The Ancient Caravan Trail to Chiang Rai – four days

This is a sample itinerary. If you are interested in this tour, we will 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 “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 where 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

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. This is one of the oldest local markets in this province. After that, we continue 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 own meal. 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.

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 Caves have 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. After this, we will check into Marisa Resort, lovely accommodation in a forest.

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

Entrance to Chiang Dao Cave
Chiang Dao Cave entrance

Day 2

Chiang Dao  – Thaton

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

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

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 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 fighting 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 has 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 Hom Muen Li, our favorite hotel. We chose this hotel because the views from your balcony are amazing.

Details of Akha textiles
Akha textiles

Day 4

Doi Mae Salong – Baan Apha – Chiang Rai

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

After breakfast, we descend the highlands of Doi Mae Salong to the plains of Chiang Rai. Our destination today is the Akha village Baan Apha. We will be the guests of Amuh and his family. First, we will drive to the Huay Sai Waterfall, where we will relax and meet Amuh. He has been a guide for decades and is a great guide. He accompanied me on the trek to Doi Bo in 2017.

We relax for a while 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 Amuh’s house, you will join in another cooking course on a wood fire. During our stay, we will also try to teach you a couple of words in the Akha language.

After we have finished the cooking, we will enjoy our self-made lunch.

After lunch, we will spend some time with the family before we leave the village. We hope that by now you can say “thank you” in 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. After that, 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 still 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.

Cooking in village kitchen
Tourist with Akha woman cooking

 

If you are interested in this tour, please send an email to info@green-trails.com to request a customized itinerary.

Highlights

Highlights:

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

Inclusions

What is included?

English speaking guide
Transportation
Accommodation
Entrance fees
Breakfast and lunch
Limited medical insurance

What is not included?

All drinks

Tips
Personal expenses