Northern Thailand is rich in natural and cultural beauty. A mountainous areas with lush valleys and tropical nature, the further out you travel the more authentic it gets. Thailand's ethnic minorities commonly known as 'hill tribes' dwell in these highlands, and are part of the rich cultural tapestry of the area. Travelling this loop you will see each of the groups such as the; Karen, Hmong, Akha, Lisu, Lahu, Palong, Mien and Lawa who are scattered across the region.
If travelling between November and February, the night time temperatures can drop to around 10 Celsius in the mountain climes, so take warm clothing. Day time temperatures will be around 28 Celsius. There are ATMs in all small and major towns along the route.
This itinerary starts and ends in Chiang Mai which is a popular base for travel in northern Thailand. It has an international airport, and for domestic travel, a wide network of bus and train connections.
The most convenient way to travel this itinerary is to drive. The road condition is generally good throughout this loop, but some parts are mountainous with steep uphill and downhill curves. Some parts are not connected by public transport.
Day 1) Chiang Mai - Chiang Rai - Chiang Saen
From Chiang Mai head to Chiang Rai (approx 3hrs drive). Main highlights here include; White Temple, Black house, White temple. 70 km from Chiang Rai is Chiang Saen, known for the famous Golden Triangle, the meeting point of 3 countries; Thailand, Laos, Myanmar. As this is a main spot on the tourist map, there are plenty of guesthouses and hotels to choose from.
Day 2) Chiang Saen - Mae Salong - Thaton. From Chiang Saen head to Mae Sai (approx 45mins drive), the bustling border town of Thailand and Myanmar. From here head up into the mountains to Mae Salong (Chinese village) known for its Chinese population and tea plantations. Then down to Thaton (approx 45mins drive) to stay overnight. There are many guesthouses in Thaton area.
Day 3) Thaton - FAng - Doi Angkhang
A main sightseeing spot is Thaton temple which has a 360 view of Thaton valley from the top of the temple. Drive on to Fang, and then up the mountains to Doi Angkhang, which is a mountain range that border Myanmar. This is famous as a site for the Kings Royal Project and Agricultural centre. Traditional Palong and Lahu hilltribe villages can be found here, and from the top of the mountain, an outlook point from which you can Myanmar. Stay overnight here, enjoy the fresh mountain air.
Day 4) Doi Angkhang - Pai From Doi Angkang head down the mountain and onto Pai (approx 3hrs drive). Pai valley is well known for its hot springs and Pai canyon is a place of natural beauty. The town of Pai is a hippy town, and holds a night market on the main walking street every night. O/n in Pai.
Day 5) Pai - Soppong - Mae Hong Son From Pai to Mae Hong Son is approximately 2hrs through windy mountain roads. There are coffee shops and viewpoints along the way for travellers to stop, and admire the mountainous views which Mae Hong Son is famous for. Upon arrival at Mae Hong Son, there is a night market held every night by the Jong Kham lake in the centre of town. O/n Mae Hong Son town.
Day 6) Mae Hong Son - Mae Aw / Ban Ruam Thai Spend another day soaking up the culture in Mae Hong Son town, or make a day trip out to Mae Aw (Ban Rak Thai) a Chinese village by the Myanmar border. Known for its tea plantations, this was historically another for settlement for the Kuomintang party who fled from China. Nearby is 'Ban Ruam Thai' lake, given the nickname of 'Switzerland of Thailand' for its idyllic nature and lake that resembles European scenery.
Day 7) Mae Hong Son - Khun Yuam - Mae la noi From Mae Hong Son, travel south approximately 3-4hours drive, the drive through the countryside and mountains is very scenic and will give you a real taste of rural northern Thailand. Pass through Khun Yuam which is a small town about half-way, which has a world war II museum. In Mae la noi there are only a couple of guesthouses, or there is Mae Sariang, a larger town with a handful of guesthouses.
Day 8) Mae Sariang to Chiang Mai From Mae Sariang head back to Chiang Mai (approx 4hrs drive) on the 108 highway. A popular detour on this route, is to take the road up to Doi Inthanon mountain (the highest point in Thailand) and national park.
Be sure to go with an experienced local driver, as the mountainous roads and local driving style can be hazardous for unfamiliar drivers
- Learn about the hill tribes A rich part of northern Thailand's culture, hill tribe vilalges are scattered throughout the area. Each group has their own unique language, culture and customs. Learn about their fascinating culture, or even stay overnight in a village at a homestay. To visit respectfully, you may choose to travel with a local guide, who can translate and ensure you are not intruding on anyone.
- Doi Gong Mu Temple A Shan (ethnic minority) temple, just on the outskirts of Mae Hong Son town, this ornate temple offers marvelous views over Mae Hong Son town. Sunset is a good time to visit
- Golden Triangle The main tourist highlight of Chiang Rai, and meeting point of three countries (Thailand, Laos, Myanmar). There are long tail boat trips from here on the Mekong river to a tourist market on the Laos side
- Pai Canyon Located 8km from Pai town, it can be reached by a paved stairway or dirt trail, and offers sweeping views of Pai valley and it's beautiful rock cliffs
- Royal Agricultural Station at Doi Angkhang This agricultural research centre founded by the Royal project of Thailand, offers support to hill tribe farmers, and training on how to grow non-indigenous crops such as coffee and strawberrys. It is also open to visitors and features beautiful flower and bonsai gardens, and a wide variety of flora and fauna displays. Angkhang station