Northern Thailand off the tourist trail

Northern Thailand off the beaten track

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 see northern Thailand beyond its standard tourist attractions, have a further read. We have composed three different itineraries that will take you off the tourist trail. 

Northern Thailand off the beaten track itinerary
Northern Thailand off the beaten track itinerary

Starting in Chiang Mai

What to see

Relax at Huay Tung Tao Lake

Do you 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 views here are stunning. The still waters reflect the nearby mountains, and the lake is lined with picturesque grass huts where you can have a picnic.

Chat with a monk

Chat with a monk
Chat with a monk

An amazing opportunity is to interact with Buddhist Monks at Wat Suan Dok Temple, every day between 5 to 7 pm. It is a wonderful way to learn more about their local life, and at the same time you help them improve their English.

Visit Muang Mai Market at night

Seeing the markets come alive at night is a very unique experience. It’s fascinating seeing the markets buzzing with people in the middle of the night! A good place to go is Muang Mai Market close to the Ping River, then walking along the river to the back of Wororot Market.  The flower market is particularly great to see as it is so colorful when it is dark.

Lovely Mon Cham

45-minutes north of Chiang Mai is a lovely village called Mon Cham on top of a mountain with magnificent views. It is a very scenic and picturesque place. On top of the mountain they have a very nice restaurant and a little cafe. Walk through the farmland and see strawberry fields, vineyards, crops and herb fields. Get a peek into local Hmong life. You can also camp overnight if you wish.

Where to eat

Tong Tem Toh

Set in an old teak house, this trendy cafe serves deliciously authentic Northern Thai cuisine. Its ambiance is casual hip and mellow. They serve some delicious North Thai food.

Free Bird cafe

This little and cozy cafe nourishes your body, mind, and soul! Eating here is also helping a good cause – the proceeds go to the Thai Freedom house, a community language and arts program for refugees. Try one of their delicious salads, breakfast bowls and smoothies!

Akha Ama cafe

Photo credit Akha Ama coffee
Photo credit Akha Ama coffee

Akha Ama Cafe is tucked away in a small shop on the ground floor of an apartment building at the end of a small quiet street which is located in a busy student quarter of Chiang Mai. It is a social enterprise coming from an Akha hill tribe village. They work to not only grow coffee beans but also process and market their own coffee.

Photo credit Akha Ama coffee
Photo credit Akha Ama coffee

Where to sleep

Tamarind Tree House

Chiang Mai Treehouse
Photo credit Chiang Mai Treehouse

If you are looking for a unique experience, then Tamarind Treehouse is it! Sleep in one of the six tree houses. Mink, Pink and Lucky make you feel part of their family. It is located in a very calm and peaceful village not far from Chiang Mai. Mink can arrange pick-up in Chiang Mai. They also serve delicious homemade food.

Boon Lifestyle

Photo credit Boon hostel
Photo credit Boon hostel

It’s a brand new lovely place with pool, crisp rooms and a coffee and restaurant on site where they serve some delicious food. It is conveniently located not far from the hustle and bustle of Chiang Mai. Poppy and the rest of the staff will warmly welcome you.

Photo credit Boon hostel
Photo credit Boon hostel

Modern Treehouse

Modern treehouse Chiang Mai
Photo credit Modern treehouse Chiang Mai

Every bit about this place is personal and treated with tremendous affection. The treehouse is charming with comfortable rooms and located on the foothills of Doi Suthep just 20 min from Chiang Mai’s center. Sarinthip and her family are wonderful and very welcoming.

Taking the Mae Hong Song Loup

Pai

Photo credit James Antrobus
Photo credit James Antrobus

What to see

Pai is a relaxed village to chill out. It has a backpacker and hippie vibe. It is not off the beaten track, but worth a visit.

Stroll the night market of Pai

Every evening the main street in Pai turns into a big food market with various food stalls that sell delicious Thai food. A delight to stroll, sample and taste some more.

Explore the canyons of Pai and its waterfalls

Not far from Pai you can find an area filled with canyons that are perfect for a hike and have some stunning views. You can also find a variety of waterfalls and hot springs near Pai. All great for a day activity.

Where to eat

Le Vintage Coffee

Photo credit Le vintage coffee
Photo credit Le vintage coffee

Halfway from Chiang Mai to Pai is Le Vintage Coffee. Bring a visit to this coffee place in the middle of nowhere. It has this colonial 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.

