The Explore North Thailand Tour – fifteen days
Day 1 Chiang Mai – Baan Mae Klang Luang
129 km, total driving time 2,5 hours
Your guide and driver will meet you at the hotel for your Explore North Thailand Tour. Drive to Chomthong, where we will turn off towards Doi Inthanon, the highest mountain of Thailand. Doi Inthanon is a national park with great nature trails and thundering waterfalls, the first but not last highlight on our explore North Thailand tour.
Our first stop will be the most popular falls of the park, the Vachirathan Waterfall. From there, we will continue to the summit of the mountain, where we will visit the shrine of King Inthawichayanon, after which the mountain is named. After that, we will walk the short Angka Nature Trail. Next are the two Royal Chedis, which were constructed in honor of the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej and his wife Queen Sirikit. It is a popular destination for local tourists.
Then it is time for a Thai lunch. After lunch, we will hike the magnificent Pha Dok Siew Nature Trail. It is a short drive to the start of the trail, which is managed by Karen people from the nearby Baan Mae Klang Luang. With a local guide, we walk down the thundering Pha Dok Siew Waterfall to the Karen village Baan Mae Klang Luang, famous for its coffee.
We will spend the night in a bungalow in the village.
Day 2 Doi Inthanon – Khun Yuam
135 km, total driving time 4 hours
After breakfast, we drive to the starting point of the Kew Mae Pan Nature Trail*. It is a fantastic hike through the forest until we reach an open area with amazing views. It tends to become quite busy on this trail in the cold season, but the views are magnificent if the skies are clear. The Hmong people of the nearby villages manage the trail.
A local Hmong guide will accompany us. After we have finished this hike we descend the mountain towards Mae Chaem, a small town in the middle of corn and ricefields. This town is famous for its Teen Jok textiles so we will stop at a local weaving center.
After this, we continue with a beautiful drive to Khun Yuam. This road is very quiet and we have time for stops along the way. We pass several Hmong villages before we enter the territory of the Shan people aka Tai Yai.
We will spend the night at Mit Khun Yuam Hotel in Khun Yuam. It is the oldest hotel in town, constructed 58 years ago.
*This trail is closed in the rainy season. We will find an alternative hike.
Day 3 Khun Yuam – Mae Hong Son
80 km, total driving time 2 hours
After breakfast, we will continue with our Explore North Thailand tour. First, we will visit Wat Muai To and the Thai-Japan Friendship Memorial Hall. Wat Muai To is a beautiful Shan-style temple with a wooden assembly hall. During World War Two Japanese forces used the temple compound as a field hospital. There are several Japanese war memorials.
Opposite the temple is the Thai-Japan Friendship Memorial Hall. This museum commemorates the presence of the Imperial Japanese Army at Khun Yuam during World War Two. It also focuses on the history and culture of the Shan of Khun Yuam.
Before we leave Khun Yuam we visit Wat To Phae, a Shan temple a bit outside Khun Yuam. The temple is known for its famous Ruby Curtain but on the temple compound, there is also a small workshop where they handcraft the typical ornaments on the roofs of Shan temples.
Mae Hong Son is also the home of the Padaung people, aka the Long Neck Karen. They came to Thailand as refugees from their homeland Myanmar in the 1980s. In Mae Hong Son they became tourist attractions, which led to a lot of negative publicity. However, we would like you to judge for yourself. It takes a short boat ride on the Pai River to get to their village Huay Pu Keng. After we meet with the Padaung people, we will drive to Mae Hong Son. Mae Hong Son is a delightful place with wonderful Shan-style Buddhist temples.
We will spend the night in one of our favorite places in North Thailand, the lovely Fern Resort.
Day 4 Mae Hong Son
20 km, total driving time 0,5 hours
After breakfast, we will embark on a half-day tour of Mae Hong Son and visit the local morning market. Next to the market is Wat Hua Wiang, which has a wonderful and characteristic ordination hall. Mae Hong Son was once known as the “Siberia” of Thailand because of its remoteness.
It is known as the “capital” of the Shan people.
The small Living Museum exhibits old pictures of the town and provides information about the Shan (Tai Yai) culture and festivals. After this, we will visit the two temples on the Lake, Wat Jong Kham, and Wat Jong Klang. Unfortunately, the lake is dry at the moment because of maintenance. Lunch will be in a local Tai Yai restaurant in town.
