Though the city of Chiang Mai has a lot to offer in temples, Thai food, and cultural activities, escaping the city for the serenity of the countryside is not only easy, but encouraged. From spotting wild gibbons to climbing waterfalls, here are five of the best day trips from Chiang Mai!

Mae Sa Waterfall

Photo by Carlos Borromeo

Though you can easily assemble a group and rent a songthaew (red car) to travel the distance to the Mae Sa waterfalls, your easiest bet is to rent a motorbike and drive the 15 miles from Chiang Mai’s Old City to the rolling green hills of northern Thailand. Arrive at the Mae Sa waterfall, park your scooter or bid goodbye to your driver, and prepare to explore the 10 falls that make up the site. Bring a swimsuit and a picnic lunch for the perfect afternoon. The park is open from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and costs 200 THB.

Chiang Dao

Access this lovely locale by motorbike (1.5 hour ride) or public bus from Chiang Puak Bus Station. The drive from Chiang Mai’s Old City is under 50 miles and the roads are generally flat, well maintained, and afford beautiful views.

Once in Chiang Dao, head to the region’s famous cave, home to several shrines and a reclining Buddha. If caves are not your speed, soak up the sun — and some minerals — at the Pong Arng Hot Springs or take a relaxing bamboo raft ride on the Ping River. If you’re lucky enough to visit Chiang Dao on a Tuesday, don’t miss the legendary market that attracts locals and tourists alike.

Sticky Waterfalls

Aptly named, the Sticky Waterfalls are unlike any waterfall you’ve likely experienced before. Named Bua Tong in Thai, these waterfalls help visitors defy gravity (and slick stones) as they climb up the massive rock falls thanks to the unique limestone and mineral deposits that coat the surface of the rocks and provide tactile footing. You’ll be surprised at the texture — hard, yet strangely spongy under pressure, and will enjoy an afternoon scaling the falls.

Bua Tong is located an hour and a half north of Chiang Mai’s Old City, and songthaews routinely make the route back and forth, although accessing the location by motorbike is also relatively easy.

Huay Tung Tao Lake

This dreamy lakefront getaway is only about 10 miles from downtown Chiang Mai and can be easily accessed by scooter. The beautiful landscape of the large Huay Tung Tao Lake is framed by the towering mountains of Chiang Mai’s northernmost region.

Visitors often cycle or run around the lake and then relax in one of the waterfront huts with a delicious, homemade meal and a cold Chang or Singha (Thai beers). Fish is commonly served, fresh from the lake. If you’re inclined, go for a swim in the warm waters or paddle out on a swan boat for a different vantage point and an opportunity to soak up some sun.

Photo by Jul Marks

Flight of the Gibbon/Forest Trek

For those seeking a more action-packed adventure, the Flight of the Gibbon is the perfect day trip from Chiang Mai. Purchasing tickets will generally include round-trip transportation and a complementary local style lunch.

Flight of the Gibbon is a series of ziplines of different heights and lengths that take adventure seekers through the jungles of northern Thailand. You’ll fly through rich rainforest and spot a variety of wildlife — including families of gibbons (part of the ape family). As you traverse the forests of Chiang Mai, educated guides will teach you about the forest’s flora and fauna and the important conservation efforts that are protecting gibbons and other native species.

Header image by Jul Marks