Silhouette café

Photo credit Silhouette restaurant
Photo credit Silhouette restaurant

The Silhouette café and restaurant are part of the Reverie Siam resort. The setting of this restaurant is marvelous with stunning views of the surrounding hills. The food is a mix of contemporary Mediterranean cuisine with an extensive selection of tapas and some Thai accents. The wines are excellent too.

Where to sleep

Art Farm Studio

Art farm studio
Photo credit Art farm studio

The place of Vacharamon is beautifully designed with stunning views of rice fields and mountains. He also serves some delicious food, which you can enjoy in the garden surrounded by the sounds of birds. Very peaceful and quiet.

Montis resort

Montis resort Pai
Photo credit Montis resort Pai

Montis is a picturesque resort with a peaceful setting just outside Pai. They have a shuttle service, so no walking needed. They have a heated pool with magnificent views and very spacious rooms. It’s a superb place to stay!

Soppong

What to see

Visit the Lod Caves

Cave lodge soppong
Photo credit Cave lodge soppong

Catch a minibus to Soppong or go there with your own motorbike and visit the Lod (Spirit) Caves. A river flows through the caves which you can explore with a bamboo raft. There are some back roads around Soppong that offer stunning scenery and some nice villages to visit.

Go for rafting, kayaking or hiking

Soppong is a perfect place for the more adventurous traveler. You can go for a hike through the beautiful surroundings, go rafting or kayaking on the river here.

Where to sleep

As Soppong is a small village, the accommodation options are limited. Nevertheless, below options are very good.

Soppong River Inn

Photo credit Soppong River inn
Photo credit Soppong River inn

Soppong River Inn is located next to the river which gives it a very calm and serene atmosphere. It is a true oasis, and the rooms are clean and nice. Food is delicious with a nice variety to choose from.

Cave Lodge

Cave lodge Soppong
Photo credit Cave lodge soppong

Cave lodge is a stunning and peaceful place run by John, an Australian guy, who lives in Thailand for over 20 years. They have a lovely communal area with hammocks, which is a perfect place to chill out. Rooms are basic, but comfortable. Food that they serve in their restaurant is very good.

Photo credit cave lodge Soppong
Photo credit cave lodge Soppong

Mae Hong Son 

What to see

Hill Tribe experience

Hill tribe experience Thailand
Hill tribe experience Thailand

Pat is a Thai guy from the Shan tribe, an ethnic minority of northern Thailand. His mission is to create a better quality of life for hill tribes and locals. Therefore he now works together with this hill tribe in Mae Hong Son area so that you can get a feel of their local life and they generate extra income.

As soon as you arrive at the Lawa hill tribe village, you will meet your homestay family. A local guide will take you for a walk around the village where you can learn about Lawa hill tribe way of life and culture. You can prepare meals together, exchange stories and enjoy the amazing mountain views. A hill tribe visit is a unique way to get a better understanding of local life as long as it is in a responsible way like Pat’s hill tribe experience.

Mae Aw

See if you can get up to Mae Aw. It is a wonderful village of old mud houses built by the Chinese. You can walk to the Burmese border while here.

Where to eat

Om Garden Cafe

Photo credit Om Garden cafe Pai
Photo credit Om Garden cafe Pai

Om Garden is a cozy and tranquil gem with its tropical garden hideaway feel. They have a great selection of food on the menu, perfect service, good coffee and a perfect spot for digital nomads.

No Name Coffee Shop

This coffee shop is really hidden as it has no name. It has that typically cozy vibe, amazing coffee and incredible views. This is a must go on the Mae Hong Son Loop!

Where to sleep

Ruwan Tawanok

If you are looking for a unique and peaceful place to stay in Mae Hong Son, then Ruwan Tawanok is it. Aroon and her family are very welcoming and helpful. Their home is a work of love with plants and fruit trees all around and rice fields at the back.

Fern resort

Photo credit Fern resort Mae Hong Son
Photo credit Fern resort Mae Hong Son

Fern resort is nestled in a lush valley just outside Mae Hong Son. The place is surrounded by mountains, jungle and the sound of running water on the background. It is located just next to a national park and 15 minutes from Mae Hong Son. They offer a free shuttle service.

