15 top places to visit in Northern Thailand

15 top places to visit in Northern Thailand

There are so many amazing places to visit in Thailand, but the northern provinces have some of the most unusual and authentic locations worth exploring and are not as touristy compared to different regions of Thailand. But if you are interested in a slower pace and a genuine Thai experience you should visit Northern Thailand and check out any of these 15 top places to visit in Northern Thailand. There are many Northern Thailand points of interest and hopefully e of these attractions and locations will inspire you to visit any of these wonderful locations in the northern regions of the country.

 

 

15 top places to visit in Northern Thailand

 

Here are the top things to do in Northern Thailand

 

 

Cruising the Mekong river 15 top places to visit in Northern Thailand

 

1. Take a cruise along the Mekong river

The mighty Mekong river is expansive and separates Thailand to neighbor country Laos. A cruise along this majestic river especially along the corridor from Chiang Khan to Luang Prabang on the Laos side is quite scenic. A day trip or even sunset cruise will give you a wonderful insight to the people living and farming around the various communities and it is quite beautiful.  Check out my recent post of the Mekong River at Chiang Khan here.

 

 

 

An outdoor gathering, Akha village tribe

An outdoor gathering, Akha village tribe

 

2. Visit the hill tribes of Northern Thailand 

The northern provinces of Thailand are inhabited by Northern Thailand hill tribes that have immigrated to the area from various parts of China, Tibet and Burma and have built villages and small farming communities in the mostly foothills. The Hmong, Lisu, Akha and Karen tribes are located in different agrarian areas of Northern Thailand. There are many tour companies that do visits to all the four tribes. I used this tour outfit called Asian Oasis and visited both the Lisu and Akha tribes and villages. You can check out a recent post that I did about visiting the Lisu and Ahka tribes here. any of these areas and tribal towns are open for the public to visit, but it is probably easier to work with a local guide to get a better understanding and translation of what is taking place and what the daily lifestyle is like for many of these native hill tribes people.

 

Lisu hill tribe 15 top places to visit in Northern Thailand

 

3. Visit the Elephant Nature Park

 

A fantastic eco tourism site, the Elephant park was created as a rescue and rehabilitation center for abused and neglected elephants and is one of the few elephant sanctuaries in the world. Visitors come to see the Asian elephants and learn about their history and plight in Thailand’s tourism and work trade. All the proceeds from the tour go directly into feed the elephants and taking care of the caretakers and volunteers.  It’s a worthwhile organization to visit and a fantastic way to get connected with these magnificent creatures and help this cause – you can find out more information on their website here.

 

 

Dense fog at Phu Ruea National Park

Dense fog at Phu Ruea National Park

4. Phu  Ruea National Park

This is one of Thailand’s largest national parks. Phu Ruea National Park which is famously known for it’s thick fog and spectacular views of the entire region and is a wonderful and unusual place to explore due to its cooler climate and persistent fog. Unfortunately coming here and hoping for a perfect day instead of fog is unpredictable but it’s also part of the fun in exploring this gorgeous park and the nature trails and views. If it’s too foggy or cold for you, check out the waterfalls, rock gardens and even the Chateau de Loei Winery, a huge vineyard offering different tastes of wines grown in the region.

 

 

 

 

Mae Taeng river and scenic landscape

Mae Taeng river and scenic landscape

 

5. Go water rafting in Northern Thailand

There are many rivers and tributaries in Northern Thailand that offer outdoor water and rafting recreation. One of the most popular places for enjoying rafting and other outdoor activities is along the Mae Taeng river or Po river, about an hour drive north of Chiang Mai. The area hosts a variety of rafting companies offering a series of easy to more challenging parts of the river. While, in the area, you can visit elephant centers or take elephant tours, mountain biking or a variety of other outdoor recreational activities in the area. You can check out my post of rafting the Mae Taeng river here, along with a whole day of other outdoor activities.

 

Water rafting at Mae Taeng river - things to do in Northern Thailand

 

 

 

Chiang Rai 15 top places to visit in Northern Thailand

 

6. Explore the Golden Triangle

This region and park about 45 minutes north of Chiang Rai is where the mighty Mekong river separates the nations of Thailand, Laos and Myanmar. With an exotic history of being the largest opium producing region in the past you can visit the Golden Triangle monument and check out the Hall of Opium Museum close by. Along with wonderful scenic views of the Mekong, you will find many local restaurants with nice river views in the area. The gateway to this is area is the city of Chiang Rai which the largest city in Northern Thailand. While you are based in Chiang Rai, you can visit a variety of fascinating landmarks and attractions like the Mae Kok river, Wat Phra Kaew and Wat Doi Chum Thong, the hillside temple of Doi Tung and the Hill tribe museum and educational center.

