This one day in Chiang Mai itinerary for a perfect day in Northern Thailand’s laidback Lanna capital is aimed at time-poor travellers who want a taste of the city, old and new, must-see attractions, as well as off the beaten track spots. The itinerary includes temples and pagodas, good coffee and great food, a spot of shopping and contemporary art, and sundowners with views.
Our one day in Chiang Mai itinerary for a perfect day in the old Lanna capital of Northern Thailand has been created with travellers on a tight schedule in mind. Of course one day is not enough time in Chiang Mai, but not everyone has the luxury of staying longer, especially if you’re on a multi-country Southeast Asian trip or you’re focusing on seeing as much of Thailand as you can.
Do our one day in Chiang Mai itinerary and you’ll enjoy some special experiences, including absorbing atmospheric temples, taking in contemporary art, and savouring delicious Lanna food. Don’t be surprised if it has you yearning to return again for a weekend in Chiang Mai.
We strongly recommend following our one day in Chiang Mai itinerary in the order it’s in below so as not to waste a precious second. As lovely and laidback as Chiang Mai is, it’s no longer a small city and traffic is increasingly bad during peak times.
One Day in Chiang Mai Itinerary for a Perfect Day in Northern Thailand’s Laidback Lanna Capital
How to Get to Chiang Mai
If you only have one day in Chiang Mai, then it’s best to take an early morning flight from Bangkok. You can fly to Chiang Mai with Nok Air, Air Asia, Bangkok Air, and Thai Airways among other airlines. Chiang Mai International Airport is a 10-minute drive from Nimmanhaemin Road, a 15-minute drive into the Old City, and a 15-20 minute drive to the Ping River. There are pre-paid private taxi companies at Arrivals. Head to the counter, tell them which hotel you’re staying at, get a coupon with the rate on it, and then pay the driver at your destination.
Where to Stay in Chiang Mai
You will want to stay somewhere special if you only have one day in Chiang Mai, so check into the Anantara Chiang Mai Resort if you fancy lazing by the stunning pool, above, overlooking the Ping River. If you like the idea of staying in the walled Old City then charming Tamarind Village is a great option, or if money is no object, enchanting Rachamankha. If your budget doesn’t stretch that far, then Sala Lanna on the Ping is more affordable than the Anantara and in the Old City, 99 the Gallery Hotel, Lamphu House and Thapae Loft are also good mid-range options. If you prefer to stay on cool Nimmanhaemin Road, the Akyra Manor Chiang Mai is the most luxurious option, while the Eastin Tan Hotel is in a fantastic location and has rooms and apartments with views of Chiang Mai’s holy mountain, Doi Suthep. Or check out our other Chiang Mai hotel recommendations.
Our friends at Luxury Escapes have a great deal at the moment at the Anantara Chiang Mai Resort, pictured above, for a 2-night package, starting from A$799 (valued at A$1,792) including welcome cocktails for two, daily breakfasts, and two three-course à la carte dinners for two at The Restaurant, serving Thai and world cuisine, overlooking the river.
Breakfast in Chiang Mai
With only one day in Chiang Mai, we recommend skipping the hotel breakfast buffet. Chiang Mai has a fantastic coffee scene. While it’s also an ever-evolving cafe scene with new coffee shops opening all the time, we recommend the ever-reliable Overstand not far from the Old City walls in the Thapae Gate area. Owned by an Australian barista and his Chiang Mai-born wife, this laidback cafe is the expat go-to spot for superb coffee sourced from local coffee roasters Ponganes, hearty all-day Aussie-style breakfasts, sandwiches and salads made from locally sourced organic ingredients, and exhibitions of art by Thai artists on the walls. They also have a branch in Nimman. Ratchamanka Soi 2, Old City, Chiang Mai, daily 8am-3pm.
Morning in Chiang Mai
You’re going to want to absorb some of Chiang Mai’s impressive Old Town historical sights if you only have one day in Chiang Mai. That means temple-hopping and Chiang Mai has some three hundred of them, so we’ve only chosen the most significant, the most stunning, and the most central.
