How to spend 7 days in Chiang Mai and Northern Thailand? - One week itinerary in Northern Thailand
My family and I spent almost a week in the mountainous Northern part in Thailand. Of course It wasn't enough to explore everything that the North of Thailand had to offer but it was enough to check out major places there. Due to time constraint and having two kids in the group, we only picked out the main attractions and had a lot of breaks during the day. I've also included a section at the end of the post to let you know how I would've done differently if we'd had more time and there had been no kid travelling with us.
Day 1: Arrival in Chiang Mai, Kao Soy experience and Bazaar night market
Kao Soy is the must try dish in Chiang Mai
We flew to Chiang Mai in the afternoon on the first day. It took only 15 mins from the airport to where we stayed, which was in Nimman area. This area is the trendiest part in Chiang Mai and known for nightlife. After checking in the hotel, we went to dine at Kao Soy Nimman, arguably the most popular restaurant for Kao Soy - the signature of the region. Kao Soy is a bowl of fresh long cut egg noodles and you can choose the meat to with it, however, chicken is the traditional I believe. Located in a small alley, the restaurant was surprisingly easy to find by Google Maps. It had a very nice outdoor seating area and helpful staff. Their Kao Soy was pretty good however, other dishes in my opinion were mediocre. I wasn't quite sure at the time if I wasn't used to the taste or the food was actually just average. But now, having been to other restaurants in the North of Thailand, I am confident to say that the restaurant was just ok, or perhaps more precisely, the dishes we ordered (pork jerky and grilled beef) were so so.
After dinner, we went to the famous night market - Bazaar. Being one of the main attractions in the night, the market offered a unique experience into Thai culture. You could easily find food and drinks and go shopping in Bazaar. With the number of shops there, it's almost a guarantee that you will find something to your liking. I purchased a pair of wooden elephants and my sister a handmade bracelet.
Day 2: Wat Pra That Doi Suthep, Baan Kang Wat - craft village, Wat Umong and shopping in Nimman
After breakfast, we hired a Songthaeow ( passenger vehicle in Thailand adapted from a larger truck and used as a share taxi or bus ) for half a day to visit attractions in Chiang Mai.
Doi Suthep is the most venerated Buddhist temple in Chiang Mai
Our first stop is the Wat Pra That Doi Suthep, a Buddhist temple that is considered to be one of the most sacred pilgrimage spots in Thailand. The temple is located about 9 miles from Chiang Mai and 1000 metres above sea level on the Doi Suthep mountain, which it is named after. The temple looked incredibly extravagant with a number of holy shrines.
We spent about two hours in the temple, paying respect to Buddha and exploring the outside area. It was extremely touristy so it was almost impossible to take any photo without having a photobomb.
After that, we travelled down the mountain and headed to the Baan Kang Wat village, a quaint, low-key artists’ village with restaurants, cafes, public workshops & many art and handicraft shops. I absolutely loved this village. It was nicely laid out and decorated, had a lot of green space with a no plastic bag policy!
We lunched in the village, shopped around for a couple of hours before heading to the Wat Umong, another Buddhist temple close by. You probably know that Thailand is a Buddhist country, temple is everywhere! Wat Umong was nowhere near extravagant as Doi Suthep, however, it was still a nice stop on the way back to the hotel.
In the evening, we dined in a casual restaurant in Nimman. It had a cozy feel, the food was reasonably priced and tasted really nice (very spicy though !)
Day 3: Pai Village - White Buddha statue, Coffee in Love, Sunset in Pai Canyon, Pai night market
On day 3, we hired a private minivan with a driver to take us to other places in the North for a 3 days. The road to Pai is nicely constructed however, there are 762 curves on the way up there! Some bends are very sharp, one after another, which can easily make you sick. I threw up once and I never got car sick before !
