To celebrate Chiang Mai reopening (finally!), I recently took a trip to experience the province with fresh eyes – in a way that wasn’t focused on the Old City. Instead, it was put together with outdoorsy, nature-loving travelers in mind. To my surprise, much of this itinerary was new to me, even after living in Chiang Mai for nearly seven years. With that in mind and with Chiang Mai reopening for tourism again, I decided to share this three-day Chiang Mai itinerary with you. It includes what to do, places to stay, and where to eat. Plus, I have provided a map and all the details so you know exactly where everything is and how to make it all happen.
Day 1 | Welcome to Mueang Khong, Chiang Mai’s Hidden Gem
After rendezvousing with a few new friends who joined me on this Northern Thailand adventure, my first destination was a small agricultural community I embarrassingly never visited prior to this trip. After a twisty three-hour journey that took me past the familiar sites of Chiang Dao, my first day had me kicking back on a guided bamboo raft tour, dining on Northern Thai cuisine while witnessing daily farm life, and staring in awe at the incredible views from my quaint but comfortable Bannok Hok Khwai bungalow built above the rice fields.
Bamboo Rafting in Mueang Khong
I’ve had my fair share of bamboo rafting adventures in Thailand, but the experience in Mueang Khong was much different than any I had before and truly surpassed my expectations. Located off the main road as you come into town, this river activity was relaxed, much less complicated, and dare I say safer than my experiences guiding myself and friends through the hairpin turns of the Mae Wang River in the foothills south of Chiang Mai. The local guides were enthusiastic and made sure to make the journey fun and memorable for everyone. To make a great time even better, our guides made sure to stop at a small shop to load up on beers for the ride. It seems we weren’t the only ones pumped for Chiang Mai reopening.
One thing that jumped out at me while we floated down the Mae Taeng River was the amount of water buffalo flanking the shores as we drifted along. I would later come to find out that these majestic animals were synonymous with the Mae Khong Sub-District and its rice farming culture.
Phone: (093) 146-2254 / (085) 625-2191
Hours: Call for hours
Price: 700 THB for 3-4 people and 1,000 THB for 4-6. Beverages are not included in the price.
|NOTE: The bamboo rafting tour lasts about an hour and the guides can pick you up and drop you off at your local accommodations. Be sure to wear clothes and shoes that can get wet.|
Lunch at Ban Phu Tawan
Perched on a hill overlooking Mueang Khong, Ban Phu Tawan Restaurant is much more than just another Thai restaurant. From the dining area, there’s a beautiful sweeping look into the daily life of the farmers, fishermen, and wildlife on this small piece of Northern Thailand. While we filled up on cold beer and spicy som tum after a morning of exploring the town, we watched a father check his fishing traps while his young son led the family’s small herd of water buffalo down the river bank to feed on bundles of rice straw. The food may not be the main attraction, but it sure does pair nicely with the views and photo opportunities you get from the Ban Phu Tawan’s open-air dining area.
Phone: (089) 95313199
Price: Dishes in the 100 THB – 250 THB range
Bannok Hok Khwai in Mueang Khong
I stayed at Bannok Hok Khwai, a set of unique rustic wooden bungalows interconnected by bamboo walkways above picturesque rice fields. Several of the bungalows are equipped with soaking tubs that look out over the bright green scenery, while others offer decks with built-in hammocks for unwinding after a day of travel and exploring. The open-air onsite restaurant offers local Northern Thai cuisine and delicious caffeinated drinks in a family-style setting of rustic tables with bench seating. From the eclectic cylinder-shaped huts on stilts to more traditional bungalows adorned with antique Lanna-style fishing traps and tools, this resort offers much more of a memorable experience than your run-of-the-mill guesthouse. Although the rooms are fairly basic, they include hot water, a mosquito net, a wall fan, and of course… views for days.
One of this resort’s distinguishing characteristics is the antique hand-carved wooden water buffalo bells that are craftily integrated into the design. Once used by farmers to locate their wandering livestock, these decorative pieces now line the bamboo walkways that bridge the property together.