After lunch, we will drive up to Doi Kong Mu, a small mountain overlooking the town and the airport. On top of the mountain is Wat Phra That Doi Kong Mu, a beautiful temple. The view from the temple is fantastic. We will spend some time here before we will walk down the staircase. The rest of the afternoon is free at leisure.
We will spend another night in the Fern Resort.
Day 5 Mae Hong Son – Ban Rak Thai – Mae Hong Son
90 km, total driving time 3 hours
After breakfast, we will continue our Explore North Thailand Tour to Ban Rak Thai aka Mae Aw. This is a community of ethnic Chinese who are descendants of the Kuomintang (KMT) army, which was defeated in Yunnan in 1949 by the Chinese army. These soldiers first crossed the border into Burma and ended up in North Thailand in 1961. Ban Rak Thai has a distinctive Chinese atmosphere. The scenic reservoir was created in 1987. Nowadays, Ban Rak Thai is a popular destination for local tourists because of its natural beauty and mild climate.
On the way, we visit the Pha Sua Waterfall and a bamboo garden. After arrival, you have free time to enjoy the lake views and the unique atmosphere of this village.
Enjoy a delicious Chinese lunch in the village. We will have time to explore the village. In the afternoon return to Mae Hong Son. We hope you enjoyed another great day on our Explore North Thailand tour.
We will spend another night at the Fern Resort.
Day 6 Mae Hong Son – Pai
120 km, total driving time 3 hours
After breakfast, we will start our journey to Pai. First, we will stop at the Su Tong Pae Bridge, a bamboo walkway that connects a Shan (Tai Yai) village to a temple, called Wat Phu Sama. It is the longest bamboo bridge in Thailand! The bridge crosses ricefields and has become a popular destination for local tourists. Next, we will stop briefly at the well-known fish cave, a popular destination for local tourists. At Baan Jabo, a Black Lahu village, we will enjoy lunch. The views from this village are very nice.
Then we will drive to Pang Ma Pha, further into the mountains of Pai and Mae Hong Son. During our drive, we will pass several spectacular viewpoints that offer views of rugged mountains all the way to Myanmar. At Pang Ma Pha, we leave the main road and drive to Tham Lot, a fantastic cave. With a local guide, we will explore the cave on foot and by bamboo raft. After our cave adventure, we will continue to Pai, a small but popular town in a valley. Before we arrive in Pai we will stop at the Kiw Lom viewpoint.
Overnight will be at Rim Pai Cottages
Day 7 Pai
30 km, total driving time 1 hour
Today we will explore some of the highlights of Pai. Visit Wat Phra That Mae Yen from where you have a lovely view of Pai. Continue to the Shan temple Wat Thung Pong, a beautiful temple that contains an image of the “Chao Por”, the patron-saint, of Pai. Not far from this temple is Pai Canyon where we will make a short hike. Pai has an interesting diversity of people and religions. There are Lisu, Lahu, Tai Yai, Tai Lue, and Chinese people living in and around this small town. Pai also has a significant Muslim population.
Next, we visit the Chinese village Santichon Village. The Chinese people living here originally come from Yunnan in the south of China and are descendants of the Kuomintang troops. The old Tha Pai bridge has become a popular tourist site but doesn’t date back to World War Two. Wat Sri Don Chai, the oldest temple of Pai, is the last site we visit.
Return to the hotel with the afternoon free at leisure.
Overnight at Rim Pai Cottages
Day 8 Pai – Chiang Dao
140 km, total driving time 3,5 hours
Along a beautiful winding road, we travel through Huai Nam Dang National Park. This national park is still one of the classic trekking areas of North Thailand. The Pong Duad Hot Springs in the park is our first major stop. A nice and shady walk through the forest leads to these hot springs. Next is the Mork Fah Waterfall, which is in the Doi Suthep-Pui National Park. It is a short walk to the falls which is an ideal place to break the journey. We will spend time here swimming and relaxing.
After this, we will continue our drive into the mountains. Continue to Chiang Dao where we will spend the night.
Overnight at the Marisa Resort
Day 9 Chiang Dao
20 km, total driving time 1 hour
After breakfast, we drive to a village where Lisu and Akha minorities live next to each other. We will chat with some of the local people and make a short walk through the village. Then we continue to a village of the Dara-Ang people, aka the Palong people. Here we will start our short trek through the forest to another Palong village to have lunch. We will cook our meal. Your guide will teach you to cook in a wok on a wood fire. It is a lot of fun.
