I must say, I am a happy girl now that I am back in Thailand. Last October, I spent nearly a month in the magical city of Chiang Mai and was thrilled to come back again this October. This year, I was lucky enough to add two more Northern Thai cities that I had heard incredible things about – Chiang Rai and Pai. There are many incredible things to see in Northern Thailand.
When you visit, make sure to catch a ride in a traditional Songthaew. This is their version of a cheap taxi, in the form of a red truck that has a cover over benches in the back. It may not be glamorous, but it is a cheap way to get around town.
I would also suggest renting a motorbike in Thailand. They’re inexpensive (usually only $3-5 USD per day) and it can be a quicker way to get around the traffic in the major cities. To be fair, I don’t drive my own, but am lucky enough to hop on the back of my travel buddies’.
Chiang Mai is main Northern city that is surrounded by misty mountains, hill tribes, and hilltop temples. The old part of the city is pull of markets and ancient city calls. The trendy neighborhood of Nimman is a popular place for expats and digital nomads, with many co-working spaces and western influence.
Visit Doi Suthep
This is the most famous attraction in Chiang Mai. It’s a beautiful, golden temple located on the top of a granite mountain. It is considered one of Thailand’s most sacred temples. The hilltop overlooks Chiang Mai and depending on the weather, it is a great place to be for sunrise or sunset. You can also book trips to allow you to cycle down the mountain.
Visit Doi Inthanon National Park
Doi Inthanon is located on the highest point in Chiang Mai. It has gorgeous pagodas and elaborate gardens we enjoyed exploring at the park. If you book the trip with a travel agent, there may be options to stop by some of the waterfalls on the way there. Our trip led us to a local village that was such a treat for us! There was amazing coffee and it was great to see how people live in the country.
Visit an Elephant Sanctuary
I still find myself smiling ear to ear almost a year after my visit with the elephants. Elephant sanctuaries have been placed throughout Thailand to protect and care for Elephants. At many of these sanctuaries, you can give the elephants mud baths, feed them, and volunteer to keep their sanctuaries open.
Please be aware: Not all elephant visits are “sanctuaries,” so please do your research. Locations that will allow you to ride the elephants are NOT considered sanctuaries, as they mistreat the animals for monetary gain.
Be a Kid Again at Chiang Mai’s Very Own Grand Canyon
Ready to feel like you’re ten-years-old again? This inflatable water park is a must-do if you want to enjoy some childish entertainment. Watch friends and strangers alike wipe out into the water as they run along inflatable obstacles in the basin of the “Grand Canyon.” There is also cliff jumping, ziplines, and wakeboarding.
Explore the Sticky Waterfalls
Ready to hike up a waterfall? The Sticky Waterfalls earned that name for the unique rocks that the waterfall runs down. They’re incredibly slip-resistant, allowing you to grab onto the ropes provided and make your way up the waterfalls.
Be Wowed at a Ladyboy Cabaret
This is probably one of my favorite things to do in Thailand. I try to visit as many times as I can. Ladyboys, or Kathoey, are transgender women who are widely accepted in the Thai culture. Their drag shows are full of stunning costumes, hilarious interactions with the tourists, and so much fabulousness, I can hardly stand it!
Enjoy Beautiful Flowers at Royal Park Rajapruek
This does not appear to be a popular choice, but it was such a treasure for me. There are many different sections of the gardens, with closed tropical rooms, an orchid garden, farms, and areas featuring different countries. The Royal Parks have a beautiful temple in the center of the park that you can sit down in to enjoy a break after walking around the park.
Other things to check out: Shopping at he Warorot Market and Weekend Market, watch and Muay Thai fight, and get a Thai massage.
Chaing Mai is also FULL of temples. One of my favorite days last year was taking a bicycle through the city to numerous different temples and enjoying something unique at each stop.
Favorite Cafes: Grab artisanal coffees at the hipster spot, Ristr8to Lab. I also enjoy Healthy B and Artisan Cafe.
Pai: A Famous Country Town
Pai is a countryside town that is known for its hippie culture and laid back vibes. It is about a 3-hour ride from Chiang Mai, in which you can travel by an inexpensive shared van or take your own motorbike along the winding roads to get there. Just prepare for a tough ride if you deal with any car sickness.
Swim Beneath a Waterfall
Pai has several waterfalls you can explore, some having pools you can swim in, and others being accompanied by nice hikes to get to the waterfalls. The temperature was pretty cold, but it was a fun place to escape the warm sun.
View the Rice Fields from a Bamboo Bridge
We got to the bamboo bridge just before sunset, which is one of the best times to see rice fields. The sun hits the rice fields in a way that makes such amazing, neon colors. We found the views to be stunning and surreal as we walked our way along the bamboo bridges that “float” above the fields.
Check out the Vendors on Walking Street
Looking for street food or local crafters? Walking street is the center of the market scene in Pai, with everything your little Tourist heart desires. Find the hippie clothes you’ve been dreaming of, eat meat off a stick, or try some local fruit.
Hike Along Pai Canyon
Be prepared for a lot of sun with sunglasses, hats, sunscreen, water, etc. We’ve been told this is a magical place for sunsets, but we hiked it midday instead. This may not be the best choice if you have a fear of heights, as you make your way along narrow walkways and several obstacles to explore the canyons. However, it’s a pretty amazing sight!
Act Like a Hippie
You’re in hippie paradise in Pai, which attracts many backpackers to the region. Check out the Circus Farm to learn some new tricks, lay in hammocks, party on in pool bars, or try out a local yoga class. If you’re feeling really ambitious, you can find yourself a happy shake (which may contain magical mushrooms) and see a totally new side of Pai.
Other things to check out: Hot Springs and the Caves.
Favorite Cafes: Check out more hippie vibes at Art in Chai or the electric atmosphere of Khaotha Coffee.
Chiang Rai: Remarkable Temples
Chiang Rai is the largest city to the North and is very close to the Golden Triangle, bordering Laos and Myanmar. The quiet city is full of rivers and the most beautiful temples I have ever seen. You can explore the bustling night markets or the quiet scenery of the tea plantations and gardens outside the city.
Find Yourself Memorized by the White Temple
This is one of the most unique temples I have ever seen. The entrance is surrounded by grotesque looking figures, including serpents, hands reaching out from the ground, and distorted faces. It is supposed to represent the suffering of desire that we must pass through to enter into a peaceful state. The inside of the temple is beautifully painted and full of pop culture icons, such as Harry Potter, Batman, and Elvis, throughout the Buddhist scenery.
Amazing Views at the Blue Temple
Just as magical as the White Temple, the Blue Temple has some of the prettiest artwork I have ever seen on the inside of the building. I could have starred at the walls for hours, continuing to find new treasures along each scene.
See the Emerald Buddha
The Green Buddha is tucked away in a tiny temple in the hub of the city. One of the oldest temples in the city, it is the location of where the original Emerald Buddha was discovered back in the 15th century. There is a museum located next to the temples that shares the history of the Emerald Buddha and the temple itself.
Other things to check out: Go shopping at the night market, visit the Tea plantations, the Golden Triangle, and beautiful gardens.
Cafe: We didn’t make it to many cafes here, but I am so glad we discovered Yoddoi Coffee & Tea right next to the Golden Clock Tower.
Of course, there is much more to do and see (and eat) in Northern Thailand. These were some of the highlights for me in three of the most popular cities. Chiang Mai is definitely a place I enjoy staying at for long periods of time and will probably be back again soon.
Have you been to Northern Thailand? What were your favorite spots? Comment below 🙂
We are off to Siem Reap, Cambodia this weekend. Anyone have recommendations for us?