Thailand’s mountainous north is distinct, and not just because it’s cooler. The ancient term ‘Kingdom of Lanna’ - meaning “land of a million rice fields” has been revived to describe this beautiful, lush, natural environment. A visit is a must to get a sense of Thailand’s diverse beauty.
The pace is slow after Bangkok’s hustle and bustle. Activities include trekking in the hills, visits to temples and hill tribes, rafting Thai style, elephant treks and rides, cookery courses and the chance to buy authentic handicrafts.
Chiang Mai, the region’s hub and Thailand’s second largest city, is a great base to explore from, relax and soak up the atmosphere. Recommended hotels include the stylish U Hotel the lovely Fern Paradise, or the sumptuous Chedi.
Travelling northwest from Chiang Mai, either for a day or longer, it's possible to head off the beaten track to the Burmese border town of Mae Hong Son via the bohemian town of Pai, a charming place rich in nature and culture. The mountainous terrain is home to hill tribes and the picturesque town has Burmese style temples. Treks into the hills to observe traditional tribes can be arranged.
Pai is also a good base for trekking and visiting hill tribes. This peaceful valley town is renowned for its laid back atmosphere with a few resorts and a couple of great bars. Elephant trips and the hot springs and waterfalls on the outskirts draw visitors as does the region’s Wednesday Market. White water rafting is available for the more adventurous.
Northeast of Chiang Mai is the captivating city of Chiang Rai, also reached by direct flight from Bangkok. Streets here are alive with the colours of the hilltribes’ traditional costumes. The tribes come to town to sell their wares at the superb markets. Great accommodation options include The Legend and Phu-Chaisai.
A trip to Chiang Rai will likely include a visit to the mystical and spiritual “Golden Triangle” where Thailand meets the border of Laos and Burma (Myanmar) at the convergence of the Ruak and Mekong rivers. You can sail towards the triangle along the Mekong, passing riverside villages with their unique traditions and cultures or explore the surrounding bamboo jungle on elephant back. The Anantara is a wonderful choice here, positioned on a ridge overlooking hills of the three countries. For something extra special the Four Seasons Tented Camp offers incredible, ‘once in a lifetime’ inclusive packages.
You can also over the border to Laos at Chiang Khong/Huay Xai, perhaps stopping off at the brilliant hill trip lodge - Lanjia. This is how all responsible tourism projects should be...
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A Selection of hotels in the North & East of Thailand
137 Pillars, Chiang Mai
Oriental elegance at colonial homestead in Chiang Mai.
Sukhothai Heritage Hotel, Sukhothai
Charming Thai style hotel on the outskirts of Sukhothai
Rachamankha, Chiang Mai
Delightful boutique hotel in the centre of Chiang Mai
Fern Resort, Mae Hong Son
Architectural and horticultural gem in the hills around Mae Hong Son
Legend, Chiang Rai, Chiang Rai
Modern, stylish boutique resort on the banks of the Mae Kok River in central Chiang Rai
Four Seasons, Mae Rim / Chiang Mai
The first luxury resort in the area, still resplendent and gloriously peaceful
Four Seasons Tented Camp, Golden Triangle
Luxury tented camp in the golden triangle overlooking Thailand, Myanmar and Laos. A truly unique experience
Lanjia Lodge, Chiang Rai
Mountain lodge and community based tourism project in a minority Hmong village. Overlooks the Mekong River on the Thailand and Laos border
Proud Phu Fah, Mae Rim / Chiang Mai
A superb boutique villa resort in glorious mountain location with creative flair and homely care
Anantara Chiang Mai, Chiang Mai
Fine luxury hotel overlooking Chiang Mai's Mae Ping River