Welcome to our blog on the best things to do in Northern Thailand. We are Victor & Nanda (@somosvi.da) – a couple of digital nomads, content creators and influencers from Brazil. Victor is from Rio and Nanda is from Belo Horizonte. We have been traveling around Asia and Oceania since June of 2018. We have both loved traveling since we were kids. Our parents used to travel a lot, so it’s a passion that we have carried for our entire lives.
Our recent trip to Thailand was our fourth time visiting and we decided to go again because we feel safe there, as it’s in our comfort zone. After hard times from the pandemic, we knew that Thailand would be a great choice since we knew what to expect. We stayed for five months and visited Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Pai, Mae Hong Son, Phuket, Khao Sok National Park, Koh Phangan, Koh Samui and Koh Tao. It was a phenomenal journey!
We spent a month and a half in Northern Thailand and it was amazing. This was our second stay in Chiang Mai and after that we took a motorbike trip in the northern mountains and villages. Our motorbike adventure lasted for 10 days and we clocked 800km. It was a once in a lifetime experience! Northern Thailand is less touristy than other parts of the country and you can see the real culture and taste authentic food – khao soi anyone?
The highlight for us was the Mae Hong Son Loop. This motorbike trip is a must-do if you are in the region. The scenery is so green, the air is fresh and the feeling of adventure is unparalleled. A lot of the places are located close to the Myanmar border and there is even a Chinese village that you can check out called Ban Rak Thai. We had no idea this village existed and it turned out to be one of the most magical stops on the loop.
The road between Mae Rim and Pai is breathtaking. The feeling of freedom we had as we rode through insane views and lookouts, passing through lush greenery and with the cool weather beside us, riding to see majestic waterfalls and finishing the day by strolling around a street food market in Pai – all of this was extraordinary. You can do the Mae Hong Son Loop from Chiang Mai. Typically it lasts for four or five days but we did it in 10 days.
Thai people from the north are incredible (just like the entire country). They are so sweet, helpful, always smiling and they cook the best food in the world! We think the culture in the northern regions is more traditional and well kept year by year. The locals here don’t try to westernize life or tailor things too much to tourists. This is part of the reason why it’s such a wonderful area of Thailand to travel across. The culture is true Thailand.
Since we have been to Thailand four times, we have become passionate about Thai food. It’s our favorite cuisine in the world after Brazilian, of course. Our favorite dish from this region was khao soi gai – chicken noodle soup that is rich in flavors. It can get spicy though, so just be prepared for that! We even decided to take a cooking class in Chiang Mai to learn how to make a proper one. For sure we will be cooking this meal back in Brazil.
All in all, Northern Thailand is a region that offers endless authentic and fun experiences. Our motorbike trip was the highlight but that wasn’t the only activity we loved. Chiang Mai is possibly the best city in the country and you can do it all here – shop at markets, hike to temples, go on bicycle rides and eat until your heart’s content. Alongside the Mae Hong Son Loop and Chiang Mai, here are the 10 best things to do in Northern Thailand:
10 Best Things To Do in Northern Thailand
1. Ride the Mae Hong Son Loop by Motorbike
Mae Hong Son is a province in Thailand’s northwest corner and it’s home to mountains, traditional villages and one of the best road trips in Asia: the Mae Hong Son Loop. 600 kilometers of winding roads can be driven by motorbike and the views along the way are nothing short of spectacular. If you are counting the number of curves on this loop, it would equal more than 1,800. The best towns to stop at on the loop are Pai and Ban Rak Thai.
2. Visit the Magical Chinese Village, Ban Rak Thai
Ban Rak Thai is a village on the Myanmar border, about 120km from Pai and 240km from Chiang Mai. Chinese from the Yunnan province fled here during the Communist takeover. Their descendants live in Ban Rak Thai and speak fluent Thai. Ban Rak Thai translates to “Thai-loving village”. The best activities here include marveling at the traditional houses, taking a boat ride, visiting the tea gardens and trying traditional Yunnan food.
