8 days Mae Hong Son & Chiang Rai
This travels through the most mountainous part of Thailand where ethnic minorities and hill tribes live. The main roads on this route are in good condition but can be very windy. You could actually spend weeks doing this itinerary, venturing off the main route and discovering villages and soaking up the atmosphere in this cultural and naturally verdant part of Thailand.
This itinerary starts in Chiang Mai.
To Chiang Mai
There are regular and daily flights from Bangkok, Phuket and Koh Samui to Chiang Mai International airport. Airlines operating domestic flights include; Air Asia, Nok Air, Kan Airlines, Bangkok Airways, ThaiSmile (Subsidiary of Thai Airlines)
Several overnight trains depart from Bangkok's Hualamphong station. Trains are often very delayed and arrive long after the estimated arrival time.
There are many private bus companies operating the Bangkok (Mochit station) - Chiang Mai (Arcade station) route. Be careful of travel agents/touts on Khao San road in Bangkok selling cheap tourist bus tickets (only foreigners can take this bus, not local Thais). They will drop you off on the outskirts of Chiang Mai city, where there is no public transport, and so you are forced to take one of their taxis who will take all passengers to the same guesthouse and try to sell you their tours. Theft is common on these buses and valuables should be kept with you at all times on any bus/coach/train journey
To complete this itinerary private transport is recommended as there are no public transport options for days 5-8 (Pai -Chiang Rai). The entire route can be done by car and main roads are in good condition. For car/driver/guide hire are specialists on this route
8 Days Outline Itinerary
(Optional scenic route via Doi Inthanon Mountain & National park and Mae Chaem)
Spend the day exploring hill tribe villages and local life in Mae Sariang. O/n in Mae Sariang, a small town nestled in a scenic valley, popular amongst independent travellers looking for an authentic alternative to Chiang Mai and Pai. Here you can find hill tribe villages scattered around the valley, some of which are still quite traditional and others more developed.
Enjoy local sights of Mae Hong Son town, including Wat doi gong mu temple and local evening market by Jong Kham lake
Ban Ruam Thai and Ban Rak Thai are best visited during the winter months of Nov-Feb, however they are also inundated with Thai tourists then. Ban Rak Thai borders Myanmar (no official border crossing), and is an old Chinese Kuomintang outpost so it resembles a rural Chinese village. A few kilometres away, Ban Ruam Thai has a scenic evergreen lake and Karen hill tribe village.
Alternative option: Spend the day enjoying Mae hong son town, or head straight from Mae hong son to Pai
Enjoy the mountain vistas on the 1095 road from Mae Hong Son to Pai. There are several stop off points for views, coffee and Lisu hill tribe roadside vendors selling souvenirs and local snacks. ‘Tham lod’ or ‘coffin cave’ is halfway, open to visitors who can take a bamboo raft through the cave to see the limestone formations.
To Doi Angkhang via Mae Taeng and Chiang Dao. Upon arrival in Doi Angkhang mountain, visit Ban Khop Dong(Lahu hill tribe) and Ban Nor Lae (Palong hill tribe) villages. There is also a Royal Agricultural centre here, a project initiated by the royal family some 30 years ago to help wean hill tribes off growing opium and grow substitute cash crops such as coffee and strawberries instead.
Alternative option: Spend the day sightseeing in Pai before heading to Doi Angkhang
Descend Doi Angkhang for Mae Salong (via Fang and Thaton). In Thaton, visit Thaton temple which has sweeping views of Thaton valley. Mae Salong is another former Chinese Kuomintang outpost, perhaps best known for its local produce of high grade oolong tea and terraced tea plantations on the mountainside. Mae Salong also has a sizeable Akha hill tribe population who can be seen selling their produce at the local morning market
Descend Mae Salong to Mae Sai. Visit ‘Wat Tham Pla’ (Fish monkey cave). Side trip: Mae Sai border town, an official border crossing to Myanmar
After Mae Sai, head south to the Golden Triangle (Chiang Saen)and Opium museum, then onto Chiang Rai, stopping off at the famous White temple (Wat rong khun) before heading back on the main highway to Chiang Mai.
This part of Thailand is relatively safe and crime is low, however all normal travel precautions should still be taken. Protect yourself from insect bites by covering up or using repellent. Local food and street-eats are a big part of this experience and most local food outlets are safe to eat at.
To enjoy the beaches and islands in the south, there are direct flights from Chiang Mai to Phuket and Koh Samui