Many people have fallen in love with Thailand during their first-time trip to this country. It is one of the most popular countries in South East Asia. Last year it received around 25 million tourists and a rough estimation indicates that there are around 227.000 foreigners living in Thailand (excluding refugees, migrants and students).
I definitely can imagine that people love this magnificent country. It has one of the best food in the world, it is rich with beautiful beaches, it is home to some of the kindest people on earth and it is fortunate to have an exclusive natural beauty and rich culture. It has so many nice places to visit.
Due to its popularity it is also becoming more and more challenging to find unique travel experiences, explore the true culture without being overrun with loads of tourists so which places to visit in Thailand to see the true Thailand?
One of my most favorite areas due to its diversity and lush nature is northern Thailand. I know being a traveler myself how time consuming it can be to find the hidden gems and to plan my trip in the time available. Therefore I am happy to share my research data with you.
The Beauty of Northern Thailand
The northern region of Thailand differs considerably from the rest of the country, both in climate and geography as well as culturally and linguistically. An area with hill tribes, green mountains, rivers and waterfalls, often set against a backdrop of swirling mists and fog. It is an area that is perfect for the more adventurous traveler. Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai and Pai are the most famous places. If you want to go off the beaten track, experience a farmstay for a few days or do a trekking to some of the hill tribes in this area.
Explore laid Back Chiang Mai
Chiang Mai is a good starting point. It is a great city with a great vibe, but you guess…that attracts others as well. The city has some great street food and a lot of culture. A day or 2 would be enough to get a feel of the city. If you want to stay a bit longer then check the best things to do in Chiang Mai in 4 days.
1. Stroll around the Second Hand market
If you want to visit a local market in Chiang Mai that isn’t that well known among foreigners then go to the secondhand market. It runs across the river in eastern Chiang Mai. It is a great place to stroll around and see a variety of items like clothes, home furnishings, books and DVDs, motorbikes and more. The market starts around 7 A.M and winds down from 4 P.M. onwards on Saturday and Sunday.
Lang Prince Market –Behind Prince Royal’s College
2. A Feast! Organic Morning Market
If you like markets, and especially organic markets then the Sunday farmer’s market is your cup of tea. Local farmers offer fine local homemade goods. Yum! 191-197 Soi Wat U-mong, Suthep, Chiang Mai
3. Relax at Huay Tung Tao Lake
Want to know where the locals hang out in Chiang Mai? Spend a lazy afternoon on the bank of Huay Tung Tao Lake. This little lake is about 20 minutes from Chiang Mai. The view at the lake is stunning. The still waters are backed by nearby mountains and the lake is lined with picturesque grass huts where you can eat.
There already is Graph Café one of the most reputable coffee makers in Chiang Mai, and now there is also Graph Table that is more food-focused. They serve some delicious breakfast and for lunch some homemade pasta and pizza. Moonmuang Soi 6, Sriphoom, Open daily 9am-6pm
5. Anna Farm & Eatery
Just a bit outside Chiang Mai in Mae Rim is this hidden gem restaurant. Anna Farm & Eatery serves dinner overlooking the rice fields with the mountains on the back. They serve a mix of international and Thai food all made with ingredients from their own organic farm.
60 Moo 12 Mae Rim. Open daily 8am-10pm
6. Spend the Night in a Floating Houseboat
The Mae Ngat Dam is an enormous stretch of fresh water that flooded the valley when the dam was built. It is surrounded by lush green forest and it is a beautiful spot to relax, swim or to fish. If you wish you can even hire a kayak.
There are several houseboats available where you can stay overnight. You will need to take a long-tail boat from the mainland to reach them. The best time to go here is during the week as in the weekends it can be busy. It is a great thing to do in Chiang Mai area when you want to get out of the city.
Hilly Mai Hong Son Loop
I love this area! This area is perfect to explore by motorbike that you can easily rent in Chiang Mai and off you go! Visit the little backpacker town of Pai (it is not without tourists, but it has a relaxed vibe), continue your journey in the direction of Mae Hong Son and Mae Sariang where you will definitely see the traditional Lahu, Shan or Tai Yai hill tribe people. This area is perfect for hiking and meeting these wonderful people. Three to four days will do for this journey.
7. Le Vintage coffee house
Halfway from Chiang Mai to Pai, bring a visit to this coffee place in the middle of nowhere. It has this gorgeous olden era feel and is nestled in the northern mountain range of Thailand. Enjoy a delicious glass of iced mocha or sip a fresh passion fruit juice.
