This article may contain compensated links. Read the full disclosure here
Looking for the perfect 3-day Chiang Mai itinerary? This family-friendly guide will help you plan what to do in Chiang Mai in 3 days so that you can create an unforgettable Thailand experience.
RELATED READING: Tips for visiting Koh Samui with kids
Chiang Mai is an excellent place to visit in Thailand, abundant in wildlife and nature. This culture-filled town is quite walkable, child-friendly, filled with temples, and home to elephant sanctuaries.
3 Days In Chiang Mai: How To Make The Most Of Your Time
Journeying through Thailand or Southeast Asia, many visitors plan three days to visit Chiang Mai. The flight from Bangkok is a little over an hour, making it an easy stopover. Alternatively, many other destinations in Southeast Asia offer direct flights to Chiang Mai, as well as convenient options by bus.
Read on for a child-friendly guide to visiting Chiang Mai. This 3-day Chiang Mai itinerary includes elephant encounters, wonderful temples, and bustling markets. Whether you’re seven or seventy, you’ll be sure to enjoy this Chiang Mai itinerary.
Day 1– Exploring the Temples of the Old Town
Wander through the Old Town
The number one thing to do in Chiang Mai is to simply explore the temples located in the Old Town. There are numerous temples to choose from that you don’t actually need an itinerary – you can simply go wandering in the Old Town until you come across a temple to visit.
A few of the most popular temples (and ones you cannot miss) include Wat Chedi Luang, Wat Phra Sing and Wat Chiang Man.
Wat Chedi Luang is a large temple made from brick, sporting elephants at its corners and serpents guarding the temple.
Wat Phra Sing has magnificent gold stupas. As the light reflects off them, you’ll see a golden glow.
Wat Chiang Man is the oldest temple in Chiang Mai at 800 years old! Enjoy strolling past the lotus pond and viewing the murals.
When visiting the temples, be courteous of the dress code. While this is expected at the temples in Thailand, it is not strictly enforced.
Women should have both their shoulders and knees covered. Men should cover their shoulders, but it is not necessary to have their knees covered. Shorts that reach the knee are acceptable.
Wearing longer pants or a skirt in the heat can become uncomfortable. Many visitors opt for a sarong coverup that can be taken on and off for the temples.
PREFER A GUIDED TOUR OF THE TEMPLES? >> BOOK HERE
Dine at a Cat Cafe
Break up the day at one of the cat cafes in Chiang Mai. Kids and adults alike will enjoy playing with the cats while waiting for their food. Cats Station Cafe is the cat cafe of choice in the Old Town.
If you prefer to travel outside of the old town and traverse to a new area in Chiang Mai, head to Catmosphere Cat Cafe near Nimman, the trendy town with great coffee.
Once you’ve finished with lunch and playing with the cats, head out to explore other temples.
NOT SURE WHAT TO PACK? Get our Southeast Asia packing list
Day 2 – Day Trip to an Elephant Sanctuary
This day will be one to remember. Whether you’re from the west or the east, seeing elephants up close is likely to be something on your bucket list. Chaing Mai is the perfect place to tick this off.
Before your trip, do your research. This is due to two reasons:
- Day trips to elephant sanctuaries are popular, so you’ll have to choose a place and book in advance.
- Many elephant “sanctuaries” aren’t actually sanctuaries.
In recent years, it has become common knowledge that elephant riding isn’t ethical. Unfortunately, elephants are trained (well, …tortured) for the pure reasons of entertainment, money, and tourism.
Regardless, there are many companies that still offer elephant riding. These are ones which are easy to avoid.
However, there are companies that label themselves as “sanctuaries” just because they do not condone riding – but elephant mistreatment and poor living conditions will be hidden behind closed doors.
Thankfully, there are ethical sanctuaries to visit too.
In Chiang Mai, Elephant Nature Park is the best ethical elephant sanctuary.
They have both short and full-day trips available. Half-day trips are great for younger children who may get tired during long days.
The short park visit and the full-day (single day) tour both cost the same price at 2500 THB for adults and 1250 THB for children. This includes return transport from your hotel if you’re staying in the Old Town, entry into the park, and a delicious vegetarian lunch.
The short park visit starts around 8:30 am and finishes around 3:30 pm (7 hours) whereas the full-day visit starts around 8 am and finishes around 5:30 pm (9.5 hours).