Because there were so many curves and it was up on the mountain, it took us about 4 hours (including 2 short breaks of 15-20 minutes) to get to Pai. We got there by noon and went to get lunch at a Mittaphapaai, a Chinese restaurant in Santichon village recommended by our Thai driver. The food was really good and the restaurant had a lot of parking space. Once recharged and full of energy, we headed to check in our hotel which was located right in the middle of Pai village, rested for an hour and went out to do some sightseeing.
Our first stop was the Chedi Phra Thai Mae Yen, a huge white Buddhist statue that was situated on a staircase that overlooked Pai. You can have a very good view of the valley and it's a good idea to catch the sunset from there. If you decide to do so, don't forget that it's a holy place and you need to be respectful.
Coffee in Love, a cafe that is so well known in Pai that has become a tourist attraction
We went to Coffee in Love, a cafe that is considered by many to be one of the major destinations in Pai and chill there for some time. The cafe had nice seating areas that overlooked the valley and had a very good view of the mountain ranges. The decorations throughout the cafe were well designed and set up, creating many Instagrammable spots for those who loved photography. Food and drinks there were ok and a bit more pricey than other places (which was expected because of the view). All in all, it's worth visiting if you're in Pai.
Catching sunset in Pai canyon was one of the most popular activities in Pai
At around 5pm, we left Coffee in Love for Pai canyon to see the sunset. Once we got there, scooters, cars and songthaews already accumulated in the car park. The trail to the canyon was pretty linear and fairly easy. No hiking gear was required and it took about 10 mins to ascend to the canyon. As catching sunset in Pai canyon was a popular activity, the canyon was quite packed when we arrived. It was absolutely lovely to see the sun go down over the valley from the canyon despite the crowd.
We dined in Charlie and Lek's, a highly rated restaurant in Pai. The food was very good, not amazing and fairly priced.
We then went to the night market in Pai, which was an amusing experience. The night market was surprisingly good considering that Pai was a very small town. There were many food stalls, clothes, accessory and souvenir shops as well as restaurants and pubs and we bought quite a few items from the market before heading back to our hotel.
Day 4: Mae Hong Son - Ban Rak Thai - the chinese village, and more Buddhist temples
The next day we continued our journey up the mountain to Mae Hong Son. There were hill tribes in villages near Mae Hong Son, the most famous of was probably the long neck tribe where the women in the village had longer neck than the average person as they wore a number of heavy necklaces since a young age. Having said that, we didn't visit the long neck village and decided to see the Chinese village in Ban Rak Thai, which is very close the border with Myanmar. There were a lot of Chinese immigrants in the village, who migrated from China through Myanmar and settled down in Ban Rak Thai.
We had lunch in a Chinese restaurant (of course) by the lake, which had a very nice view over the lake. The food was good and the service was fast.
After lunch, we had a walk around the village and visited a tea plantation in the village. It was nice to see Chinese, Burmese and Thai all came together in one place.
In the afternoon, we drove to Mae Hong Son, which took about 1 hour and visited two Buddhist temples, Wat Phrathat Doi Khong Mu and Wat Chong Klang there (well, it's Thailand so of course temples were everywhere). These two temples were very close to each other, only about 5 mins drive apart hence it convenient to visit both in one go. Compared with Doi Su Thep, they were not as extravagant or beautiful to look at but it was still a very good visit that gave us more insight into about the religion and the culture of the country.
We dined in Burmese restaurant called Salween River just by the lake in the centre of Mae Hong Son. There weren't many nice restaurants in the area and this was one of most rated restaurants there. The food was good, however I wasn't sure if it was worth the waiting time (45 mins). Plus the customer service wasn't very good. The waitress wouldn't tell us when the food would be coming (she understood the question but avoided answering), which caused a lot of frustration. From reading the reviews afterwards, it turned out there had been a lot of complaints about the waiting time there. We should've done more research! I guess the takeaway is to avoid this restaurant unless you're prepared to wait.
