20 ABSOLUTE BEST THINGS TO DO IN NORTHERN THAILAND
Listing out some of the best things to do, to eat, and, to explore in Northern Thailand. Foodies, explorers and families can enjoy the unique experiences of northern Thailand!
When in Thailand, do like the Thai’s do! And the best way to experience the true Thai culture is travelling to northern Thailand. While you’ve soaked up the sun in Krabi, Phuket and Koh Samui, you will be enthralled by Northern Thailand’s charm and exquisite green landscapes. Mountain ranges, waterfalls, jungle treks, temples, exotic wildlife and many such unique experiences are nestled in the hills. Here in northern Thailand, the hills, rivers and villages tell their stories, you just need to listen and explore! Join us as we take a journey into enthralling experiences and amazing places to visit in northern Thailand! Discover the 25 absolute best things to do in northern Thailand.
Golden Triangle – Let’s start with the northernmost province on our list in Chiang Rai. As the name suggests, it is the triangle where Thailand, Laos and Myanmar meet. The local Thai’s call it Sop Ruak, because the Mekong and Ruak rivers meet at this juncture. And it gets its fame due to the thrilling history of Opium trade decades ago.
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Today of course a popular tourist destination, the selfies at the Golden triangle are like a story in themselves! Take a trip on the winding rivers and stop over at the shores of Laos and Myanmar for a brief visit. Head to the highest viewpoint to see all the three countries across the mountains. And while you are there pay your respects at the ancient temple of Phra That Doi Pu Khao built in the mid-8th century.
Hall of Opium – If the history of the Golden Triangle fascinated you, you are going to love the Hall of Opium. Well now more a museum to answer all your questions about Opium, it is an attraction in Northern Thailand you must not miss. Founded in 1990, by Patcharee Srimatyakul, the Hall of Opium is a myriad collection of opium paraphernalia. Learn the history of Opium trade, the 12-month cycle of poppy cultivation.
See old photographs of farmers, simulations of hill tribe people smoking and the production of Opium. You can even see the tools and objects used in the harvest and trade of opium up-close.
Doi Mae Salong – Nestled in the mountains of Chiang Rai is a taste of the rural life in the village of Doi Mae Salong. Mae Salong is quite close to the Myanmar border and welcomes you to an experience of living the quiet rural life in Thailand. Want to feel the thrill and explore Mae Salong, rent a motorbike and ride up the highway to take in the horizons across the hills. Explore the nearby coffee, fruit and tea plantations, that grow teas which are famous worldwide. And if you’re travelling between December to February, you would be greeted by Sakuras (pink cherry blossom) in full bloom through Mae Salong. Breath-taking mountain views and sloping hills of tea estates, offer Instagrammers stunning pictures of skies and hills. The cool temperatures of Doi Mae Salong make sipping on delicious flavoured tea and Yunnan food an experience of a lifetime.
Choui Fong Tea Plantation – Wouldn’t you like to know where your oolong and green teas come from? How do they grow and where are they handpicked? Choui Fong Tea Plantation answers all your questions while blowing your mind away with the picturesque landscapes. A one -hour drive from Chiang Rai city and 4000 feet above sea-level, Choui Fong Tea Plantation is an experience of Northern Thailand you absolutely must not miss. Relax at the Choui Fong Tea Café with an assortment of teas. Built in 2015 with pinewood and mountain stone, the tea café offers visitors an open view of the sprawling organic tea plantations. Attend tea demonstrations, see exhibits, buy souvenirs and teas and listen to the many stories of Choui Fong Tea Plantation.
Wat Rong Khun – A dazzling white temple with unusual looking motifs and magnificent opulence is what awaits you at Wat Rong Khun. An architectural delight in Chiang Rai, the temple was built to honour Buddha’s purity and depicts the cycle of life and death. Architect and Thai artist Chalermchai Kosipipat designed the building completely white.
As opposed to most colourful temples in Thailand, he embedded the outer walls with mirrors to reflect and sparkle in the sunlight. And to glisten in the moonlight like stars. All around the temple you see murals and contemporary art installations that are spell binding. Head to the wishing well and metallic wishing trees, to write out your wishes or spend time in peace wandering the open-air halls.
Baan Dam – If the White Temple is mesmerising, Baan Dam in Chiang Rai is the complete opposite, known as the black museum. With an aura of doom and gloom that surrounds it, it still continues to remain an intriguing destination you must visit in Northern Thailand.
Multiple wooden houses stand foreboding in grounds at Baan Dam Museum and houses an array of skeletons of wildlife. chairs made of buffalo horns and skin and a centerpiece of a giant crocodile skin painted black in one of the rooms are just two of the many mysterious sights at the Black House.
It is absolutely one of the best experiences in Northern Thailand, because it gives you an insight into Thawan Duchanee’s portrayal of hell.