From Overstand cafe it’s just a ten-minute walk to the Wat Chedi Luang compound, which includes numerous historic Buddhist pagodas and other heritage buildings. Start at atmospheric Wat Phan Tao, which you’ll see from Prapokkloa Road. Originally on stilts, this teak monastery began life as a royal palace building for the ruler of Chiang Mai, Chao Mahawong, who used it from 1846 to 1854. Take off your shoes and slip inside the lofty prayer hall to see the 28 enormous teak pillars and gleaming gold Buddha image.
Behind Wat Phan Tao, you’ll find Wat Chedi Luang itself. Constructed of brick in the early 15th century but damaged by a 16th century earthquake (which is why there’s a bit missing on top), it was once home to the Emerald Buddha that resides at Wat Phra Kaew at the Grand Palace in Bangkok. Although now you’ll only see an empty niche. In 1468, the Emerald Buddha – which was said to have been removed from Angkor Wat – was installed in Wat Chedi Luang’s eastern niche and remained there until 1551, when it was moved to Luang Prabang.
Next, make a beeline for the nearby gilded pagoda of Wat Phra Singh, another of Chiang Mai’s most significant temple complexes, and just a ten-minute stroll away. A royal temple, it’s thought to have been established in 1345 by King Mengrai, the last king of the Lao kingdom of Ngoenyang, who became the first king of the Lanna kingdom (1296-1558) and was the founder of Chiang Mai. It’s one of the city’s most revered temples, which is especially evident by the lavish buildings and manicured hedges. It gets crowded with worshippers during Buddhist holidays.
Coffee in Chiang Mai
If you need a caffeine hit make a beeline for some of Chiang Mai’s best coffee at Akha Ama La Fattoria café, just a minute’s mosey from Wat Phra Singh. One of Chiang Mai’s first wave of cafe owners, Akha Ama’s Lee Ayu Chuepa is from the indigenous Akha people and most of the coffee beans used in his cafes are grown in his village, Mae Chan Tai, near Chiang Rai. Akha Ama is a social enterprise aimed at improving the lives of the coffee growing community, and from time to time Lee hosts coffee tours to his village. 175/1 Ratchadamnoen Road, Old City, Chiang Mai.
Lunch in Chiang Mai
Don’t even think about eating anywhere except Huen Phen if you only have one day in Chiang Mai. Just a seven-minute saunter from Akha Ama, near Wat Chedi Luang, Huen Phen is easily Chiang Mai’s best Old City restaurant serving Lanna food. The 40-year old or so restaurant is a longstanding local favourite, although it’s also a magnet for food loving travellers. Don’t let the photo menu or long list of dishes deter you, the Northern Thai specialties are consistently outstanding. We recommend you order the naem (sour fermented pork and sticky rice sausage), sai oua (Chiang Mai’s famous sausages, here distinguished by the texture and fragrance of lemongrass and kaffir lime), the earthy larb khua moo (spicy minced pork and offal salad), gaeng khanun (a sour soup made from young unripe jackfruit),and the Northern Thai-style khanom jeen nam ngiao (fresh rice noodles with a hearty, spicy broth). 112 Ratchamanka Rd, Old City, Chiang Mai, 053 277 103.
Afternoon in Chiang Mai
Your one day in Chiang Mai itinerary wouldn’t be perfect without some art. The morning was spent taking in the old, so how about spending the afternoon absorbing the new. You’ll need to take a taxi to Chiang Mai’s marvellous Maiiam Contemporary Art Museum. Opened in mid-2016 in a breathtakingly remodelled warehouse in the craftsy area of Sankhampaeng, half an hour east of the Chiang Mai’s Old City, the building is clad in a mosaic of mirrored tiles so that it shimmers in the changing light. The wonderful space hosts around 600 contemporary art works from the private collections of the late Patsri Bunnag, her surviving husband Jean Michel Beurdeley and their son Eric Bunnag Booth, as well as rotating shows of works by Thai and international artists, exhibitions of costumes, installations, and film screenings. Adults 150 Baht, students 100 Baht, children under 12 free. Wed-Mon 10am-6pm. 122 Moo 7 Tonpao, Sankampheang, Chiang Mai.
