There’s no greater thrill than hitting the open road and exploring the world on your terms. That’s why road trips are so popular across the globe. From exploring scenic drives to going off the beaten path, a road trip through Thailand doesn’t disappoint.
While there are many roads to take and adventures to have in Thailand, a road trip through Northern Thailand offers some of the most breathtaking sights you’ll ever encounter, with scenery and temples that are sure to awaken your sense of curiosity and awe.
Whether your trip is by bus, bike, motorbike, or car, get ready to feel the wind in your hair as you set off on your great Northern Thailand adventure!
Chiang Mai to Mae Hong Son
The largest city in Northern Thailand, Chiang Mai, is a bustling metropolis full of Thai history and stunning countryside full of natural wonders. Established in 1296, this storied province offers plenty of adventure for visitors seeking to take a glimpse into Thai history and culture.
No adventure should begin without a hearty breakfast. For those looking to sample local Thai cuisine, Tai Toon Baan does not disappoint. Famous for its egg and cheese sandwiches, Tai Toon Baan also offers congee and custard buns and traditional egg dishes like fried eggs. Be sure to grab a cup of hot coffee or tea to energize yourself for the big day ahead.
Next up on your journey is a visit to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, a historic temple constructed during the reign of Phaya Kue Na, the 6th King of Lanna. You can examine the seven-headed naga staircase from the vibrant temple and enjoy awe-inspiring views of the city below.
After you visit Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, a trip to Bo Kaeo Pine Tree Garden, a Merkus pine forest, will offer shade from the sun and a fascinating look into a grove of Merkus pines. Wat Chan Pine Forest features dense forestry that includes lots of pine and maple trees for you to find some respite under and enjoy the cool shade.
Once you’ve explored a bit of nature, it’s time to move on to lunch at the Baan Auy Homestay, a small restaurant. Baan Auy Homestay is famous for its ready-to-eat hotpot meals ready to serve so you can get back on your way to the next adventure!
Huai Nam Dang National Park is another can’t-miss stop on your amazing Thailand journey. This beautiful reserve offers immaculate views, a hot spring, and rice terraces for visitors to explore. Huai Nam Dang National Park edges between Chiang Mai and Mae Hong Son, and crossing over to Pai is just a short drive away.
After a long day of travel and fun, book your stay at a hotel in nearby Pai, such as a boutique resort or farm village. Huai Nam Dang National Park edges between both Chiang Mai and Mae Hong Son, and crossing over to Pai is just a short (about 19 miles) drive.
After fueling up for breakfast at your hotel, it’s time to return to your road trip adventure, and no trek to Mae Hong Son is complete without a trip to the Tha Pai Hot Spring. Take an early morning dip in the naturally heated pond. It’s warm enough to soak comfortably but hot enough to cook an egg!
Once you have relaxed at Tha Pai, you’re ready to get back on the road and head to your next destination. Pai Canyon (or ‘Kong Lan’ in Thai) is a beautiful canyon whose name translates to ‘lizard’s walking path’. But you don’t have to be a lizard to enjoy the exposed stone paths that culminate with a scenic view of the forests and mountains below.
By now, you’re probably ready for lunch or dinner, and stopping at Om Garden Cafe will not disappoint your palate. Though some Western-style dishes are served at the restaurant, you can still get traditional Thai food, such as grilled fish and rice with coconut milk.
Start day three of your trek with an early morning visit to Yun Lai Viewpoint, a scenic vista where you can watch the sunrise over the mountains. The Yun Lai Viewpoint is just a short trip from the Pai town center (approximately 15 minutes).
Next, it’s off to Mittraphap Pai Restaurant for lunch in Santichon Village. The restaurant serves a delectable stewed pork leg and a Chinese steamed bun that comes highly recommended.
After lunch, a trip to Nam Lod Cave to see the ancient stalactites and stalagmites while riding on a raft through the peaceful river that flows through the cave will leave you in awe of the wonders of Thailand.
A fascinating trip to the Ban Jabo community of the Black Lahu Hill Tribe is your first stop on your 4th day traversing the Mae Hong Son countryside. The community welcomes tourists and has many restaurants, homestays, and shops to peruse during your visit.
Next is Pang Mapha Viewpoint, Ban Luk Khao Lam, where you can experience overhead views of the Bang Mapha district. A visit to the Bang Mapha district is a great tourist stop with many shops and restaurants.
Another fun cave adventure is the Pla Cave (Fish Cave), which is complete with a stream that is packed with native fish including soro brook carp.
Next is a trip to the Sue Tong Pae Bridge, a bamboo bridge built by Monks and villagers to cross the rice fields between Phu Sama Dharma Park and the Kung Mai Sak Community. The bridge is best experienced in the early morning when monks bring alms down the large hill and across the bridge and over the farmland to the local community. Visitors are encouraged to participate in the almsgiving but should bring items to offer the monks as a token of appreciation.
If you’re feeling weary, you’re in luck because your next stop on your journey is the Phu Klon Country Club and Health Spa, a relaxing respite from the road that offers mineral water and underground mud treatments.
Finally, cap off the evening with dinner at Lee Wine Rak Thai, a restaurant on the edge of an expansive reservoir. Here you can get many traditional Thai dishes and shop in the restaurant’s souvenir shop.
