A taste of Northern Thailand
After our backpacking trip in Myanmar, I wondered if there was anything that would come close to the 2D1N Hsipaw Trekking and Homestay Experience we had back in November 2014. Fond memories chatting and laughing with the villagers over home-cooked meals and home brewed alcohol, there’s something special about experiencing hospitality outside your home country.
While northern Thailand has been highly raved amongst backpackers I’ve met while traveling, I’ve been slightly embarrassed to admit that the only part of Thailand I’ve experienced is Bangkok.
Here are some unique experiences you can check off if you’re travelling from Chiang Mai to Mae Hong Son.
1) Cliff Jump off the Grand canyon of Chiang Mai
Address: Nam Phrae, Hang Dong District, Chiang Mai, Thailand
The Mini Grand Canyon of Chiang Mai. Credit: Chilipanai.com
The first place we arrived at was a restaurant overlooking a quarry with green-blue waters surrounded by cliffs that had an uncanny resemblance to the canyons. Although we didn’t get to go cliff jumping ourselves, we hear it’s a popular spot for tourists and there’s even plans to build a water park by the end of the year.
2) Zipline your way across the forest
Something you wouldn’t expect in the crowded city of Bangkok – zooming through lush green forests and catching the occasional wildlife.
I can’t seem to find the company we went with online but there are numerous zipline companies scattered around Chiang Mai. The Flight of the Gibbon seems to be the most popular for their 800m long zipline.
Zipline Adventure – Chiang Mai
*Pro-tip: Either go early in the morning or during the cooler seasons (November – February) as the strong afternoon heat can feel quite overwhelming while traversing through the course.
3) Take an afternoon tea break in the Artist village
Address: 1 123/1 หมู่ 5 Mueang Chiang Mai District, Chiang Mai 50200, Thailand
Shop selling quaint handicrafts and hand drawn postcards
Unlike the rustic villages you expect to see in most of northern Thailand, there’s a small hipster Artist village in Baan Kang Wat. Decorated with art galleries, handicrafts and lots of greenery, it’s the perfect place to escape from the afternoon heat.
And once you’re done soaking in the artisanal vibes, pick one of the open air cafes to enjoy a cup of freshly grinded coffee or a classic thai milk tea.
Cafe at the Baan Kang Wat Artist Village surrounded by lots of greenery
4) Wat Chedi Luang Worawihan
Address: 103 Road King Prajadhipok Phra Singh, Muang District, Chiang Mai, 50200, Thailand
Wat Chedi Luang Worawihan. Credit: canvas-of-light.com
Although we didn’t have time for this, the Wat Chedi Luang Worawihan is one of the most famous temples inside the old city of Chiang Mai in Thailand. Standing at about 60m (200ft) high, it’s the tallest building inside the moat and apparently no other buildings are allowed to be built higher than the stupa inside the old city.
It’s also only a 10 minute drive from the Shangari-la hotel, where we were at during our stay in Chiang Mai.
5) Bonus: Get spoilt silly at the Shangari-la, Chiang Mai
Special thanks to the Shangari-la Chiang Mai for hosting us during our stay in Chiang Mai. We were really spoilt silly from the warm hospitality to the superior comfort of the rooms.
Spacious yet cosy room at the Shangari-la Chiang Mai
Located just 10 minutes from Chiang Mai international airport and main attractions like the Wat Chedi Luang Worawihan, it’s a great place to centre your adventures off (although I’d love to just stay in their rooms all day given the choice).
Mae Hong Son
While Chiang Mai was a pretty stark contrast to Bangkok, Mae Hong Son was a whole other world. Just under an hour away from Chiang Mai by flight, Mae Hong Son is a scenic town with strong burmese influence and home to a diverse group of ethnic hill tribes.
6) Spend a night or 2 in the Village
A stay in the village might not offer you a bed as lush as the ones at the Shangari-la, but you’re sure to experience hospitality that is unparalleled from the locals.
The hill tribe villagers might be the main draw for visitors to Mae Hong Song which is a pretty interesting experience due to the nature of how distinctly different it is from the city life back home.
Get to know the hosts, explore their neighbourhood, have home cooked local meals and experience connecting with another human at the most basic level despite language barriers, this is bound to be an unforgettable experience.
7) Feed the “holy” fishes at the Tham Pla Fish Cave
Tham Pla which directly translates to Fish Cave
Located at the Tham Pla Phaseau National Park, there’s an interesting cave submerged under a lake where a stream of freshwater carp fishes reside. These fishes are safe from being fished as they are believed to be “holy” and protected by spirits in the area. They look really well fed by the many tourists who buy packets of fruits, vegetable and sometimes insects to feed the fishes.
Although… there’s actually a sign nearby that explains how people feel sick and dizzy after eating these fishes.
8) Have a change of palette with Northern Thai Food
Local Northern Thailand Meal hosted by The Shangari-la, Chiang Mai
Tom yum and green curry may always be a favourite when in Thailand but in this part of the country, you might be surprised to find an entirely different style of dishes on the menu in Mae Hong Son.
The crispy crackling pork chips and Gang Hunglay Moo (Braised pork with northern curry paste) was a huge favourite in the group!
9) Catch the sunset from Wat Phrathat Doi Kong Mu
No trip here is complete without catching an epic sunrise or sunset. Our favourite was a spot near the Wat Phrathat Doi Kong Mu.
Located on a hilltop, the 2 intricately designed pagodas houses the ashes of a revered monk that was bought from Burma and Mae Hong Son’s first governor in the other.
We arrived just before sunset to catch an ariel view of the city surrounded by mountains and valleys.
Ariel view of the city from Wat Phrathat Doi Kong Mu in Mae Hong Son overlooking the runway
Sunset from the back of Wat Phrathat Doi Kong Mu
How to get to Mae Hong Son
Previously, the only way to reach Mae Hong Son was an 8 hour bus ride from Chiang Mai through it’s windy mountainous roads – probably not the best for those prone to car sickness.
Motorbike trips are also really popular if you want to challenge yourself through the famous 1,864 curves.
However if you’d like to save some time and travel with a bit more comfort, Bangkok Airways now flies to Mae Hong Son everyday (from Chiang Mai) with an extra flight on Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays.
Have you visited northern Thailand? What are some of your favourite experiences? Let me know in the comments section below!
ENFP, fuelled by yoga, the outdoors, adrenaline and anything that spells adventure. In 2015, she quit her job to complete a 500hr Ashtanga Yoga Teacher training in India for 3months. Follow her adventures on Instagram @cheriesyw.