 

 

The Araksa tea plantation in Northern Chiang Mai province

The Araksa tea plantation in Northern Chiang Mai province

7. Visit a tea plantation

There are a variety of tea plantations a short drive from either Chiang Mai or in Chiang Rai province and up in the cooler mountain ranges where many of the hill tribes live and also work in these plantations. All the tea plantations here grow and process the popular Thai Oolong, black, green and white teas. There are a few of the plantations that are open to the public for tours and tastings. Some of the well known tea companies in this region includes: Doi Chai Tea,  Raming Tea Co. Ltd, Araksa and a variety of small tea operations around the hills of Mae Salong. One of the nicest and larger tea plantations about an hour north of Chiang Mai is the Araksa Tea Plantation, which you can tour and also stay overnight at the Lisu Lodge I wrote about this visit to the Araksa Tea Plantation along with a day of eco tours in the region sponsored by Asian Oasis tours.

 

 

Chiang Mai royal gardens and palace 15 top places to visit in Northern Thailand

8. Visit the Chiang Mai palace of the Thai royal family

Just outside of Chiang Mai, (the largest Northern Thailand city you can fly into) and past the famous Golden Mount temple is the royal families private residence at Bhubing Palace, in which the grounds are open to the public. The gorgeous gardens and outdoor spaces are a massive tropical botanical garden and royal complex which gives visitors a glimpse of how the Thai royalty lives in their summer palaces and enjoy the cooler temperatures at Chiang Mai. Of course, when the royal family is actually visiting the palaces, the entire grounds are closed off from the public viewing and access, so you do need to pay attention to the website for times when tours are open for the public to visit the royal palaces at Chiang Mai.

 

 

 

Pai Night market 15 things to do in Northern Thailand

 

9. Explore the funky town of Pai

About a drive north of Chiang Mai is this hippie and Thai fusion like city. Lately this city and area has been very popular with the backpack set looking for really cheap and authentic experiences north of Chiang Mai. Apart from beautiful landscape with rolling hills, canyons and other panoramic views, you can visit beautiful temples or shrines, a giant white Buddha, water falls, a fantastic night market and just a nice low key vibe compared to bigger tourist focused cities like Bangkok and Chiang Mai.

 

 

Golden temple mount 15 top places to visit in Northern Thailand

10. Visit the Golden Mount at the temple or Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

One of Chiang Mai’s iconic must visit temples, this temple is a nice uphill drive into the cooler hills outside of Chiang Mai with gorgeous views of the city and valley below. This temple often nicknamed Doi Suthep from the myriad of taxi drivers that want to drive you roundtrip for a higher taxi fare, but you can also take the small buses for a cheaper price on the round trip fare to the temple and royal palace which is a few miles further down the road. This sacred Thai complex is filled with many small temples and ornately decorated with carvings, murals and gold everywhere. The complex is located on Doi Suthep National Park which offers a variety of recreational activities and hiking areas to explore.

 

 

 

Outdoor markets of Chiang Mai 15 top places to visit in Northern Thailand

 

11. Go to any of the outdoor markets in Chiang Mai

There are 9 main markets in Chiang Mai in this tourist regional capital, most can be found in the old section of town.  The two main markets are the massive night bazaar that is held daily and then the regular Walking Sunday Market on Ratchadamoen road. The Sunday market tends to attract both locals who shop actively on Sunday and tourists looking for some cheap deals. Along with these two main markets are smaller local markets that you can also visit almost every day and this includes the Student market, Saturday walking market, Wororot market, flower market, amulet market, Muang Mai, fresh market and the JJ market.

 

 

The night market at Chiang Khan

he night market at Chiang Khan

12. Visit the scenic river town of Chiang Khan

A beautiful riverfront city on the Mekong, this city has all the charming small town vibe and feel hin its historic riverfront areas that offer nice riverfront walkways, a quirky and cool downtown walking district, Buddhist temples and a pleasant evening market. A visit to Chiang Khan is like going back to rural life in Northern Thailand with simple pleasures, enjoying the river and daily activities including markets, temple visits and shopping the quirky and fun trendy shops in the old district.

 

 

Nan 15 top places to visit in Northern Thailand

13. Rural charms of Nan

Lan Na is the provincial region and Nan is situated in a valley just across the border from Laos. Formerly an autonomous kingdom, The region is quite isolated and mostly given to agriculture, and nature trekking which is popular with hikers from the country and internationally. There are also six national parks, including the stunning Doi Phu Kha National Park, with mountains touching 6,500ft. Nan city has low key vibe for visitors with a variety of popular temples, restaurants, galleries and cool shops that you can visit fronting the town’s riverfront area.

 

 

Loei temple 15 top places to visit in Northern Thailand

14.  Visit the Loei city attractions and monuments

It’s easy to take a quick one hour flight from Bangkok to the Northeast region of Thailand at Loei. In this less touristy and crowded region your can see nature, landscape and beautiful communities untouched from mass tourism. There are not as many large cities in Northern Thailand but smaller towns and villages. There are many interesting places to visit around Loei region of Northern Thailand to include: Phu Kradueng National Park, Phu Luang Wildlife Sanctuary, the charming river town of Chiang KhanKaeng Khut Khu with is set of islets in the middle of the Mae Khong River along with a variety of museums, holy temples, and scenic landscapes.

