Written by Veronica Law
Edited by Dawn Pillay
If you’re wondering where you can find amazing sights, but you don’t want to stray too far from the comforts of Chiang Mai – here’s a great idea: take day or weekend trips from Chiang Mai!
You can rent a car and see where the road takes you or better yet…
You can take a look at what we’ve found and it may inspire you to finally get off the beaten path and forge your own way.
Just for our dear readers, get 8% OFF any first-time bookings (capped at S$15). Simply apply the promo code ‘TRIPCANVASTH’ when you check out!
How to get around Northern Thailand
(Chiang Mai, Lampang, Lamphun, and Chiang Rai)
Of all the potential day or weekend trip destinations from Chiang Mai, we highly recommend Lampang, Lamphun, and Chiang Rai for starters.
To fully enjoy these places, you should definitely look into hiring a car to get around.
Whether you would rather have a private chartered car, or prefer driving around yourself (only if you’re confident on foreign and mountainous roads) – getting around can be simple!
a. Klook’s DIY itinerary with private car with driver (From SGD $58 / approx. 1387 Baht per day)
Klook makes it simple with this competitive service that not only includes a private chartered car service that’s affordable… It also comes with a local driver that’ll help with your itinerary, while making getting around extremely convenient and comfortable.
- Chiang Mai Private Chartered Car with Driver (from SGD $58 / 1387 Baht on Klook!)
- Lampang Private Chartered Car with Driver (from SGD $114.65 / 2742 Baht on Klook!)
- Lamphun Private Chartered Car with Driver (from SGD $114.65 / 2742 Baht on Klook!)
- Chiang Rai Private Chartered Car with Driver (from SGD $258.39 / 6181 Baht on Klook!)
(Taxis can be very expensive, charging up to 500 Baht per one-way trip or more, and travellers might encounter dishonest taxi drivers. With Klook’s DIY itineraries, you can avoid going to all that trouble!)
b. Car rental without driver (From SGD $46.70 / approx. 1091 Baht per day)
If you enjoy driving around personally and are confident on unfamiliar roads, you might want to consider renting a car from Europcar. It’s tried and tested! (Prices vary depending on the car model chosen.)
c. Airport and City Transfers (From SGD $12.50 / approx. 299 Baht)
If you’re not keen on hiring a car to get around and only require an airport transfer, or city transfer, the simplest way to do it would be via Klook.
PS: Don’t forget to pick up a local SIM Card (SGD $6.20 / 148 Baht on Klook!) for you to stay connected as you travel around!
1. Mae Kampong แม่กำปอง
There’s a special kind of magic here
Logic-defying science and breath-stealing views. This sleepy little town has proven that there is way more than meets the eye.
A rustic collection of wooden cottages gives you access to Mae Kampong Waterfall, a 15 minute walk away.
Filled with that small village charm and wonder you won’t find in cities or towns.
a. Have lunch up in an elaborate treehouse – Giant Chiang Mai
Most people (even the locals) go to this cafe in a tree for the views and design, not so much the food. So, don’t be too disappointed when you chow down.
But it is a great place to chill at, especially in the winter months of Nov to Feb, when the weather is nice and cool.
b. Relieve your muscles with some hot water – Sankampang Hot Spring น้ำพุร้อนสันกำแพง
If you’re an egg lover, rejoice because you’re about to have some eggs boiled by hot springs.
You will be spoilt for choice by the numerous hotspring pools available for swimming, or boiling the eggs, or for those who simply want to soak their feet.
Those after a massage can go to their massage center, but we find that a walk about the park-like resort is relaxing too.
c. Special Mention: Nicknamed ‘Sticky Waterfalls’, really something you need to experience for yourself! – Bua Thong Waterfall
We’re including this as a special mention as its not exactly located in Mae Kampoeng, but it’s close enough to be included in a day-trip to the area.
This unique waterfall is a little unnerving – walking up a waterfall because everything about the act screams wrong. Although clear water runs over the rocks, it isn’t slippery at all. Unless you come across of patch of algae, then you should steer clear.
