The Ancient Caravan Trail to Chiang Rai – four days

The price of this program is approximately 21,000THB per person with two persons traveling. If you are traveling with more people, please send us an email.
If you are interested in this tour, we can customize it according to your wishes. The total distance of this tour is 334,4 km. We travel the route that was used by the Haw Chinese caravans more than a century ago.

This was also an “opium country“: this stuff was cultivated at many locations in North Thailand. The KMT (Kuomintang) forces that occupied Doi Mae Salong were involved in the opium trade and border areas were sometimes the battleground of armies of rival drug lords. Less than fifty years ago this region was a lawless area, controlled by drug lords.

We travel via the remote Doi Angkhang mountain to Thaton and onwards to the Chinese “enclave” of Santikhiri on Doi Mae Salong. From there we continue to Doi Tung and Chiang Saen on the Mekong River. The tour ends at Chiang Rai.

woman at a market with fruit
Saleswoman on the Mae Malai Market

The Ancient Caravan Trail to Chiang Rai

Day 1 Chiang Mai – Chiang Dao

Total distance today appr. 110 km, driving time about 2,5 hours

The Dara-ang people of Chiang Dao

Your guide and driver will meet you at the hotel for your Ancient Caravan Trail to Chiang Rai trip. We will drive to Chiang Dao, north of Chiang Mai. Our first stop is the fascinating market of Mae Malai. It is one of the oldest local markets in Chiang Mai province. After that, we will continue to the Chiang Dao district to visit a village where Lisu and Akha minorities live next to each other. We will chat with locals and take 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. Your guide will teach you to cook in a wok on a wood fire. It is a lot of fun. Let’s hope something delicious will be the result.

The Chiang Dao Cave Temple

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 district’s main attractions for a long time. These limestone caves are lovely, so we will take our time to visit them. Not far from the caves is Wat Tham Pha Plong, an exceptional cave temple. After this, we will check into Marisa Resort, a lovely accommodation in a forest.

On this day we can also arrange an overnight in the village if you wish.

Day 2 Chiang Dao  – Thaton

Total distance today appr. 260 km, driving time about 6 hours

The fascinating road to Doi Angkhang

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 in the Pa Daeng National Park. After our dip in the “other Sticky Waterfalls“, we’ll continue to the sprawling settlement of Arunothai. This former refugee camp is now a big town in a stunning setting.

We then follow a narrow, winding road, skirting the border through dramatic landscapes. During our drive, we pass through several more 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.

The Royal Project and tribal villages

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, now open for small-scale tourism. They provide unique insights into King’s concept of a sufficiency economy and are alternative economic development models.

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, which 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

View over mountain settlement
Morning view over Santikhiri on Doi Mae Salong

Day 3 Thaton – Doi Mae Salong

Total distance today appr. 30 km, driving time about 1 hour

Boat ride on the Kok River

Good morning! After breakfast, we continue our Ancient Caravan Trail to Chiang Rai. First, 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 on the Kok River for a refreshing boat ride. 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, and 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.

Sunset visit of Wat Santikhiri

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 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 mountaintop overlooking the town and its surroundings, for sunset. There is a staircase to the top, which we recommend you take because it is an excellent workout.

We spend the night at Ban Hom Muen Li, our favorite hotel. We chose this hotel because the views from your balcony are amazing.

Day 4 Doi Mae Salong – Baan Apha – Chiang Rai

Total distance today appr. 90 km, driving time about 2 hours

Cooking with the Akha people

After breakfast, we descend the Doi Mae Salong’s highlands to the Chiang Rai plains. Our destination today is the Akha village Baan Apha. We will be the guests of Armuh and his family. First, we will drive to the Huay Sai Waterfall, relax, and meet Armuh.

We relax at the falls before we hike to Baan Apha, a traditional Akha village. Although most people in the village only wear traditional dresses during special occasions, you will see some of the typical Akha dresses. At Armuh’s house, you will join another cooking course on a wood fire. During our stay, we will also try to teach you some words in the Akha language. After we have finished cooking, we will enjoy our self-made lunch.

Cruise on the Kok River to Chiang Rai

After lunch, we will spend some time with the family before we leave the village. We hope that you can say “thank you” in the Akha language: “Gulung guma deh.” Next, we briefly stop at a nearby Yao village, where we will admire their lovely textiles and meet some of the people. Afterward, we will head to the Karen village Ban Ruam Mitr on the Kok River. The Karen people are the elephant handlers in North Thailand. For decades this village has offered elephant rides to tourists, which is continuing, unfortunately. Then we will board a local boat for the half-hour trip on the Kok River. After arrival in Chiang Rai, we will drop you off at your hotel. We hope you enjoyed your Ancient Caravan Trail to Chiang Rai trip.

If you are interested in this tour, please email to request a customized itinerary.



Scenic, off the beaten track route

In-depth visits, featuring home cooking, of Palong and Akha villages

Chiang Dao Caves

Cave temple Wat Tham Pha Plong

Royal Project on Doi Angkhang

Sri Sangwan Waterfall

Palong and Black Lahu villages on Doi Angkhang

Two boat trips on the Kok River

Wat Thaton

Chinese KMT villages

Chinese “mountain enclave” Doi Mae Salong

Tea plantations

Museum of the Martyrs

Wat Santikhiri


What is included?

Accommodation in good but simple accommodation
English speaking guide
Entrance fees
Limited medical insurance

What is not included?

All drinks

Personal expenses