Looking for the most adventurous things to do in Chiang Mai, Thailand? You’ve come to the right place.
Chiang Mai is considered the adventure capital of Thailand, and for good reason.
Chiang Mai Province is home to 3 different mountain ranges that encompass the Thai Highlands. Many rivers and valleys follow the mountains, which have led to incredible jungle and rain forest landscapes. It also features 7 national parks!
Within one hour of driving outside of Chiang Mai you can be white water rafting, mountain biking, zip lining, hiking, riding ATVs, kayaking, and more. No wonder Chiang Mai is perfect for adrenaline junkies!
1. White Water Rafting in Chiang Mai
Any fan of the water will love white water rafting in Chiang Mai! Thanks to mountainous terrain, wide rivers are prevalent in Northern Thailand. White water rafting tour operators take groups down different rivers to experience rafting over Class I to Class IV rapids.
Riders share an inflatable raft and use paddles to help them navigate the river. Working together as a team, each raft (guided by a rafting professional) follows their guide’s commands to take on multiple rapids. The sensation of crashing over Class III and Class IV rapids feels like being on a water roller coaster!
This activity is full of adrenaline, but also comes with a warning. It is possible for rafts to be overturned by the fast-flowing water, forcing riders to accidentally “go swimming.” Don’t worry, each Chiang Mai white water rafting tour group is well-prepared with safety gear and will give riders a thorough briefing on how to handle themselves in a water crisis. Some may even consider the danger part of the excitement!
When white water rafting in Chiang Mai you not only get the thrill of flowing over crashing rapids, you also get an incredible view of the surrounding landscape. Northern Thailand is home to diverse flora and fauna. The view from a river will show you lush jungle forests, tall trees, bright flowers, and more. The view is truly awe-inspiring, and you’ll inevitably find your focus split between the gorgeous nature around you and the flowing water around you.
The combination of thrill and beauty is one that can’t be beat, and why it’s one of our most recommended adventure things to do in Chiang Mai!
The best white water rafting tour in Chiang Mai:
Our favorite white water rafting tour operator in Chiang Mai is 8Adventures. As the name implies, 8Adventures offers 8 different adventurous activities to Chiang Mai visitors. White water rafting is what they are most known for, and they offer different rafting options for any skill and interest level.
The staff is fun, they have an emphasis on safety, their river is gorgeous, and they prepare an authentic Thai meal that was delicious. You’ll also appreciate being able to take a long, hot shower on their property after white water rafting. We loved 8Adventures and highly recommend them for white water rafting in Chiang Mai!
- Visit 8Adventures website here
- Whitewater rafting tour costs 2,500B – 3,000B per person
2. Zipline Chiang Mai
If you’ve ever wanted to experience the sensation of flying then you must go zip lining in Chiang Mai!
What makes zip lining one of the best things to do in Chiang Mai is the incredible scenery you fly through. Northern Thailand is home to incredible vegetation, and zip lining allows you to fly right through the thick of it. Surrounded by bamboo, banana plants, and ferns you’ll be in the middle of landscape most never experience.
Zip lining may feel dangerous but is actually quite safe. Multiple carabiners safely attach a rider’s harness to a trolley on a very strong cable. The trolley rolls you along the cable, until a guide at the arrival post helps you stop and detach. As long as you don’t touch the cable in front of you, the carabiners and harness will keep you perfectly safe!
Zip lining tours in Chiang Mai will last 10-14 zips. You’ll begin by walking uphill to the starting line, then zip back and forth along the tour’s property, gradually declining with each zip until you near the bottom. Some zips are 300m or longer, and others are as short as 50m. You’ll see a variety of terrain at different heights and lengths of each zip. This set-up gives you plenty of time to get accustomed to the sensation of flying and to enjoy it.
When you’re ready to go crazy try holding your arms out for an extra thrill!
The best zip lining tour in Chiang Mai:
Our favorite Chiang Mai zip lining tour group is Flight of the Gibbon. Flight of the Gibbon was the first zip lining group in Chiang Mai, so you can bet they’ve perfected the tour in the decade they’ve been in business.
