From Chiang Mai to the Mekong River through remote Highlands of North Thailand
Day 1 Chiang Mai to Chiang Dao
20 km, total driving time 1 hour
The indigenous people of Chiang Dao
Our journey “From Chiang Mai to the Mekong River” is a private tour. Your guide and driver will meet you at the hotel at 0800. Today’s destination is the town of Chiang Dao, north of Chiang Mai. Our first stop is the charming local market of Mae Malai, where we will do our shopping for lunch. After this, we continue to Chiang Dao, where we leave the main road and drive to a community where we meet the Lisu indigenous people. We will chat with some of the locals and take a short walk through the village. Then we continue to a nearby village of the Palong people, who call themselves the Dara-Ang people.
The Dara-ang people from Myanmar
There are four villages of the Dara-ang people east of Chiang Dao. We will spend time in the village of Mae Chon, where you will learn about the history and traditions of this indigenous group. We invite you to try to use an original rice pounder and learn a bit of backstrap weaving. The Dara-ang women are fantastic weavers. Your guide will also invite you into the kitchen and help him cook lunch on a woodfire. After lunch, he will guide you through the village and explain the daily life of these people who escaped from Myanmar in the 1980s. They crossed the border at Nor Lae, a village we will visit tomorrow.
The Chiang Dao Cave Temple
After lunch, we will drive back to Chiang Dao. Doi Luang Chiang Dao is the third-highest mountain in Thailand and overshadows the town of Chiang Dao. The Chiang Dao Cave Temple is one of the most revered Buddhist sites in the north of Thailand. There are a lot of myths and stories about these caves. We will visit the main cave and one of the more remote caverns with a local community guide. Not far from the caves is Wat Tham Pha Plong, a fantastic cave temple that will be the last place we see today. The monk Luang Phor Sim, a follower of the highly revered Ajahn Mun, established this cave temple. Then it is time to check in to the Marisa Resort where we will spend the night. We hope you enjoyed this interesting day.
Overnight at the Marisa Resort in the forest.
Day 2 Chiang Dao to Doi Angkhang and to Thaton
150 km, total driving time 4 hours
The “sticky” Sri Sangwan Waterfalls
Our destination today is the town of Thaton on the Kok River. We will take one of the most spectacular and interesting routes in Thailand on our journey from Chiang Mai to the Mekong River. We will take the whole day to explore this remote area that skirts the border of Thailand and Myanmar. Along the way, we will visit Yunnan Chinese and indigenous communities on the way to Doi Angkhang. Our first stop will be at the pretty Sri Sangwan Waterfalls in the Pa Daeng National Park. We call this waterfall the “2nd Sticky Waterfall“. The surface of the falls is limestone which allows you to walk on the falls without slipping.
After our dip in the waterfall, we will start our drive to Doi Angkhang During our drive, we pass through several Yunnan Chinese communities. Most of the inhabitants of these villages are descendants of soldiers of the Kuomintang forces who entered Thailand during the 1960s. Only three km from the Myanmar border is the sprawling and fast-growing town of Arunothai.
A scenic route through the mountains
From Arunothai we will drive to Tham Ngob where we will visit the abandoned former headquarters of General Li Wen Huan. General Li was the commander of the 3rd division of the Kuomintang (KMT) army. The complex has the former residence of the general, barracks, kitchens, administrative buildings, and a parade ground. We continue to the Sui Thang viewpoint and camping ground at an elevation of 1,412 meters above sea level. Here is also the official boundary of the Doi Pa Hom Pok National Park. Authorities declared Doi Angkhang to be part of the Doi Pa Hom Pak National Park in 2019, after which only camping is allowed on the mountain.
The Royal Project on Doi Angkhang
After arrival at Doi Angkhang, we will first have lunch. After lunch, we will visit the Royal Agricultural Station Angkhang. His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej founded this Royal Project in 1969 to experiment with alternative cash crops to replace opium cultivation and to improve the economic situation of the indigenous communities on the mountain. This extensive Royal Project was a main tourist attraction before the area became part of a national park in 2019.
On Doi Angkhang, there are two fascinating and beautifully located ethnic minority villages. Nor Lae is a Palong, aka Dara-ang village, right on the Thailand-Myanmar border. Not far from this village is Kob Dong, a Black Lahu village. This village must have one of the most spectacular locations in the north. Finally, it is time to descend Doi Angkhang to Thaton, where we will spend the night.
Overnight at the Khun Mai Baan Suan Resort
Day 3 Thaton to Doi Mae Salong to Chiang Saen
120 km, total driving time 2 hours
Boat trip on the Kok River
After breakfast, we will drive up to Wat Thaton, from where we have a magnificent view of Thaton and the Kok River valley. We then descend to the boat landing in Thaton where we will board a local boat for a lovely ride on the Kok River. At the Lahu village Pha Tai we will disembark and drive to Santikhiri, a Yunnan Chinese community on the mountain Doi Mae Salong.
In 1961 remnants of Kuomintang troops settled on Doi Mae Salong and became involved in the opium trade. Because they helped the Thai military fight the communist insurgence, the Thai government allowed them to stay on the mountain. The scenery of Doi Mae Salong is stunning, and the place has a great atmosphere. It has become an important tourist destination although it only gets a bit busy in the cool season (December-January).
The tea plantations of Doi Mae Salong
Most inhabitants of Santikhiri are still ethnic Yunnan Chinese giving this pretty mountain village a distinctly Chinese feel. Before lunch, we will visit The Martyrs’ Memorial, a museum that tells the story of the history of the Kuomintang forces after their expulsion from China by the Communists in 1949. We will have lunch in one of the excellent Chinese restaurants in town. After lunch, we will continue the extremely scenic route to Mae Chan. We will pass many tea plantations and of course visit our favorite one, where we will do some tea tasting. From there we will drive to our final destination today, which is the ancient city of Chiang Saen on the Mekong River. You might want to join local people for dinner on the pavement along the river. It is a special experience.
