So you’re heading to Chiang Mai and got some extra time? You want to see more of Thailand but don’t know where to go? Luckily Chiang Mai is a great hub for travels around the country, especially the northern part of Thailand. The public transportation network is fantastic and includes cheap flights as well as clean and comfortable buses, coaches and mini-vans. On top, if you’re more of an adventurist, you can even explore the area by motorbike or car; just beware as road conditions get bad the more you travel north. But let’s get to the point, here are the five best travel add-on for your Chiang Mai holiday:
Pai is a classic destination that many people combine with a trip to Chiang Mai. Although mostly younger travellers and backpackers make it here, Pai is great for everyone looking to soak in nature or simply unwind for a couple days. The town itself isn’t big, you can easily explore it by walking or cycling. Further attractions like Pai Canyon or the famous strawberry fields are located outside the town but can be reached within 15-20 minutes by motorbike (150-200 THB per day) plus a daily night market that runs along the main road of the town. In comparison to Chiang Mai, Pai lacks of cultural heritage, so don’t expect many artists on the market, museums or similar. Restaurants serve mainly Western food while Thai food is limited to classics like Pad Thai and Som Tam. Nevertheless, Pai is a great place for outdoor enthusiasts especially for those who love hiking and mountain-biking.
How to get there: by mini-van (200 THB per person, 3 hours), own motorbike, or plane (Kan Airlines), Best time to visit: June-December.
- Mae Hong Son
Mae Hong Son is a beautiful laid-back town in the north of Thailand, not far from the Burmese border. The town is the capital of the same named province, one of the most remote provinces in Thailand. Due to its close proximity to the border of Myanmar, the area is culturally and ethnically very diverse due to various hill tribes such as the Hmong and Shan people. The town’s centrepiece for example is a beautiful Shan-style temple, Wat Phra That Doi Kong Mu, which is located near Mae Hong Son Lake. Visitors to Mae Hong Son are mostly road trippers traveling with their motorbikes through Thailand and Southeast Asia, as well as expats living in and around Chiang Mai. Activities include hiking, kayaking and relaxing.
How to get there: by mini-van (250-300 THB per person, 5-6 hours), own motorbike or plane (Kan Airlines). Best time to visit: June-December.
The ancient city and UNESCO World Heritage Site of Sukhothai, now referred to as Sukhothai Historical Park, is located in north-central Thailand and makes up an ideal travel extension before heading further south to Bangkok. Sukhothai was the first capital of the Kingdom of Siam in the 13th and 14th centuries and is credited much of the cultural foundation of Thailand, including the invention of the Thai alphabet by King Ramkamhaeng. Its well-preserved ruins are scattered across an area of 70km², separated into five zones. Each zone charges an admission of 100 THB, however, it’s mainly worth to visit the “Royal Zone’’, respectively the most important zone located right at the main entrance. One or two nights are enough to see the town and park. Tip: rent a bicycle to drive around the area.
How to get there: by bus (230-250 THB per person, 5-6 hours). Best time to visit: October-March
- Chiang Dao
Chiang Dao is about 1.5 hours (70 km) north of Chiang Mai and easily reachable via motorbike or car. The town sits between mountains and lush forests and is especially famous for its cave system beneath Doi Chiang Dao, Thailand’s 3rd highest mountain (2175m). If you’re looking for a few days packed with wandering, hiking or just relaxing amidst northern Thailand’s wonderful nature, Chiang Dao is the right place for you; there are lots of cozy bungalows and guest houses around.
How to get there: by motorbike or car; the road is paved, just straight and has overall less traffic: great for newbies. Best time to visit: October-March.
- Chiang Rai
About three hours north of Chiang Mai lies Chiang Rai which is primarily famous for its White Temple and the Black House. The city is a great base if you want to explore the northernmost parts of Thailand, including the so-called Golden Triangle, the border area of Myanmar, Thailand and Laos. Other activities include visiting hill tribe villages, rock climbing, hiking, trail running and swimming/relaxing at Chiang Rai Beach, a stretch of sand surrounded by forest right by the Kok River. Chiang Rai is culturally similar to Chiang Mai, but with more Burmese and hill tribe influences.
How to get there: by bus (170-200 THB per person, 3 hours) Best time to visit: year-round, except March-May (burning season).