A weekend in Chiang Mai is just enough time to get a feel for northern Thailand’s former Lanna capital. While most travellers focus on the old walled city and gilded pagodas, the city is also home to fantastic food, serious cafés, seriously good shopping, and compelling contemporary art.
A weekend in Chiang Mai is my idea of a perfect weekend. Of course two days is never enough anywhere, especially in a city with such brilliant food, history, architecture, arts, crafts, and shopping. But a weekend in Chiang Mai, on the banks of the Ping River, with the holy mountain, Doi Suthep, in its backyard, will give you more of a feel for Northern Thailand’s former Lanna capital.
And now is the best time to go to Chiang Mai. It’s ‘winter’ in Chiang Mai, when the daily average temperature is 21-24°C (70-75°F) between now and the end of February, although it has still been known to get as high as 33°C (91°F) and drop as low as 15°C (58.8°F) so take warm clothes.
Spending a weekend in Chiang Mai has become an increasingly popular thing to do in Southeast Asia. There are plenty of flights to Chiang Mai and the city is easy to navigate and get around, provided you do a little a planning and try to avoid the increasingly notorious traffic gridlock.
If you only have 24 hours in Chang Mai then see our one day itinerary. If you’re lucky to have three days in Chiang Mai or longer, it would definitely be worth consulting that itinerary, doing that first, and then following on with this itinerary.
Weekend in Chiang Mai – Itinerary for Two Days in Thailand’s Ancient Lanna Capital
How to Get to Chiang Mai
Thai Airways, Bangkok Air, Air Asia, and Nok Air, among others, fly to Chiang Mai. Chiang Mai International Airport is a 10-minute drive to ‘Nimman’ as the area on and around Nimmanhaemin Road is called and a 15-minute drive to the Old City. There are two 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
If this is your first weekend in Chiang Mai, stay in the walled Old City. If money is no object don’t think about checking in anywhere but enchanting Rachamankha or charming Tamarind Village. Good central mid-range options include Lamphu House, 99 the Gallery Hotel and Thapae Loft. If you’ve been to Chiang Mai before, then try a hotel on the Ping River such as Sala Lanna, the Anantara Chiang Mai Resort, or Hotel des Artists Ping Silhouette. And if you’ve done that, we highly recommend a room at the Eastin Tan Hotel on hip Nimmanhaemin Road. Click through for more of our Chiang Mai hotel recommendations.
Friday Drinks in Chiang Mai
A weekend in Chiang Mai must begin with drinks and alfresco sundowners at that if you arrive early enough. Slip into Service 1921 for a tipple on the patio of this handsome bar-restaurant at the Anantara Chiang Mai Resort. Located in a grand colonial villa built in 1915 that became the British Consulate in 1921, you’ll be overlooking a manicured lawn that once hosted garden parties and games of cricket and croquet, and a serene pond. Try the signature cocktail, the British Consulate (Ketel One Vodka, tangerine infused crushed ice, cherry brandy, Angostura Bitters, and fresh lime juice) and if you’re peckish, order a tasting platter (chicken wings, Sichuan style pork skewers, and Vietnamese ground beef rolled in betel leaves; the cuisine is Pan Asian), but save room for dinner. 123-123/1 Charoen Prathet Road, Chiang Mai.
If you did our One Day in Chiang Mai itinerary and have already had sundowners at Service 1921, then grab a taxi to take you to quirky Hotel Yayee. Owned by Australian-Thai actor Ananda Everingham, the idiosyncratic boutique hotel’s rooftop bar is a local favourite. While the alfresco spot appears to have been designed for Instagram with its photogenic succulents, hanging ferns and fairy lights, don’t hold that against it. There are craft cocktails infused with local botanicals – try Ananda’s Flyboy, made with juniper spirit, aloe vera, thyme, and white grape – and low-slung modernist chairs from which you can savour sweeping mountain vistas. 17/5 Sainumphueng Road, Chiang Mai.
Friday Dinner in Chiang Mai
It’s hard to beat Dash Teak House for your first dinner to kick off a weekend in Chiang Mai. You’ll find fewer warmer welcomes than you will from this mother-son team, Noi and Dash, who returned to Noi’s hometown to open the restaurant after living in the USA for some years. Noi oversees the kitchen, while Dash looks after diners – and occasionally joins the band for a song. The menu focuses on well-executed Thai classics made with produce Noi sources from local farmers. While the Lanna dishes are lovely, the Massaman curry is sublime. Spread across a beautiful two-storey teak house with balcony and fragrant garden that was Noi’s home, the restaurant is tucked down a lane near Tha Pae Gate. Some find it tricky to locate so call the moment you get lost rather than waste time. 38/2 Moon Muang Rd Soi 2, Old City, Chiang Mai, 053 279230.