Mae sariang

Mae Sariang
Mae Sariang

What to see

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.

Visit Doi Inthanon

Wachiratan Waterfall, Doi Inthanon National Park. Photo credit Travolution360
Wachiratan Waterfall, Doi Inthanon National Park_Travolution360

If you want to spend some time in the outdoors and experience some breathtaking views, visit the Doi Inthanon National Park. About an hour and a half drive from Chiang Mai’s Old City, the national park is home to Doi Inthanon, Thailand’s highest mountain.

Doi Inthanon. Photo credit Jason Thompson
Doi Inthanon. Photo credit Jason Thompson

Where to eat

Coriander in Redwood

Photo credit Coriander redwood

This teakwood restaurant overlooking the river serves some pretty delicious Thai food. The menu is diverse and staff is really friendly.

Intira

Photo credit Intira restaurant Mae Sariang
Photo credit Intira restaurant Mae Sariang

Initira is popular by locals and has a bustling atmosphere. It is centrally located and offers some authentic Thai food for a cheap price.

Where to sleep

Maeloegyi Guest House

Photo credit Maeloegyi guesthouse
Photo credit Maeloegyi guesthouse

Maleloegyi Guest House is a very welcoming place with a very friendly host. The rooms are nice and clean, and some even have a balcony or sitting area outside. You can use the bikes of the house to explore the area.

Taking the Lampang loup

Lampang

Photo credit Paul Arps
Lampang. Photo credit Paul Arps

Lampang is a lovely town just 1,5 hours from Chiang Mai.

What to see

Stroll over Kad Kong Ta Lampang

Every Saturday and Sunday night, the historic trade center of Lampang turns into a bustling night market with tons of great food, clothes, accessories, and souvenirs. It is fantastic and cozy place to be. Try one of the coconut pancakes at one of the food stalls. They are divine!

Admire the amazing teak wood houses

Lampang. Photo credit Paul Arps
Lampang. Photo credit Paul Arps

Lampang boosts with traditional teak wood houses that gives this town a cozy atmosphere. Especially Kad Kong Ta street has many of these unique houses built in traditional style.

Where to eat

The Hangout café

The Hangout cafe is a very cute little cafe that offers a variety of food from traditional Thai to Western style food. It has a very laid-back atmosphere and is definitely worth a visit to start your day, take a lunch break or end your day!

Visit IYA Pungnom for some amazing desserts

Photo credit IYA Pungnom
Photo credit IYA Pungnom

IYA has some amazing desserts that are a must try when you are in Lampang.

Aroy One Baht

Aroy One Baht offers some delicious and authentic Thai food for a cheap price. The restaurant attracts a great mix of people and has a nice ambiance.

Where to sleep

Sudd Slee

Photo credit Sudd Slee
Photo credit Sudd Slee

Sudd Slee is a lovely place of James and Yada. It is a little gem.  Yada is an artist, and you can see this in all the nice details. It is a very cozy place and Yada is more than happy to show you around and give you a true authentic experience. They also have a lovely coffee shop next door.

The Karpenter

Photo credit The karpenter
Photo credit The karpenter

Check out this very stylish place run by Nisit, it is called the Karpenter. It has comfortable rooms with an eye for detail. A real home away from home!

Photo credit The karpenter
Photo credit The karpenter

Nan

In a nutshell, Nan area is Thailand of the Thais. You don’t see many western tourists here. Nan is an historical town with quite some beautiful teahouses that are worth a visit.

What to see

Hike in Tham Pha Tup Forest Park

Here a small range of limestone hills rise abruptly from paddies and farmland. The hills feature classic karst scenery of jagged cliffs and caves while lush jungle coats the slopes and shady valley floor.

There are excellent maps at the park office, or you can refer to the map on your phone as you go around. Leave town on Route 101 past the airport following signs north towards Pua. The entrance, at the 10 kilometer point, is not well indicated but you’ll see the cliffs from far away, so when you get level with them look for an entrance on the left (west) side of the highway.

The forest park is easily reached by public transport since any of the frequent buses or songthaews heading up Route 101 from Nan towards Pua, Chiang Klang, Thung Chang or any point north will drop you off right outside the entrance for a few baht.

