat Phra Kaew Don Tao, the city’s most important temple which houses the country’s second emerald Buddha.
Another temple you should visit is Wat Phra That Lampang Luang, which is famous for its 19th century murals. Baan Sao Nak – translating as the House of Many Pillars – is a Lanna-style traditional wooden house dating back to the late 19th century, once the home of a local kunying – or ‘Lady’ in English – and now houses a museum of Thai and Burmese antiques. Aside from the sights, Lampang is a wonderful riverside town which is especially cool to visit at the weekend, when the Walking Street market is held, selling all kinds of handicrafts, souvenirs, and tasty Thai food.
Often overlooked in favor of Chiang Mai, those who do venture to Chiang Rai find a city just as brilliant. Located close to the borders of Laos and Myanmar, it’s a great place to base yourself if you want to visit the hill tribes or do some hiking in the stunning mountainous landscape which surrounds the city. However, there’s also plenty to keep you occupied within the city center itself.
Like Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai also has lots of temples, including the opulent Wat Rong Khun – the White Temple – which is decorated with shards of glass. Other cool places to visit include the Baan dam Museum, translated as the Black House, the Princess Mother ‘90 Museum, and Choui Fong Tea Plantation. Chiang Rai also has lots of activities to enjoy; if you’ve always fancied learning how to cook Thai cuisine, or want to spend some time getting active, there are many options to choose from.
A picturesque town in the remote valley of the Nan River, Nan is a great place to visit if you want to experience true Thai culture. Wat Phumin is the town’s most famous sight, and it’s a wonderfully peaceful temple with a number of beautiful murals and frescoes. Be sure to check out the panel depicting copulating monkeys, the whispering lovers’ scene, and the paintings showing the tortures of Hell. At another temple, Wat Phra That Khao Noi, you can see a huge golden statue of Buddha which is particularly stunning to visit at sunrise or sunset. Nan is also famous for its art scene, so make sure you visit Nan Riverside Art Gallery and the Nan Art Cafe.
Pai is one of those places that people plan on visiting for a day or two, and then end up staying a few weeks, despite only being a small town. It’s a beautiful town that is very popular among both foreign and Thai tourists.
Pai may be very touristy, but this doesn’t actually have a bad effect on the town, with the regular inhabitants a colorful mix of Thai Rastas, Muslims, and Western hippies. On the tourist side, Pai has a pretty serious backpacker scene, and the town is also popular with Thai visitors after the success of the Thai romantic comedy Pai in Love.
Most people come to Pai for the stunning scenery, and it’s not hard to see why. Pai Canyon offers many great views over imposing mountains and lush, green trees, located only a few kilometers away from Pai Walking Street. There are also a few waterfalls to visit, such as Mo Paeng and Pam Bok, as well as the Sai Ngam Hot Spring, just half an hour from Pai; it’s a good idea to rent a motorbike so you can discover all the beautiful landscapes surrounding the town. Back in Pai, the Walking Street opens up every night with lots of great places to eat and shop. If you’re into yoga or Muay Thai, Pai is a great place to train.
Mae Hong Son
Located in Thailand’s most mountainous province of the same name, the city of Mae Hong Son gets relatively few visitors, making it the perfect place to get away from the tourist hordes. Sitting in a mountain-surrounded valley, the city’s focal point is Mae Hong Son Lake, which makes for a pleasant stroll and offers beautiful views of Wat Chong Klang, one of Mae Hong Son’s must-see temples. Due to its location in the mountains, Mae Hong Son attracts many trekkers. Other natural sights which are worth checking out are Tham Pla Fish Cave and Pha Sua Waterfall. And if all that activity gives you sore muscles, head to Phu Klon Mud Spa to rejuvenate.
Chiang Mai is obviously the main destination in Northern Thailand, and it’s easy to see why travelers flock here. But if you make the time to visit these other places in the area, you won’t be disappointed.