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The Ultimate Guide to Northern Thailand

The Ultimate Guide to Northern Thailand

Northern Thailand is a region you need to visit if you want to immerse yourself in ancient culture and if you want to explore the many natural wonders of Thailand. It has a ton of cities and provinces to visit, so one week here isn’t enough!

Luckily, we’ve listed the best places you can visit to make your journey through this part of Thailand much more enjoyable. Let our ultimate travel guide give you some ideas on which locations to visit when in Northern Thailand!

Best Time to Go

The best time to visit Northern Thailand is from November to February. During this period, you get cool and pleasant weather which adds to the relaxing vibe of this area and will allow you to take in the sights and sounds in comfort. 

However, this means that these months are peak seasons for other tourists as well.

You may also want to visit this part of Thailand during the said months just to be able to witness the different festivities observed by locals. You’ll experience the Loi Krathong Festival in November while the Chiang Mai Flower Festival happens every February.

Things to Know

Currency: Thai Baht

(Check the current exchange rate)

Language: Thai

Calling Code: +66

How to Get around Northern Thailand

Bus: If you’re travelling from Chiang Mai to other parts of Northern Thailand, you’ll find inexpensive and frequent public bus services across the region. Taking the bus is something we’d recommend if you’re on a budget or if you want to take in the sights!

Songthaew: Residents and locals of Northern Thailand will use Songthaews for their daily transportation and if you want to feel like a local, you can always take these to make your way around the different areas of the region. 

They’re cheap and you can easily flag one down almost anywhere. These songthaews usually follow a specific route but if you ask the driver to take you somewhere specific, they’ll be happy to oblige (for a fee, of course).

Tuk-tuk: Considered an icon here in Thailand, Tuks-tuks are fun to take a ride in if you want to get around. They’re also a bit faster compared to the standard songthaew. 

However, we highly recommend that you haggle or negotiate the price of the fare with the driver first to avoid any misunderstanding after you get to your destination. 

You can find most of these tuk-tuks around tourist areas, hotels, and bazaars so it shouldn’t be a problem flagging one. Plus, you can take pictures or selfies with one to share with your loved ones and family back home– a truly unique ride from Thailand!

Motorbike rental: If you want to get around Northern Thailand faster, then renting a motorbike might be your best option. Plus, it’s also cheaper than renting a car and is less affected by sometimes heavy traffic Thailand is notorious for.

You can usually get 100 to 125cc motorbikes here but if you want something beefier, then you can look for other rental companies offering larger bikes like dirt bikes, touring bikes, and road bikes.

Car Rental: You can rent a car in Northern Thailand through various car rental companies such as Hertz, Budget, and Avis. Competitive rates are also being offered by smaller car rental companies so we suggest that you ask around for the best price.

To rent a car, you need to present your driver’s licence and your passport. Once you get your rental, you can drive around the region with ease and convenience, especially if you’re travelling around the city with your family or loved ones.

Brief History of Northern Thailand

Northern Thailand was once part of the Lanna Kingdom before eventually becoming part of the Kingdom of Thailand in the 13th Century. Its first capital was Chang Rai and it eventually became Chiang Mai, two of the main cities you need to visit here.

The Northern region of the country was also heavily influenced by the Sukhothai. Thanks to this ancient group of people, you’ll see unique arts and structures here mostly pertaining to Buddhism.

While most of these ancient influences have fallen by the wayside over the years, you’ll probably encounter a lot of Lanna and Sukhothai-inspired art, structure, and even dishes when you travel to this region. It may seem like a revival of sorts and maybe it is!

The most important thing is that once you visit Northern Thailand and the many ancient and cultural sites here, you’ll be travelling back in time and immersing yourself in one of the most unique and interesting cultures the country has ever seen.

What’s Northern Thailand famous for?

Breathtaking Outdoors

This region of Thailand is well-known for its amazing views, caves, and jungles. Trekking through the dense greenery of the region will make you feel like an explorer on an untamed land.

