Your Guide to Northern Thailand
Northern Thailand – An Adventurer’s Dream
Thailand is becoming a popular travel destination due to the beautiful temples boasting thousands of years of history, the food, the constant smiles on locals’ faces, and the perfect weather. Most travelers only have time for the hustle and bustle and party scene of Bangkok, then go south to island hop for a week or two. Northern Thailand is very overlooked and underrated when people travel here. If you want an adventure, from trekking, to ziplining, motorcycle tours, and everything in between, if you want to take classes ranging from Thai massages, to cooking, to learning the art of boxing, and if you want a more quaint and local experience countering from the typical tourist loop, then consider heading north in Thailand after a few days in Bangkok!
Being the second largest city in Thailand after Bangkok, Chiang Mai displays culture and local beauty in a big city setting. Here’s what should be on your list of activities:
1) Visiting temples – Inside the Old City Quarter, there are dozens of Buddhist temples to stroll through at your leisure. You will also find monks throughout engaging in prayer or cleaning the temple grounds. One of the most popular temples is Wat Phra Sing – it’s gorgeous and I highly recommend it!
2) Sign up for an adventure tour – Just walking down a street in Chiang Mai, you will find plenty of tour companies offering to take you anywhere at any time and conveniently picking you up and dropping you off. It’s hard to recommend one company because there are so many, and they will accommodate all interests. Activities include elephant conservation centers, tiger kingdoms, cycling tours to Lake Huay Tung Thao and Mantha Than Waterfall, trekking in Doi Suthep National Park, ziplining, and much more. I did an incredible 2 day and 1 night tour which included hiking through the jungle, an elephant ride and feeding, a unique night in a local village, white water rafting, and more hiking. Tours range from a few hours to a few days, it just depends on how much time you have and how many activities that you want to cover!
3) Take a class – There are a plethora of classes to choose from in Chiang Mai. The food is very unique in northern Thailand and there are dozens of cooking schools offering half day or full day classes, and trust me, you won’t be hungry for days after! Muay Thai boxing is very important to local culture and there are also classes that teach beginning boxing. Massages and spas are also huge (and cheap!) in Thailand and there are classes to teach a great massage as well.
Situated high up in the mountains 3 hours northwest of Chiang Mai is Pai known for the beautiful trekking, rivers, caves, and waterfalls. It’s an outdoor connesoir’s dream as there are endless possibilities in this picturesque town. There are many tours offering day treks to waterfalls, caves, and canyons, but your best bet would be to rent a moped for the day and see as much as you can. I had never driven one before and rented one in Pai and it was the best decision because I could see what I wanted for however much time I wanted! I drove to the Temple on the Hill with the white Buddha, Pai Canyon and Pam Bok Waterfall.
Hong Son Mai
Located very close to the border of Myanmar, the biggest draw to Hong Son Mai is the trekking and it’s absolutely stunning. You’ll get more of a local experience here as well since it’s not as touristy. The mountains here are untouched and a good option for a few day getaway. The night markets are also great here too.
Filled with temples and more hiking, Chiang Rai is only a few hours from Laos and most backpackers have to come through here to pass through the border. I enjoyed the city a lot because it too was a more local scene. Wat Rong Khun or “the white temple” is not to be missed and was probably my favorite temple in Thailand because of it’s unique architecture and ponds surrounding it.
Travelers can easily spend months in Thailand and never run out of things to do, and northern Thailand is just a small portion to the beautiful country. You will never go wrong wherever you are, but I fell in love with northern Thailand from the start.