After lunch, we will drive back to Chiang Dao. Doi Luang Chiang Dao is the third highest mountain in Thailand and looms large over the town. The Chiang Dao Cave Temple has been one of the main attractions of the district for a long time. These limestone caves are wonderful, so we will take our time to visit. Not far from the caves is the Wat Tham Pha Plong, an exceptional cave temple that will be the last place we visit today.
Overnight at the Marisa Resort
Day 10 Chiang Dao – Thaton
150 km, total driving time 4 hours
Our destination today is Doi Angkhang, a remote mountain resort close to the Thailand-Myanmar border. Our first stop will be at the beautiful Sri Sangwan Waterfalls, located in the Pa Daeng National Park. After our dip in the waterfall, we follow a narrow, winding road, skirting the border. During our drive, we pass through several Chinese villages. Many of the inhabitants of these villages are descendants of soldiers of the Kuomintang forces who entered Thailand during the 1960s.
We stop briefly at the former headquarters of General Li Wen Huan in Tham Ngob. General Li was the commander of the 3rd division of the Kuomintang (KMT) army. Therefore Tham Ngob has a distinct Yunnanese atmosphere.
After arrival at Doi Angkhang, we will first have lunch. After lunch, we will visit the Royal Project. His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej and members of Thailand’s royal family have set up numerous village-based community development projects nationwide, which are now open for small-scale tourism. They provide unique insights into King’s concept of a sufficiency economy and are models of alternative economic development.
On Doi Angkhang, there are two fascinating and beautifully located ethnic minority villages. Nor Lae is a Palong, aka Dara-ang village, right on the Thailand-Myanmar border. Not far from this village is Kob Dong, a Black Lahu village. We will briefly visit both villages that are beautifully located. Finally, it is time to descend Doi Angkhang to Thaton, where we will spend the night.
Overnight at the Maekok River Village Resort
Day 11 Thaton – Doi Mae Salong
45 km, total driving time 1 hour
Good morning! After breakfast, we will drive up to Wat Thaton, where we have a marvelous view of Thaton and the surrounding countryside. Next, we board a local boat for a refreshing boat ride on the Kok River. After about 45 min we will disembark at the Lahu village Pha Tai and continue by car to Santikhiri, a community on Doi Mae Salong. During our drive, we will visit one of the many Akha villages. Most Akha villages are in Chiang Rai province. We will spend some time in this village. During our walk, your guide will introduce you to local people and explain the culture and traditions of the Akha people. After that, we will continue to Santikhiri on Doi Mae Salong.
In 1961 remnants of Kuomintang troops settled on Doi Mae Salong and became involved in the opium trade. Because they helped the Thai military fight the communist insurgence the Thai government allowed them to stay on the mountain. The scenery of Doi Mae Salong is stunning, and the place has a great atmosphere.
Nowadays, most inhabitants of Santikhiri are still ethnic Chinese giving this pretty mountain village a distinctly Chinese feel. We visit one of the teashops and tea plantations before we have lunch in a local restaurant. After lunch, we will visit The Martyrs’ Memorial, a museum that tells the story of the history of the Kuomintang forces after their expulsion from China by the Communists in 1949.
Finally, we will go up to Wat Santikhiri, a temple on a mountain top overlooking the town and its surroundings, for sunset. There is a staircase going to the top which we recommend you to take because it is a nice workout.
We spend the night at Ban See See Mountainview.
Day 12 Doi Mae Salong – Chiang Saen
95 km, total driving time 2,5 hours
After breakfast, we descend the highlands of Doi Mae Salong to the lowlands. We will stop at one of the tea plantations along the way. Our destination is the Golden Triangle, another highlight on our Explore North Thailand Tour.
The Golden Triangle is the area where the borders of Thailand, Myanmar, and Laos converge. In former times this was a lawless, remote area that was notorious for its booming drug trade in the 1970s and 80s. It was also where the British and French colonial empires faced off in the past, with Thailand in the middle. The Mekong River here forms the border between Thailand and Laos.
We stop at the marker of the Golden Triangle before we visit the Hall of Opium, the excellent museum about the history of the use of opium. We also will walk up to the viewpoint of Wat Phra That Doi Phu Khao, from where you have the best panorama of the Golden Triangle. Then we will board a local boat for a trip on the Mekong River to Chiang Saen, where we will spend the night.
Our boat trip ends at Chiang Saen, where we will spend the night. If we still have time, we can explore some of the ruins of ancient Chiang Saen, but we will also have time for that tomorrow. After taking a shower, you can go for dinner in a restaurant on the Mekong River.
