2 Weeks in Northern Thailand
Different than the famous pristine beaches in the south and the bustling capital of Bangkok, northern Thailand is renowned for its forested mountains, lush rice paddies, and powerful falls. Explore the vibrant city of Chiang Mai with its ancient temples and lively night markets before journeying on to the picturesque towns of Pai and Chiang Rai.
Two weeks is the ideal amount of time to soak up the beautiful landscapes, from tall canyons to luscious jungles and peaceful hot springs. Discover our Northern Thailand itinerary in this complete guide.
Day 1 + 2: Arrival in Chiang Mai
Welcome to the vibrant city and ancient capital of Northern Thailand! Chiang Mai makes the perfect destination to start your 2-week journey through the lush landscapes of the north, filled with many hidden gems. The international airport has many connections worldwide and is only a 10-minute ride from the center.
Century-old temples, bustling night markets, and some of the best coffee shops in the world – that’s what you can expect from the first few days of your north-of-Thailand itinerary. Although Chiang Mai is one of the largest cities in the country, it has a cozy atmosphere, allowing you to soak up the rich culture and surroundings at a slower pace.
In the early hours, visit one of the most stunning temples in the area, Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, which sits high atop Doi Suthep mountain. Then, explore the old center and city walls of Chiang Mai (the city is believed to date back all the way to 1294 A.D.!).
The Old Town is the beating heart of Chiang Mai, home to charming streets, sacred temples, and many hidden coffee shops. By night, delve into the delicious Thai cuisine by visiting the incredible street markets or joining a fun cooking class.
For stunning mountain views, thundering waterfalls, and beautiful sunrises, spend your next day in Doi Inthanon National Park. Located only 1.5 hours from Chiang Mai, this incredible park is home to the highest mountain in Thailand and many beautiful trails, making it a must-do when visiting the north.
Trek through the lush jungles and across flat grasslands, always with incredible views over the green surroundings. The trails in Doi Inthanon are especially stunning in the winter mornings when a blanket of clouds swirls over the mountain ridges into the valleys.
Where to Stay in Chiang Mai
Chiang Mai has various accommodation options for every budget, from backpacker hostels and mid-range guesthouses to luxury apartments.
If it’s your first time in Thailand, the best place to stay is in the Old Town, where most hotels and hostels are located.
Day 3: Chiang Mai to Pai
High up in the mountains of northern Thailand lies Pai, a beautiful village known for its stunning landscapes and relaxed vibe. It’s a popular backpacking destination, with many visitors arriving on the Mae Hong Son Loop. From Chiang Mai, it’s about a 3-hour journey north to Pai. Wind your way past brightly-colored rice paddies and take in some of Thailand’s most breathtaking views.
From bamboo bridges tucked between lush green and yellow rice fields to the forested mountains and bright blue sky – everything here looks as if it could come straight off a painting.
Climb up to the majestic Big Buddha (Wat Phra That Mae Yen) that lies nestled in the green hills, overlooking the village and surrounding paddies below. After dark, visit the bustling hub of the Pai Night Market, where stalls line the streets, and live music drifts out the bars.
How to Get from Chiang Mai to Pai
Pai lies about 3-4 hours from Chiang Mai and makes a great destination to add to your North of Thailand itinerary. You can get to the mountain village in a few different ways.
The easiest way to get to Pai is by renting a car. The roads in Thailand are becoming more and more developed, making it easier to drive between destinations. Having your own transportation also gives you more freedom on your trip.
By Shared Van
The cheapest way to get to Pai is to book a shared van from Chiang Mai (about 280 THB/8 USD per person). However, this is a very popular option, so we recommend booking a few days in advance during the high season.
Another, more exhilarating, way to travel to Pai is by motorcycle. This is a great way to see the incredible nature of the north of Thailand as you zigzag your way up into the hills. However, only do this if you feel confident driving, as this is a busy itinerary with many (762!) corners and usually takes a bit longer than Google Maps tells you.
Motorbike rental starts around 150-400 THB (4.30 – 11.60 USD) per day, depending on the model you choose. There are many rental companies in Chiang Mai, but remember that you’ll always need to leave your passport or a deposit of 3.000 THB (87 USD).
Day 4 – 6: Pai
Spend the next few days of your north-of-Thailand itinerary exploring the village of Pai and its surroundings. Though small, there are plenty of things to do in and around the mountain settlement. From marveling at the stunning Pai Canyon around sunrise to visiting one of the most beautiful temples (Wat Si Don Chai), intricately decorated with gorgeous details. Explore the region by bike, stopping at every viewpoint and looking out over the stunning cloud-covered mountains.