Book your Elephant Nature Park day trip online >>BOOK HERE
In addition to the nature park visit, specialised tours are also offered. Most occur outside the park in intimate groups as part of their Saddle Off! Initiative to improve elephant living conditions in independent camps.
Spending a day at an ethical elephant sanctuary is an unforgettable experience and a great alternative to the zoo and night safari, where animals are subjected to questionable conditions.
Day 3 – Doi Suthep and Night Bazaar
Doi Suthep Temple
Although you’ll have spent day one visiting the temples in the Old Town, Doi Suthep is like no other and deserves a separate visit. The golden temple atop a luscious, green mountain has such ornate detailing.
Visit this extravagant temple as early as possible when you have energy, yet before the heat gets too much. There are over 300 steps to reach the temple.
The journey up the hill isn’t too difficult as the steps are all paved, so it shouldn’t be a problem for children.
You can travel there by songthaew – an open-air taxi, which is a fun experience for the kids! Either jump on the public songthaew or hire a private songthaew for just your family for the day.
As a family, hiring a private songthaew may be a more cost-effective option. Depending on your bargaining skills, you may be able to hire a private songthaew for as little as 400 THB for four hours.
Another option is to hire a Grab taxi for four hours, which will also give you free rein of your stops for the day.
Or if you prefer, take a guided tour such as a jungle trek from Chiang Mai to Doi Suthep, with a chance to explore waterfalls and Doi Suthep-Pui National Park with a ranger. >>BOOK HERE
The Night Bazaar is where Chiang Mai comes to life each night and is by far one of the best things to do in Chiang Mai at night.
From 5 pm, browse the stalls of handicrafts, jewellery, souvenirs, clothing, and more. The earlier you go the better – it does get busy, especially during high-season.
The walk will take you less than 15 minutes from the Tha Pae Gate.
Start by browsing the stalls and scoping out prices. Whether you’re shopping or just window shopping, looking through the products the Night Bazaar has to offer is a lot of fun.
Bartering is expected if you don’t want to pay a tourist premium for your purchases. If you can’t haggle for the price you’re after, just find the same (or very similar) product at a nearby stall.
Your kids will have so much fun helping to pick out gifts for friends and family back home!
Shopping will help to build up an appetite, and if that doesn’t help, the nearby food stall aromas will waft through the air. The street food stalls are a great place to grab dinner and people watch.
A hit with the kids is the sweet roti – a pastry/bread base with condensed milk, chocolate, and other toppings such as bananas.
If you’re lucky enough to be travelling through Chiang Mai on a Saturday or Sunday, there are special night markets held once a week.
The Sunday Night Market is just a few minutes from the Tha Pae East Gate. The Saturday Night Market is just outside of the Old Town, but will only take you a few minutes to walk there from the Saen Pung South Gate.
Alternative Chiang Mai Itinerary Ideas
An alternative option for day three is day trip to Chiang Rai’s White and Blue Temples. These temples are arguably amongst the most ornate temples you’ll ever see. The drive will take three hours each way, so it will be a long day – but as soon as you lay your eyes on the temples, it will be worth it.
You may also wish to extend your Chiang Mai itinerary to 4 or more days by adding in one or more of these Chiang Mai day trips:
- Chiang Mai Historic Old City 4-Hour Bike Tour – Discover back streets inside the Old City walls of Chiang Mai & visit temples on a slow and easy 12-kilometre bike ride suitable for families with young children. >>BOOK HERE
- White Temple & Golden Triangle Day Trip – Visit the beautiful White Temple, Golden Triangle and Wat Phra That Chedi Luang in Chiang Saen Ancient City, take a Mekong River boat ride & enjoy lunch at a local restaurant. Authentic Thai Cooking Class & Market Tour – Visit a local market with a Thai chef, followed by a cooking class where you can select the dishes you want to make during the guided experience. >>BOOK HERE
- Inthanon National Park 9-Hour Tour – Enjoy panoramic views of the mountains of northern Thailand on a full-day tour to Doi Inthanon National Park, including a visit to a local market of the Hmong hill tribe and the villages of the Karen people.
This Chiang Mai 3 day itinerary is sure to inspire an unforgettable journey to some of the best places to visit in this Northern Thailand gem of a destination. For more travel itinerary inspiration, visit our itinerary page.
Check out these family-friendly Asia road trip ideas for your next self-drive holiday.
Bio: Delilah Hart is a lover of all things travel. She’s currently travelling the world as she works on her travel blog, Our Travel Mix.