Overnight will be at the Pak Ping Rim Khong Hotel, opposite the Mekong River.
Day 4 Chiang Saen to Mae Sai to Chiang Rai
95 km, total driving time 2,5 hours
From Chiang Mai to the Mekong River
You will wake up on the “Mighty” Mekong River. This is the third-longest river in Asia and indeed an awesome sight. From its source in Tibet, the river runs through China, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam for a total of almost 5000 km. French explorers in the 19th century researched its navigability as a trade route from China to the Mekong Delta but rapids in South Laos formed an insurmountable obstacle. You will only see small local vessels on the river.
People now know the Golden Triangle as a tourist spot where the borders of Thailand, Myanmar, and Laos converge. In the 1970s and 80s, it stood for a much larger lawless, and remote area that was a major source of narcotics.
The Hall of Opium
We stop at the marker of the Golden Triangle before we visit the Hall of Opium, one of the best museums in Thailand. The museum aims to educate people on the use of opium and on the history of the opium trade in the Golden Triangle. Please note that the museum is closed on Monday. We also will walk up to the viewpoint of Wat Phra That Doi Phu Khao, from where you have the best view of the rivers that separate Thailand, Myanmar, and Laos. Then we will board a local boat for a short trip on the Mekong River.
The border of Thailand and Myanmar
After lunch, we will drive to Mae Sai, the most important gateway from Thailand to Myanmar. Mae Sai is not a very pretty town but border towns also have a very special atmosphere. The border market certainly is very interesting. We will visit Wat Tham Pha Chom, a temple that offers a great view of Tachileik, the border town of Myanmar. Then it is time to drive to Chiang Rai, our final destination of today.
The Black House and White Temple of Chiang Rai
Our last visit today is the Black House aka Ban Dam in Thai. This rather somber but interesting and magnificent open-air museum is the creation of Chiang Rai native and national artist Thawan Duchanee (1939-2014). People often compare Thawan’s work with that of another fellow Chiang Rai artist Chalermchai Kositpipat. He is the creator of Wat Rong Khun, the famous White Temple, which we will visit next. Thawan’s work is “hell” and Chalerm’s “heaven”, night and day, white and black. Wat Rong Khun has become the most visited attraction in Chiang Rai province over the past ten years. We will spend the night at the La Luna Resort in Chiang Rai.
Day 5 Chiang Rai
20 km, total driving time 45 minutes
Market visit and Samlor tour
Your guide and driver will meet you at the hotel. Our first destination will be Kad Luang, the big fresh market of Chiang Rai. It is the oldest market in the city. We take our time to enjoy the hustle and bustle of morning shopping. We will let you taste a typical Thai delicacy, the kind you can only buy at these amazing fresh markets. This market is also the place where you can find the last of the traditional bicycle taxis of Chiang Rai. In Thailand, they call these a “samlor,” which literally means “three wheels.” We support the local samlors to take a ride through the old center of Chiang Rai.
The oldest Buddhist temples of Chiang Rai
The Wat Phra Kaew is one of the oldest temples in Chiang Rai. It used to be the home of the Emerald Buddha statue in Wat Phra Kaew in Bangkok. We visit the interesting museum before we continue to another temple: Wat Phra Singh. Next to Wat Phra Singh is the beautiful old Chiang Rai City Hall, dating back to 1899. Along a road lined with majestic rain trees, we continue to the statue of the founder of Chiang Rai: King Mangrai. Here we say goodbye to our samlor drivers and continue our Chiang Rai Tour. The Kok River streams through Chiang Rai. It is a tributary of the Mekong River and originates in Shan State in Myanmar. Our next destination is the local boat station where our fast boat is waiting for us.
Another boat Trip on the Kok River
We greet our boatman and board his local boat for the 45-minute trip to the Karen village Baan Ruammitr. Relax and enjoy the scenery. We pass “Chiang Rai Beach,” several Buddha statues, pineapple fields, and forests. It was a delightful trip. Just beyond the Baan Ruammitr Elephant Camp, we disembark. Here our car is waiting for us to take us to Armue’s plantation. Armue, our Akha friend, will show us his crops and his fish pond. We sampled some of the ingredients for our lunch. After this, we will continue to Armue’s homestay. Here we will work together with the local people to prepare our lunch: it is a very local and interesting experience! We will cook our rice in bamboo on a wood fire as the Akha people have done for centuries.
Swimming at Huay Mae Sai Waterfall
After our cooking experience, it is time to consume our delicious lunch. The Akha people will show you their traditional dress, and there will be time for some photographs. Having filled our tummies, it is time for a swim. We will drive to the Huay Mae Sai waterfall. At the Huay Mae Sai waterfall, you will have the opportunity to take a refreshing swim. We spend some time here until we walk to where our driver is waiting for us. It is time to drive back to Chiang Rai and say goodbye to our host Armue.
It is only half an hour’s drive back to Chiang Rai. We will pass Wat Huay Pla Kang, a recently constructed temple with a giant statue on the way back. We will stop here briefly. The statue is not of the Buddha but Kuan Im, the Goddess of Mercy. Today’s last visit is Wat Rong Suea Ten aka the Blue Temple.
After this visit, we will return to the hotel. We will spend another night at the La Luna Resort.
Day 6 Chiang Rai departure
10 km, total driving time 30 minutes
Transfer to the airport. We hope you enjoyed our journey “From Chiang Mai to The Mekong River”.