DIY Chiang Mai Day TripsChiang Mai’s pleasantly cool season is about to be taken over by a hot, hazy seasonal mess. So, before the smoky season makes itself present, we’ve thrown together a list of our favorite Chiang Mai day trips you do in the next few weeks. They are fun places that are just beyond the outskirts of the Old City and can be easily explored on your own if you have a day to spare.

What’s best about this round-up is that not a single one of these day trips requires pre-planning, reservations, or a tour guide. If you’re already in town, take a headache-free, no-strings-attached mini vacay right now. If you’re in the process of planning an upcoming visit, then squeeze in one of these adventures between your tour to an elephant sanctuary and a Thai cooking class.

As an added bonus, everything on this list is budget-friendly. So aside from what you spend on transportation, Thai snacks or food, and (possible) entrance fees, you’re looking at a pretty affordable day trip from Chiang Mai.

Almost all of these activities can be visited just by hiring a local red truck taxi (songthaew) for the day. If you have car or motorbike to hit the road with then you have no excuse – just go – before the smoky season rolls in. Here’s a map to get you started:

Map of DIY Chiang Mai Day Trips

Here are the activities, in no particular order:

Huay Tung Tao Lake near Doi Suthep-Pui National Park

Huay Tung Tao is perfect for a lakeside picnic just 15 minutes away from Chiang Mai Old City

One of the very first places we explored outside the safe confines of the Old City was Huay Tung Tao Lake (or Huay Teung Thao). It’s only a 15-minute drive away by motorbike and about a 45-minute ride by bicycle. It’s also possible to hire a songthaew driver to drive you there, wait around, and then take you back.

Along the banks of the reservoir are little straw huts with pretty views of the surrounding water and mountains. It’s perfect for enjoying a leisurely lunch of satisfying Thai food (not the simplified versions served in the touristy areas of town) and washing it all down with some Sangsom and soda. The shady road that circles around the lake is paved and there are some other walking paths that branch off from the main road, too.

Mae Sa Waterfalls in Mae Rim

Cool off with a day trip from Chiang Mai to the Mae Sa Waterfalls

About half an hour away, north of the Old City are the Mae Sa Waterfalls. This natural attraction is quite impressive, most notably because there are ten distinct levels and several natural swimming pools! There’s a hiking path (roughly 2 km) that runs along the waterfalls and branches out over outcroppings and ridges for different viewpoints.

The Mae Sa Waterfalls have plenty of shady areas to roll out mats and picnic. We bought some sweet snacks and grilled meats from the little shops set up at the Doi Suthep National Park’s entrance, but you can bring your own food, too.

Monk’s Trail to Wat Pha Lat on Doi Suthep

There’s a magical nature trail that snakes its way from the bottom of Chiang Mai’s nearest mountain, Doi Suthep, to the secluded temple, Wat Pha Lat. Known as the Monk’s Trail, it gets its name from the hundreds of strips of orange monk robes tied to the trees along the path, marking the way.

As long as you’re able-bodied and have a sense of adventure (families with children included), this pleasant, slightly challenging hike is a good for stretching your legs and seeing Chiang Mai’s native plants and little critters in the forest. The trail takes about 45 minutes to hike but it will be longer if you stop to look at everything like we did. Afterward, you can ride a songthaew down the mountain or walk back down the trail.

Thai Silk Village & Bo Sang Umbrellas in San Khampaeng

Silk & Umbrella Villages: one of the more educational Chiang Mai day trips you can experience

Combine these two handicraft ‘villages’ for a semi-touristy but educational afternoon. The Thai Silk Village has the entire silk-making process on display, from the silkworms eating mulberry leaves and the harvesting process of the cocoon’s silk threads to the dying and weaving of the silk. A little further down the road is the Bo Sang Umbrella Village. The ladies there show how mulberry bark is transformed into sa paper and then dyed, constructed into umbrellas, and finally painted.

