Done Chiang Mai and wondering where else to go? There’s plenty of lesser-known destinations to explore in northern Thailand. From hippie-happy Pai to Chiang Saen, the oldest city in the country, here’s where else to visit.
If you’re interested in scratching beneath the surface of Northern Thailand, let Culture Trip be your guide on our specially curated 10-day trip.
Mae Hong Son
Mae Hong Son is a charming town close to the Myanmar-Thailand border. It’s grown around a lake where you can watch locals practise tai chi. It’s fairly small; but, it still has a good collection of cafe and restaurants, plus an evening street market. There is plenty to explore here, from climbing the hill up to the golden Buddha to visiting local community projects.
If you’re in search of a tropical, hippie sanctuary, Pai should be top of your north Thailand itinerary. It’s a great place to relax and recharge with plenty of health-conscious eateries, yoga classes and massage parlours, plus a thriving nightlife with plenty of bars. The area around Pai is beautiful with waterfalls, a canyon and hill tribe villages.
Nan is a charming town that is also a great place to experience authentic Thai culture. Check out the Blessing Buddha at Wat Phra That Khao Noi for breathtaking views over Nan and beyond; marvel at the Thai Lu murals at Wat Phumin, the most important landmark in town; or visit the Nan National Museum. In the evening, take a relaxing stroll along the banks of the Nan River or enjoy tasting new flavours at the street market.
Head off the main tourist trail to visit the town of Phrae. Discover the mushroom rock formations at Phae Mueang Phi Forest Park, immerse in history at Khum Chao Luang museum or get some culture at Wat Luang. Try new dishes at the Saturday street market or see local artisans at work at Ban Thung Hong, which specializes in indigo-dyed fabrics.
Chiang Rai, not to be confused with Chiang Mai, is well worth a visit. Gain a deeper cultural insight into the area, relax in a refreshing pool at the foot of a cascading waterfall, discover diverse hill tribes and much more. Chiang Rai is renowned for attractions such as the quirky Wat Rong Khun (the White Temple) and the morbid yet fascinating Baan Dam Museum (the Black House).
Chiang Saen (once known as Wiang Hiran Nakhon) is the oldest city in Thailand. It was once the capital of the Lanna kingdom, before Chiang Rai was established by King Mengrai in 1262. Chiang Saen, on the banks of the Mekong River, close to the Golden Triangle, offers plenty to explore. Check out the lake, the Chiang Saen National Museum, or some of the impressive temples such as Wat Pa Sak, Wat Phra Chao Lan Thong or Wat Phra That Pha Ngao.
Chiang Dao is the ideal place to come if you like the great outdoors. From hiking to caving and everything in between, it’s a nature lover’s dream. It’s also home to natural hot springs and the Japanese hippie Shambhala In Your Heart Festival.
Phayao is a peaceful and enchanting lakeside town in the Phayao province. Make a trip to the sunken temple of Wat Tilok Aram, try your hand at fishing or take a leisurely stroll along the lakeshore. Phayao is also a great place to try regional foods and mingle with the residents over a few drinks.
Sukhothai, which translates to the dawn of happiness, is a popular destination for those wanting to explore the ruins of an ancient Thai city. It was the capital during the 13th century; head to the Unesco-badged Sukhothai Historical Park to see ancient temples and monuments. Other places of interest include Ramkhamhaeng National Museum, Ramkhamhaeng National Park, Sri Satchanalai National Park, and the Royal Palace and Wat Mahathat.
Phitsanulok was briefly the capital in the 14th century, after the decline of Sukhothai and before the rise of Ayutthaya. Here you’ll find Wat Phra Si Rattana Mahathat and the sacred Phra Buddha Chinnarat image. The traditional architecture of the local houses is intriguing and the wild west feel of the town is alluring.
Mae Sai is a bustling, edgy border town frequented by expats on a visa run and ambitious travellers looking to go hiking to see Myanmar’s diverse hill tribes in the Eastern Shan state. Mae Sai is right on the border with Myanmar and is a thriving town for exports and imports of all kinds. Wander around the local market to sample regional cuisine or pick up knick-knacks at rock bottom prices. If you want to have a peek at what’s across the border, grab a day pass to explore the town of Tachileik on the Myanmar side.
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