My top 10 things to do northern Thailand

My top 10 things to do in northern Thailand

If you’re ever going to visit Thailand, these places need to make it on your to-do list.

Pai Canyon – Pai

On the 5th of November 2016, 10 of us squeezed into a minibus and we started our journey to Pai from Chiang Mai. It was a three-hour, steep and winding drive! The route to Pai has 762 turns and, luckily (thanks Amalie!), we had all taken motion sickness pills. Pai is a small town in northern Thailand’s Mae Hong Son Province, near the Myanmar border, about 146 km (91 m) north-west of Chiang Mai on the northern route to Mae Hong Son. It lies on the Pai River. On arrival, we checked in to the hostel and headed to do what most tourists do in Thailand, rent scooters! We rode up to Pai Canyon to catch the sunset.

After a short 10-minute walk up some steps, we headed up to the viewpoint. There were narrow red ridges with steep-sided valleys. The view was stunning but not best captured by my camera. You have the option of walking along the ridges which have a steep 50 m drop on either side and are extremely narrow. Single file is a must! Admittedly, I wasn’t one of the brave ones as I’m naturally very clumsy and I wasn’t wearing the correct footwear!

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Pam Bok Waterfall – Pai

The following day, we headed to Pam Bok Waterfall. During our scooter ride, we were surrounded by the beautiful mountains of Pai. It was a secluded waterfall with high trees and cliffs. The area was well shaded and the water temperature was cool, perfect for the hot Thai climate. Some people enjoyed diving and jumping from the cliffs whilst others enjoyed a nice swim.

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Land Split – Pai

Now this place was a surprise which we stumbled upon whilst looking for some snacks. We were greeted by a kind man who offered us a fruit platter, juices, sweet potato and fried banana. Instead of paying, all we had to do was give a donation.  In 2011, the owner of this land woke up to an unexpected split (a mini-earthquake!) in his agricultural land. Unable to maintain his business or sell the land, he used his entrepreneurial skills and turned this geological event into a tourist attraction. After enjoying our snacks and relaxing on the hammocks for a short while, we headed up the small hill to explore the area.

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Big White Buddha – Pai

The only thing left to do now, to finish the day, was to chase the sunset. So we rode to the Big White Buddha at the Wat Phra That Mae Yen Temple. This temple is on top of a hill offering views across the mountains and valleys of Pai. On arrival we learnt that we had to climb 353 steps to get to the top. Once we reached the majestic Big White Buddha, the views were incredible and truly worth the walk up in the blistering Thai heat.

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Lod Cave – Pai

Since we were in Pai for one more day, we decided to venture further north to visit the Lod Cave. This was about two hours away on a scooter. When we arrived we were allocated a guide as the cave covers a large area. Compared to other caves which have been significantly adapted for tourists, Lod Cave was in an impressively natural state.

There aren’t any lights inside, so our guide was equipped with a traditional gas lantern to show us the way. We could hear (and smell?) hundreds of bats above our heads while she pointed out the different shapes of the cave formations. At the end of our tour, we clambered onto a bamboo raft and headed out into the daylight. Before getting to the exit, we enjoyed a walk through the forest for about a mile followed by crossing the river on a very rickety, thin bamboo bridge!

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Doi Inthanon – Chiang Mai

Doi Inthanon is the highest mountain in Thailand at 2565 metres above sea level and it is in the Chiang Mai province. I was invited by a couple of CELTA students to accompany them to the mountain. It’s approximately an hour’s drive from central Chiang Mai. It was a cloudy day so I was apprehensive about the view. We had to hike through the short nature trail at the top of Doi Inthanon to reach the viewpoint and, to my suprise, I was walking through clouds! Having been to many other high points before, this is definitely one of my favourites. As the clouds drifted around us, I could see the two chedis (temples) on my left. They were built to honour the king and queen’s 60th birthday.

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Elephants

Now this is a must-do if you are in Chiang Mai. Before I tell you about this experience, please do not ride elephants. I had made this mistake in India a year ago and, having since researched the negative effects on these majestic animals, I realised that you should choose your elephant sanctuary carefully. There are a couple of options in Chiang Mai which offer full-day and half-day packages in the forest. I opted for a full ‘rainy’ day! It with a ride in a songthaew to the sanctuary, followed by a very muddy walk down a hill to reach the elephants.

As I got to the bottom, I was in awe of these amazing creatures. Seeing them roaming around me was incredible. I was given sugarcane to feed them and I felt the strength of their trunks as they grabbed the sugarcane from my hand. I was even hugged by the elephant’s truck and got a peck on the cheek! The rest of the day involved the elephants bathing in mud and then washing off in the river, and a baby elephant who was happily running around and keeping us all entertained.

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Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

Wat Phra That Doi Suthep (also known as just Doi Suthep) is one of northern Thailand’s most sacred sites. You have to climb 306 grueling steps to reach the temple which also offers beautiful views of Chiang Mai. Although I had seen highly decorated temples, nothing compared to the intricate gold details of Doi Suthep. Every direction we looked in, we were surrounded by gold. Once we walked through all the temples, we headed to the viewpoint. This time, no clouds! It was so clear that we could see the planes arriving and departing at Chiang Mai airport.

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Black House

Black House is in Chiang Rai which is a 3 hour drive north-east of Chiang Mai. You can either go by minibus, scooter or car. We opted for a rental car and we recommend it. It was one of the most beautiful and tranquil drives we have ever been on. The mountain views, infinite trees and smooth curvature of the roads were the perfect ingredients for a perfect drive. Black House, also known as Baan Dam, is certainly not a temple. It is an artist’s studio and the grounds surrounding it are an eccentric mix of northern Thai buildings.

The sheer size of the Black House lends it a dark, imposing feel. Once inside, you will see oddly designed dining room chairs and a crocodile skin table decoration. As you walk further along, you will see another table decoration made with two snake corpses with donations in between their fangs. Although his work may not be to everyone’s taste (or mine!), they are intriguing and fascinating nonetheless.

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White Temple – Wat Rong Khun

Wat Rong Khun, also known as White Temple, is also in Chiang Rai. It was in a bad state of repair until a local artist, Chalermchai Kositpipat, decided to rebuild the temple and fund it with his own money. It has only been open to visitors since 1997. The site is unfinished and will have 9 buildings once completed.

Unlike other temples, the decor of the white temple will certainly divide opinions. At the start of the bridge that leads to the main building there are skulls and hands appearing to reach out. Once over the bridge, there are mythical creatures on either side. You can walk through the inside of the temple, which is more traditionally designed. On a sunny day, the temple glistens from every angle as the building is covered in small mirrors.

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Exploring northern Thailand was the beginning of our travelling adventure. During this time, we learnt how to live out of our suitcases and make daily decisions together. We were no longer in a routine and we looked forward to making the most of everyday! 

Let me know your thoughts or if you have any other must-dos for northern Thailand. 

One Response to “My top 10 things to do northern Thailand

  • What an incredible Journey you have both embraced. I am sure you both had the best experience possible & that you have both trully embraced your travels with a sense of adventure & Joy. Thease memories will last a lifetime. Brilliant . I have loved keeping up with you both . Continue to enjoy every moment .
    Much love from Shelagh ❤️😘

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