Nestled in the mountainous areas of Northern Thailand, Chiang Mai is well-known as one of Asia’s most established digital nomad hubs. It offers a mixture of both ancient and modern, with beautiful temples and modern luxury condos sitting almost side by side. However, besides glimmering temples and chic cafes, it also boasts a vast number of national parks, lush tropical jungles, hidden waterfalls, stunning rivers, and animal sanctuaries. That’s why Chiang Mai is an unmissable stop-off point for many outdoor adventure-seeking travellers.
Thanks to the nature surrounding the city, Chiang Mai offers plenty of opportunities for memorable outdoor adventures – here are some of our favourites.
Outdoor adventures in Chiang Mai
1. White Water Rafting
One of the most unforgettable adventures you need to try in Chiang Mai is white water rafting. Chiang Mai is home to some of Thailand’s best white water rapids, such as the Mae Taeng River. Located around 25 km from the Old Town, Mae Taeng River stumbles down tropical mountains. You can experience an adrenaline rush as you venture through the stunning jungle, then spend some time resting and relaxing in a beautiful environment. While some rapids are only suitable for more experienced rafters, there are several class III and IV rapids that are suitable for beginner thrill-seekers.
You can take various day trips if you want to try white water rafting in Chiang Mai, complete with experienced guides, lunch, and even free transport. In addition, you can also stay a night in a village homestay for a two-day rafting tour for the ultimate outdoor adventure experience.
2. Rock Climbing
Did you know that Chiang Mai is full of great climbing spots? The rock climbing scene in Chiang Mai might not be as famous as Tonsai in southern Thailand, but there are numerous spots that you shouldn’t miss if you love rock climbing. There are 3 main outdoor climbing areas in the city: Crazy Horse Buttress, Lampang, and Chiang Dao. Crazy Horse Buttress is possibly the most popular of the three. It’s where the foothills of the Himalayas meet the lush tropical jungle. It was first developed as a climbing spot in 1998, and today, there are over 200 routes you can take. There are numerous rock climbing tours available in the city, including private and group courses for beginners.
It’s possible to rock climb in Chiang Mai all year round. However, it’s best to do it during the dry season from October to March as the weather is much more comfortable. If you’re new to the Chiang Mai rock climbing scene, you can hit Chiang Mai Rock Climbing Adventures (CMRCA) for advice, outings, instructions, and more.
3. Mountain Biking
Thanks to its challenging trails and gorgeous scenery, Chiang Mai is becoming one of the top spots for mountain biking in Southeast Asia. Since there are numerous guided tours for any level available, you don’t have to be an experienced mountain biker in order to enjoy this activity. There’s plenty of trails with different sceneries you can choose from, from hidden waterfalls and temples to ethnic villages and hill tribes. The most popular track for beginners is the ones in Doi Suthep National Park. Here, you can enjoy a downhill ride while admiring the beauty of the natural park.
If you’re into cross-country mountain biking, try the trails behind the 700 Year Stadium. You can bike about 5 km in mixed terrain from the Stadium to Huay Tung Tao Lake, where you can stop to admire the lake.
4. Trekking in the Jungle
One of the best outdoor adventures you shouldn’t miss is trekking in the jungle. Chiang Mai is surrounded by lush tropical jungles, which offer plenty of trekking opportunities. You can easily join a guided trekking tour if you want to trek with someone who’s familiar with the area. Whether you simply want to experience the jungle and immerse yourself in nature or see elephants and wild animals, it’s easy to find a trekking tour that’ll suit your needs. Alternatively, you can also do solo trekking without a guide if you’re feeling adventurous and want to get lost in nature. However, make sure to do your research about the trekking trails beforehand.
As one of the most beautiful mountainous regions in Thailand, there’s no shortage of hiking opportunities in Chiang Mai. There are many, many hiking trails to choose from, but you shouldn’t miss hiking Doi Suthep. The hiking trail in Doi Suthep is quite beginner-friendly, though some parts might be challenging with steep inclines. You’ll come across numerous beautiful things while hiking Doi Suthep, from bamboo forests and hidden waterfalls to dazzling views of Chiang Mai and one of Thailand’s most sacred temples, Wat Phrathat.
