Northern Thailand: Discovering The Treasures In This Underrated Region

While Southern Thailand is all about shopping, drinking, island hopping, beach parties and having a wildly awesome time, Northern Thailand is more about the traditional cultures, authentically delicious food, unbeatable natural scenery, gorgeous sunsets over mountaintops and stunning ancient temples.

Don’t Miss: 5 Do-It-Yourself Day Trips From Bangkok

Chiang Mai (เชียงใหม่)

Chiang Mai is often referred as “the Rose of the North” and is the second largest city in Thailand. It was built as a walled city surrounded by a moat, with new city grown up around it. Though a good portion of the original city wall has collapsed, the four corner bastions are still intact along with various other sections. Most of the ancient temples and museums are located within the walls, I would recommend staying in old city where everywhere is within walking distance.

Getting There

I was lucky to catch the most luxurious and newest overnight Train no.9 from Ayutthaya to Chiang Mai. This particular train uses new high quality Chinese-built sleeping cars introduced only recently in November 2016. The journey took 12-hours and cost 856 Bhat (US$26) for 2nd Class.

Where to Stay?

  • Old CityThe most historic area in Chiang Mai popular with tourists during the day but quiet at night. Cheapest area to stay packed with backpackers’ hostels and budget guesthouses.
  • NimmanhaeminStudent area that boasts a hipster scene by day and bustling nightlife by night. This is the place for digital nomads and night owls.
  • RiversideEscape from tourist crowds while still being within easy reach of the Old City’s attractions and Nimman’s night scene.
  • MountainsideOffers a more peaceful place to stay and closer access to Chiang Mai’s countryside and natural attractions.

What to See?

  • Chiang Mai Old CityOver 200 temples to visit and most of them are free!
  • Doi Inthanon National ParkHighest mountain in Thailand, with two gorgeous pagodas for the King and Queen at the summit.
  • Siritarn WaterfallNamed by the Queen who came to visit the fall. Visitors are only allow to view the 40-meters waterfall from a designated wooden platform. 
  • Wachiaratarn WaterfallA spectacular steep drop of 50-meters with a large cascade plummeting over the edge into a deep pool below, creating a misty veil of great beauty.
  • Hmong TribeThese petite, gracefully wrap intricately embroidered dainty skirts women can be found in the mountains of Doi Inthanon.
  • Sunday Night MarketHappening within the walled city every Sunday evening. If not, there are other night markets happening outside Old City every night.

Pai (ปาย)

Pai is a small town of population less than 3,000 people, up in the valley north of Chiang Mai. With hipster cafes, daily night market, live music bars, lots of waterfalls, hot springs and natural wonders, Pai is a haven for adventurous nature seekers.  

Getting There

The only way to enter and exit Pai by land is to go through the painfully winding 762 bends on Route 1095 (approx 3-hours). There are 3 budget ways to travel through it:

  • BusTake bus from Arcade Bus Station, journey is about 3.5-hours costing 90 Baht per way.
  • Mini-bus/vanEasy to arrange from hostels/guesthouses and pickup from your accommodation. Prices range from 150 Baht to 190 Baht.
  • MotorbikeHighly recommend Aya Service as they are the only service who offers one-ways with their motorbikes. They also porter your luggage on the back of a minibus and you can retrieve it at Pai. My buddy & I shared a scooter for 140 Baht per day.

Where to Stay?

  • DowntownFor travellers on a budget and looking to be close to Pai’s comforts like bars, restaurants and cafes, staying in the centre of the town itself. It can get noisy at night as most bars play live music.
  • RiversideQuiet and peaceful yet within a manageable walking distance of Pai town.

What to See?

  • Pai CanyonA bit of an adventurer’s playground with impressive view for sunset. 
  • Pambok WaterfallA secluded waterfall but don’t waste time visiting during Summer.
  • Tha Pai Hot SpringA natural hot pool surrounded by lush jungle.
  • Santichon VillageAn ethnic-minority Chinese Yunnan village founded by people who moved from north of the border during the revolution.
  • The Land SplitA geological feature caused by seismic activity, an earthquake in 2008. Even today, the owner still maintain his farm and open up as an attraction for free.
  • Chedi Phra That Mae YenPrepare for a sweaty 300 steps climb to reach the White Buddha.
  • Lod CaveExplore this huge limestone cave and have a chance to sit on bamboo raft.
  • Fluid PoolThe best place to cool off during Summer and mingle with other travellers.
  • Night Walking StreetEvery night, the streets at downtown transforms into a hub of music, art and food.

Chiang Rai (เมืองเชียงราย)

Chiang Rai is Thailand’s northernmost city that sits in the basin of the Kok river and is often most travellers’ last stop in Thailand before crossing to Laos. Although the pace of life in Chiang Rai is much more relaxed than Chiang Mai and Bangkok, there are still abundance of things to do in the city.

Getting There

Unfortunately, there is no direct route from Pai to Chiang Rai. So we biked back to Chiang Mai, and got on a 4-hours bus ride to Chiang Rai. 

Where to Stay?

  • Mercy HostelLocated in the heart of Chiang Rai. A very popular choice in Chiang Rai’s budget accommodation range with impressive reviews.

What to See?

  • Wat Rong Khun The most popular attraction in Chiang Rai, commonly referred as “The White Temple”.
  • Baan DamAlso known as Black House, a museum with more than 40 buildings housing interestingly designed sculptures, paintings and animal skins.
  • Blue TempleThe latest addition to Chiang Rai’s color-coded architecture and one of the most instagrammable temple.
  • Choui Fong Tea PlantationStunning tea plantation views and a must-try best matcha desserts!
  • Golden TriangleSee the neighboring borders of Myanmar and Laos from Thailand.
  • Mae SaiVisit this border-town with the hustle and bustle of markets selling both Thai and Burmese goods.
  • Clock TowerA centerpiece of a roundabout which lights up with music at 7p.m., 8p.m. and 9p.m.
  • Padaung VillageThe women in “Long Neck” tribe aren’t literally looooong neck! The metal bangles they been wearing are so heavy that their collar bone sank, giving the “long neck” impression.

Lastly, if you want to keep a track of all my photos and travels, remember to follow @wanderrsaurus on Instagram!

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Aloha! I'm Bunzy, a curious dreamer who is passionate about roaming around the world getting lost, experiencing new cultures and meeting the locals. My superpower is to be able to sleep anywhere, anyhow!

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