Other than that, enjoy your trek and make sure to take pictures to show your disbelieving friends
2. Mae Hong Son
There’s a Chinese village of surprises and a blade that meets the sky
Tucked away by the border, there is a settlement of Chinese that has made a little spot in Mae Hong Son theirs. It is not ideal for a day trip, so be prepared to stay one night or two to properly appreciate the quaint beauty of Mae Hong Son.
Walled in by mountains, it is protected from outside influence and makes for some truly exotic views.
a. Have a $1 bowl of noodles with a million dollar view – Ban Ja Bo Village
One of the top places to see a sea of clouds. Not only will you be greeted by welcoming villagers with a hot bowl of noodles for just a dollar, you will have the best seat in the house.
Sitting over the ledge as the clouds settle is one of the most magical experiences one can have in their life. Even without the clouds, there’s nothing less breathtaking being so high up.
b. Is this China’s Yunnan? Nope, it’s still Thailand! – Baan Rai Thai
Filled with a thousand or so Chinese and Chinese-Thai villagers, you can see their culture seeping into the architecture and signboards. Furthermore, they are becoming increasingly famous for their Oolong tea, a Chinese speciality.
c. Take a cruise down a cavernous bat cave – Nam Lod Cave
It’s over 2000 years old and while there’s definitely bats on the ceilings, you won’t be able to see them since it’s such a long way up!
Here’s a little secret though: the river’s not at all that deep… But would you really dare to step into the dark water?
Note: If you’re interested in checking this out, we highly recommend making it a weekend trip instead.
A mythical place of wondrous things like a temple in the sky
Find hidden treasures up in the mountains and be greeted with sights you never thought possible. That is the magic of Lampang.
There is always something surprising waiting just around the corner, like those chicken ceramic bowls!
a. If you haven’t heard of this heavenly site, you gotta get out from under your rock – Wat Chaloem Phra Kiat Phrachomklao Rachanusorn
Poking out of mountaintops are distinguishable Thai Chedis and white domes of the temple.
Aside from the stunning views, I’m sure it must feel splendid worshipping so far removed from civilization and that high up in the skies.
Don’t forget to ring the gongs for good luck!
b. Eh? Fancy seeing you here – Dhanabadee Ceramic Museum พิพิธภัณฑ์เซรามิคธนบดี
Chicken ceramic bowls are pretty synonymous with traditional Chinese grandmothers, but they have made their mark in Thailand, specifically in Lampang.
You can participate by painting your own bowl and bringing it home.
One of our editors currently has this monster installed in her bathroom!
PS: There are other gorgeous ceramic products available that’ll make beautiful additions to your home. This editor bought at least 4 pieces alone!
c. Cenotes don’t just exist in Mexico, y’know – Lom Poo Keaw หล่มภูเขียว
What’s a cenote you ask? An inspiring sight you can only find in nature. A crater of clear emerald waters and filled with catfish. It is a beautiful spot, especially surrounded by a tropical forest.
The only downside? The lake is considered sacred, therefore, no swimming or fishing is allowed.
d. Running whites and yolks cooked to the core at hotsprings – Chae Son National Park
Now that’s something you don’t see every day. The hot springs are able to cook the eggs inside out (onsen eggs!) – and you’ll get to taste this rare delicacy by getting yourself a basket of eggs and letting them sit for fifteen minutes.
The park is rather well maintained, keeping to its natural form and not brimming with man made structures.
e. Sail away from all your worries – Kiu Lom Dam
You could literally do exactly that on the reservoir and stay overnight, by all means! But if you’re only looking for a quick escape, we suggest that you make enough time so you can explore the area for at least half a day.
There are little fishing pockets and restaurants to check out, amongst other finds.
4. Doi Inthanon National Park
Majestic falls and the tallest peaks at the ‘Roof of Thailand’
A national park worth an overnight stay. It’s got 362 different species of birds in this park alone.
There is nothing comparable to the rays of the morning as it breaks over the horizon, especially at the ‘Roof of Thailand’. It’s the highest peak in Thailand and is a steady 2.5 kilometre away from the main road.
If you intend to camp out, make sure you get the details from the headquarters before embarking on your adventure.
a. OMG did we just step through a portal to Taiwan? – The Sheep’s Farm
That’s what many people think, but no, you’re still in Thailand.
