7 Things to Do in Northern Thailand
Featured destinations: Northern Thailand & Bangkok
Published 29 September 2016
Take a seat, close your eyes and imagine rolling green hills, pristine beaches, and historic temples – welcome to Thailand. Northern Thailand, to be exact. Bursting with jaw-dropping landscapes, it is easy to see why this is one of the most popular destinations in the world. It has been on my bucket list for as long as I can remember and I have one friend who loved Chiang Mai so much, she never returned home. While it’s true that you could spend months exploring this region and still not discover all it has to offer, we’ve plucked out a list of destinations which you simply have to see. I guarantee you won’t want to board that plane home.
Chill out in Chiang Mai
Nestled among forested foothills, Thailand’s northern capital has a slower pace than the hustle and bustle of Bangkok, which means you can enjoy some crucial rest and relaxation time. Although, with more than 300 temples, there is still plenty to keep you busy! If you only have time to see one, make it Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep. Overlooking the city from the mountain top, this iconic temple is one of northern Thailand’s most sacred. You can opt to work for those famous views by climbing more than 300 steps to the top, or hitch a ride in the cable car. The temple forms part of Doi Suthep National Park and once you’ve had your fill of the scenic landscape, you can explore the lush forest; home to picturesque waterfalls and more than 300 species of birds.
Wash and feed elephants in the jungle
Animal lovers, take note: how does spending a day washing and feeding elephants in the middle of the jungle sound? Yep, we’re pretty sold on this one too! Elephant Nature Park was set up in Chiang Mai province in the 1990s, and provides a rescue and rehabilitation centre for the animals. You can choose what you would like to help out with, from river bathing and feeding the elephants to staying overnight in the park and spending a weekend caring for them. You can even volunteer for a whole week if you can’t bear to part with your new friends when your time is up.
Explore the Golden Triangle
Marking the border between Thailand, Myanmar (Burma) and Laos, the world-famous Golden Triangle is bursting with lush jungle, mist-covered mountains, and wondrous views of rice paddy fields. Peruse the small villages, explore the town and markets of Mai Sai and marvel at the ancient city of Chiang Saen. Embark on a boat ride across to Don Sao in Laos and dine at Sriwan on your return, situated on the riverbank. Serving traditional Thai dishes, it is the perfect place to feast on a steaming bowl of Tom Yum Soup and watch the world go by.
Get lost in the historic city of Ayutthaya
If you’re a history buff who enjoys exploring ancient ruins, then Ayutthaya is a must. One of Southeast Asia’s most prosperous cities during the 17th century, today Ayutthaya boasts numerous magnificent ruins just waiting to be discovered. The UNESCO World Heritage Site is characterised by the remains of reliquary towers and Buddhist monasteries, which give a taste of the city’s past splendour. You also don’t want to miss a view of the ruins lit up after dark, or a trip to The Ayothaya Floating Market. The biggest in Ayutthaya province, the market features more than 200 shops as well as superb cuisine.
Swim in waterfalls at Doi Inthanon National Park
Known as ‘The Roof of Thailand’ and home to the country’s highest mountain, this park forms part of the Himalayan mountain range. It also offers some of the most breathtaking sights you are likely to see in Southeast Asia. Hike to the summit of Doi Inthanon to watch the sunrise, take in one of the many waterfalls, wander through the lush rainforest and keep an eye out for wild boars and deer. The limestone Borichinda Cave is well worth the short drive from Mae Klang Waterfall, for the spectacular sight of the stalactites glittering in the sunlight. If you are visiting in January and February, you’ll be lucky enough to see the blossoms of the Siamese sakura flowers, which cover the trees in wonderful hues of pink.
Cycle around Sukhothai
The ancient city of Sukhothai now lies in ruins, but it was once the thriving capital of the first kingdom of Thailand around 800 years ago. The province’s temples and monuments have now been restored and Sukhothai Historical Park has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. One of the best ways to explore the ruins is by bike, which can be hired near the park’s main entrance. Visit the park at sunrise to see the ruins swathed in golden light, explore by tuk tuk and allow your driver to show you hidden pathways, and walk around the fresh market in the morning. Tuck into spicy pork salad wrapped in a banana leaf and deep fried pork with sticky rice; and don’t miss the famous Sukothai noodles.
Take in the sunset at Pai
The quiet and artistic town of Pai, which lies on the Pai River, is set within a picturesque mountainous backdrop. Peruse the shops, restaurants and cafes of the main town, and be sure to taste the coffee here; it’s delicious. Explore Huai Nam Dang National Park and cool off in the multi-tiered Mo Paeng waterfall. If you’re looking for a little more adventure, zip line over the dense forest, or embark on a trekking tour. Pick up fresh produce at the Sunday Farmers’ Market at Ing Doi Guesthouse, and don’t miss the Love Strawberry Café. If refreshing fruit smoothies and tasty homemade snacks are your thing, you’re in for a treat. For a sunset you’ll never forget, hike up Pai Canyon. The sight of the blazing sun sinking beneath pine-clad forests, rock cliffs and steep-sided valleys is one that will stay with you long after you’ve returned home.
Explore northern Thailand with Round the World Experts' Temples, Palaces & Villages holiday, which includes stays in Bangkok, Chiang Mai and the Golden Triangle, as well as a cookery class in Chiang Mai. This itinerary can be tailor-made to suit you.