Phone: (080) 083-5096
Price: 1,500 THB to 3,500 THB. Breakfast is included in the price.
Day 2 | Sea of Mist, Chiang Dao Cave, & The Nest
My second day began at 4:30 am with a 10 km off-road climb to the top of Doi Pa Kia in the bed of a pickup truck to catch the sunrise. Then I traveled an hour east to go caving in Chiang Dao before wrapping up the day with, yes, more beer and a pleasant stay at one of my favorite resorts in the area – the Chiang Dao Nest!
Sunrise View of Doi Luang Over a Sea of Mist
I’ll admit, I’m not the biggest fan of waking up before the sun comes up. Nevertheless, I’ve seen the sun rise all over Thailand, well, because I just don’t want to miss out on the incredible photos. I’m rarely disappointed and this time was no different. After about 20 minutes of ascending to the top of Doi Pa Kia, we made it to the viewpoint known as “Den T.V.” (เด่นทีวี). The local guide explained that years ago this was the only spot in Mueang Khong that received TV reception. Now just imagine having to come all the way up here to get the news or watch the big game… no thanks!
As the sun started to rise from behind the horizon, a gorgeous fog emerged and appeared like waves rolling across the hilltops below. This sea of mist stretched out until it touched the base of Doi Luang, Thailand’s third tallest mountain. We took in the view and photographed the colors as they changed every few minutes. Just before packing up and heading back down the mountain, our guides provided us with hot coffee and snacks to hold us over until we could have breakfast at the resort.
For the excursion, you will need to organize the experience through your resort. The staff at Bannok Hok Kwai made the process very simple. It is 150 THB per person and each truck bed can carry about six people across the bench seats with an additional four standing behind the cab. Arrive early to beat the crowd as this viewpoint is very popular with domestic tourists.
Season: November – January
Price: 150 THB per person
Chiang Dao Cave
After checking out of our bungalows in Mueang Khong, we were off to a place I have actually explored once before, the Chiang Dao Cave at Wat Tham (ถ้ำเชียงดาว). Having already gone the more adventurous 725 m route in the past, I was curious about the alternate 200 m route. While the longer 45 minutes route had me climbing over rocks and squeezing through dark tunnels, the shorter route only took about 20 minutes and I found it to be appropriate for all activity levels. The noticeably wider path was well-lit with lighting that draws your attention to the impressive stalactite formations along the way, eventually ending at a reclining Buddha shrine.
Hours: 7:00 AM to 5:00 PM Daily
Cost: 40 THB per foreign adult or 20 baht (written in Thai as ๒๑) per Thai adult. 100 THB is the suggested tip for a guide.
The Chiang Dao Nest
Phone: (053) 456-612
Prices: From 595 THB to 1345 THB (18 USD to 42 USD) per night depending on the season. Breakfast is not included.
|TIP: Guests staying at Nest 2 are able to enjoy all the facilities at Nest 1 (less than 1 km away), including a Western restaurant, swimming pool, and Thai-style lounging salas!|
Day 3 | Eco Valley Trekking and Dinner in the Lanna Kingdom
On Day 3 we hit the road and made our way back towards Chiang Mai to check out a beautiful riverside hotel, hike a portion of Thailand’s tallest mountain, and treat ourselves to an upscale Lanna-style dinner.
Hiking the Eco Valley of Doi Inthanon
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With Chiang Mai reopening also comes the exciting news that the public can finally enjoy its national parks once again. (Should they have ever been closed?) To mark the occasion, I jumped at the chance to join Raya Heritage’s Signature Eco Valley Hike. Led by Nu, a local Pakeryaw Hill Tribe farmer, I was shown a side of Doi Inthanon that I had never experienced on previous trips, full of beautiful waterfalls, terraced rice fields, and sustainable farmland passed down to Nu from his father. The excursion includes transportation, a guided tour of Nu’s family farm, a lunch made fresh from ingredients sourced from the area, and a guided hike of the Pha Dok Siew Waterfall Nature Trail (เส้นทางเดินป่า น้ำตกผาดอกเสี้ยว). This excursion departs Raya Heritage at 8:00 AM and arrives back in time for dinner at 6:00 PM.
