Chiang Mai and its surroundings is a paradise for adventurers, whether you prefer a leisurely day trek or a heart-stopping bungee jump. There’s even a climbing wall right in the heart of the city.
The Doi Suithep/Pui National Park west of the city is a lofty playground for hiking, mountain biking, trekking and sightseeing. At its northern base, the Mae Sa valley is an thrillseeker’s playground, with activities ranging from surprising snake shows to ATV-riding. You can also practice your archery skills here or indulge in some paintball warfare. Plenty of tour operators in the city offer a plethora of adventure outings, including hilltribe trekking adventures and whitewater rafting.
For a comprehensive selection, visit our of what to do in Chiang Mai. But here is a list of top adventure activities. There are often several competing operators for each activity and you’ll have no trouble arranging these through one of many local tour agents found in local hotels, guesthouses or in tourist areas.
Recommended Chiang Mai activities
Bungee jumping: will get your adrenaline flowing with a 50-metre jump at Mae Rim’s Kiwi-operated jungle facility.
ATV bikes and buggies: are a fun activity for anyone, and there are several operators in Mae Sae valley with excursions into the national parks. The buggies are custom built for the rugged terrain and great fun for tearing around the countryside.
Climbing: there is some great climbing east of the Ping valley at the Crazy Horse Buttress in Mae On, with dozens of graded routes pegged out. A climbing wall is also found beside the Night Bazaar, for those wanting a quick fix or some practice, while Chiang Mai Rock Climbing Adventures runs courses and has a bouldering wall.
Caving and canyoning: is a favourite activity with lots of caves within easy reach of Chiang Mai city centre. Some are developed and charge an entrance fee, while others must be explored with a guide. Chiang Dao caves are popular, while gaping Mae On Cave on the way to the San Kampaeng hot springs is also rewarding. Canyoning is offered by several companies in town, with day trips south to Doi Inthanon also popular.
Cooking classes: are a novel and fun idea, especially if you’re not into active adventure or the weather is unpleasant. There are many schools in the city offering one or multi-day Thai cooking classes, which include a provisioning trip to local markets. Learning the secrets of you favourite Thai dishes and get that all important spicy taste just right. See our recommended schools at the bottom of the page.
Cultural Experiences: Fang Valley is a Blood Foundation social enterprise in experiential travel. This small scale, grass roots organisation offers unique cultural excursions in northern Thailand. The Monk for a Month temple stay is an authentic experience within a real monastic order, while long-term hilltribe homestays provide visitors with a intensive insight into some of the fascinating cultures of the region. There are many tours, treks and community volunteer projects which can also be included.
Cycling: is popular in Chiang Mai and a great way to beat the heavy traffic. Not just a good means of getting around, there are some excellent routes ideal for cyclists who want to explore the city’s surroundings and get off the beaten track. Regular bicycles as well as mountain bikes are available for rent near Thapae Gate. The Chiang Mai bicycling group takes off in a large group on Sunday mornings from this point.
Dirt biking: if you have some experience with off road bikes, the Peak (at Night Bazaar) and a few other tour groups offer single or multi-day excursions on enduro bikes. Alternatively, you can hire these and go exploring on your own.
Elephant riding: ride Thailand’s royal beasts of burden at Mae Sa Elephant Camp, the ideal soft adventure activity for all ages. Watch the elephants being washed and fed, and performing their work show – hauling logs and begging for bananas – before mounting one for the ride of your life.
Golf: Chiang Mai is one of the best places in Thailand for golfing since it offers nearly 10 different courses all within a maximum 45 minute drive of the city. Green fees are reasonable (under US$25) and all courses boat well-tended fairways and greens, with lovely backdrops. Enquire with your hotel concierge about participating clubs that have arrangements for visiting players and equipment hire.
Hiking: is an obvious activity with the Suithep National Park so close, though it’s not as popular among locals as you would think. However, there are endless trails on the mountain and you can discover these for yourself by riding up the main road. Two obvious routes include trekking from the temple midway up the main road down, and from the national park head quarters down to Monthatal falls. You can also hike down the fire roads from the camp site at the summit to Huay Tung Tao reservoir at the bottom. Hiring a trekking guide is an easy solution, but finding specific day hike tours isn’t easy.
Hot-air ballooning: for that special occasion. Enjoy spectacular views of Chiang Mai valley from far above, then touch down in a rice field for a champagne celebration. Tours begin in Doi Saket on the highway to Chiang Rai.
Kayaking: along the Ping River gives a unique perspective of the city. Glide past famous restaurants and opulent Lanna-style riverside estates and below bridges. Within a couple of kilometres you’ll be in rural Thailand, with kids swimming in the river and birds nesting in trees on the banks. Kayaks can be rented on Faham Road.
Micro-light flying: fly like a bird, experience the freedom and feel the wind on your face in a two-seat micro-light aircraft. This thrilling and uplifting experience is available in the mornings and afternoons, with flights lasting 15 or 30 minutes. You’ll sit behind an experienced pilot with a clear 360° view.
Mountain biking: is highly recommended as a good way to get into the jungle and experience the lush beauty of Doi Suithep/Pui National Park. Chiang Mai Mountain Biking is the only company presently offering downhill trips with professional gear.
Trekking: is the original northern adventure and one of the main reasons many visitors come to Chiang Mai. Treks range from one day to a week and typically include a few hours of walking a day, bamboo rafting and an elephant ride. Overnight stays in hill tribe villages are included and your hosts may just dish up that squealing pig from under your bamboo hut. It is essential to seek out an established and reputable tour operator to have a rewarding experience.
Whitewater rafting and kayaking: on the Mae Tang River is a real adventure, especially after the wet season when rapids can approach grades 3 and 4. Reliable tour operators put high emphasis on safety, but be prepared to take the occasional plunge overboard when losing your balance. We suggest Siam Rivers as the only company fully certified in swift water rescue on this high-risk river.
Recommended Chiang Mai activities providers
This first class trekking company based in Chiang Mai offers a range of enlightening cultural and activity-based hikes around Chiang Mai and the surrounding countryside including tribal village homestays, mountain lodges, elephant rides and treehouses.
One of Northern Thailand’s premier adventure companies, Swiss managed, offering trekking, mountain biking trips, kayaking and soft adventure, along with a lovely riverside Guest lodge.
Chiang Mai X-Centre
Located in the fun-filled Mae Sa Valley area, this venue offers a host of fun, including go kart racing, paint-ball, bungy jumping, mountain buggy adventures and dirt bike hire. It’s easy to find and a restaurant is also located on site.
Chiang Mai Thai Cookery School
This is the original and most respected of all the schools in the city, and has been running courses for 14 years. Located near Thapae Gate and Somphet market, they teach you all the Thai favourites in a safe and clean environment.
A Lot of Thai
Run by the friendly Kwan this school is one of the better establishments among many new outfits, with creative cooking, and even offers half courses in the evening if you’re short on time.