Where to eat

Café de Zeven

Photo credit De Zeven
Photo credit De Zeven

This lovely and cozy place is located in a quiet area in a garden setting. Cafe De Zeven serves delicious smoothies and homemade bread. They have some divine breakfast options. Check if it is open as the owners mainly open it in the high season or when they are in town.

Sample black sticky rice with ice cream at Khong Wan Pa Nim

When it is bloody hot in Nan go to this little place that serves delicious black sticky rice with ice cream. A true treat!

Where to sleep

Khum Muang Min boutique hotel

Photo credit Khum Muang Min hotel
Photo credit Khum Muang Min hotel

This colonial style hotel has a nostalgic feel. It is nicely decorated and the rooms are spacious. The hotel is close to the main temples.

Nan Seasons Boutique resort

Photo credit Nan Seasons boutique hotel
Photo credit Nan Seasons boutique hotel

Nan Seasons Boutique Resort is beautifully located surrounded by greenery and with a view of the rice paddies. The rooms are spacious and well decorated. They also have a large pool and a restaurant that serves delicious food.

Taking the Chiang Rai Loup

Chiang Rai

What to see

Wat Huay Pla Klung

This Chinese styled temple is located west of Chiang Rai, surrounded by hills. It has wonderful views from the top as it is 9 stories high. It is a newly built temple, so don’t expect to see something historical.

Banyafu Lahu village

This village is not set up for tourists at all, but if you are looking for something off the beaten track, then this is definitely the place to be. It takes you back in time where time slows down. You can go by your own transport, but it is a bit challenging or you can ask at the Akha Lodge in Mae Sai village. Eric, the owner, can arrange a trekking trip with an English speaking guide. You can even sleep overnight in Banyafu if you wish.

Doi Bo Viewpoint

Do Boi Viewpoint is very scenic, quiet and provides wonderful views of the surroundings. You can easily combine it with the Banyafu village as it is on the same road. This place is a perfect spot if you want to relax and have a picnic. You can even go camping here if you feel up to it, or combine it with a visit to Huay Mae Sai waterfall.

Where to eat

Chivit Tamma Da

Photo credit Chivit Tamma Da
Photo credit Chivit Tamma Da

Chivit Tamma Da is a small family run Café and Bistro located right on the banks of the beautiful Kok River. They serve natural, fresh and homemade food, bakery, coffees and drinks. Their curries are to die for and are a must try!

Photo credit Chivit Tamma Da
Photo credit Chivit Tamma Da

Jatujak

Jatujak has a lovely and quaint atmosphere and the food is delicious. It has an eclectic decor and a great vibe. Try the Chinese Kale and the Green Curry Fried rice. Service is also great!

Where to sleep

Ae’s farmstay

Aes farmstay in Thailand
Photo credit Aes farmstay in Thailand

Ae’s wonderful farm is located in the hills between Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai. It’s a wonderful place to relax and unwind. The farm has many animals, and Ae and his family serve delicious Thai food. Ae only accepts one booking at a time, so you will have his full attention.

Farmstay with Ae
Photo credit Farmstay with Ae

Boutique homestay

Want to feel at home while you’re on the go? This place of Kallaya and her family is a wonderful hideaway. Set in a tranquil rural setting just outside town with a large tropical garden and mountain views, you can enjoy their covered terraces and a large lush garden next to a creek.

Kitt’s rice farm

Kitts rice farmstay
Kitts rice farmstay

If you want to get a true unique experience that gives you a peek into local Thai life, then stay on the rice farm of Kitt! The farm has been in the family for generations. You can learn about the rice farming process or just enjoy stunning treks in nature. Kitt’s mom prepares the most delicious Thai food we have eaten. Price includes all food, transportation from and to Chiang Rai and various activities.

View from Kitts farm
View from Kitts farm

Mae Salong 

What to see

Make a Tea stop at Choui Fon

Photo credit Choui Fon
Photo credit Choui Fon

Choui Fon is a famous tea plantation where you can have a stop on your way to Mae Salong. You can do a tea tasting, chill at their small café while sipping a green tea frappuccino and shop some tea to bring back home.

Choui Fon tea plantation
Photo credit Choui Fon

Visit the morning market

Every morning many local people from the surrounding villages gather at the local market behind Shin Sane center from 6 am to sell their fresh products. Wake up early and stroll over to the market.