Wat Rong Seur Ten –
Located in Rong Suea Ten, Chiang Rai, is an architectural delight called the Wat Rong Seur Ten. ‘Suer Ten’ literally translates to dancing tiger, which is how the village of Rong Suea Ten got its name. From the tigers who would jump over the rivers. This ornate and magnificent temple is completely blue in colour with a sermon hall which is a testament of Buddhist art, just like the Wat Rong Khun.
The most mesmerising aspect of this temple is its striking blue color with the ornately carved two Nagas at the entrance of the sermon hall. Popularly known as the Blue Temple of Chiang Rai, Wat Rong Seur Ten is home to the 6.5 meters high pearly white Buddha. Seated tall against the indigo and blue interiors of mural paintings, the Buddha statue inside Wat Rong Seur Ten is a sight to behold. The temple grounds also have the exquisitely designed blue pagoda and a white standing Buddha sculpture that must absolutely not be missed.
Singha Park – Over to a more fun and family experience in Northern Thailand you must explore is the Singha Park. Built by the namesake Singha Beer of Thailand, the Singha Park offers panoramic views of the expansive Singha Park.
From picking berries at the blueberry plantations to viewing zebras in the park to scenic view of the tea plantations, enjoy a relaxing day at the Singha Park. While the children enjoy the petting zoos and thrilling zipline adventures, parents can relax by tea plantations and swan and koi lake at the property.
Also, widely popular for the balloon festival, the atmosphere during this time at Singha Park is serene and simply beautiful! It is a festival that receives participation from 14 countries that compete. Camp right at Singha Park to enjoy the Balloon Magic Night Glow – a sight of light and sound across the lake – you must absolutely not miss.
Discover true Thai flavours in the Northern Thailand Food
Because northern Thailand continues to thrive in the native village life, there are several places where you can try authentic Thai food. You must not leave without savouring the delicate flavours of coconut and slow cooked broths.
- Khao Soi – An iconic dish of northern Thailand and Burmese ancestry, Khao Soi has become a favourite world over, with every region adding its own twist to it. Northern Thailand offers you a chance to taste the real flavours of Khao Soi. Relish the coconut creaminess of the mildly spicy yellow curry and noodles with meat or chicken. A classic northern Thailand soup, it satisfies the soul as much as the palate. Available at all the food stalls and restaurants in Northern Thailand, Chiang Mai is one place all travellers swear by to try some Khao Soi.
- Nam Prik Num – Nam Prik Num is Thailand’s very own dipping sauce and holds an important part in the culinary legacy of Northern Thailand. A great accompaniment with every meal, this spicy chilli paste sauce is a burst of flavour in every bite! You can find this traditional sauce across Thailand at most restaurants served with rice and veggies. But in the northern regions’ Nam Phrik Num is often served with steamed mushrooms.
iii. Sai Ua – Sai Ua is also interchangeably called Northern Thai Sausage or Chiang Mai sausage. Popular and staple in northern Thailand, Sai Ua has captured palates across Thailand. You can enjoy this delicious pork sausage at the food stalls in the Wararot Market at Chiang Mai. As soon as you enter the market the aromatic fragrances will definitely carry you away. Once you’ve had a taste of flavourful Sai Ua, we’re sure you’ll be buying some to take back home!
- Hung Le- Often cooked to celebrate festivals and birthdays, Hung Le is a northern Thailand spicy, sour and salty curry you absolutely must try. Pork meat is slow cooked for hours with red peppers and several other spices, to bring out spicy flavours that perfectly suit the cool weather of northern Thailand. Enjoy it with some Jasmine rice or sticky at many restaurants in Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai. We are sure you will pack some Hung Le curry powder and take it back with you from the walking streets of Chiang Mai.
- Midnight Fried Chicken – Chiang Mai knows a hungry traveller when he has scoured the hills! To beat the hunger pangs late at night, began a tradition of fried chicken with sticky rice and Nam Prik, called Midnight Fried chicken! While most visit Midnight Fried Chicken for its fried pork, chicken dishes, travellers and locals cannot stop raving about the Nam Prik Noom (Thai chilli sauce) here.
- Guu Fusion Roti, Chiang Mai – Got a sweet tooth? Dig into dessert Roti’s at Guu Fusion Roti. A mix between pancakes and Roti’s, their dessert roti’s are absolutely lip-smacking. Try the different Roti’s like, Banana Roti, Corn Roti or Chicken Roti and wash it down with some herbal tea, Milo Malt Milk or Thai Milk Tea.
Café Hopping in Chiang Mai
Chiang Mai is a gastronomical delight for the foodie in you and picturesque for the photographer in you too. From countryside themed cafes to live music to delicious teas and brunches, Chiang Mai cafés are an experience you absolutely must enjoy. And what’s the best way to enjoy these creative-themed cafes – Café Hopping! Sit by a lotus lake, in nature at Asama Café or escape into ‘My Secret Café’ where you simply cosy up in a bed and sip on your favourite coffees and enjoy desserts.
Maybe you’d like to enjoy a cuppa in the middle of the jungles at ‘Fuk-Kaew Cafe & Bistro’ and waterfalls! Yes, dip your feet in the cool waters while you sip on freshly brewed coffee. Or stop by Chom Café for some Instagram worthy pictures walking through a fairy tale and some delicious seafood. Or live the Smurf life in little mushroom houses in Leafy Greens.