Phone: (023) 011 8613
Price: 1 guest 6,650 THB, 2 guests 3,900 THB/guest, 3 guests 3,000 THB/guest, 4 guests 2,500 THB/guest
|TIP: In my opinion, the Pha Dok Siew Waterfall Nature Trail is the highlight, so if you’re the do-it-yourself traveler and/or want to save money then you can easily arrange your own transport to the trailhead and pay a local Hill Tribe guide 200 THB (required) to take you.|
Dinner at Khu Khao Restaurant
Khu Khao Restaurant is part of Raya Heritage Hotel and situated on the banks of the Ping River. This restaurant prides itself in providing a crossroads dining concept that aims to capture the flavors and history of the Lanna Kingdom. amed after the rice farming tool used to separate the chaff from the grain, its menu combines the traditional tastes of Northern Thailand, Myanmar, Laos, and China’s southwestern Yunnan Province.
Aside from the much-needed downtime after a long (but incredible) day of hiking and the relaxing river views, the highlight for me was the Jin- Loong. This Burmese-inspired, Shan-style dish is made of light purple butterfly pea vermicelli rice noodles and pork meatballs, paired with pickled cabbage, ginger, pearl onion, and tossed in coconut and shrimp paste. If you find yourself in Chiang Mai, then this meal is absolutely worth the short drive from the Old City.
Phone: (053) 111 6703
Hours: Open Daily. Breakfast 7:00 AM to 10:30 AM. Lunch 11:30 AM to 5:00 PM. Dinner 6:00 PM to 11:00 PM.
This high-end riverside sanctuary is just 20 minutes removed from the hustle and bustle of downtown Chiang Mai and lends itself as a great base for tourists looking to explore the province or as a retreat for expats and locals seeking a break from a busy work week. I’ve heard a lot about this hotel from a few friends, but I’ve never had the opportunity to visit for myself. It’s easily recognizable by its clean white exterior and its locally made Lanna-style furniture and decorations. The property has 38 large suites equipped with large bathtubs, spacious balconies, tea sets, and select suites on the ground level have their own private plunge pools.
I noticed right away that even though the Chiang Mai reopening process is in its early stages, a surprising amount of rooms were booked by domestic tourists, most likely visiting from Bangkok looking to get a taste of Chiang Mai’s pleasant cool season. It was reassuring to see this and all of the other places I visited during my trip begin to open back up and welcome the general public. It’s about time!
Website: Book Raya Heritage
Phone: (023) 011 8613
Prices: Starting at 7,500 THB per night
|TIP: If this place is over your budget then we have put together a list of hotels, guesthouses, and hostels for you to check out.|
Perfect Three Day Chiang Mai Reopening Itinerary Map
Chiang Mai Reopening For Tourism, Here is How to Get There
Assuming you’re already in Thailand, Chiang Mai is one of the country’s top destinations, so there are many ways to get there. It’s usually easy to book airline, bus, and train tickets online, but with Covid, things have become a bit more complicated. Make sure to look into any travel rules or requirements before getting in that plane, train, bus, or car.
The most convenient way to get to Chiang Mai is to fly into Chiang Mai International Airport (CNX). There are many flights per day serviced by a variety of boutique and budget airlines. There are also some surprisingly comfortable VIP buses from most provinces as well as some overnight train routes available if you can spare the extra hours.
Once you’ve arrived in Chiang Mai, it’s easiest to book a Grab, Thailand’s version of Uber. Additionally, you can rent a car from the airport or book a metered taxi from inside the arrivals area.
If you’re looking for more things to do and places to go in Chiang Mai, we’ve written a roundup that has a little bit for everyone. However, if it’s off the beaten path you’re after, the activities above will certainly give you what you’re looking for.
Disclosure: This trip was sponsored by the Tourism Authority of Thailand. This post contains some affiliate links. There’s no extra cost if you click one, but in doing so you help us cover the cost of operating our blog. Thanks!