By contrast to the beaches and resort towns of southern Thailand, northern Thailand has a completely different atmosphere, and offers something radically different from the south. In northern Thailand, you can explore the dense forests and rolling mountains of Thailand, visit hill tribe villages, and take in Thai culture in the city of Chiang Mai. Make Chiang Mai your base, then enjoy the various jungle tours, mountain hikes, and elephant riding available nearby. Here's a closer look at some of the trekking opportunities near Chiang Mai.
The highest peak in Thailand at 2,565 metres (that's 8,415 feet), Doi Inthanon has also been known as Doi Luang (“big mountain”) and Doi Ang Ka (“crow's pond top”). Its current name was given in honour of King Inthawichayanon, who ruled from 1870 to 1897, one of the last kings of Chiang Mai. His remains were placed on the mountain.
In 1954, the forests surrounding Doi Inthanon became one of the first National Parks of Thailand. Later, in 1972 and 1975, the protected area was increased to its current total of more than 480 square kilometres. Spreading from the lowlands to the mountain's peak, the park covers a wide variety of climate and ecological zones. With 362 known species of bird, the park, which is often called “the roof of Thailand”, has the second highest number of bird species in any Thai park.
Recognising the popularity of the park with tourists, recent development has made visiting and staying near Doi Inthanon more comfortable, but without damaging its serene, beautiful environment. Inside the park you'll find eating and drinking areas, as well as accommodation. Roads and hiking trails lead past awe-inspiring waterfalls, incredible flora and fauna, including the occasional forest monkey.
Doi Suthep is another high peak in northern Thailand, surrounded by its own national park. Like Doi Inthanon, the hiking here is unlike any hike you'll ever take in the west, as you trek through dense forests, and spot all sorts of wildlife and flowering plants. Doi Suthep's main attraction, however, is not so much the mountain but the Buddhist temple perched on its summit. From the temple grounds, you can snap photos of fantastic views, or you can join the monks for informal discussions about the Buddhist faith.
Jungle Tours in Chiang Mai
If a tame hike up a mountain isn't your style, you can try one of the more arduous, adventurous jungle tours offered by various Chiang Mai outfits. One such tour you might consider is the two day Jungle Survival Tour offered by Konthaitour. You'll get a chance to stay overnight in a hill tribe village, while spending two days hiking through the jungle, riding elephants, rafting down a river, and swimming at the base of a waterfall. The price is only £36 per person, and includes lodging, meals, and all the trekking adventures mentioned.
Visitors to Chiang Mai are often charmed by the elephant treks. Not unlike the horseback riding offered at other holiday destinations, elephant trekking gives you and your family a chance to ride on the back of an elephant through the jungles of Thailand.
Elephant treks also include one-day tours of the Chiang Mai and Mae Wang areas. Some treks take you past Hmong and Karen hill tribe villages, waterfalls, and through virgin forests. Some tours also include bamboo rafting on the Mae Wang River. Prices generally start at around £20 per person, and include English-speaking guides, transportation to and from your hotel, lunch, and the ride itself.
One of the more unique experiences is the Patara Elephant Farm, where you can be an elephant owner for a day. You'll receive training on how to manage an elephant farm, tracking your elephant in the bush, how to approach an elephant without frightening it or endangering yourself, elephant life cycle, and the daily health care for elephants. Starting at £118 per person, the Patara Elephant Farm tour lasts all day and includes your transportation to and from your hotel, a training outfit, a picnic lunch, photos and video clips, and your admission fee.
In short, Chiang Mai is the perfect destination for anyone with an adventuring spirit. You won't run out of things to do, no matter how much time you spend in this jewel of northern Thailand.