How to describe Northern Thailand? Let’s start with the rich cultural heritage of the 13th century. Add towering mountains, gentle waterfalls, rushing rivers, ancient temples, lush plains, tea and coffee plantations, countryside and a wide variety of cuisines and you start to get the picture.
Chiang Mai is the largest city in northern Thailand and the second most visited city in Thailand and its sister city Chiang Rai is a great place to base yourself while exploring this stunning area.
The hill tribe community is another aspect of the story of northern Thailand. The descendants of Tibetan nomads from China and Laos – the Lisu Lahu Akha Hmong Karen and Mien tribes – have long called the green mountains that stretch along the northern border with neighboring Myanmar (Burma). Over the centuries they were often exiled; But this is changing and his unique contribution to the region’s history is recognized and celebrated.
I recently spent 4 weeks at a crossroads in Northern Thailand and gained deep insights that further complemented my previous visits to this amazing region. I like to travel slowly to read history. It’s about understanding people and cultures interacting with locals and contributing to goodwill as much as I can.
This essay focuses on three meaningful experiences and activities that have left an imprint on my soul.
1. Volunteering With Rescued Elephants
The 250-hectare Elephant Nature Park (ENP) is located in the rocky Mae Teng Valley just 40 miles north of Chiang Mai. Founded in 2003 by Sangdewan Lake Chaleret this nature reserve provides care for injured and rescued Asian elephants. North-born Lake has dedicated his life to protecting and defending the rights of elephants and animals in need in Asia through the Save Elephant Foundation (SEF).
These large rescued elephants live in former herds in meadows grazing in mud and playing in rivers and are generally not required to entertain or transport humans.
Pro Tip: If you have a tight schedule you can choose a day tour or a 2 day 1 night tour but I would recommend a 7 day stay for a fully immersive experience.
Elephant Nature Park 7-Day Volunteer Program Activities
Suitable for adults of all ages the program starts on Monday and includes transfers from Chiang Mai. The on-site accommodation offers gay rooms for singles. Families and couples can live together. Volunteer activities start at 8 am. Lunch break is 1 hour until 15:00. Three meals a day (delicious vegetarian meals) are provided and volunteers donate 12,000 baht (about US$330) per week for ENP.
A maximum of 20 volunteers attend each week to keep the event going. Cooking is a big problem with mouths to feed including 118 elephants who eat about 100 percent of their body weight each day plus buffalo and 100 dogs and cats.
The amount of watermelon and banana cane at Elephant Kitchen is incredible.
Other duties include cleaning the elephant enclosure and tending the pasture during feeding. Some volunteers travel with workers to collect large quantities of elephant food from local farmers. Then the rescued dogs and cats must be fed, cared for and trained.
Optional evening activities after the social dinner include a Thai language and culture class or a conversation with the Founder Leg. Sitting by the river chatting with fellow volunteers and listening to the elephants in the dark night air are equally rewarding options.
Most Memorable Moments
Many moments from my productive week at Elephant Nature Park will stay with me. In the afternoon a special moment was awaited when various elephants entered the herd on the banks of the Mae Teng River. There are no mahouts (gentle elephants) or other human guides – each leader of the herd blows a trumpet to encourage his comrades. The elephants came home happy and satisfied to know that delicious food was waiting for them in their yard.
2. Hill Tribe Village Stay
Northern Thailand offers many opportunities to visit hill tribe communities to photograph and perhaps purchase Trinity. On the other hand, places like Lisu Inn, a community tourism organization, allow you to stay in the community for a few days and get up close and personal with the daily life of the hill tribes. Your accommodation will be hassle free knowing that you are providing jobs directly to individuals and company funds are flowing into the community.
Lisu Lodge is located 50 minutes north of Chiang Mai on the outskirts of Ban Chang village in the same Mae Teng district as Elephant Nature Park. The main inhabitants of this village are the hill tribes of Lisu and Akha who continue to practice their traditional culture and behavior.
