Our Northern Thailand Tours
Table of Contents
The North Thailand Tours of Chiang Mai a la Carte
Chiang Mai a la Carte and Green Trails offer a variety of North Thailand Tours or northern Thailand Tours. Chiang Rai is, apart from Chiang Mai, the only destination in northern Thailand where we offer day tours. All the other tours we offer in North Thailand are multiple-day tours. This page will give an overview of these longer multi-day North Thailand tours.
I will also tell the story behind these tours. They are all based on personal travel experience and research. Behind each trip is a story, funneled by our love for the North of Thailand. I have made “Things to do” pages for popular destinations such as Chiang Rai, Pai, and Mae Hong Son. They contain background information on many of the sights that we feature in tours. We set ourselves apart when it comes to the pages for lesser-known destinations such as Mae Sariang, Lampang, and Phrae. Our destination knowledge is second to none, and we are very proud of that.
The short overland route from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai
Many people visit Chiang Rai on a day tour from Chiang Mai. I don’t recommend doing that. For decades local companies have offered one-day tours to Chiang Rai with start and finish in Chiang Mai. You will spend at least about seven hours in a vehicle driving the same, dangerous road back and forth. It is not a good idea. The shortest route to Chiang Rai is highway no.118 which has been reconstructed in recent years. It was a painstakingly slow construction process.
Only a part of this road is four lanes. From Mae Khachan to the intersection with highway no.1 it is a two-lane affair with usually lots of drivers in a hurry and dangerous overtaking. It is a nice route but not that interesting and certainly not great to drive back and forth on the same day.
The long route from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai via Thaton and Mae Salong
Besides that, the road from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai via Chiang Dao, Chai Prakan, and Thaton is much more interesting. It is much longer though and also not without risk. Most of it is two-lane with many curves and little opportunity to overtake, which many drivers do nevertheless.
We recommend taking this northern Thailand tour route though and breaking the long drive with an overnight in Thaton or Chiang Dao. You can also choose the scenic and remote road that skirts the Myanmar border via Doi Angkhang. Overall, you should take at least two full days to make the journey from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai if you take this route. In case you have time we advise you to stop over in Santikhiri, Doi Mae Salong, to enjoy the Chinese/Yunnan atmosphere and the fantastic food and views.
The Mae Hong Son Loop, a popular North Thailand tour
The Mae Hong Son Loop is a famous multi-day North Thailand tour that starts and ends in Chiang Mai. We recommend taking at least a full week, if not longer, to make the whole loop. It is one of the country’s most scenic and spectacular roads, with many sights and majestic views along the way. The most challenging section is the one from Mae Malai to Pai, with many curves and spectacular views. Most accidents, though, occur in this section, which is also the busiest. Another busy and difficult section is the one from Mae Sariang to Hot because of its limited visibility and the presence of trucks. The major towns along the way are Pai, Mae Hong Son, Khun Yuam, Mae Sariang, and Hot. Ban Rak Thai, the Yunnanese Chinese enclave, has become a popular side trip from Mae Hong Son town.
In the past decade we have traveled parts of the Mae Hong Son Loop extensively. This resulted in our “Things to Do” pages but we also have sections about the temples of Mae Hong Son, Mae Sariang and Khun Yuam. Most people don’t have the time to make the full loop, travel counterclockwise, stop at Pai and end in Mae Hong Son. From there, they either drive or fly back to Chiang Mai. We think the most attractive route includes Thailand’s highest mountain Doi Inthanon and continues to Khun Yuam, via Mae Chaem. From there, you continue to Mae Hong Son, Pai, and back to Chiang Mai. We call that the Great Doi Inthanon and Pai Adventure. It is one of our best-selling northern Thailand tours.
The Golden Triangle and Mae Sai
These are destinations that are usually booked as add on trips as part of longer tours from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai. Also here, we recommend to take two days instead of one. The side trip to Myanmar is worth it because you will enter a slightly different world and overland bordercrossing are always exciting. Make sure you have enough time in Tachileik, the border town in Myanmar. The markets on both sides of the border are worth a visit.
The border crossing at Mae Sai/Tachileik was closed from March 2020 until February 2023 because of the Covid-19 pandemic. On March 10 2023 I crossed the border to Tachileik. Here is a report of that trip. Although the physical spot of the Golden Triangle has become a tourist attraction, there is a certain magic to this unique geographical location, augmented by the mythical Mighty Mekong River. There is a lot of history here. Not far away is the charming town of Chiang Saen, a unique ancient city with ruined temples – derelict Buddha statues – witnesses of a turbulent history.
Northern Thailand tours to Lampang, Phrae and Nan
These destinations don’t get many international visitors but have gained a growing popularity amongst Thai visitors. Especially Nan, the most remote place, has become immensely popular with Thai visitors over the past few years. Lampang and Phrae have also profited from local tourism but are seldom visited by tourists from abroad. That gives these destinations a special charm. They are far from mass tourism and can be rightfully labeled ‘authentic’.
In the years 2020 and 2021 we did extensive research in Lampang and Phrae which resulted in the “Things to Do” pages but also in sections about the temples of Lampang and the temples of Phrae. We have a standard Phrae and Lampang tour such as Gingerbread Houses and Burmese Temples but most tours to these fantastic destinations we customize.
The UNESCO World Heritage sites
Many people will argue that Sukhothai, Sri Satchanalai, and Kamphaeng Phet, the towns that form the UNESCO World Heritage site, are not located in North Thailand. Tours to this destination, therefore, don’t belong in an overview of North or Northern Thailand tours. They may be right but we love them so I decided to include them. We have a very extensive page on Sukhothai, the most well-known and popular of the three, and offer several multi-day trips that include the World Heritage site.
We are preparing pages on Sri Satchanalai and Kamphaeng Phet but please be patient.
A typical Sukhothai tour is A World Heritage in Depth.