From Chiang Mai to the Golden Triangle, a journey through time
Day 1, Chiang Mai – Palong Village
In search of the Palong people of Chiang Dao
Your guide and driver will pick you up at the hotel at 0800 for your journey through time: From Chiang Mai to the Golden Triangle. We will drive north into the mountains near Chiang Dao for a two-day adventure in the country of the Palong people. First, we will stop at a local market where your guide will do some shopping for the coming days. He will take you along and explain his different ingredients for dinner tonight.
Then we will continue to a riverside camp on the Taeng River, where we will enjoy a relaxing trip on a bamboo raft. After this, we will have lunch in a local restaurant in Chiang Dao. After filling our stomachs, we will continue to the Palong village Pang Daeng Nai, where we will start trekking. The trail has a few steep hills, but most of it is relatively easy. We will walk for about two hours through the forest.
Cooking with the local people
Before we arrive in the village, we will pass through the agricultural fields of the community. Late in the afternoon, we will reach our final destination today, the Palong village of Mae Chon. There are only nine Palong villages in Northern Thailand, and this is one of them. The women wear a distinctive traditional dress, mostly in red, with rattan hoops and a silver belt worn around the waist. They migrated from Myanmar to Thailand in the mid-1980s.
After arrival in the village, you will meet your host and enjoy a cup of local tea. Then we will start with a cooking experience. Your host will teach you to cook a delicious dinner on a wood fire in a wok. Your guide will explain the typical herbs and ingredients. We will also teach you some words in the Palong or Dara-and language. This ethnic group speaks a language that is very different from the Thai language. “Hai moo dtuh” means “thank you.” After dinner, you will meet some villagers and learn about this village’s turbulent history. You can practice your Palong language.
Tonight we will stay in a bamboo house next to a village house. You will sleep on a mattress with a mosquito net, and we will provide a sleeping bag or sheet bag.
Day 2, Palong village – Chiang Dao – Thaton
After the sounds of nature and the locals wake you, your guide will prepare breakfast. After breakfast, your guide will show you around the village. He will explain the village shrine and the ‘huja rawl,’ the ‘village heart.’ We will teach you the basic skills of weaving! We will visit an exciting textile weaving project where local women produce beautiful sarongs and shoulder bags.
Next, we will visit the garden, where many different fruits and vegetables grow. We will get into the fields and help the villagers with their work for about one hour. You will learn how daily life in a remote mountain is.
Onwards to the Kok River
After this, we will say goodbye to the villagers and start trekking for about one hour to a Lahu village, where our vehicle will be waiting for us. Here we will visit a fascinating spirit temple and a blacksmith.
We will have lunch in Chiang Dao with lovely views of Doi Luang Chiang Dao, the third-highest mountain in the country. After this, we continue through the mountains to Thaton, our final destination today. Before check-in, we will drive up to Wat Thaton, where you can view Thaton and the Kok River. The Mae Kok River Village Resort is on the Kok River.
Overnight at Mae Kok River Village Resort
Day 3, Thaton – Akha village Ban Apha
A boat trip on the Kok River
After breakfast, we take a local boat ride on the Kok River to the Lahu Village, Phatai. Continue to Chiang Rai and then to the Huay Mae Sai Waterfall, where we will meet our local Akha guide from the village of Ban Apha. The Huay Mae Sai waterfall is a pleasant place to relax, and there is time to swim. Your Akha guide will prepare lunch “jungle style.” After lunch, we will hike to the Akha village, which will take about one hour. It is a pleasant walk through the forest. Most of the Akha people in Thailand live in Chiang Rai province.
Meet the Akha people of Chiang Rai
Continue to the Akha village Ban Apha. Upon arrival, it is time to relax, enjoy a cup of tea, and look around. Your guide will introduce you to your hosts, welcoming you in a short ceremony. The Akha have the most distinctive traditional dress of all hill tribes in Thailand, so your host will show you the typical dress and explain it. During this activity, you will also learn some words in the Akha language, such as “gulung guma deh,” which means “thank you.” If you want, you can try the traditional dress and be an Akha for a moment. After the cultural lessons, it is time for a short cooking course in the Akha kitchen.
Overnight at a homestay in the village
Day 4, Akha village Ban Apha – Chiang Khong – Chiang Saen
The Mighty Mekong River
After breakfast, we say goodbye to our homestay owners. Drive to Chiang Khong on the Mekong River, our next adventure of the trip from Chiang Mai to the Golden Triangle. From Chiang Khong, we take the road along the mighty Mekong, and we will stop at several viewpoints today. We then turn away from the river and head for Little Chiang Saen, ruins that pre-date the founding of Chiang Saen. Not far from there is Wat Phra That Pha Ngao, an exciting and active temple with a small textile museum. We drive up to the white chedi, which offers excellent views of the Mekong River.
Explore Ancient Chiang Saen
Continue to Chiang Saen, where we will check into our hotel. In the late afternoon, make a ride through old Chiang Saen in a local tuk-tuk or by bicycle. In the past, Chiang Saen was a vital political, economic, and religious center in North Thailand. After the Lanna king Kawila conquered the city in 1804, Chiang Saen was left abandoned and depopulated. Numerous temple ruins are scattered within and outside impressive city walls, which we will visit during our tuk-tuk or bicycle ride. You could easily spend a whole day exploring Ancient Chiang Saen, but we are short on time, so we will visit Wat Chedi Luang, Wat Pa Sak, and several other main temple ruins. We will take you to dinner on the Mekong riverside in the evening.