Although, there really are many places in The Land of Smiles that resemble the mountainous areas of Taiwan, especially in winter. Click here for another example!
At this farm, you can roam with the sheep and here’s a little fact about them that freaks me out: they have square irises, just like octopuses and their goat cousins.
b. Have yourself a caffeinated duck – Royal Project Inthanon
Another one of their signature dishes being their trout steak with salsa. Both said to be the best and not to be missed.
They also have Thai dishes that are more common.
Pair that with the beautiful boldly coloured blooms with the cool breezes, and you’ve got yourself a winning lunch!
c. Unbelievable views, especially in the summer months – Phra Mahathat Naphapholphumisiri
When the skies are clear of mist, the sights are truly extraordinary. However, even if you’re around in winter, it doesn’t mean you should give it a pass unless it is extremely foggy.
With clear views, you’re not missing anything, because you’ll able to see the glorious pagodas erected in celebration of the 60th birthdays of the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej (King Rama 9) and Queen Sirikit.
d. Everybody falls for waterfalls – Wachirathan Falls, Mae Ya Waterfall, Mae Pan Waterfall
Wachirathan Falls is made up of multiple tiers that go up to 60 meters. In the dry season, you could walk into the waterfall, making for an interesting shot. (Coordinates here)
Mae Ya Waterfall are beautiful cascading falls that stands at 250 meters high. But what I love about it is the BBQ chicken with sticky rice that you can get right there! (Coordinates here)
Mae Pan Waterfall features a beautiful double waterfall, reachable only through a short 500 meter hike. Quite underrated as the trek can be rather dangerous for those inexperienced with hiking. (Coordinates here)
5. Chiang Rai
Chiang Mai’s little brother with so much heart to offer
The best part about being neighbours with a large city like Chiang Mai, is that Chiang Rai remains relatively unspoilt by tourism. Bordering on Myanmar, it borrows and lends some of its architectural designs and cultures.
You can find most of the hill tribes in Chiang Rai: Karen, Palong, Akha, Yao/Mien, Lahu, Lisu, Hmong up in the mountains.
It also has its own charms that makes it a destination that should not be missed, especially by those culturally inclined.
a. Have some matcha snacks at this glorified cafe – Choui Fong Tea Plantation
A modern cafe sitting atop a large tea plantation, with a gift shop on the side stocked with many tea products.
TripCanvas Tip: If you’re buying tea to bring back home, we highly recommend their unexpectedly fragrant Oolong Osmanthus Tea. Delicious!
The matcha cakes are said to be unrivaled. If you’re looking for tours and to learn more about how teas are produced, they would be more than happy to accommodate.
b. A highland treasure of cherry blossoms and tranquility – Doi Pha Tang
More suitable as a weekend or two-day trip as it’s quite a ways from Chiang Mai. However, vegans and nature lovers will find it an amazing escape from the heat. Plus, you can camp out under the stars!
Apricots, plums, peaches, cherries, and Chinese pears are bountiful up in the mountains as they thrive in the colder climate.
Cherry blossoms also bloom between Dec and Jan. If you’re hoping to trick your friends, there’s also a ledge similar to Brazil’s Pedra da Gavea.
c. Have an intimate moment with the Akha tribe – Baan Huay Kee Lek
Being removed from easy access, the Akha tribe has maintained their traditional ways and is not as commercialised as certain tribes have become.
You can observe their peaceful way of life and break bread with them for lunch. Or, join their homestay where you will be treated to an inside look into their lives of caring for cattle, livestock and agriculture.
d. An exotic blue and gold temple looks like it rose from the watery depths… – Wat Rong Suea Ten
… of Atlantis. Is it a mermaid cave or Thai temple?
The blue hue is mesmerising and the temple is decorated with statues of dragons and other deities and gods.
Its intricate designs will capture the eyes, but it is the incredible use of color and imagination that will burn it into your memories.
e. It’s a house of alternative art – Baan Dam Black House
Featuring works from Thawan Duchanee and other contemporary Thai artists, it has been a source of controversy, as the art displayed could be said to be disturbing.
Eerie and gothic (in a good way), it piques your interest and offers a certain degree of fascination.