If you’re a lover of wildlife, then this activity will be something up your alley. You can spot monkeys, birds, and other smaller mammals that you obviously wouldn’t see in the flesh when in Bangkok.

The area is also known as the home of Doi Inthanon, the country’s highest peak also referred to as the “roof of Thailand”. This mountain isn’t the only place to marvel at here as Doi Inthanon Park also has two amazing waterfalls– Mae Yae and Wachirathan.

Don’t forget to take a trip to Mae Hong Son as well. You’ll be treated to a unique spectacle known as the sea clouds where these cotton-like clouds descend down into the rice paddies surrounding the area.

Unique Cuisine

If you want something high-end or something that won’t break the bank, then Northern Thailand is the place for you to be. Plus, all of the Northern dishes you’ll taste here are truly unique thanks to its many cultural influences from the Lanna and Isaan cultures.

You shouldn’t miss their popular local dishes here such as their pork belly curry or gaeng hung lay and their soft noodles with coconut curry broth called khao soi gai. Northern Thailand is also popular for its barbecued meats so don’t miss out on these!

Interesting Hilltribes

This part of Thailand is located near other bordering countries making it one of the most diverse regions of the country. You’ll see many different tribes and local communities especially if you visit those parts away from urban areas.

The largest group you’ll encounter is the Karen tribe and if you visit their community, you can witness what a day in their village looks like. There’s also a sub-group within this tribe called the Padaung whose women wear brass rings around their limbs and neck.

There is also a couple of silver jewellery and embroidered clothes for you to check out here courtesy of the other hilltribes of the area such as the Hmong, Akha, Lisu, and Lahu. Take some pictures of your interaction with these folks to keep as your memento. 

Amazing Festivities

Northern Thailand also has some of the best festivities across the country. If you visit the city of Chiang Mai in November,  you can get the chance to experience the Yee Peng and Loy Krathong Festivals.

The Yee Peng Festival is celebrated in tandem with Loy Krathong and will let you experience a unique spectacle– the release of thousands of lighted lanterns across the Chiang Mai sky. 

On the other hand, the Loy Krathong festival lets you release vessels (shaped like lotus blossoms) containing lighted candles into the water. Once released, you can enjoy the sight of a thousand floating candle lights along with other revellers.

These are festivals you shouldn’t miss if you want that unique and authentic Northern Thailand vibe.

Magnificent Temples

This region of Thailand also houses some of the most amazing temples across the country. You can check out one of the most popular ones, Phra That Doi Suthep, right after you visit the highest peak in Thailand, Doi Inthanon.

Next, you can travel to Wat Chiang Man or Wat Chedi Luang Worawihan to witness some of the most ancient and intricate Buddhist temples in the country. 

The Silver Temple or Sri Suphan is also located in Northern Thailand and you can admire its beautiful temple facade and Buddha statues all covered in silver. 

Lastly, you can also check out the White Temple of Chiang Rai, one of the most intricately designed temples in all of Thailand. It’s the perfect place for you to take pictures of or selfies along with the brightly coloured white walls of the temple.

Best Places to Visit in Northern Thailand

Chiang Mai 


Chiang Mai (guide in Chiang Mai Thailand) is probably one of the most popular cities in Thailand after Bangkok and for good reason. It’s a place you would want to visit if you want to immerse yourself in ancient culture, amazing ancient structures, and beautiful natural wonders.

If you’re the type who likes outdoor activities, then Chiang Mai can offer you enough things to do for quite some time. You can do some hiking through its parks, visit some of its waterfalls, and interact with some elephants, among others.

You can also check out the different temples in the area and admire the beauty of these tranquil and magnificent structures. Some temples you can visit when in Chiang Mai include Wat Doi Suthep, Wat Phra Singh, Wat Chiang Man, and Wat Lok Moli.