After dinner, we went to the night market, which spread around the central lake. The Mae Hong Son night market was very small and didn't have much which wasn't surprising considering how tiny the town was. It took us about half an hour to check out the market. One thing that was really fun there was the sky lantern. That night we lit two lanterns and let them fly above the lake. Don't forget to make a wish before you let go of the lantern!
Day 5 & 6 - Chiang Rai: Blue temple, Golden triangle and White temple.
On day 5, we spent most of the day travelling from Mae Hong Son to Chiang Rai.
When we got to Chiang Rai it was already 5pm. We checked in, had some rest and went to get dinner at Khao Tom Charoenchai, a very good restaurant that was many locals' favourite. When we got there, it was packed with people and there was a queue however the queue moved quickly and we got a table in less than 10 minutes. The food was very good as expected although ordering was a bit of a struggle due to staff's limited English and of course my non-existent Thai.
We then went to visit the magnificent Clock Tower which was only a few minutes walk from there. The Clock Tower was situated in the middle of a busy roundabout so be careful when you take photos, don't go in the middle of the road to take photos. It's dangerous and it blocks the traffic.
The walking street, unfortunately, was not open while we were there. Bazaar night market was open but having been to night markets three nights in a row, we decided to give it a pass and drove around to see Chiang Rai at night before going back to the hotel.
Blue temple is known for its distinguished blue colour and elaborate carving
We started day 6 at around 8am and headed to the Blue temple ( Wat Rong Seur Ten) which was only about half an hour from where we stayed. The Blue temple is a fairly modern temple that was completed in 2016. It was painted in a vivid blue colour with yellow embellishments. The moment I saw the temple, I was stunned at how colourful the temple was and how elaborate the carvings were. Even though the temple was fairly new, it was very touristy. Admission to the Blue temple was free.
The Golden Triangle - where Thailand, Laos and Myanmar meet
We left the Blue temple after spending one hour there and drove to the Golden Triangle, where the borders of Thailand, Laos, and Myanmar meet at the confluence of the Ruak and Mekong rivers. I wasn't keen about going there because I didn't think there would be much to see but my family insisted on this because they thought it would be really cool to see the borders.
From the bank of Mekong river, I could see Laos and Myanmar, which I guess was pretty cool. However, apart from that, there wasn't much to see but a few shops, a Buddha statue and the Golden Triangle signs. There was the option to take a boat to visit Laos but we didn't think it was worth it.
My honest opinion is to give this a pass unless seeing the border is something you want to do.
White temple - Wat Rong Khun - the highlight of Chiang Rai
Wat Rong Khun, commonly known as the White Temple to westerners or tourists, was the highlight of my visit to Chiang Rai. It took us only about one hour to get to the White Temple from the Gold Triangle. The ticket to the temple was 100 baht.
The architecture was absolutely stunning. It was beautifully designed and elaborately carved and decorated. Every single detail was simply perfection. I was absolutely in love with the temple.
After 2 hours trying to take in every single detail of the temple and admiring its beauty, we drove back to Chiang Mai which was about 3 hours. We got back to Chiang Mai just before 7pm, just perfect for dinner.
Day 7 Chiang Mai - the old town and flight home
I planned to spend the morning explore the old town in Chiang Mai because we didn't get the chance to in our first two days. However, I unfortunately got a bad cold while in Chiang Rai and had no energy to go anywhere. It was a good thing that I left the Old town last to visit because it was not a priority for the trip. Plus, there are more reasons to come back to Chiang Mai and North of Thailand now !
In the afternoon we caught the flight back and concluded our trip to Thailand.
Would I have done anything differently if I had travelled alone WITHOUT kids?
Yes. would've spent more time hiking, trekking and visiting hills tribes in Pai. I would've skipped the Golden Triangle in Chiang Rai and spent more time exploring the streets in Chiang Rai. I would've spent more time in Chiang Mai to explore the coffee shops and try more street food.
But honestly, I don't mind too much because I'd love to go back to Northern Thailand again in the future. Next time I come back, I'll definitely do all the things I listed above !
Have you been to the North of Thailand? What was your favourite place?