Saturday Morning in Chiang Mai
Chiang Mai Food Tours will provide your best introduction to Chiang Mai’s wonderful Lanna cuisine, from street food to home-style cooking. On their Taste of the North and Old Town Walk, which kicks off at busy Somphet Market, you’ll feast on some 10 dishes at specialty stalls, simple family owned eateries and an off the beaten track restaurant, including khao soi (coconut curry noodles), sai oua (Chiang Mai’s famous local sausage), and homemade young coconut ice-cream at six locations on a 4-hour tour (10am-2pm). They squeeze in a proper lunch at Huen Muan Jai restaurant, which has a very similar menu to the more famous Huen Phen in the Old Town and specialises in similar dishes – nam prik ong (tomato mince dip), Lanna style larb moo (a rich chopped pork mince salad) and the gaeng hang lay moo (spicy pork curry) – and it ends with afternoon tea. On ambles in between eating, you’ll visit a few of the most impressive Chiang Mai Old Town sights, such as Wat Chedi Luang.
Saturday Afternoon in Chiang Mai
You certainly won’t need lunch after the food tour, but if you’re feeling a little sleepy after all that food make a beeline for Ponganes Coffee Roasters in the Old City. Home to one of the most sophisticated imported coffee roasting machines in Chiang Mai (we were there the day after it arrived), Ponganes roasts single origin coffee beans sourced from small, fair trade coffee farms around Chiang Mai and beyond – everywhere from Ethiopia to Costa Rica. However, it’s the local coffee that you should try and the baristas can advise you based on your preferences. If you’re a fan of lighter filtered coffee that still has body, try the beans from Sopa’s Estate from Chiang Mai’s Omkoi district. If you prefer a heady espresso, ask if they have beans from Lica Coffee Estate in Chiang Mai’s Mae Daet Noi district. They also sell beans and ground coffee if you love what you taste. 133/5 Ratchapakhinai Rd, Old City, Chiang Mai.
Saturday Evening in Chiang Mai
One of the most fun things to do on a weekend in Chiang Mai is to wander along Wualai Road Walking Street (pictured above), one of many popular evening ‘walking street’ markets in Chiang Mai. It starts up around 5pm on Saturday nights and finishes around at 10pm. (If you can’t get to this one, try to get to the Ratchadamnoen Road market on Sunday). You’ll find everything for sale here from street food and drinks to hill tribe textiles, handmade jewellery and hippy clothes.
Saturday Dinner in Chiang Mai
A weekend in Chiang Mai isn’t complete for us without dinner at cool, casual Tong Tem Toh in the hip university neighbourhood of Nimmanhaemin or ‘Nimman’. It’s little more than a beer garden that does outstanding Lanna food. Look for the smoking barbecue out the front. But we love the Northern Thai style hors d’oeuvre platter, which includes their outstanding sai oua (spicy pork sausage), fiery nam prik num (green chilli, garlic and onion dip) and nam prik ong (a milder red chilli, tomato and pork relish), with crudités and pork crackling. It generally closes right on 9pm, and there are often lines, so arrive early for dinner. 11 Nimmanhaemin Soi 13, Chiang Mai, 053 854701, daily 7am-9pm.
If you can’t get into Tong Tem Toh, try Kin Lum Kin Dee on Soi 9, a local favourite for its authentic Lanna classics. The super casual eatery has an artsy semi-industrial sense of style with walls featuring quirky collages that communicate this family-owned restaurant’s history and philosophy. Produce is local and as much as possible organic, purchased from Chiang Mai’s markets and farmers in the region. Try the stir fry green vegetables with eggs and pork crackling, the grilled rice paddy crabs stuffed with crab and egg, and the heavenly gaeng hang lay. They also have a shop where you can buy beautifully packaged spices, pastes and other ingredients, and they do delivery if you prefer to dine in. 25 Nimmanhaemin Soi 9, Chiang Mai, 064 6140817, daily 11am-8.30pm.
Saturday Night in Chiang Mai
End your Saturday night in Chiang Mai with some music. After dinner, return to Think Park on Nimman and settle into Doqaholic bar for some live music. Do as the locals do and order a bottle of Thai whiskey which they’ll bring with a bucket of ice; it’s best enjoyed on the rocks. Up for more? Just down on Nimman road at #40 the Warm-Up Cafe has three different spaces for live music, with anything from indie rock to hip-hop and acoustic music, generally in the beer garden. A 10-minute ride away, the North Gate Jazz Co-Op (91/1-2 Si Phum Road) just inside the Old City’s Chang Pheuak Gate will have some live jazz or rock.
