The PERFECT 3 Days in Chiang Mai Itinerary

Chiang Mai is one of our favorite places to visit in Thailand. Situated in the misty mountains of northern Thailand, this ancient city offers culture, nature, and adventure to all who come to explore it.  

Whether you’re coming to marvel at Chiang Mai’s countless temples or explore the national parks and elephant sanctuaries just outside the city limits, spending 3 days in Chiang Mai promises a memorable experience. 

For first-time visitors to this beautiful and relaxing city, we’ve laid out the perfect 3-day Chiang Mai itinerary that gives you a taste of both the excitement and the serenity that Chiang Mai offers.

3-Day Chiang Mai itinerary overview

From trekking through lush jungles alongside elephants to savoring delectable Thai cuisine, here’s how to make the most of your three days in Chiang Mai.

Day 1 of 3 days in Chiang Mai

looking at a temple from the street in Chiang Mai
Chiang Mai has so many temples. You’ll want to casually walk around the historic center and visit some of them on your first day in Chiang Mai.

Your first day in Chiang Mai will be all about exploring the city itself. We took the sleeper train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, which put us in Chiang Mai fairly early in the morning, around 7:30 a.m. Regardless of how you arrive in Chiang Mai, be sure to be dressed modestly for touring the temples in the city, which means linen pants or long skirts or dresses that cover both your legs and your shoulders.

On the first day of  this 3 day Chiang Mai itinerary, you’ll visit the following places. 

  • Wat Phra Singh
  • Wat Chedi Luang
  • Lunch in the historic city center
  • Wat Chiang Man
  • Dinner and explore the Chiang Mai Night Bazaar

Day 2 of 3 days in Chiang Mai

family eating street food in Thailand
You can eat fairly inexpensively at the night markets in Chiang Mai.

Your second day in Chiang Mai will take you out of the city for most of the day to visit one of the elephant sanctuaries that Thailand is famous for.

If you’re visiting Chiang Mai with kids, this will likely be their favorite day spent. 

  • Visit an Elephant Sanctuary with lunch (we visited Into the Wild Elephant Camp)
  • Swim and get cleaned up at the hotel or book a Thai massage
  • Visit another one of Chiang Mai’s famous night markets for dinner and souvenir shopping

Day 3 of 3 days in Chiang Mai

Your third and final day during your 3 days in Chiang Mai also takes you out of the city to see one of the most famous temples, as well as to visit an indigenous Hmong tribal village. 

  • Day trip to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep and Hill Tribe Village (with lunch)
  • Dinner back in Chiang Mai

Best time to visit Chiang Mai

If you’re planning a family trip to Thailand and want to visit when the weather is best, many consider November through February to be the ideal time of year. 

During this period, Chiang Mai experiences cooler temperatures and lower humidity than it does during the scorching summer months. Additionally, this time coincides with some of Thailand’s popular festivals of Loy Krathong and Yi Peng, where the sky is adorned with countless floating lanterns. 

The months of March to May bring warmer weather. And finally, the rainy season runs from June to October. The weather is also quite hot during the summer months. However, we visited during the rainy season, and experienced only one brief downpour in Chiang Mai that lasted about 45 minutes.

So, if you are planning around your kids’ school breaks and the summer months are the only time of year that allows for a 2 week Thailand trip or longer, then don’t let the rainy season discourage you from visiting. 

Where to stay in Chiang Mai for 3 days

the swimming pool at Celosia hotel in Chiang Mai
A hotel with a pool will be refreshing in the sweltering afternoons after a morning of sightseeing or day trips.

Because Chiang Mai is such a popular destination, you’ll find a wide variety in lodging, from budget-friendly hostels to luxurious resorts.

Whether you stay within the Old City gates or just outside the gates, you’ll find lots of conveniently located places to stay. 

Here are a few hotel options that are within walking distance to many of Chiang Mai’s top attractions.  

Day 1 highlights of this 3 day itinerary for Chiang Mai

a Buddha shrine inside a temple in Chiang Mai
You’ll see beautiful shrines like this one in the temples in Chiang Mai.

When you arrive in Chiang Mai, or any other city, it’s a good idea to simply spend the day walking  around the tourist center of the city and familiarizing yourself with it. So, on your first day in Chiang Mai go for a walk in the UNESCO World Heritage designated historic center, but make sure it’s a walk with purpose. 

If the heat is sweltering or you prefer a guided experience, book a tuk tuk tour that will take you to some of the most popular temples.

The city is home to dozens of temples, so you’ll want to map out the ones you personally want to visit. Here are three we recommend. 

Wat Phra Singh

Dating back to the 14th century, Wat Phra Singh houses the Phra Singh Buddha, one of the most revered in northern Thailand. 

The temple complex boasts beautiful, ancient architecture with multi-tiered roofs and intricately carved wooden structures leafed with gold. 

The main assembly hall houses the grandiose Buddha statue. The Phra Singh Buddha is one of the most revered Buddha images in Thailand, second only to the Emerald Buddha at Wat Phra Kaew in the Grand Palace- a must-visit on any Bangkok itinerary

Wat Chedi Luang

the stupa at Wat Chedi Luang
Wat Chedi Luang is home the tallest chedi, also known as a stupa, in Chiang Mai.

Wat Chedi Luang is another majestic temple located in the center of Chiang Mai.

It once housed the Emerald Buddha, prior to being moved, eventually making it to its current location in Bangkok.

Although time and the elements have weathered its grandeur, the main chedi (stupa) still stands as a remarkable testament to the age of the city. It remains the largest chedi in Chiang Mai. 

The temple complex hosts daily monk chats where visitors can ask them anything about Buddhism and Thailand. 