Shopping is also a huge part of the Chiang Mai lifestyle. Here, you’ll find some of the best walking streets and night markets in all of Thailand where you can get some of the best deals and definitely get your money’s worth.

Chiang Rai


Another province you shouldn’t miss when in Northern Thailand is Chiang Rai (Chiang Rai in Thailand), a seemingly sleepy but stunning provincial area of the country that’s more than meets the eye.  You can visit some of the most beautiful temples in Thailand here plus more!

Chiang Rai is home to one of the most popular temples in all of Thailand– the White Temple. As its name implies, the entire is painted bright white and is one of the best temples to take your selfie with thanks to the intricate details carved into its walls.

Close to this temple are other sites worthy of your time such as the aptly named Blue Temple, the Chinese temple called Wat Huay Pla Kang, and Wat Saeng Kaew Phothiyan. Be sure to take pictures of the statues here as they are truly awesome!

Lastly, you can learn more about the various cultures that at one time converged in Northern Thailand through the city of Chiang Shaen

At this ancient site, you’ll see the different cultures of Laos, Myanmar, and Thailand come together, resulting in structures that are truly one-of-a-kind!

Doi Inthanon


Doi Inthanon (Doi Inthanon National Park in Chiang Mai), the highest mountain in the country at 8,415 feet (2,565 metres), is one unique spot that you should visit if you want to experience the full beauty of nature in this region of Thailand. 

The temperature here is quite cold and even frosty, something you won’t experience anywhere else in Thailand.  You can also trek your way to some stunning waterfalls like the majestic Mae Ya Waterfall and the multi-tiered Wachirathan Waterfall.

If you hike up the mountain, you’ll experience one of the best hiking trails in Northern Thailand– the Ken Mae Pan trail. You have to trek along the ridge of the mountain and from here you’ll see the sea of clouds hovering on top of the valley down below.

It’s a hike you shouldn’t dare miss as the views you’ll get from the trail are phenomenal and definitely awe-inspiring. Take photos of this magnificent sight to share with your loved ones back home to show them you’ve conquered Thailand’s tallest mountain!

Mae Hong Son


Mae Hong Son is a province in Northern Thailand that can offer you some of the most stunning landscapes in the country. You can actually do the “Mae Hong Son Loop” here where you travel 600 kilometres from Chiang Mai all the way to Mae Hong Son.

If you decide to go on this loop, you’ll be rewarded with some exotic and exciting locales you’ve ever laid your eyes on. You’ll pass by Pai, a famous tourist spot, Baan Rak Thai– a Chinese-influenced town, and Mae Sariang

There are also some serene locations you can visit here at Mae Hong Son. There’s the tranquil and relaxing Yuam River and the beautiful Mexican Sunflower Field. After the loop, you can reward yourself with some shopping at the city’s night market.



Nan is an up-and-coming tourist and local favourite if you’re looking for the beauty of nature and cultural immersion. In fact, it can rival most of the things that Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai can offer so you should definitely check this area out when in the region.

The name Nan actually came from the ancient name of this city– Nonthaburi. Most of the remnants of this ancient kingdom are still here today as well as preserved murals depicting local life during the period and the life cycle of the Buddha.

Aside from history buffs, those who are into local culture will also enjoy the unique temples in Nan such as the Golden Temple of Wat Si Phan Ton and Wat Ming Muang (or the White Temple). 

These temples are worth your time as they can give you some amazing architectural styles of the ancient period. 

You can also further immerse yourself in the local culture of Nan by visiting the Sinthao Salt Pond Village. It’s quite famous for its local community and the natural salt ponds which makes this village a worthwhile part of your itinerary in Northern Thailand.



Phrae is commonly considered a stop where tourists pass through in order to get to Nan. However, you’d be surprised at how much you can explore in this oft-ignored location in Northern Thailand.

First, you can unwind and relax in the midst of nature at the Mae Yom National Park. You can then visit Pae Muang Pee Forest Park to marvel at the unique rock formations here before checking out the old teak residences of Phrae’s last rulers.