Sunday Morning in Chiang Mai
It’s not a weekend in Chiang Mai without a morning hike up Chiang Mai’s holy mountain, Doi Suthep, whose summit is a lofty 1676-metres high. From the base, you can climb 309 steps up the naga serpent staircase to visit the gleaming Buddhist pagodas and chedis of Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, the site of which was founded with the building of the first stupa in 1383. (Dress modestly.) On a good day (the Chiang Mai skies can be very smoggy in the sweltering months of March and April), you’ll be able to soak up sweeping vistas across the city. It’s 15kms outside of the city, so take a songthaew, the red pick-up trucks that serve as shared taxis (hotel staff can help flag one down) or have the hotel arrange for a taxi to take you and wait for you.
Sunday Lunch in Chiang Mai
There’s no better place to linger over Sunday lunch on a weekend in Chiang Mai than at Huen Jai Yong. Have the hotel arrange a taxi to take you and wait for you (organise a fixed price in advance, don’t use the metre), as it’s a 30-minute drive from the Old City. Bangkok-based Australian Thai chef David Thompson (of Nahm restauranat) and American Thai chef Andy Ricker, a part-time Chiang Mai resident, both recommend this rustic restaurant specialising in authentic, earthy Lanna food. We went with local restaurant owners who appeared to order everything on the menu, but make sure to try the nam prik num (roasted green-chilli, garlic and onion relish), pork crackling (kep moo), naem (fermented pork sausage), and gaeng hang lay (pork curry). Reservations necessary. 65 Moo 4, San Kamphaeng Road, Tambon Buak Khang, Chiang Mai, 086 6718710.
Sunday Afternoon in Chiang Mai
Spend the last afternoon of your weekend in Chiang Mai taking in the latest exhibition (if you’ve been before) or the permanent collection of 600 works of art (if you haven’t) at Maiiam Contemporary Art Museum (122 Moo 7 Tonpao, Sankampheang; Wed-Mon 10am-6pm) in the craftsy area of Sankhampaeng, a 30-minute taxi ride from Chiang Mai’s Old City. Or head in the opposite direction to lovely, leafy, laidback Baan Kang Wat artists village (191-197 Soi Wat U Mong; open 11am-6pm.) at the base of Doi Suthep mountain, a 10-minute drive from Nimman. Here you can browse artsy boutiques, galleries and artists’ studios for handcrafted objects and arts and crafts, from handmade paper, pottery and ceramics to leather goods and woodwork. There are cafes, an organic vegetable garden, a weekend market, performances, regular events, and more.
After, you could wander through neighbouring Wat Umong, a peaceful ‘aranyawasi’ or ‘forest temple’ set within 15 acres of wild natural vegetation in the foothills of Doi Suthep mountain. Built in 1297, the year after the founding of Chiang Mai as the Lanna Kingdom’s new capital, the temple is distinguished by its silent meditation tunnels, said to have been built between the 15th and 16th centuries. There’s a Buddha at the end of each tunnel and you’ll stumble across many more Buddha statues within the forest itself, along with Buddhist proverbs on wooden signs that hang from the trees here and around the grounds. There’s a meditation centre open to the public, the monks quarters, and a lake where you can feed fish.
Sundowners in Chiang Mai
Skedaddle over to the Sala Lanna well before sunset and sink into a bean bag and sip a Thai craft beer, such as Chiang Mai’s own Red Truck as you savour the sunset over the Ping River at their River Bar. Only open over the cool winter months it’s a perfect spot to toast to a successful weekend in Chiang Mai. On a fine winter’s evening you should be able to see the top of Doi Suthep in the distance.
Sunday Evening in Chiang Mai
If you can drag yourself away from the riverside, head to Ploen Rudee Night Market, which has loads more local flavour than the adjoining and much more touristy Night Bazaar. Popular with hip young locals, it has a laidback vibe, with plenty of food trucks and stalls selling folksy crafts and handmade jewellery by Chiang Mai designers. After some browsing, pull up a hay bale at a packing-crate table and snack on everything from burgers to tonkatsu which you can wash down with icy beer. Now that’s a very local way to finish your weekend in Chiang Mai. Chang Klang Road, Chiang Mai. Nightly from 5pm to late.
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Have you been to the old Lanna capital? How do you like to spend a memorable weekend in Chiang Mai?