There is at least one building in the complex that doesn’t allow women to enter, but as one of the most notable temples in Chiang Mai, it’s worth the time and small admission fee to visit.

Wat Chiang Man

the chedi and a temple at Wat Chiang Man
Wat Chiang Man is believed to be the oldest temple in Chiang Mai.

Believed to be the oldest temple in Chiang Mai, Wat Chiang Man was our personal favorite. Founded in 1296 by King Mengrai, the city’s founder, the temple has a serene atmosphere. The beautifully adorned main viharn (assembly hall) is the highlight of the temple. 

However, don’t miss the Phra Sila (Crystal Buddha), a small but exquisite crystal Buddha image believed to have magical powers. 

Day 2 Chiang Mai highlights

Many of the best things to do in Chiang Mai actually lay outside the city. On your second day, book a day trip to one of the ethical elephant sanctuaries. 

Into the Wild Elephant Sanctuary

a little girl feeding an elephant at Into the Wild Elephant Camp, a must-do on any Chiang Mai 3 day itinerary
Visiting an ethical elephant sanctuary is one of the most popular things to do during 3 days in Chiang Mai.

Although there are a lot of elephant sanctuaries surrounding Chiang Mai, you’ll want to do your research, as not all of the “sanctuaries” treat the elephants in an ethical manner. 

We chose Into the Wild Elephant Camp, which is about 1 ½ hours from Chiang Mai. Our transportation was included with our booking.

At Into the Wild you will get to feed the elephants, and go on a trek through the jungle with them. The elephants are allowed to roam freely without any ropes or leads. 

After the morning trek, you’ll be able to get in the mud and the river with the elephants that choose to get in there and help bathe and cool them off.

The elephants are never expected to perform tricks for tourists nor are tourists allowed to ride them. 

You can tell that both the elephants and the operators of the sanctuary have a mutual respect for each other, which made us feel comfortable with our interactions with these majestic creatures.

Chiang Mai Night Bazaar and Kalare Night Bazaar

the Kalare Night Bazaar
The Kalare Night Bazaar is a great place to grab dinner in Chiang Mai.

After you return from your outing to an elephant sanctuary, you’ll probably want to shower and get cleaned up. Before heading out for dinner that evening.

The best places to eat in Chiang Mai are at the night markets. You’ll find lots of vendors selling a variety of delicious, yet inexpensive Thai food options, like Khao Soi, Pad Thai, Moo Ping and Sai Ua. If you’re not sure what to order, book a street food market tour with a local guide.

The Chiang Mai Night Bazaar and the Kalare Night Bazaar across the street are among the best markets that comes alive after sunset. 

You’ll not only find a food court area with dozens of different food stalls, but this iconic bazaar stretches several blocks selling endless goods and unique Thai souvenirs

Visitors can wander through the lanes of colorful stalls selling everything from handmade crafts and traditional textiles to t-shirts and carved soap. 

The markets, particularly the Chiang Mai Night Bazaar exudes a festive ambiance, creating a sensory experience while you’re shopping for treasures and savoring local delicacies. 

We ate at and explored the night markets every night during our 3 days in Chiang Mai.

Thai Massage

Whether you end the night with a Thai Massage or get one at another time while in Chiang Mai, make it a point to get a massage! 

We got several massages in Thailand, in Chiang Mai and in the beach town of Krabi in southern Thailand. A Thai massage is one of the best things to do in Krabi, Chiang Mai, Bangkok, Phuket and elsewhere. 

In Thailand, massages are inexpensive and unique, with a mixture of stretching and applied pressure.

Hill Tribe Village

hmong kids at a hill tribe village outside of Chiang Mai
Visiting The Hill Tribe Villages Is A Great Way To Learn About Rural Life In Northern Thailand. | Photo By Thien Kim Nguyen Trinh From Unsplash

Visiting a hill tribe village in Northern Thailand during your 3 days in Chiang Mai will give you a different than you get in the more developed city.

The Hmong people are an indigenous tribe known for their textiles. While Hmong people live throughout Southeast Asia, Northern Thailand is one of the more populous areas. 

You can book a day trip that will take you to a hill tribe village to see how rural people live in the mountainous areas around Chiang Mai, as well as to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep. 

Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

the golden chedi at Doi Suthep
Doi Suthep Is A Must-Visit Temple Overlooking The City Of Chiang Mai. | Photo By Wchoosak From Pixabay

Wat Phra That Doi Suthep is a majestic temple perched atop a mountain overlooking Chiang Mai. 

One of Thailand’s most famous temples, Doi Suthep requires walking up 300 steps or taking a cable car to get to it. This sacred site is believed to enshrine a relic of the Buddha, making it one of the most important pilgrimage destinations in northern Thailand.

Aside from that, the views of the city below are breathtaking set against the backdrop of lush greenery. 

Conclusion: Is 3 days in Chiang Mai enough?

a narrow street surrounded by plants in Chiang Mai
The historic center of Chiang Mai is full of surprises, like scenic narrow streets and temples and shrines tucked away around every corner.

As your three-day Chiang Mai itinerary draws to a close, you may find yourself reluctant to leave this enchanting city. From the serenity of ancient temples to the excitement of bustling markets and the adventure that awaits in the surrounding jungles, your 3 days in Chiang Mai will go by quickly… too quickly probably. 

If your itinerary allows, we’d recommend at least 4 days in Chiang Mai so you can also visit Doi Inthanon National Park and spend more time just basking in the atmosphere of the city.

There are so many other things to do in Chiang Mai for families that you simply won’t be able to fit into a 3 day itinerary. But if time is limited and a few days is all you have, you’ll leave Chiang Mai with a lasting impression and a desire to return. 

Do you have a question or comment about this itinerary for 3 days in Chiang Mai? We’d love to hear from you. Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

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