Lodge Accommodation & Meals
The huts are four traditional houses surrounded by rice fields. As many as 20 guests can stay and most tourists choose to stay for 2 days 1 night. All guests have their own room and bathroom. Delicious dinners and breakfasts can be enjoyed on the spacious terrace which gives you the opportunity to mingle with other guests.
After arriving at the hotel and being greeted by the Akka lady Bowie we visited the village which gave us an insight into everyday life. He told us that the candles in the village sometimes visit tourists.
Exploring the local Buddhist temple Wat Thong Rung and its herbal gardens gave me insight into the health benefits of herbs that one can only think of in Thai cuisine. The village gardens and surrounding rice fields are grown organically.
Local Excursions & Outings
Guests can explore at their own pace on the Lodge’s bikes or sign up for one of the additional activities. These include nature walks with a local guide or lazing along the river on a bamboo raft.
Pro Tip: A visit to the Arasha Tea Plantation run by a nearby village is a must. See the tea growing process and get tips on picking fresh leaves. Visit the factory to see how the tea leaves are processed according to ancient traditions and sample award-winning organic teas. If time permits stop for lunch or breakfast at the cafe.
I love to see up close the country life the freshness of delicious food the hospitality of the hotel staff and the rice in the morning mist. Most importantly I love the authenticity of the whole experience.
Pro Tip: Visitors can extend as usual 1 night 2 days. We recommend extending your stay. Each visit was amazing and allowed us to spend more real time with our community.
3. Golden Triangle Luxe Eco Lodge Experience
The mountains north and west of Chiang Rai known to the CIA as the Golden Triangle were once known for their position as one of the largest wealth-producing areas. This situation has changed since the beginning of the 21st century mainly due to the significant efforts of the Thai royal family.
The region is now known for its forested hills, colorful hill tribe communities and high quality export produce such as tea coffee and macadamia nuts. 3,500 to 6,550 feet of mountains winding narrow roads and charming villages – all well worth your time.
A Great Base For Exploration
Less than an hour north of Chiang Rai Phu Chasai Resort is a must-stop for a few days while exploring the area. Perched on a bamboo-clad mountain overlooking the stunning Mae Solong Valley Phu Chasai translates to Pure Heart Mountain and was designed by one of Thailand’s leading interior designers M.L. An ecological apartment has been created. Sudavadi Kriangkrai.
On land that has belonged to his family for many years, Fu Chaisai’s designs match the forest environment and use split bamboo as a strong design element. Local hill tribe fabrics add color and texture to the rooms while the fresh mountain air reduces the need for air conditioning. TV and alarm clock are missing here.
The overall concept of less is more Phu Chaisai offers the opportunity to immerse yourself in the natural rhythms and atmosphere of the Far North.
Stroll through the 800-hectare organic property visit their oolong tea plantation or learn about local cuisine at the cooking school using produce grown in the resort’s gardens. Experience a spa treatment using natural aromatic oils made from the resort’s plants. Enjoy the authentic cuisine of the Northern Burmese and Akha Thai restaurants and sample the resort’s organic tea or Arabica coffee from a nearby farm.
Indulge in food and spa treatments while listening to birdsong in the cool morning air knowing that every aspect of this product is either natural or sourced from the surrounding mountains. The resort exudes a feeling of serenity and relaxation.
Other Things To Do Near Chiang Mai And Chiang Rai
Phu Chai Sai is a great base from which to explore the surrounding area if you have your own vehicle. Less than 20 miles from the resort are Doi Tung Palace and the 10-acre Mai Pha Luang Park.
Learn how the Royal Family has made a positive impact on the region and its
tribal community through the Doi Tung development project in the Hall of Inspiration. Be mesmerized by the shop’s internationally renowned textile and ceramics crafts and enjoy export quality local Doi Tung coffee.
When To Visit Northern Thailand
Worth considering when visiting northern Thailand. Although this is the busiest period November to early February is the best time to visit as temperatures are excellent during the day and cool and cool at night. March to May is not suitable for people with respiratory ailments as the hot, foggy weather and wind can burn crops. June to October is the rainy season with heavy rains and clear skies.