Le Vintage – State Highway 1095, Km35-36
8. Laid-back Pai
Pai is a laid-back town in the hills of Mai Hong Son. This hasn’t been unnoticed. Since recent years the town has become very popular among tourists and locals alike. A travel agency or restaurant is never more than a few steps away and the skies of the nights are filled with live music and partying. It is worth a stop and see for yourself if this is a place where you would like to spend one day or more.
9. Silver and clothes at Ban La Up Village
This Lahu village is well known for its silver and cloth products. It is just a short drive off the highway and definitely worth spending a few hours. The village people don’t see many tourists so you have the feeling you can still enjoy a piece of purity.
10. Caves and kayaking in Soppong
I really like Soppong. It is a speleologist’s heaven and a great place to visit. The area around Soppong has more than 200 known limestone caves. Visit Tham Lod, one of the highlights. The area is also perfect for hiking or kayaking.
Every Tuesday morning they have a nice local market that is more authentic than I have seen in other places.
A beautiful place to stay is the Soppong River Inn. There are many rivers and caves to explore and they have as a great local market.
11. Local Mai Sariang
This is a less visited town, and more quiet. If you are looking for a more local experience then this is the place for a stop. It is beautifully located along the river and has some great hiking opportunities.
From Mai Sariang you can finish the loop back in Chiang Mai from where you can continue your journey.
Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai
Chiang Rai is the northernmost province of Thailand and full of amazing things to see. It has a charm, which has disappeared from many of Thailand’s cities, such as Chiang Mai and Bangkok. Worth a visit are the Black and White Temple, but Chiang Rai’s secrets began to spill out as soon as you venture off the main roads and out of town.
12. Have breakfast at Baan Chivit Mai bakery
Very nice little bakery with amazing breakfast choices. They do excellent bread and cakes and a good Western and Thai menu.
167-168 Prasop Sook Road, Chiang Rai
13. Try some northern Thai food at Barrab
It’s very laid-back and informal but the food is incredible and the service was perfect. Especially the Pad Thai is delicious.
423/3 Banpharprakan Road | Near Clock Tower
14. Hike the Phu Chi Fa Mountain
This area is best known for its morning fogs rolling up and over the hills. It is a beautiful sight! To see this unique attraction you have to put your alarm clock early to see the sunrise on the top of the mountain. It is around a 1 km hike on a steep slope. A good morning exercise and definitely worth it! It is a 2 days 1 night trip from Chiang Rai. Phu Chi Fa has some accommodation options of which most you can’t book online. To get there go to Terminal 1 Bus Station Chiang Rai. There is a counter, where a hand-written signboard is hung above a desk. The return tickets are 300 baht. The van will come to pick you up at 1pm. The journey takes around 3 hours. The next morning at 9am you can take the bus back.
15. Enjoy mountain scenery at Doi Pha Tang
Doi Pha Tang offers wonderful mountain views and you can see the annual Thai Sakura bloom (Dec – Jan). It is more off the beaten track and provides a unique insight into local life. It is charming, rural, authentic and timeless.
16. Visit Doy Din Dang Pottery
Doi Din Dang Pottery is the masterwork place of Somluk who is producing high quality craftsmanship. At the same time he is also training the surrounding villagers to become skillful potters themselves. They make some amazing products! It is worth a visit!
17. Soak up countryside life
Stay in the beautiful villa house of Bongkot and his family who runs a farm close by. The villa is run by local people from the village and is in this way supporting them. Join in the rice planting or harvesting, visit local wet markets and learn to cook Thai food!
Another great experience is a farmstay on the rice farm of Kitt who has a unique vision on farming. The farm is already in the family for 4 generations and they opened it to guests so that they could learn about the rice farming process and experience life of a farmer family. All meals are home-cooked by mother Tomei. She cooks with a variety of fresh farm products that grow around the farm, like wild mushrooms, ferns and plants. It is an amazing farm accommodation that will leave you more relaxed than ever. If you are interested in more farm accommodation across northern Thailand then read my post the best farmstays in Thailand.
18. Take a river cruise to Laos
Chiang Rai is the perfect place to do a Mekong River Cruise to Laos. It is a beautiful 3-day trip where the vegetation varies from thick verdant jungle to gentle hills of barren farmland, from acres of lush banana plantations to dramatic limestone rock formations. Luang Sang organizes great cruises that support the local communities at the same time.
Want to know some more amazing local travel experiences in Thailand? Check out these off beaten things to do and places to sleep.