We felt incredibly safe with their seasoned staff, and loved that each group is kept to just 6-8 people. This way you’re guaranteed personal attention from the guides and can get to know your tour mates. The other reason we loved Flight of the Gibbon is because their zip line course offered more adventure than just flying. They incorporated rappelling, free fall (safely), and canopy bridge climbing to their tour for an even more adrenaline-pumping experience!
- Visit Flight of the Gibbon here
- Chiang Mai zip line tour costs 4,200B per person
3. Mountain Biking in Chiang Mai
Mountain bikers come from all over Southeast Asia to go mountain biking in Chiang Mai. Travelers plan specific trips to visit the same trails with the same tour guides for an entire week of day-long rides.
What people like about mountain biking in Chiang Mai is the amount of trails available. There is a decent range of trail difficulties which cater to intermediate to advanced mountain bikers. If you can shred you’ll definitely find some fun here!
A well-paved road leads directly to the top of Chiang Mai’s Doi Suthep, which makes it easy for shuttles to drive bikers to the peak. This way no energy is wasted going uphill, allowing you to fully enjoy the downhill roller coaster. Depending on the size of your group you could even have time to make more than one run!
There’s a fair amount of single track trails, where bikers navigate narrow ridges as opposed to wider tracks. Views of Chiang Mai are available off and on as trails take you through jungle vegetation and down the mountain. It’s perfect for anyone who enjoys fast-paced, technical mountain biking!
The best mountain biking tour group in Chiang Mai:
TrailHead is our favorite mountain biking tour group in Chiang Mai. They provide better quality mountain bikes than competitors, offer a variety of mountain biking trail options, and keep the group size low. The guides are especially knowledgeable of the local trails and give appropriate warning for mountain bikers to prepare for difficult spots of the run. They provided a delicious Thai meal of sticky rice and grilled pork eaten at one of Doi Suthep’s overlooks. TrailHead also offers safety gear (elbow pads, knee pads, gloves, and helmet) and uses a GoPro for pictures and videos while you ride.
- Visit TrailHead online here
- TrailHead offers a variety of half and full day mountain biking adventures. Price varies from 1,200B to 3,000B
4. Hiking Doi Suthep
Doi Suthep is the tallest peak in Chiang Mai city. The most popular hiking trail on Doi Suthep is Monk’s Trail, called such because monks often hike the trail on their way to a monastery at the top of the mountain.
Getting to Monk’s Trail is easy. A grab or red taxi truck can take you to the end of Doi Suthep road (at the back of the Chiang Mai zoo), and the trail will be visible with a large wooden marker. The trail is considered moderate difficulty, as it requires light scrambling uphill. About 45 minutes later the trail winds past Wat Pha Lat, a Buddhist temple recently excavated and covered with overgrowth. A stream running past the temple leads to incredible views of Chiang Mai, but this isn’t where the hike ends.
Continue hiking the designated trail on the left of Wat Pha Lat to eventually reach a paved road. Here some choose to grab a taxi to the peak of Doi Suthep, but the most adventurous will continue hiking the rest of the way.
The second half of the hike, to the well-known Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, is much more challenging. The trail, itself, can be hard to find, some sections are very narrow and steep, and you’ll need to traverse through overgrowth. The end is worth it, as Wat Phra That is incredible. Not only is it a beautiful reward for your hard work, it’s covered by tourists in sparkling clothes who would never dream of hiking their way to the top. There’s a sense of pride and accomplishment you’ll feel as you wander around the shiny selfie machines dripping in sweat.
5. White Water Kayaking
Spending a day white water kayaking in Chiang Mai is probably the most adventurous way to experience the fast-flowing rivers of Northern Thailand. All you need to bring is a swimsuit to enjoy this incredible thing to do in Chiang Mai. The tour you meet will provide all equipment including a spray skirt, paddling jacket, and safety gear.
A white water kayaking lesson can take one full day and can be given to any skill level. Kayakers will begin in flat water reviewing the technique of performing an emergency roll, then move on to more technical paddling skills and kayak turns. Even a skilled kayaker will learn new steps and techniques to perfect a variety of kayaking skills!