 

 

 

Sunrise view from a villa at Lisu Lodge

Sunrise view from a villa at Lisu Lodge

15. Stay at an Eco Retreat in the hill tribe area

For a more relaxing stay and natural adventure in the countryside, a stay at an eco retreat is a nice way to experience the countryside and maybe visit a few of the hill tribe people that reside in these rural hill communities. I stayed at a wonderful eco retreat called the Lisu Lodge which offered a variety of stays and soft eco tours to various parts of Northern Chiang Mai region. It was fun to do a bike ride and water rafting tour as well as visit a tea plantation in the area.

 

Following are some other fantastic places to stay while visiting the best of Northern Thailand.

 

 

If you enjoyed this post, please check these Northern Thailand must see attractions

 

Thailand travel – 10 tips and suggestions

Eco tours in Northern Thailand

Hill tribes of Northern Thailand

A Loatian village in Northern Thailand

Hill tribe stay in Northern Thailand

Untapped Loei in Northern Thailand

 

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Top things to do in Northern Thailand

 

 

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15 Responses to 15 top places to visit in Northern Thailand

  1. Bob Rhodes August 14, 2017 at 12:49 pm #

    you missed Chae Son Nat. Park north of Lampang, best kept secret in Thailand.

  2. Danielle Des April 19, 2016 at 4:25 pm #

    I would be really interested in visiting the Elephant Nature Park. I always gravitate towards elephants when I visit zoos. They are so majestic.

  3. Hung Thai April 18, 2016 at 5:42 pm #

    Great list – the one the piqued my interest was the elephant sanctuary. I’m guilty of riding the elephants in Thailand back 5 years ago. I’m glad there’s a sanctuary like this to rehabilitate and help these majestic animals live a normal life.

  4. Christina April 18, 2016 at 10:08 am #

    We are hoping to travel to Thailand in the next couple of years. I hadn’t heard of the town of Pai or the cities of Nan and Loei. All threee sounds very interesting and will need to be added to our list of places to consider when we plan our visit.

  5. Tamara April 18, 2016 at 7:51 am #

    Beautiful photos and great tips! I would love to go to Thailand sometime :-).

  6. Laura @ Grassroots Nomad April 18, 2016 at 6:39 am #

    Love this article and your incredible photos! It is great that you included so many responsible tourism destinations, especially Elephant Nature Park. Also, thanks for mentioning that you should hire a local guide when visiting the hill tribe villages. As well as giving you a great insight into these communities, it also helps prevent these communities from being exploited by big tour companies! Thank you for the great tips 🙂

  7. Rhonda Albom April 12, 2016 at 9:20 pm #

    We are working our plans for South East Asia. This post just added a few more spots – especially that golden temple.

  8. Vicki Winters April 12, 2016 at 1:30 pm #

    I’d love to get to Chiang Mai next time I’m in Thailand. I can’t hear enough great things about it. Also, when I run out of money and can’t afford to live in NY any more, that’s where I’m headed. I hope my husband knows that’s where I’ll be living.

  9. Michelle April 12, 2016 at 6:44 am #

    This is an excellent Post for me to be reading right now as I will be visiting Chang my in six weeks. I will be sharing this with my friend who will be traveling with me. I can’t wait to see some of the temples that you shared and to visit the elephant nature Park. As always your photos are incredible!

  10. Tam Warner Minton April 12, 2016 at 6:21 am #

    I so want to visit northern Thailand! Thanks for reminding me why!

  11. Karen Warren April 11, 2016 at 10:23 am #

    It looks as if there are some lovely peaceful places in northern Thailand – very different from the touristy parts of the country I’ve been to!

  12. Grey World Nomads April 11, 2016 at 2:36 am #

    I love the north of Thailand more than the south as it’s less populated. Your pictures are beautiful and capture the nature and the people very well. Thank you for sharing your experience

  13. Anita @ No Particular Place To Go April 10, 2016 at 11:19 pm #

    We’re thinking a trip to Thailand may be the way to start off 2017 and I loved reading your recommendations of places that aren’t on the well-trodden tourist trail. I’d love to take a leisurely cruise down the Mekong River as well as visit the Hill Tribes and a tea plantation. It seems, with the addition of your suggestions of things to see in Thailand, that we need to plan at least a month. Such a beautiful country and your photos are amazing, Noel!

  14. Donna Janke April 10, 2016 at 8:00 pm #

    Great photos. I’d love to visit a tea plantation, the gardens at Chiang Mai palace and the outdoor markets.

  15. Betsy Wuebker April 10, 2016 at 6:52 pm #

    This post reminds me of all the reasons we loved Northern Thailand (and Laos). We totally concur with your Elephant Nature Park, market, hill tribe, Mekong and Chiang Mai recommendations. Even though we spend almost two months in Thailand last year, we have yet to see it all and will use this as a guide for when we return. I can’t believe you’re not paddling that raft!

I look forward to hearing from you and continuing our discussion with any comment you would like to add

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