Samoeng Loop

Great scenery in Chiang Mai's countryside along the Samoeng Loop

Get a taste of freedom with this 100 km loop around Chiang Mai’s countryside. The drive is not very challenging by motorbike and the scenery is fantastic. It takes about two hours from start to finish if you drive straight through. It’s better if you budget four or five hours because of all the great stops along the way. Go clockwise, beginning in Chiang Mai then going to Samoeng, Mae Rim, and then back to the city.

A few things to see along the way: Sandeng Forest, Mae Sap Cave, Queen Sirikit Botanical Gardens, and a side trip to Mon Cham. There are little hillside cafés along the way with good food and pretty views of the countryside. A 125cc bike is fine for a single rider but rent something stronger for two riders because there are a few steep hills.

Mon Cham Nong Hoi Project in Mae Rim

Dine in the clouds at Mon Cham, a fun Chiang Mai day trip

So about Mon Cham… this is part of the Royal Nong Hoi Projects that promote organic farming. Even though it’s only 45 minutes from the city, it’s notably cooler. As a result, the gardens grow cool-weather vegetables, herbs, and flowers.

We enjoyed lunch at the onsite restaurant, which serves garden fresh Thai dishes under cute huts with woven grass roofs. It’s worth mentioning the coffee and baked snacks they serve are quite tasty, too.

Bamboo Rafting in Mae Wang

One of the most relaxing Chiang Mai day trips is bamboo rafting down the Mae Wang

One of the more relaxed, down-to-earth Chiang Mai day trips we’ve ever taken is bamboo rafting down the Mae Wang. We got together with a few friends, a cooler of cold drinks, and floated down a lazy river for several hours. And even though the only thing separating us from the water were some rough cut bamboo strung together with strips of rubber, we were not uncomfortable and didn’t get that wet.

Bua Tong Waterfalls in Sri Lanna National Park

Bua Tong Waterfalls are one of the most unique Chiang Mai day trips you can do

The Sticky Waterfalls is a fascinating natural attraction near the Sri Lanna National Park. There are three distinct set of waterfalls that are not only pretty but climbable, too! Instead of slick, slippery rocks as most waterfalls have, they have a rough, slightly spongy surface.

We’ve been to the Bua Tong Waterfalls a half-dozen times. Usually, we make a stop for lunch by a little outdoor Thai market just a kilometer or two from the waterfalls. Be ready to get wet and get some exercise. The path that goes down the waterfall is pretty steep!

Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep on Doi Suthep

Include this Chiang Mai day trip to Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep if you love temples.

Take a 30-minute drive to Chiang Mai’s most famous temple, Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep. Perched on the side of the city’s nearest mountain, it has gorgeous views of the valley below. The temple has a stunning golden chedi, rows of Buddha statues, and pretty gardens to explore.

We went to Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep on our first visit to Chiang Mai. Nowadays, we’ve made it a tradition to take visiting friends or family there. Plus, there are many little snack and souvenir vendors at the temple’s entrance, making it a fun one-stop-shop ‘touristy’ trip. As a forewarning, there are 300+ steps to get to the top!

Caves in Chiang Dao

Things to Do in Chiang Dao: Visit the Chiang Dao Caves

The Chiang Dao Caves are in a little town about an hour away from Chiang Mai. In our non-expert caving opinion, this natural attraction is a satisfying visit. The tunnel route wasn’t overly strenuous, there were no unsafe spots, and it took less than an hour to complete. Plus, we had a superb guide who lead us through the dark, twisty turny tunnels at the perfect pace. It was fun to banter with her in our broken Thai.

Doi Inthanon National Park on Doi Inthanon

One of our favorite Chiang Mai day trips is visiting the Giew Mae Pan Nature Trail on Doi Inthanon

Visiting Doi Inthanon, Thailand’s highest mountain, is another one of our favorite Chiang Mai Day trips to date. More specifically, it’s hiking the Giew Mae Pan Nature Trail and the gorgeous views high on the peak. This park is definitely best to go during the cool or rainy season when the air is crystal clear for the best views. Be prepared for a long (it takes 1.5 to 2 hours just to get there) but memorable day.

Any other worthy Chiang Mai day trips we’re missing? We’ll continue adding to the list, so let us know!

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