There are a ton of things to do here so we recommend that you take at least 2 days to enjoy and explore everything there is to discover in this hidden gem of Northern Thailand.



Phayao is often overlooked by travellers but if you’re into photogenic scenes, then this province in Northern Thailand should be worth your time. Here, you’ll find Kwan Phayao, a gorgeous-looking lake that is perfect to get a selfie with.

This lake actually came about due to a construction project within the area but thankfully, it resulted in one of the best tourist spots of Phayao. Grab your camera and get ready to take pictures of one of the best-looking sunsets in all of Northern Thailand.

You can also do as the locals do and watch the sunset until the streets turn into night markets and food stalls where you can enjoy various local and affordable cuisines. Sunsets aren’t the only thing to be on the lookout here for, though!

There’s a location here called Phu Langka where you’ll witness some of the most beautiful sunrises in all of Thailand. Take in the sights as you watch the clouds move from the mountain down into the rice fields below.

Things to Do In Northern Thailand

Go on a Jungle Trek

If you want to feel like a true explorer or if you’re an avid nature-lover, then there’s nothing much more rewarding than going on a jungle trek in Northern Thailand. We recommend that you get a trekking guide to make the hike easier.

This is certainly an amazing and unforgettable experience for you and your group thanks to the fascinating jungles of the region. You can enjoy the great outdoors, and the serene and calming environs of the woods, and get to see some wildlife!

Score some great finds at the night bazaar

While you’re in Northern Thailand, you can score some great finds at the night bazaars of Chiang Mai. You can check out stalls that sell local food, handmade crafts, and other trinkets which can then haggle with the vendors like a true local.

These night markets are a great way to learn more about the local culture and you’ll definitely have a great time here especially since they have such a vibrant and lively atmosphere.

They also have great options when it comes to local street food which means that you can enjoy a great variety of dishes without breaking the bank! It’s a great way for you to save some money while backpacking your way through Northern Thailand.

Check out the waterfalls of the region

We all know how hot it can get when you’re in Thailand and that holds true for this region as well. As such, one of the best things to do here to refresh and cool down is to visit some of the popular waterfalls of Northern Thailand.

You can get a tour guide to bring you to some of these waterfalls like the Mae Yae and Wachirathan. Once you’re onsite, you can then change into your swimwear and take a dip in the ponds of these waterfalls to take a break from the heat of Thailand.

Drop by an elephant sanctuary

Animal lovers will love Northern Thailand for its wildlife. However, you’ll surely fall in love with the gentle giants of this region– the rescued elephants just chilling and relaxing in the many sanctuaries around the region.

You may not be able to rid these majestic beasts as that’s considered unethical, but you can still interact with them in other meaningful ways. You can give them treats or join them in one of their mud baths.

Don’t forget to take photos of this unique encounter as this is one memory that you’ll truly treasure for the rest of your life!

Visit the notable temples of Northern Thailand

What’s a trip to Northern Thailand without visiting its temples? This part of the country has some of the most unique Buddhist temples that are worth your time especially if you’re into local culture and ancient architecture.

One of the most popular temples for you to visit here is the White Temple located in Chiang Rai. You can see it from afar glistening bright white under the mid-day sun and if you look closer, you’ll observe the many intricate carvings on the temple’s facade.

Other worthwhile temples that you shouldn’t dare miss include Wat Chiang Man, Wat Chedi Luang Worawihan, and the Silver Temple, among others. Make sure to capture each temple’s unique features so you have photos to look back to when you get home!

The Ideal 2-Week Itinerary for Your Northern Thailand Trip

Days 1 to 2: Chiang Mai

Your first two days in Northern Thailand should be spent in the capital of the most popular area in the region- Chiang Mai. You can take in the sights here as you make your way through the Old City and into the Phae Gate.

There are some temples you can visit here too such as Wat Doi Suthep, Wat Phra Singh, Wat Chiang Man, and Wat Lok Moli. After your temple tour, you can then do some shopping at the Chiang Mai night bazaar to score some discounted items.

