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Hill tribe children, Northern Thailand | David Dennis/Flickr
Hill tribe children, Northern Thailand | David Dennis/Flickr
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11 Awesome Places in Northern Thailand (That Aren't Chiang Mai)

Picture of Iona Proebst
Updated: 2 November 2017
Rugged mountains, lush jungles and diverse peoples, Northern Thailand makes for an exciting travel destination. Seen Chiang Mai and wondering where else to go? Check out these 11 awesome places to explore in Northern Thailand.

Mae Hong Son

Mae Hong Son is a charming town close to the Myanmar border. The town is located around a lake where you can watch locals practice Tai Chi. Mae Hong Son is fairly small, however, it still has a good collection of cafes, restaurants and an evening ‘walking street’ market. There is plenty to explore in the area from climbing the hill to the golden Buddha for fantastic views, to visiting local community projects.

Wat Jong Klang, Mae Hong Son
Wat Jong Klang, Mae Hong Son | © Mark Lehmkuhler/Flickr

Pai

If you’re in search of a tropical, hippie sanctuary, Pai should be top of your Northern Thailand itinerary. Pai is a great place to relax and recharge with plenty of health food conscious eateries, yoga classes and massage places. The area surrounding Pai is stunningly beautiful with waterfalls, a canyon and hill tribe villages to explore. Pai also offers a fun nightlife with plenty of bars to choose from.

Nan

Nan is not only charming, it 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 town’s most important landmark, 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 ‘walking street’ market.

Wat Phumin, Nan
Wat Phumin, Nan | © James Antrobus/Flickr

Phrae

Head off the main tourist trail and visit the Northern Thai town of Phrae. Discover nature at 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 ‘walking street’ market or see local artisans at work at Ban Thung Hong which specializes in indigo-dyed fabrics.

Chiang Rai

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), the morbid Baan Dam Museum (The Black House) and the surrounding area like Doi Mae Salong.

White Temple, Chiang Rai
White Temple, Chiang Rai | © jipe7/Flickr

Chiang Saen

Chiang Saen is the oldest city in Thailand. Chiang Saen, or Wiang Hiran Nakhon, as it was then known, was one of the main cities of the Lanna kingdom and was the capital before Chiang Rai was established by King Mengrai in 1262. Located on the banks of the mighty Mekong River, close to the Golden Triangle, Chiang Saen offers plenty to explore. While you’re in town check out the lake, the Chiang Saen National Museum, or some of the impressive temples like Wat Pa Sak, Wat Phra Chao Lan Thong or Wat Phra That Pha Ngao.

Chiang Dao

Chiang Dao is the ideal place if you like the great outdoors. From hiking to caving and everything in between Chiang Dao is a nature lover’s haven. Chiang Dao is home to natural hot springs and the Japanese hippie Shambhala In Your Heart Festival.

Wat Tham Pha Plong, Chiang Dao
Wat Tham Pha Plong, Chiang Dao | © Andrea Schaffer/Flickr

Phayao

Phayao is a peaceful and enchanting lakeside town in 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 a great place to try regional foods and mingle with the locals over a few drinks.

Sukhothai

Sukhothai, which translates to “the dawn of happiness,” is a popular tourist destination for those wanting to explore the ruins of the ancient city of Sukhothai. Sukhothai was the capital of Thailand during the 13th-century C.E, the first capital of Siam founded by King Ramkhamhaeng. The ancient temples and monuments make up the Sukhothai Historical Park which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. While you are in town other places of interest to check out include Ramkhamhaeng National Museum, Ramkhamhaeng National Park, Sri Satchanalai National Park, and The Royal Palace and Wat Mahathat.

Sukhothai Historical Park
Sukhothai Historical Park | © RuckSackKruemel/Flickr

Phitsanulok

Phitsanulok was briefly the kingdom’s capital in the 14th century, after the decline of Sukhothai and before the mighty rise of Ayutthaya. Of interest to explore is 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

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 Eastern Shan state. Mae Sai is located right on the border with Myanmar and is a thriving town for export and import of all kinds. Wander around the local market to sample local food or pick up knickknacks at rock bottom prices. If you want to have a peek at what’s across the border pay the 500 Thai baht for a day pass to explore the town of Tachileik on the Myanmar side.