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Culture vultures

Top tips for exploring Northern Thailand

Sophia Purcell March 19, 2019

Our Thailand Destination Specialist, Isla, recently returned from a visit to Northern Thailand. Her seven night itinerary included Chiang Rai, Chiang Mai, Mae Hong Son, Pai and Bangkok. Here, she tells us about some of the highlights of her trip and shares her recommendations.

What’s your Top Tip for visiting Chiang Rai?

Chiang Rai is a peaceful destination that feels a bit like a cross between a village and a city. There are rolling green hillsides, rice paddies and tranquil lakes, but also the buzz and excitement you’d expect in an urban area, so you get the best of both worlds. My top tip when visiting Chiang Rai is to explore the White and Blue temples. These are a short drive from the city centre and both are incredible. As you might expect, the White Temple feels really pure, calm and serene, and although it’s very popular, it doesn’t feel overly busy as the atmosphere is very respectful. There’s also a fantastic museum at the White Temple dedicated to Chalermchai Kositpipat, the artist who designed and constructed this site. By contrast, the Blue Temple is a kaleidoscope of colours and patterns – both temples are amazing.

What was the highlight of your Northern Thailand trip?

I’ll never forget visiting the Akha Hill Tribe. We were given a tour of the Hloyo village, and our guide shared with us some of the history of the local community. Renowned for their beauty, the Akha women make enchanting jewellery and handicrafts, and are also famous for their elaborate, distinctive costumes and headdresses. Stretching nearly a foot high, these are made from cotton and decorated with animal furs, feathers, coins, beads, and strands of coloured wool.

Our tour of the village also included a traditional cooking demonstration. We learned how the different ingredients are cultivated and prepared. Then we tried our hand at making a traditional chilli paste, before sitting down to enjoy a meal together. This was by far the best part of my trip.

How would you describe the cuisine in Northern Thailand?

A taste sensation; aromatic and delicious. The food was so fresh and the flavours really packed a punch. On the trip we were lucky to eat at world-class restaurants in Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai, but the meal with the Akha Hill Tribe was, in my opinion, unforgettable. I really enjoyed the family style dining experience – it was great to be able to try so many different dishes at once. The street food on offer at the markets in Chiang Mai is also a must. There are so many different local snacks to sample; all freshly prepared.

Where would you suggest visiting for a really great view?

For city views, the rooftop bars in Chiang Mai are breath-taking, but if you want to get up-close to nature, I’d highly recommend Ban Jabo Café. Nestled between Pai and Mae Hong Son, this incredible café offers spectacular views of the mountains and surrounding rainforest landscape. Enjoy a fresh coffee as you perch on wooden benches high up in the clouds. The service comes at a leisurely pace, but this is never a bad thing, as it leaves you time to make the most of your surroundings – just be sure to leave yourself enough time.

What’s your top tip for Chiang Mai?

Don’t leave Chiang Mai without spending an evening at one of the night markets. They’re so vibrant and atmospheric, and when it comes to shopping, they sell everything you could wish for.

Time your stay over the weekend for the chance to experience the Saturday and Sunday “Walking Street” markets or alternatively, spend an evening exploring the night markets. You’ll be able to pick up local souvenirs, spices and local delicacies. Make sure you’re hungry, because the food stalls are an absolute delight.

Popular street food dishes include Nam prik num (a paste made from chilli, shallot and garlic, usually eaten with sticky rice, boiled vegetables and deep-fried pork crackling) and Sai Ooa (grilled pork Chiang Mai sausage seasoned with fresh herbs and cooked on an open fire).

Another top tip is The Service 1921 Restaurant and Bar at the Anantara Chiang Mai. Once the home of the British Consulate, this restaurant combines Thai, Sichuanese and Vietnamese dishes with traditional 1920s British décor. You can dine in one of the upper salons, or even reserve a private room, accessed only by a secret door hidden behind a bookshelf.

If you’re licking your lips in anticipation of visiting Northern Thailand to discover the wonderful cuisine of this aromatic region, browse through these tours and see where your taste buds will take you next.

Wat Phra Singh


Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai
Wiang Tha Kan


Chiang Rai

Chiang Rai
Banyan Tree Bangkok Rooftop