Overnight at the Pak Ping Rim Khong Hotel
Day 13 Chiang Saen – Chiang Rai
80 km, total driving time 1,5 hours
After breakfast, we start our exploration of old Chiang Saen. Today’s first destination is the Wat Phra That Pha Ngao, a fascinating and lively temple just outside of Chiang Saen. We enter the temple compound and drive straight up to the Phra Borommathat Putta Nimit Chedi, which offers fantastic views of the Mekong River and Laos. We spend some time here to enjoy the views.
After that, we descend and look at some of the lovely structures in this interesting temple complex. There is a magnificent wooden Ho Phra, a small building to house a Buddha image, and a small textile museum and weaving center. Many local people visit this temple that has an interesting story. We will pay our respects to the highly revered Luang Por Pha Ngao Buddha image. We return to Chiang Saen and have a closer look at some of the ruins of this ancient city.
Ancient Chiang Saen
Chiang Saen is one of the oldest settlements in North Thailand. Its city walls are well preserved and have been restored partially by the Fine Arts Department. Within and outside these walls, there are some temple ruins. We visit the most well-known are Wat Chedi Luang (“the temple with the big chedi”), Wat Pasak (“the temple in the teak forest”), and Wat Mung Muang.
We will enjoy lunch at a local restaurant before we head for Baan Dam aka the Black House. Finally, we drive to Chiang Rai and check into the hotel.
Overnight at the Laluna Resort and hotel
Day 14 Chiang Rai
40 km, total driving time 1 hour
Your guide and driver will meet you at the hotel at 0800 for another day on your Explore North Thailand Tour. Our first destination will be Kad Luang, the big fresh market of Chiang Rai. It is the oldest market in the city. We take our time to enjoy the hustle and bustle of morning shopping. We will let you taste a typical Thai delicacy, the kind you can only buy on these amazing fresh markets. From the market, we walk to Wat Phra Kaew.
The Wat Phra Kaew is one of the oldest temples in Chiang Rai. It used to be the home of the Emerald Buddha statue in the Wat Phra Kaew in Bangkok. We visit an interesting museum. The Kok River streams through Chiang Rai. It is a tributary of the Mekong River and originates in Shan State in Myanmar. Our next destination is the local boat station where our fast boat is waiting for us.
We greet our boatman and board his local boat for the 45 minutes trip to the Karen village Baan Ruammitr. Relax and enjoy the scenery. We pass “Chiang Rai Beach,” with several Buddha statues, pineapple fields, and forests. It is a delightful trip. Just beyond the Baan Ruammitr Elephant Camp, we disembark. Here our car is waiting for us to take us to Armue’s homestay. Here we will work together with the local people to prepare our lunch: it is a very local and interesting experience! We will cook our rice in bamboo on a wood fire as the Akha people have done for centuries.
Cooking with the Akha people
After our cooking experience, it is time to consume our delicious lunch. The Akha people will show you their traditional dress, and there will be time for some photographs. Having filled our tummies, it is time for some exercise. We will hike through the forest to the Huay Mae Sai waterfall. This will take between one and one-and-a-half hours. We take our time. At the Huay Mae Sai waterfall, you will have the opportunity to take a refreshing swim. We spend some time here until we walk to where our car is waiting for us. It is time to drive back to Chiang Rai and say goodbye to our host Armue.
It is only half an hour’s drive back to Chiang Rai. We will pass Wat Huay Pla Kang, a recently constructed temple with a giant statue on the way back. We will stop here briefly. The statue is not of the Buddha but Kuan Im, the Goddess of Mercy. After this visit, we will drop you off at the hotel.
Overnight at the Laluna Resort and hotel
Day 15 Chiang Rai – Chiang Mai
190 km, total driving time 3,5 hours
Today we will drive back to Chiang Mai. After breakfast, we will visit Wat Rong Suea Ten aka the Blue Temple. The Blue Temple is stunning and attracts a growing number of visitors. Please note the beautiful statue of one of the most revered monks in North Thailand: Phra Upakhut. We continue to the White Temple: Wat Rong Khun. Local artist Chalermchai Kositpipat created Wat Rong Khun, which has become the most popular attraction of Chiang Rai. The White Temple opened for the public in 1997. Since then, they have added several buildings. We will spend some time admiring this remarkable structure.
Chalermchai is also an amazing painter. His works are exhibited in a museum on the compound. After our visit drive to Chiang Mai. Drop off at the hotel in Chiang Mai. Thanks for joining our Explore North Thailand Tour.
End of the program