No longer a secret of backpackers or spirituality seekers wanting to linger longer in Thailand, Chiang Mai has made a name for itself as one of the country’s leading destinations as well as Thailand’s cultural capital filled with art, handicrafts and traditional lifestyles. Chiang Mai’s true charm lies outside of the city however, in its rural rice fields, jungle covered mountains and small villages, but close to town and throughout northern Thailand. There’s plenty to do, especially when it comes to getting out into nature.
Hikes in Pai
About three hours away from the town of Chiang Mai, Pai used to be known as a backpacker stop but is now changing as more international restaurants and boutique accommodation crop up. The tiny town is located in the Pai valley surround by hills and plenty of opportunities for trekking, Most Pai tour agents offer overnight hikes with homestay accommodation or rugged sightseeing excursions by Jeeps, but one boutique hotel, Reverie Siam, is working to provide different private half-day hikes and, on request longer, treks through nearby villages, jungle and scenic ridges. These offerings allow guests to explore the region while still being able to stay in comfortable accommodation and make the most of visits with limited time.
For the non-trekkers, there are still some interesting sites and viewpoints that can be easily reached from town including the Yum Lai Viewpoint, Kho Ku So raised bamboo bridge (built to enable monks to reach their monastery during the monsoon) and the iron Memorial Bridge.
Cycling through the countryside in Mae Sa Valley
Our Rural Chiang Mai cycling tour is one of the most unique cycling excursions in the country including a leisurely 28 – 30-kilometre cycle ride in the Mae Sa Valley just outside of Chiang Mai city.
Throughout the day, guests get to experience Chiang Mai’s countryside via car, bicycle and boat with plenty of interesting local and cultural stops along the way. The tour begins at Elephant Poo Poo Paper Park, which makes an excellent stop for bathrooms or a quality coffee before cycling and for families to see the interesting method of turning elephant ‘poo’ into paper. From there, guests cycle on quiet roads through villages and rice fields, and past shimmering temples with views of Doi Suthep mountains. After finishing the ride to enjoy lunch by the Ping River, a leisurely 50-minute boat cruise takes guests back to town docking at Wat Chai Mongkhon. The tour is available for groups or private options, with private tours offering the added convenience of complete flexibility to design a shorter or longer cycling routes or routes adjusted for children.
Another popular tour, especially for those wanting a well-priced group option, is a hiking and biking day tour in the Mae Sa Valley. Suitable for adults and teenagers, it begins with a 2-hour trek through stunning jungle and bamboo forest. After soaking sore feet in the cool water of a waterfall and eating a delicious Thai lunch, guests cycle the tour above.
Cycling through Sri Lanna National Park
Another intriguing cycling and adventure excursion just outside of Chiang Mai is a day of cycling and kayaking day in Sri Lanna National Park, which is a highly recommended experience for couples and families looking for a soft adventure experience.
Guests start the day by driving about one hour from Chiang Mai to the lovely Mae Ngat Valley to pick up their bicycles then cycle a 15 – 20 kilometre loop along mostly-flat rural roads through the scenic valley. From there they head to Mae Ngat Dam and swap the bikes for kayaks to paddle for about an hour before reaching tranquil floating houses.
After a delicious Thai lunch, guests can then relax at one of the raft houses or take a swim in the lake before either paddling or taking a longtail boat back to the shore and returning to the National Park Headquarters, then Chiang Mai.
101 Tea Gardens in Mae Salong
Toward Chiang Rai, picturesque tea farms dot the mountains offering travellers idyllic landscapes and plenty of picture taking opportunities. The small 101 Tea Gardens plantation and charming tasting room is far preferred to the larger Choui Fong Tea Farm to learn more about the tea growing process as well as sampling fresh brews.