Itinerary: Northern Thailand Tour
This itinerary is meant for those wishing to take a peek into traditional Thai culture, its historical roots, and natural beauty. It does require you to have a car or alternatively, hire a driver and a car for a few days. It’s quite easy to get around if you have Google Maps and a good sense of direction and it is suggested that you go with the flow on this trip and have a sense of adventure, stopping as you see sights of interest that you wish to explore from beyond the car window.
Duration: 4 days (although it could definitely be extended to 7, depending on the time you have)
Starting point: Chiang Mai
Fly to Chiang Mai from wherever you are positioned, or the most central location, Bangkok. Book in advance or find a hotel or guesthouse to stay upon arrival, depending on your budget. One great option that is quite central and comfortable is the Furama Hotel. Depending on your flight time, either on Day 1 or Day 2 early morning, make your way from Chiang Mai to Tha Thon, an approximately 3 – 4 hour drive.
Drop your bags off at the Maekok River Village Resort (MRVR for short) in the Maekok River banks and take in the green scenery of the forested mountain landscape in the distance. The service, eco-friendly design, and sustainable environment are top-notch and you will feel warmed and welcome by the wonderful owners and staff.
At some point during your stay, ask for a tour of the resort and the Maekok Outdoor Education Center, attached to MRVR. Here, you will see a variety of outdoor and indoor activities, including obstacle courses, sports grounds, swimming pools, volleyball courts, Thai cooking, etc., which are primarily for visiting groups of students looking for adventure and physical fitness in the wilderness. Check out their community projects the center has going on, such as teaching English or construction and development of local schools.
You may want to also learn more about the resort and local sustainable practices, traditional and hydroponic farming practices, cotton weaving, clay houses (‘baan din’), and local animals.
About 50 kilometers from Chiang Mai is the Maetaeng Elephant Park & Clinic, located on the banks of the Maetaeng River in the scenic Maetaman Valley. This is more of a natural preservatory and eco-park for the elephants, although the elephants do perform for the visiting tourists. You will see them put on a synchronized show with their caretakers, and even paint pictures! The profit from selling these to tourists goes to the welfare of Thailand’s elephants.
The caretakers will first take you on an elephant trek, dipping in the river and along its banks. You will also get the chance to ride on an old-fashioned oxcart and learn about life in rural Thailand. 1600 baht will give you 4 hours of these activities, as well as a buffet lunch!
Upon arriving back at the resort, you can either take a refreshing dip in the pool, or if you’re up for it, take a trek through the local Hill Tribe village and do a light hike to Tha Thon Temple. You may meet some friendly villagers and pig friends along the way! At Tha Thong temple, you may go inside the temple to take a look and enjoy the breathtaking green views surrounding the temple.
After a fun-filled day, you will savor a warm shower, a traditional Thai northern-style meal, and relaxation in the heavenly oasis at MRVR Resort.
To make sure you have enough energy for the day, enjoy an American or Thai breakfast at MRVR Resort as you breath in some fresh natural air and enjoy the greenery of the trees embracing the straw-roofed breakfast sala.
There is a Yunnanese Chinese village and temple nearby that you can start the day’s touring at. Your main aim should be to walk around Mae Sa Long Village, its beautiful temple, and the 101 Tea Plantation. At the 101 Oolong tea plantation, the rolling green hills will take your breath away and make you appreciate and contemplate the origins of the tea that you may normally order at Starbucks. Here, you can learn about how the tea is made — from tea leaf drying to processing to packaging.
Tucked in the hills of this village lies a perfect coffee and tea shop for sipping on hot tea as you revel in nature’s beauty. It’s called Sweet Maesalong Coffee and it offers delicious coffees, teas, homemade food and pastries.
From here, you can make your way towards the Golden Triangle, where you must take your classic Golden Triangle photo, to ensure you have evidence that you stepped foot in the place where the three countries of Thailand, Laos and Myanmar meet in the middle of the Mekong River.
Because this area is known as the second of Thailand’s two main opium-producing areas, one of the best and most fascinating attractions of this area is the Golden Triangle Park Hall of Opium. This extensive museum is a knowledge playground which visually depicts the historical development of the Golden Triangle and opium war and trade in Thailand.
The next great site on your list is the beautifully crafted Wat Rong Khun White Temple in Chiang Rai, famous for its white intricate design. Opened in 1997, the design, funding, and construction is credited to its owner, Chalermchai Kositpipat, a local visual artist. The temple is actually a privately-owned art exhibit in form of a Buddhist temple, where the eclectic art pieces decorating the temple show an unconventional side not found in traditional Thai temples. It is truly a work of art.
For dinner, try something different on the menu at the MRVR Resort. You will not be disappointed by any of the traditional Thai choices on the menu. Have a good night’s rest in preparation for Day 4!
Since the first few days of this tour involves non-stop sightseeing, you may want to take it easy on your last day as you make your way back to Chiang Mai. Close to the resort, there are some local schools, like Huay Poo, who enjoy meeting foreign visitors. You can pick up some local school supplies (ie. Pencils, erasers, notebooks) or treats for them before visiting and you will receive some very adorable smiles and hand clasped in the Thai ‘wai’, or ‘Thank you’ gesture, in return.
On your way back to Chiang Mai, if you see a rice factory, stop by and check out the rice-making process and abundance. Some of the best rice in the world can be found right here.
As you can see, this trip gives you a glimpse into local and traditional Thailand. There is a lot to see and do, but the adventure you choose and memories you make are up to you and your individual style and path.
Happy adventuring and be sure to pay the knowledge forward!