There are many thought-provoking pieces such as displays that use animal bones and skins, which might be distressing to animal lovers.
f. A royal affair of Swiss inspired landscapes – Doi Tung
Be warmly welcomed by gorgeous gardens teeming with colorful flowers of every kind.
There are also multiple displays of works of art. If you’re feeling inspired, you can learn how to work a loom or get down and dirty for pottery.
You can also get a very intimate tour of how the royals used to live on a tour of the Royal Villa. An audio guide will provide you with an in depth explanation and if you’d like to learn more, click here!
g. Relax at this nature spot filled with commercial shops – Mae Kachan Hot Springs
This is for the ones who don’t like to be too far away from civilisation.
You’ll be just steps away from restaurants and souvenir shops from where you’re boiling your hot spring eggs.
Everything is cleanly designed, but for those who prefer roughing it or designs that don’t encroach on nature, scroll back up for Sankampang or Chae Son National Park.
h. An iconic structure that looks like it was carved from ice – The White Temple (Wat Rong Khun)
Blindingly white and intricate, this temple has people from all over the world enraptured in its beauty.
It has survived an earthquake and was restored, surpassing its original glory. Every little detail reflects on the religion’s teachings, from the bridge of the cycle of rebirth to the heavenly gates.
Again, no provocative clothing is allowed, meaning cover your legs and shoulders!
6. Doi Ang Khang
Cherry blossoms, strawberry plantations and so much more
If you’re up for it, pack a bag and camp at Kiu Lom Viewpoint. In the morning, you will be greeted with a sea of rolling clouds, and you can be on your way to exploring the surroundings – especially the border of Thailand and Myanmar at Ban Nor Lae.
Note: The main road to Doi Ang Khang has been closed for repairs from 25 July 2018 to April 2019.
a. A successful example of a community project done right – Royal Angkhang Station Project (สถานีเกษตรหลวงอ่างขาง)
Unable to watch their subjects plant poppies and opium for a living, the royals helped cultivate an agricultural lifestyle for those in the area. They were encouraged to plant vegetables and fruits.
Today, it is widely successful, and also acts as a training center for hilltribes to learn how to be self-sustaining.
Not only is it a great initiative, the scenery is beautiful with lush greeneries all around, against a backdrop of blue mountains.
b. Rare orchids and exotic flowers – Bonsai Garden สวนบอนไซ
There is a domed greenhouse in the middle of the garden filled with the smallest orchids in the world and they flower in January exclusively.
The rest of the park is filled with all kinds of bonsai and roses of all colors.
We would like to remind guests to take nothing but photographs. Plucking a flower from the garden is highly frowned upon.
c. Spend time with the indigenous tribes – Mu Ban Khop Dong หมู่บ้านขอบด้ง
One of the many tribes that the Royal Angkhang Station Project helps is the Musoe tribe, allowing them to hang on to their old ways.
You can enjoy the cool weather and fresh strawberries any other day, but if you arrive on a Friday, you will see the kids decked out in their traditional outfits.
d. Highlands of cool weather calls for strawberries – Strawberry Farm ไร่สตรอเบอรี่บ้านนอแล
You’ll be able to find fields of strawberries on rolling hills that look like a picturesque postcard. Between November and January, there will be ripe strawberries for the picking.
And it might be a bit of a novelty, and the lady farmers are dressed in their traditional garments even while out in the fields. An interesting and humbling experience all at the same time.
7. Mae Rim
Start your morning with an adrenaline rush!
There’s nothing like standing on the ledge of a very tall structure, especially one overlooking rainforests as lush as the ones you get in Thailand.
While there are many gems yet to be discovered, there are three things in this northern land that should not be missed.
a. Take a walk on the high side – Queen Sirikit Botanical Gardens, The Canopy Walk
The longest skybridge in Thailand spans over lush forests and beautiful blooms. You will be able to see different flowering plants in different months.
If you’re hoping to catch a glimpse of unique succulents, rare orchids or if you generally enjoy flowers, it’s a place you must definitely visit.
b. Have your fill of fresh lettuce and strawberries – Moncham
Also backed by an initiative called Nong Hoi Royal Project, Moncham is a thriving village using sustainable farming.