Besides Doi Suthep, you shouldn’t miss Doi Inthanon as well. Doi Inthanon is the highest peak in Thailand and is recognised as part of the Himalayan Mountain Range. There are a couple of excellent trails for you in the Doi Inthanon National Park. The main hiking trail is divided into two sections: a well-maintained trail set in the dense jungle and an open meadow-like area. You’ll also find a pair of hidden sirens near the summit.
6. Zip Lining
There’s no better way to get your adrenaline pumping than by ziplining your way through the jungles of Chiang Mai and flying with the birdies. You can find many ziplining adventures in Chiang Mai’s nearby national parks. A plethora of ziplining operators are available for you to choose from. It might sound scary at first, but it can be a truly memorable experience. Professionals will guide you, and you’ll get to see incredible jungle scenery from above. There are even tours that offer sunrise ziplining sessions, so you can see a magical view of the golden sun rays flickering through the treetops.
Another way to enjoy Chiang Mai’s rivers is kayaking. Most of the time, you don’t need prior experience to enjoy kayaking in Chiang Mai. Some tours even allow those who can’t swim to partake in a kayaking adventure. Paddle through beautiful jungles, including its peaceful unexplored areas, and get a different perspective. You can also see villages located on both sides of the river to get a glimpse of the life of the local people. The most popular spot for kayaking in Chiang Mai is Mae Taeng Forest Reserve. Here you’ll be in for some wildlife spotting, bird watching, and temple running. You may even visit some of the hard-to-reach beautiful farmlands. Other popular kayaking spots include the Mae Ping River and Pai River.
If you want to truly get lost in nature, camping in Chiang Mai is one of the best outdoor adventures you shouldn’t miss. There are a number of great camping spots, but Doi Inthanon is the most popular and the closest to the city. You can either hire a taxi, rent a car, or grab a motorbike to get there. Then, you can head to the Campground Headquarters, where you’ll get access to the national park’s natural beauty. You can hike the trails, enjoy the fresh air, admire lush greenery, and visit incredible waterfalls. You can even visit the famous Twin Pagodas. At night, you’ll get to see a clear sky full of stars. Other popular camping spots are Doi Khun Tan National Park, Doi Suthep Pui National Park, Mae Ping National Park, Ob Luang National Park, and Ob Khan National Park.
9. Visiting Waterfalls
Visiting waterfalls is among the best outdoor adventures to try in Chiang Mai. While Chiang Mai doesn’t have any beaches, it has beautiful waterfalls for you to enjoy. One of the most popular is the unique Bua Tong “Sticky” Waterfalls. These waterfalls are not slippery at all, hence the nickname. You can easily climb up over the rocks without having to worry about sliding. At the top of the waterfall, you’ll find a hidden blue water spring believed to have some healing energy. You can also go for a swim at the base of the waterfall. However, most people come to Bua Tong to try the sticky climb. Besides Bua Tong Waterfalls, Chiang Mai has other impressive waterfalls as well. Some of the most popular are Mae Sa Waterfall, Mae Takhrai Waterfall, and Monthathan Waterfall.
10. Visiting Ethical Elephant Sanctuaries
Thailand is one of the best countries in the world to see wild elephants, and Chiang Mai has numerous sanctuaries you can visit. However, make sure you avoid unethical elephant camps, particularly one that offers elephant riding. In most cases, these elephant camps mistreat the elephants and exploit them. There are numerous responsible and ethical elephant sanctuaries in Chiang Mai you can visit. These sanctuaries allow you to see elephants from up close without any forced human contact. If you’re staying in Chiang Mai longer, consider volunteering at an elephant sanctuary that helps old and injured elephants.
Chiang Mai is a perfect getaway for those who love to experience outdoor adventures. Add these outdoor adventures to your Thailand’s itinerary and get ready for some serious adrenaline-pumping experiences!
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