Living with Local Tribes in Northern Thailand
Northern Thailand is home to several ethnic minorities who migrated from nearby countries to the highlands. These hilltribe families have thrived for decades on Opium cultivation, and have their own unique culture and distinct language. The Royal Kings Agriculture Project helped transform their lives by teaching them organic and sustainable farming of food crops and cash crops. Meeting and living with these hilltribes give you an insight into a different way of life, their art and their history. Visiting and living with hill tribes
Living with the Karen Tribe
Famous for the golden rings around their necks, the long-neck or Karen tribes live in villages spread across Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai and Mae Hong Son. Their lives are busy with farming, weaving beautiful colourful looms, and crafting exquisite silver jewellery. Their lives are so colourful and peaceful, that a single visit doesn’t do justice to this wonderful community. Live with a local Karen family to listen to their stories and learn the history of the golden rings. Several ethical tours offer homestays with the Karen tribe to culturally immerse yourself into the tribal life. Enjoy trekking with a local hilltribe spokesperson who takes you on a historical journey of the hills. Cook simple home meals alongside your host and get introduced to the Karen language.
Living with the Hmong Tribe:
Living high up in the mountain villages of Chiang Mai, the Hmong Tribe, are the second largest hill tribe group in Thailand. Hmong communities are settled in various villages such as Baan Doi Pui, Baan Mae Sa Mai and Baan Khun Chang Khian. The Hmong tribe evolved quickly in Thailand from farming to textiles, embroidery techniques and jewellery making. Live overnight with the Hmong Tribe in the bamboo house with a Hmong family. Dress like a Hmong, learn with the people of Baan Mae Sa Mai, their history and explore their art of jewellery making. This hilltribe is also known to prepare some beautiful silver jewellery; maybe pick some up on your stay?
Pang Oung Lake-
A hidden gem in the Mae Hong Son province of Northern Thailand, Pang Oung Lake is almost magical! Camp on the banks of the Pang Oung Lake to breathe in the fresh air, watch the black and white swans tread the water and sail on the soothing waters of the lake. Camping among the pine trees along the Pang Oung lake surrounded by mountains is a surreal experience. An early morning walk offers travellers stunning pictures of the rising sun with mists and fog that covers the entire lake giving it a mystical beauty.
Hiking at Pai Canyon
Pai Canyon is a natural formation of rocks formed over years of erosion, creating narrow pathways to hike. A relatively easy and gorgeous trail to hike with steep valleys, Pai Canyon is nestled in the dense forest valley of Mae Hong Son. Pai Canyon is a popular attraction for tourists, especially during the sunset hours, where you can enjoy a panoramic view of the hills and forest. Pick your spot anywhere on your hike, and settle down to experience a spectacular sunset.
Huai Nam Dang National Park
A national park of lush green forest spread across Chiang Mai and Mae Hong Son provinces; the Huai Nam Dang National Park is an experience you must absolutely not miss. A dip in the Pai hot springs to enjoy waterfalls and a view atop the mountain that is magnificent, is why you must visit Huai Nam Dang National Park. Trek and camp up at Doi Chang and Doi Kiew Lom mountain summit to see an ethereal landscape and sea of fog at sunrise! Want a thrilling experience? Go rafting with experts on the Mae Tang river and watch the stunning hills as you pass by!
Huay Kaew Waterfall
Not too far from Chiang Mai city is Huay Kaew Waterfall, a fun family friendly must-visit attraction. Enjoy a refreshing dip in the cool waters of Huay Kaew Waterfall with your family. Plan a lovely picnic by the falls for a day of relaxation, nature and fun. While you are here, head over to the Chiang Mai Zoo and aquarium to watch the animals in all their glory.
Doi Inthanon National Park
Adventure lovers and Nature lovers, wouldn’t you like to explore a jungle full of animals, waterfalls and over 300 bird species? Yes! You get to do just that when you visit the Doi Inthanon National Park. Trek up Doi Inthanon summit or ride up, the tallest mountain in Thailand to enjoy an early morning sunrise and stunning views of Chiang Mai! Walk through some amazing nature trails to explore the park, all its exotic birds and animals. Love the sound of gushing water? Stop by the Wachirathan Waterfall, Sirithan waterfall and Mae Ya waterfall for splendid natural pictures and take a dip in Mae Klang Waterfall.
Patara Elephant Camp
Thailand is known for its flora and fauna and elephants form an integral pat of the Thai culture. And a day with the elephants in Northern Thailand is an experience every family must enjoy. Revered and respected, Patara Elephant camp works towards the rehabilitation and reintroduction of these glorious giants. Once here, the mahouts introduce you to the elephants and you get a unique opportunity to bond with these creatures. Bathe elephants, feed them, swim with them, and ride them bareback under supervision. Enjoy an exhilarating experience to come up so close with elephants.