3. Walk to the Lovely Little Mok Fa Waterfall
An hour from Chiang Mai, in Doi Suthep-Pui National Park, lies a waterfall which you can walk to called Mok Fa Waterfall. The trail there takes you along a shaded forested walk, passing a few other smaller falls on the way, until you reach the main event. Mok Fa Waterfall stands at 60 meters in height, although that can drop to around 30-40 meters when there is less water flowing. Either way, it’s a must-see place in Northern Thailand!
4. Shop and Eat at the Pai Night Market
Pai Walking Street comes to life every night. The street stretches for 500-1,000 meters and has many market stalls to explore. Everything from clothes to jewelry, from street food to desserts can be found by walking down slowly and steadily. It takes about 30 minutes to go from one end of the market to the other, on a leisurely stroll. At about 10 or 11pm the night market closes but you can kick on at the restaurants and bars.
5. Book a Muay Thai Class at Heavy Hit, Chiang Mai
Muay Thai is a popular sport in Thailand and there is no better place to try your hand at this discipline than at the Heavy Hit Boxing Gym in Chiang Mai. This gym caters to tourists who are looking for Muay Thai lessons. You don’t have to be a practitioner to give it a go. Their friendly trainers will give you an introduction to the sport and teach you a few moves which you can take home with you. It’s a great way to get exercise while in the city.
6. Try Khao Soi at Kao Soy Nimman, Chiang Mai
If you are looking for the best khao soi in Chiang Mai then look no further than Kao Soy Nimman restaurant. Khao soi is definitely the main dish to try at this restaurant but it’s certainly not the only one. However most come here to eat khao soi and with 12 versions to choose from, we can’t blame them! For those with a big appetite, try the khao soi Super Bowl which includes Northern Thai sausage, chicken, pork and prawns all in one dish.
7. Take a Bike Tour around Chiang Mai’s Old City
There are a few companies which you can book with to go exploring by bicycle through the back lanes and alleys of Chiang Mai’s Old City. On these tours you have a guide who will share info and stories about the city’s history and how the culture has evolved over the years. Not only will you learn about Chiang Mai’s heritage but you will also get the chance to get a bit of exercise – which is always welcome after eating too much Thai food!
8. Go on an Authentic Cooking Class in Chiang Mai
Again, there are many businesses to choose from in Chiang Mai when it comes to a cooking class but try booking with one of the smaller operators or those “one man bands”. This way you will get a more personalized and intimate experience. These tours usually include a visit to a local market to pick up fresh ingredients and produce that you will use later on for your cooking class. You will learn many local secrets of Thai cuisine.
9. Hike the Monk’s Trail to Wat Pha Lat in Chiang Mai
The 45-minute hike along the Monk’s Trail to Wat Pha Lat is the best hike in Chiang Mai. Expect a moderate incline through nice vegetation and trees until you reach Wat Pha Lat – a magnificent temple hidden in the forest. Being at the temple gives you the opportunity to take a moment of reflection and sit in peace as you look out over the city from the top. Tip: make sure you dress and act modestly as this is a sacred Buddhist site.
10. Stay Overnight in a Glamping Tent in Mae Rim
There is some awesome accommodation in Northern Thailand – from hostels and backpackers, to airbnbs and guesthouses. One of the best places to stay is a glamping site in the Mae Rim district. This area is located one hour from Chiang Mai at the start of the Mae Hong Son Loop. The glamping accommodation we stayed at was called Camp Mai Mee Chue and they have some cool tents and glass houses that we recommend!
Tips for Visiting Northern Thailand
First of all, follow us on Instagram as we have more tips on Northern Thailand there. The main tip we would like to leave you with is when to visit. In general, the climate in the north is cooler – so be prepared for colder nights. Also, do research on when the burning season occurs. It typically happens from February to May but it can change. Try to avoid the burning season because the smoke blocks the views and isn’t great for your health.