Attractions of Northern Thailand
Northern Thailand’s cooler climate, dramatic scenery and unique location on the borders of both Myanmar (Burma) and Laos provide a range of outdoor adventures, whether on foot, by elephant or canoe.
The cities of Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai provide the main gateways to explore the jungles, rivers, montane forests and mountains of this scenic region, where it’s easy to meet hospitable ethnic minorities and learn about their traditional costumes, religion, art and way of life. More than 700,000 tribal peoples make their home here, mainly in remote locations that can only be reached on foot.
Must-see attractions of northern Thailand, include:
With a striking mountain backdrop, more than 300 temples and a moat that encircles the original city, the charming city of Chiang Mai is the perfect base for exploring northern Thailand’s surrounding breathtaking natural beauty and to meet the region’s hill tribes or chao khao, the fascinating ethnic minorities who retain their traditional way of life.
Thailand’s second-largest city is a centre for elephant trekking, rafting and cycle tours as well as Thai cooking and Thai massage classes. The city is also a great place to experience Thai festivals, many of which take place between late December and April – don’t miss the ‘wet’ Songkhran Festival.
More about Chiang Mai. . .
Ta Yaak Village
Watch elephants being trained to push and carry logs at the Elephant Training Centre at Ta Yaak Village, about 56km north of Chiang Mai. See them bathe in the river, feed them bananas and then climb aboard for an elephant ride through the forest to a Lisu village.
After lunch, float gently downriver aboard a bamboo raft and explore, with a guide, a portion of the Chiang Dao Caves, some of which are believed to extend more than 12km into the mountain.
Mae Hong Son
Known locally as the ‘City of Three Mists’, Mae Hong Son nestles in a deep valley surrounded by forested mountain ranges on the border of Myanmar (Burma) in Thailand’s far northwest. Virtually covered with mist throughout the year, the town is famous for the training of elephants and provides a wide range of adventure opportunities.
Explore the surrounding hills and forest on a mountain bike, trek or ride elephants along winding jungle trails to isolated hilltop villages and meet friendly hill tribe people. From the nearby township of Pai, take a white water raft down the Pai River through tumbling cascades and past stunning natural scenery.
Join a tour to see the famed ‘long-neck Karen’ people, so called because their women wear layers of brass rings around their necks. There are two Padaung villages near Mae Hong Son: Nai Soi village, about 35km northwest of town and easily reached by car (entrance fee 250B), and Nam Phiang Din village, accessible by boat for 750B (including entrance fee).
Find the best deal, compare prices and read what other travellers have to say about hotels in Mae Hong Son Province at TripAdvisor.
Thai – Burmese border
Hire a local guide and set off for a cycling adventure along the network of surfaced roads and relatively unvisited dirt tracks that wind across the hills from Chiang Mai to the Burmese border. Enjoy the hospitality of the people of Karen, Hmong, Lahu and Akha settlements.
These mountain tracks are well known to Chiang Mai-based trail bike enthusiasts and meander through hill top settlements and villages originally founded by Chinese Nationalist soldiers fleeing the communist revolution of 1949.
Follow the banks of the Mekong River on foot or by bicycle from the ferry town of Chiang Khan in northeast Thailand's remote Loei Province. The riverside road tracks the river east for 120km through a number of small and friendly towns as far as Nong Khai, site of the ‘Friendship Bridge’, to Vientiane, the capital of Laos.
Find the best deal, compare prices and read what other travellers have to say about these hotels in Vientiane, Laos at TripAdvisor.
Khao Yai National Park
Discover Thailand's oldest national park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that straddles the Dong Phaya Yen mountains in Nakhon Ratchasima Province (Khorat) and is reachable from Bangkok on a long day trip.
Stay longer and join a day or night safari to see some of the 67 species of wildlife that are resident in the 216,800ha park.
Choose from more than 50km of hiking paths that weave through evergreen forests and grassland to numerous caves and waterfalls. Look out for elephants, tigers, black bears, gibbons, deer and muntac. The park is also home to around 320 species of birds and more than 3000 species of plants, including wild orchids and strangling figs.
Explore the muted pink and off-white sandstone of the Angkor Wat-style temples at Phimai, Phanom Rung and Khao Phra Viharn, located east of Khorat and built almost 10 centuries ago. Wander pathways past classic naga (mythical serpent) balustrades enclosed between ancient moats and ponds.
Admire the restored prang (tower) of Prasat Hin Phimai and carvings from the stirring Ramayana, sedate Buddhist scenes and the temple’s most important image, a Buddha sheltered by a seven-headed naga.
Phu Kradung National Park
Discover a network of walking trails that criss-cross the park’s 1300m-high plateau and slopes of Phu Kradung, which are home to flora and fauna not usually found in tropical Thailand. Try to spot resident birds such as the snowy browed flycatcher and sultan tit.
From Chiang Mai, cycle to Chiang Khan, then take the ferry across the Mekong River to the small Lao town of Huay Xai. From here you can explore a network of mainly unvisited trails that wind through the unspoilt scenery of Bokeo and Luang Nam Tha provinces. The five- to seven-day trip is best taken in the dry season between November and April.