You can have lunch in on a bamboo platform with a thatched roof as you drink in the views, and their best teas.
Don’t forget to stroll around the grounds to check out the beautiful blooms and farming community.
c. The local waterfall pool to swim in – Mae Sa Waterfall
It’s local with mostly young Thai families visiting the area, Mae Sa Waterfall is a great place to go to for fun photos and a few hours of swimming.
There’s a picturesque cascade where you can take photos of yourself under or behind the wall of water, and pools to swim in. (Do be careful as we’ve heard that some of the pools can get a little deep.)
8. Huai Nam Dang National Park
What’s in a park but some witches and fun?
Spanning over two provinces, this national park is filled with hot springs, viewpoints and waterfalls. It will also take forever to explore, so you’re better off spending a night at the park rather than trying to rush back to Chiang Mai.
One of the reasons you should camp there is for the sea of clouds that come in during the colder months. Be warned though, temperatures can dip to as low as 4 degrees celsius!
a. Nothing like a creepy pick me up – Coffee We / Witch’s House
What’s interesting is this little witch-themed cafe that has seemingly popped out of nowhere. But isn’t that how it goes? Hansel and Gretel found a house made of candy in the middle of the forest…
Aside from the statues and fun decorations, you can be sure there are no children-eating witches here! There’s just fragrant coffee;)
b. Warm up in outdoor hot springs – Pong Dueat Hot Spring
This brings be back to a winter in Japan, with the beautiful scenery and inviting hot springs. The only problem was I was not allowed to enjoy them because of my tattoos!
You won’t find such a problem in Thailand though. You’ll be able to enjoy a good bone warming dip with a basket of eggs.
It’s all about that botanical herbs and longan delicacies
Next to Lampang is Lamphun which is popular amongst the locals for their longan noodles and other fruity snacks.
They are also hiding a nature marvel that would make for a great story when you return home.
You’ll be at the source of authentic handicrafts from hill tribes, and you’ll get to see how they make them too.
a. For cave explorers and stalactites lovers – Koh Luang Waterfall
If caves and stalactites get your heart going, you’re definitely going to love this unique waterfall.
Forget about the pristine emerald waters, home to schools of fish that will can be seen all to clearly when the sun hits around noon…
The bed of the waterfall is a unique formation of limestones and the area is filled with other limestone caves, no doubt hiding beautiful secrets like this one.
b. Hangout with the Pga K’nyau – Lamphun Cultural Village
Also known as Karen tribe, you can pick up their silver wares at the marketplace or join the festivities.
The tribe is vegetarian as they are all devout Buddhists. Visitors are welcomed to join them for a two day programme in order to understand their way of life a little better.
A popular destination for company trips with team building activities like knife forging and making proposals for potential products the tribe can produce.
c. Pork noodles in longan soup, GIMME MORE! – Longan Noodles ร้านก๋วยเตี๋ยวลำไย เวียงยอง จ.ลำพูน
There is a distinctive taste to this savoury broth with a hint of sweetness from the fruit.
You HAVE to try this. It was flavourful, fragrant and tasted familiar yet unique at the same time. There was a home-cooked quality to it, and it felt like a dish your mom might be cooking up at home – only with her own secret ingredients!
They do serve other food there too like dim sum and local snacks.
PS: A short 4 minute walk from here, you’ll find a traditional market on a bridge over the river. Here you’ll be able to pick up cute items such as jewellery, traditional clothes (cute peasant tops!), embroidered curtains and more.
When to travel to Chiang Mai, Lampang & Lamphun, and Chiang Rai?
The best time to travel to Northern Thailand (Chiang Mai, Lampang & Lamphun, and Chiang Rai) would be between Nov and Feb.
Oct-Nov: Before winter
Feb-Apr: Hot season
During Oct-Nov is when the weather is cool and absolutely perfect, please try to avoid Feb to April because the farmers would be burning and clearing their paddy fields. If you’re the couple that would enjoy a wintery getaway, then head down between Nov-Feb!
How to get to Chiang Mai?
From Singapore, Scoot offers direct flights to Chiang Mai (CNX) from SGD $295 (round-trip).
From Malaysia, AirAsia offers direct flights from MYR 512.90 (round-trip).