Once well-prepared, the newly confident kayaker will take some time riding over Class I-III rapids then playing and practicing in the rushing water below. The white water kayaking instructor and a professional safety kayaker will follow and guide you through the most fun and safest ways to ride over white water.
What we love about white water kayaking is the thrill of being as close to the rushing water as possible. Riding a Class III rapid is exciting whether in a kayak or on a raft, but operating a kayak requires more personal attention and more direct contact. It’s quite the rush!
The best white water kayaking in Chiang Mai:
We choose 8Adventure for this water activity, as well. Their owner and head instructor, Eric, trained with the U.S. Olympic white water kayaking team and has worked as the safety kayaking guide all over the world for the BBC and National Geographic magazine. You really can’t find a better, more patient instructor than this world-class white water kayaker!
8Adventures picked us up from our condo in Chiang Mai, provided a riverside lunch, and operates on one of the most fun sections of river in Northern Thailand. Honestly, the time with such a valuable resource is worth any price. Any kayaker interested in honing their skills should consider traveling to Chiang Mai for a private white water kayaking lesson with Eric!
*Note: Eric told us about another local tour group which is less developed and caters to travelers trying to save money on river experiences. Unfortunately a traveler died while out with this other group, because the tour group did not have a strong focus on safety or quality equipment. This only enhanced our resolve to always do personal research and find trusted sources when booking such adventurous experiences.
- Visit 8Adventures online here
- A white water kayaking lesson in Chiang Mai costs 5,000B
- 8Adentures also offers inflatable white water kayaking for those interested in running the river without a lesson. Whitewater kayaking costs 2,500B – 3,000B
6. Rock Climbing
Rock climbing is one of the most exciting ways to experience a new city. The thrill of defying gravity helps you appreciate every new thing you’ll experience. As expected, the mountain-heavy area of Northern Thailand is full of rock climbing routes for you to try!
While rock climbing is fun, we don’t recommend going alone. Even a skilled rock climber can find themselves in trouble, and that’s when a partner comes in handy! If you are unfamiliar with rock climbing in Chiang Mai you can find a guided climbing service which will not only take you to the routes but will stick with you to make sure you have fun and stay safe.
You can also rent or buy gear in town and reserve a space on a transport van if you’d rather climb with a buddy instead of a guided service. Luckily the rock climbing community is friendly and helpful, including those in Chiang Mai. Shop owners will talk your ear off on the best routes and point you in the right directions for gear and transportation just for the sake of promoting the Great Outdoors.
The best rock climbing in Chiang Mai:
Chiang Mai Rock Climbing Adventure Co is widely considered the best place to find local rock climbing experts. The owner, Josh, has been living and climbing in Northern Thailand since 2001 and uses his shop to promote the idea that we are all part of a global family. He runs free community events to share rock climbing with the community, and the shop features a public board of single climbers looking for route partners.
You can buy or rent gear from Chiang Mai Rock Climbing Adventure Co., reserve a transport van to the routes, or book a full-service guided climbing tour.
- Visit CMRCA online here
- Multi-Pitch Climbing Adventure includes rappelling, climbing, and caving. Price is 5,495B per person and includes authentic Thai lunch
- Climb Thailand’s famous Crazy Horse Buttress with CMRCA for 3,995B per person
Those are just the tip of the iceberg of all adventure activities in Chiang Mai.
These 6 are just our personal favorite adventure things to do in Chiang Mai, but there is even more outdoor fun to be had! Most of the companies we highlighted offer activities beyond what we suggested. You can find stand up paddle boarding, ATV’s, waterfall treks, hill tribe village tours, and yes, even elephant conservation parks. If you have the time we highly suggest you check out doing a multi-day activity tour with any one of these adventure groups to get the most bang out of your time in Chiang Mai!
Chiang Mai, Thailand, is truly the adventure hub of Southeast Asia and we hope you have as much fun there as we did!
Planning your own trip to Chiang Mai? Pin this list of the most adventurous things to do for later!
*This list sponsored by 8Adventures, Flight of the Gibbon, and TrailHead for promotional consideration. That doesn’t mean our opinions were swayed in the least. In fact, we tried a few other companies and only suggested those we truly enjoyed.*