Start your day at Ban Rak Thai, a village founded by the Yunnan, who were ex-Chinese Nationalist Soldiers. Today, the community is famous for its tea plantations and tourist shops.
Next, get back to nature with a trip to Pang Oung, a reservoir on top of a mountain that is a popular camping area for tourists.
Moving along, stop for lunch at Roti Rak Thai, which serves noodles, Thai-style omelettes, and Thai fried chicken.
Wat Phra That Doi Kong Mu is another fascinating spot to visit. The temple of Mae Hong Son was built in 1874 and features two pagodas and incredible city views.
If you’re ready for dinner, stop by Kai Mook Restaurant for their seasonal menu and delectable stuffed braised pork leg.
The Ban Pa Bong Piang Rice Terraces is a perfect early morning stop in Chiang Mai. The rice fields are active during the rainy season, and the locals will charm you with their welcoming personalities and simple way of life.
Plan on spending the better part of your day at Doi Inthanon National Park. This expansive forest space is filled with trails, wildlife, and graceful waterfalls.
After a long day of adventure, it’s time for dinner, and King of Noodle is a nice restaurant away from the more touristy areas for those looking for a delicious but quiet meal.
On the last day of your epic road trip, grab some coffee and breakfast at Coffee Ngeggee, a cafe in a quaint Chinese house.
First up on your trek today is a trip to Pha Chor in Mae Wang National Park. Sediments from the Ping River created this 30-meter-high cliff and soil pillar.
After working up an appetite, make sure to visit the Din Cafe, a restaurant made of clay that features clay play structures for children.
Speaking of kids, be sure to stop by the Chiang Mai Zoo, which is full of pandas, penguins, an aquarium, and many more species of animals to investigate. It even has one of the longest aquatic tunnels in the world, at a whopping 436 feet long!
For dinner, the Ajarn Saiyud and Dr. Sai’s Kitchen offer up traditional Thai fare, including Thai mackerel in dried red curry, and is known for its beautiful food presentation. Be sure to snap a few photos before your first bite!
Before you call it a night, swing by Tha Phae Gate, the only remaining city gate with wooden doors. Once used as a pier for boats and rafts, it is now open to the public and used as a walking street on Sundays.
Do go chasing waterfalls when you road trip through the majestic beauty of Tak. This 2-3 day journey will surprise and delight you with natural wonders and revered shrines.
Your road trip through Tak begins bright and early at the Kwang Tung Garden Restaurant, which serves traditional Cantonese cuisine amidst indoor seating or outdoor garden seating.
Once you’re powered up to begin driving, head out to Thararak Waterfall and take a boat ride to get closer to the falls. While you’re there, drop by the dazzling golden Ko Pagoda.
The next stop on your trip should be the Blue Cave, which appears blue and resembles an elephant’s trunk. This unique cave starkly contrasts the browns and oranges found in most local Thai caves.
Chao Langusuan Restaurant is the perfect place to stop off for a leisurely lunch. If you like spice, you’re in luck! A dish worth trying is the rice noodles with crab.
After lunch, return to the road and head to Pai Wai Waterfall, a massive waterfall with 100 tiers nestled in a dense jungle of rattan palms.
Finally, end your day at Mon Mok Ta Wan, and enjoy a 360-degree view of the mountains surrounding this scenic viewpoint.
Begin day two at New Doi Muser Market, a local market for the Muser Tribe where you can get fresh produce and everyday items.
Next, get back on the road and head to the King Taksin the Great Memorial Shrine, the first shrine built for King Taksin the Great in Thailand. This popular shrine is full of statues and relics that will delight any history buff.
After visiting the shrine, drop by the Rattanakosin Bicentennial Bridge, a bridge built to celebrate the bicentennial, and enjoy epic views of the Ping River.
For lunch, the Tieng Na Coffee and Bakery Farm offers fresh Thai and Western food and is famous for its delectable, freshly baked croissants.
Afterward, head over to Wat Thai Wattanaram, a Burmese-style temple, which is home to a Buddha modeled after Phra Phuttha Mahumuni, Myanmar’s sacred Buddha.
Finally, end your night at Rim Moei Market, a purveyor of local products from both Thailand and Myanmar, including home decor, preserved foods, and gemstones.
Get ready to soak at the Maekasa Hot Spring in water that reaches 75° Celsius and can sometimes boil an egg. While there, soothe your aching muscles with a famous Thai massage before hitting the road again.
Then stop by Wat Phrathat Doi Hin Kio, the pagoda home to the Phaya Long relic. This pagoda is located on a stone cliff where you can see surrounding Thailand as well as Myanmar.
After exploring the pagoda, indulge yourself in a delicious lunch from Char Muang Cafe & Restaurant, where the stir-fried crab in curry powder will delight the senses. Enjoy your meal from the indoor, air-conditioned cafe, or enjoy your food al fresco on the outdoor balcony.
Whether you’re hiking, biking, or driving, a trip through Northern Thailand offers an abundance of new experiences for everyone. From trying new cuisine to visiting historic temples, ancient forests, and unique flora and fauna, your trip through Northern Thailand is sure to be the adventure of a lifetime. To learn more about some of the best road trips in Thailand, visit our Road Trip Unseen New Series for more information.