Sundowners in Chiang Mai
With only one day in Chiang Mai you’re going to want to watch the sun go down with a drink in hand somewhere special. If you’re staying at the Anantara Chiang Mai Resort you’ll want to sip something on the riverside or on the patio at Service 1921 overlooking the beautiful lawns that would once have hosted garden parties. If you’re not staying, get down there anyway. The splendid 1915 villa that is home to the beautiful bar-restaurant was the British Consulate in 1921. Order the signature cocktail, the British Consulate, made with Ketel One Vodka, tangerine infused crushed ice, cherry brandy, Angostura Bitters, and fresh lime juice. 123-123/1 Charoen Prathet Road, Changklan, Muang, Chiang Mai.
Early Evening in Chiang Mai
Have a taxi take you to the hip university neighbourhood of Nimmanhaemin or ‘Nimman’ as the locals and expats call it for a spot of shopping and a pre-dinner drink. For us, a one day in Chiang Mai itinerary would be remiss if it didn’t allow for an early evening amble along Nimmanhaemin Road. The main drag and the narrow side streets (‘sois’ in Thai) are home to an abundance of cool independently owned shops, cafés, bars, and restaurants. Get the driver to drop you around Chiang Rai Road and Warm Up Cafe and then walk in the direction of Maya Mall, dropping in to whatever interests you on the way.
Maya Mall itself is home to several floors of designer shops, a gourmet supermarket on the basement level, and up on the rooftop a handful of bars. More interesting is the hip communal space Think Park, across the road, which is worth spending some time at for its craftsy shops and cool bars. Identifiable by a colossal bronze cat statue in the public square at the entrance, this fun place hosts dozens of miniscule boutiques ran by creative locals selling beautiful handcrafted things, from handmade leather bags to embroidered t-shirts and accessories on skinny alleyways. Before you reach Think Park, you’ll also spot the lifestyle mall, One Nimman, across the road, which has boutiques stocking locally made products, pop-up stalls, and cafes and restaurants.
Dinner in Chiang Mai
There’s no better way to wind up one day in Chiang Mai than with a meal at chef Phanuphon ‘Black’ Bulsuwan’s wonderful 18-seat restaurant Blackitch Artisan Kitchen, tucked down Soi 7 just a few minutes from One Nimman. Chef Black serves a hyper-local seasonal tasting menu that can change daily, depending upon availability of produce which come from nearby organic farms and northern Thailand’s ethnic minority peoples, from whom he sources native ingredients. The chef is a member of an indigenous working group collaborating on everything from rotational farming to workshops on harvesting honey and is involved in community tourism and the promotion of local food. As part of his commitment to minimising kitchen waste, Chef Black experiments with preservation techniques such as fermentation, pickling and curing, which always makes things interesting. Reservations only; book a table before you book your flight. 27/1 Nimmanhemin Soi 7, Chiang Mai.
Cocktails in Chiang Mai
If you’re up for a nightcap, just a few minutes’ walk from Blackitch, the Akyra Manor’s Rise Bar on the boutique hotel’s fifth floor offers comfy sofas and sweeping city and mountain vistas. Order the aptly named One Night in Chiang Mai, made with rum, amaretto, frangelico liqueur, honey and fresh pineapple, and clink glasses to a perfect one day in Chiang Mai.
If you enjoy your one day in Chiang Mai itinerary so much that you decide to extend your stay, see our Weekend in Chiang Mai itinerary.
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Have you been to Chiang Mai or do you live there? What’s your idea of a perfect one day in Chiang Mai? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the Comments below.