Days 3 to 4: Doi Inthanon

Located within Chiang Mai, you don’t have to travel far to reach Doi Inthanon National Park for your third day in Northern Thailand. If you love the outdoors, then you’ll definitely fall head over heels for this location.

You can do some jungle trekking and get the chance to spot some wildlife (such as monkeys). Afterward, you can proceed to the park’s popular waterfalls like Mae Yae and Wachirathan where you can take in their beauty or swim in the waterfall’s pond.

Days 5 to 6: Chiang Rai

Next, you can travel to Chiang Rai from Doi Inthanon to check out what the area has to offer. There are a ton of temples for you to visit here so make sure you allot around 2 days to explore each of these beautiful structures.

You can do a temple run of the White Temple,  Blue Temple, Wat Huay Pla Kang, and Wat Saeng Kaew Phothiyan. Once done, you can also visit the ancient city of  Chiang Shaen and see the ancient and unique structures left behind by the Lanna Kingdom.

Days 7 to 8: Mae Hong Son

For days 7 to 8, you’ll have to go to Mae Hong Son where you can do the loop. Enjoy the beauty of the popular tourist sites here like Pai, Baan Rak Thai– and Mae Sariang– all while taking in the rural beauty of the locale.

If you want something peaceful and relaxing, then you can also drop by the Yuam River and the Mexican Sunflower Field. Before leaving Mae Hong Son, why not do some shopping in one of its popular and lively night markets?

Days 9 to 10: Nan

Your trip from Mae Hong Son to Nan will take a few hours so just relax and take in the scenic beauty of the region as you move towards your destination. Upon reaching Nan, you need to check out its popular temples– Wat Si Phan ton and Wat Ming Muang.

After visiting these sites, you can then proceed to the Sinthai Salt Pond Village where you can interact with the local community and immerse yourself further in the culture of Thailand.

Days 11 to 12: Phrae

Next up, you can proceed to Phrae where you can do a ton of things in this hidden gem of the country. First, you can visit Mae Yom National Park where you can enjoy the river rapids in the area.

Next, you can visit the unique rock formations of  Pae Muang Pee Forest Park and take pictures of the different shapes and structures of the landscape caused by soil erosion. 

You can take photos here and it will look like it was taken from the surface of another planet!

Days 13 to 14: Phayao

Lastly, you can visit Phayao for days 13 to 14 where you can enjoy some of Thailand’s best sunrises at Phu Langka and some of its best sunsets at Kwan Phayao, a man-made lake considered one of the most popular spots in Phayao.

This location also has a thriving night market and food stall scene where you trout various local cuisines and purchase souvenirs and trinkets for your family back home.

Things to Do Before Travelling to Northern Thailand

  • Prepare your travel documents: Before you visit Northern Thailand, make sure that you have all of your travel documents ready. Depending on the country you’re from, you may or may not need a visa.

As such, it’s important that you ensure that you have your travel requirements before going on this exciting adventure across the country.

  • Bring clothes for hot and humid weather: Thailand is a tropical country with hot and humid weather. As such, we recommend that you bring clothes that use light materials such as cotton and linen.
  • Respect the culture: There are countless temples located in Northern Thailand and if you decide to visit them, make sure to wear appropriate clothing. No short shorts or sleeveless shirts, please!
  • Bring some cash: In some parts of Thailand, especially in rural areas, you may not have access to ATMs so it’s better if you have some cash with you along with your debit and credit card.

Apps to Download for Your Northern Thailand Trip

Bolt: Ride-hailing app

iOS | Android

Line: Call and messaging, file sharing

iOS | Android

Klook: Book tours, attractions, tickets, restaurants, hotels, and other activities

iOS | Android

Google Translate: Translate various languages

iOS | Android

Tuk: food delivery, transportation, and cleaning services

iOS | Android

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