Overnight at the Siam Triangle Hotel – Grand deluxe river room
Day 5, Chiang Saen – Mae Sai – Pha Mi Akha village
From Chiang Mai to ……The Golden Triangle! We have arrived!
After breakfast, we will drive to the Golden Triangle Park, where the borders of Thailand, Laos, and Myanmar meet. If you want, you can walk up to the viewpoint of Wat Phra That Doi Pu Khao. It offers a fantastic view of the Golden Triangle, and the grounds also contain the ruins of an ancient temple. The Golden Triangle Park has become a popular tourist attraction for local tourists. Here we board a local speedboat and make a short trip that offers views of the casino in Myanmar and the Chinese-funded city on the Laotian side of the river.
The history of opium cultivation, use, and trade
The “Opium Golden Triangle” was a much larger area, notorious in the past for opium cultivation and trade. At the Golden Triangle Park, two museums give information about this eventful past: the Opium Museum and the Hall of Opium. We feature the smaller Opium Museum because of time restrictions on this tour. Then it is time to drive to Mae Sai. Along the way, we will visit Wat Phra San, which has the largest bamboo-woven Buddha image in the world. Nearby is an unusual “Buddha garden” with only one monk. This garden has a huge colony of residing waterbirds such as egrets, storks, and other species.
Mae Sai, a fascinating border town
If the border with Myanmar is open, we can visit Tachilek, the border town in Myanmar. Otherwise, we will visit Wat Tham Pha Chom, which offers a beautiful view of Tachilek and the mountains in Myanmar. It is an interesting temple with a small cave as well. After this, we will continue to where we spend the night: the Akha village Pha Mi. In recent years this mountain village has become very popular with local tourists due to the spectacular scenery and the delicious coffee.
Overnight in a small lodge in Pha Mi
Day 6, Pha Mi Akha village – Chiang Rai
A fantastic view of Myanmar
We continue our trip “From Chiang Mai to the Golden Triangle” to our final destination: Chiang Rai. After breakfast, we drive to a spectacular viewpoint right on the border of Thailand and Myanmar. Very close to Pha Mi is Tham Luang, the cave that was the scene of the extraordinary rescue operation of the Wild Boars football team in July 2018.
Wat Tham Pla and the Black House
Drive to Chiang Rai and visit Wat Tham Pla, a small cave temple with many monkeys and remarkable structures. You must beware of the monkeys, who can be pretty naughty and sometimes aggressive. The scenery of the Doi Nang Non mountain range is impressive, and the mountains run parallel to the road from Mae Sai to Mae Chan. Next is the Black House, aka Ban Dam, an open-air museum of darkness and gloom. It is the brainchild of national artist Thawee Duchanee and is undoubtedly remarkable, even though it is not to everybody’s taste.
Wat Huay Pla Kang and the Blue Temple
First, we will enjoy lunch in a local restaurant. Then we will visit two of our favorite sights in Chiang Rai: the Blue Temple and Wat Huay Pla Kang. Especially, Wat Huay Pla Kang is of interest as it is a Buddhist social welfare center. It also has a giant statue of Kuan Im, the Goddess of Mercy, that dominates the landscape. Another recent addition to Chiang Rai’s attractions is not far from the temple: Wat Rong Suea Ten, aka the Blue Temple. This temple is pleasing to the eye. Try out the delicious coconut ice cream that is on sale here.
Overnight at the La Luna Resort – Garden View Bungalow
Day 7, Chiang Rai
An entertaining bicycle ride
After breakfast, we will transfer you to the starting point of a full-day bicycle ride, another highlight of this North Thailand Family Tour. After a short safety briefing and personalized bicycle fitting, we begin cycling through villages and rice fields and then follow the Lao River upstream. The bicycle ride is pleasant, with much greenery due to the river’s proximity. While cycling, you will discover real rural Thailand and the local lifestyle on the outskirts of Chiang Rai.
The unique White Temple!
We will cycle past fruit orchards, rice fields, rubber plantations, and teak trees. We will stop to visit the White Temple (Wat Rong Khun) and then have lunch at a local restaurant nearby. In the afternoon, we will explore more of the Chiang Rai countryside, visit the tea plantation, a giant seated Buddha image in Chiang Rai, and the local market. The trip ends at the Khun Korn Waterfall. After some time relaxing at the waterfall, our driver will bring us back to the hotel.
Overnight at the La Luna Resort – Garden View Bungalow
Day 8, Chiang Rai – Chiang Mai
The gilded statue of Kruba Srivichai
After breakfast, we will depart for Chiang Mai. We will stop briefly at Wat Sangkaew Photiyan along the way. This vast complex is located a couple of km from the main road. It houses a stunning collection of images and statues of monks, elephants, Ganesha, kings, and queens. Dominant are the three giant gilded images of monks. The biggest one is that of Kruba Srivichai, the patron saint of Lanna (North Thailand). Continue to Mae Kachan, where we will stop briefly at the hot springs.
The Tai Lue people of Ban Luang Nua
Lunch will be at the Tai Lue village Ban Luang Nua, where you will enjoy typical Tai Lue delicacies. After lunch, we will visit a small handicraft place where they produce wooden figures. The opulent village temple is worth a visit as well. Then we will drive to Chiang Mai and drop off at the hotel. We hope you enjoyed our trip “From Chiang Mai to the Golden Triangle.”