Visit the small Akha village Ban Lorkha

Hill tribe Thailand

The village is by the highway between Tha Ton and Mae Chan and close to the turn off for Mae Salong. With the help of a community-based tourism organization they have set up a more responsible way of visiting the village. All products that are sold here are truly made by the people in the village. Ban Lorcha is definitely worth a stop, and you know that the money is going to the villagers. You have a chance to see and maybe even take home some genuine local crafted items for a reasonable price without being harassed.

Where to eat

Poosalong

Poosalong restaurant
Photo credit Poosalong restaurant

Poosalong is a small place that serves some good coffee, tea and food. It is a mix of Chinese, Japanese and western dishes. The food is very tasty. It is a chill place to relax, and it has some fast Wi-Fi as well.

Im Pochana restaurant

Im Pochana is located on top of a hill with stunning views. They serve some very good Yunnanese food. Mark Wiens from the blog Migrationology describes his experience of this restaurant.

Where to sleep

Nongyao villa

Photo credit Nongyao villa

Nongyao Villa in Doi Isara is located between Chiang Saen and Mae Salong. It is a stunning villa in the middle of nature with amazing views. Nongyao and her family are very helpful. The rooms are very cozy and with all amenities needed.

Mountain home

Photo credit Mountain home
Photo credit Mountain home

Mountain home is the perfect place to relax. The rooms are lovely with amazing views over the tea plantations, with their own private terraces or balconies, and there is an onsite restaurant and self-service tea, coffee and water throughout the day. They serve simple Chinese food, but delicious. A perfect place to enjoy this part of Thailand.

Doi Ang Khang

This place is truly unique and has a lot of charm, probably because of the nice blend of Thai, Chinese and Myanmar culture. To reach Doi Ang Khang, you will drive through some of Thailand’s spectacular scenery. The mountain location, cool climate and scenic beauty of the area make it an ideal escape.

What to see

Bua Thong Waterfalls

Photo credit Brian Jeffery Beggerly
Bua Thong Waterfalls. Photo credit Brian Jeffery Beggerly

Located in the SriLanna National Forest, the Sticky Waterfalls is a very special place one-hour north of Chiang Mai. You can combine it if you are heading to Pai or Doi Ang Khang. The rocks are cream-colored and bulbous. It contrasts beautifully with the dark green forest. It is a wonderful place to have a picnic and enjoy nature in its purest form.

Visit one of the hill tribes

Photo credit Kasey Titchener
Photo credit Kasey Titchener

There are four different hill tribes living in this area that can be visited. Doi Ang Khang has set up a junior guide program that teaches children from a local school to become guides to their family’s village and in this way earn extra income.

If you are up to it, the rear exit road leads up to a couple of interesting hill tribe villages: Khop Dong, a very traditional Black Lahu village, and Nor Lae, a Palaung village.

Go for a hike

Different trekkings can be arranged in the surroundings of Doi Ang Khang. Trekking in this area offers some spectacular viewpoints.

Where to eat

Photo credit Ang Khang hillstation
Photo credit Ang Khang hillstation

The Clubhouse Restaurant is a great place to have lunch or dinner on top of a hill with relaxed sofas and a large fireplace. The food is very tasty. They use their own homegrown vegetables. They also have their own coffee shop and bakery that offers some great views and delicious, locally sourced tea and coffee.

Where to sleep

The options are limited when it comes to accommodation in Doi Ang Khang, but here are a couple we would recommend.

Doi Ang Khang Nature resort

Photo credit Doi Angkhang
Photo credit Doi Angkhang

Doi Ang Khang has tremendous views and a lovely garden. It is built completely from wood with spacious rooms and very friendly staff.

Room in Doi AngKhang Garden. Photo credit AngKhang Garden

Mae Kok River Village Resort

Photo credit Mae Kok river resort
Photo credit Mae Kok river resort

This place is not located in Doi Ang Khang, but is between Mae Salong and Doi Ang Khang. Located by the river, the resort offers beautiful accommodation. It offers stunning views, an outdoor pool and a great restaurant. You can do fantastic hikes in the area, cycling and taking a cooking class.

Let me know if you know more hidden places in northern Thailand! I would love to know in the comment box below!

 

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