One of the best things to do in Pai is to go rafting or tubing on the river! See the beautiful surrounding nature from a different perspective and meet new friends while you make your way down the waters. Normally, tours drop you a few km upstream, allowing you to float back down (usually 1-2 hours). During the rainy season, when the river level is high, you can go for adrenaline-pumping white water rafting instead.
Where to Stay in Pai
Depending on your budget, there are lots of accommodation options in Pai, from backpacker hostels to pool-side villas or traditional wooden bungalows.
Day 7: Tham Lod Cave
Motorcycle around the cloud-covered mountains as you pass buffalos grazing in the luscious rice fields and people swimming in the river – the perfect way to see local life in Northern Thailand. From Pai, make your way to the hot springs and the nearby Tham Lod Cave. The Pai region has hundreds of caves, but Tham Lod is easily the most impressive.
This 1.5 KM cave network is mind-blowing, with three enormous chambers to explore on foot. Climb the bamboo stairs into caves full of stalactites as a guide helps you navigate through the dark. The most spectacular sight happens just before the sun sets when 250.000 birds fly back into the cave for the night. Afterward, stay overnight at Resort Kanlaya’s Eyrie.
How to Get to the Tham Lod Cave
To explore the nature around Pai, you’ll want to rent a motorcycle or book an organized tour. A motorcycle costs around 150-400 THB (4.30 – 11.60 USD) per day, depending on the model you choose. There are a few companies in town, but keep in mind that you’ll need to leave your passport or put down a deposit of 3,000 THB (87 USD).
Day 8: Pai to Chiang Mai
After your small break from the city, head back to Chiang Mai. On your way, make a stop at the Elephant Nature Park, an incredible nature reserve that’s an ethical and responsible sanctuary for animals. This is the only place in Thailand to experience elephants (or another sanctuary recommended by the park’s staff). Watch as the majestic animals interact with one another, happy and healthy as they would in the wild. However, make sure to book ahead, as this experience sells out quickly, especially during peak season.
Once you return to Chiang Mai, head to the Old Town for live music at places like North Gate Jazz Co-op or hunt for colorful street art.
Day 9: Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai
From the ancient capital, head up north towards the mountainous Chiang Rai, full of thundering falls, green valleys, and beautiful flower fields. This unique destination is often missed in favor of more popular destinations but makes a must-visit on any trip through the north of Thailand. Explore the incredible temples perched between the lush greenery, and dive into the many jungle trails, taking in all the beautiful surrounding nature.
How to get from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai
Chiang Rai lies about a 3.5-hour drive from Chiang Mai, making it a popular destination for tours. The easiest way to get to Chiang Rai is by hiring a car. The roads in Northern Thailand are becoming more developed, making it easier to travel between destinations.
Alternatively, you can book a tour up to Chiang Rai from Chiang Mai, including transportation, a guide, and entry to all the most important sites around town.
Where to Stay in Chiang Rai
Chiang Rai has many budget-friendly hostels in the center, as well as more scenic options along the river. Here, you’ll find more upmarket options, including some high-end resorts and boutique hotels.
We stayed at Baan Ga-Cha Villa, which is great for a bigger group! Although, you do need a motorcycle to get there as it’s a little out of the center.
Day 10 + 11: Chiang Rai
Spend your mornings sipping delicious coffee in one of the many cafes around the area. Discover the highest waterfall (70 meters!) by going on a beautiful jungle hike, passing through the greenery to the falls. Make sure to visit the detailed hilltop temples and the Big Buddha around sunset, when lovely colors light up the buildings and the valleys below. End your days at the night market in Chiang Rai, full of delicious food, live music, and a great atmosphere.
Day 12: Phu Langka Viewpoint
Leave in the morning and head out to Phu Langka to discover some of the most incredible views in Chiang Rai. This stunning region in Northern Thailand is known for its protected forest and limestone peaks towering out between a blanket of low-hanging clouds. En route, stop at great coffee spots like Paragraph Cafe or Cafe’ine before heading to the Phayao viewpoint.
This large platform atop the high mountain ridge looks over the beautiful valley below. We recommend staying the night here if you can, so you’ll wake up to an incredible sunrise view over the surrounding. (Read all about Phu Langka viewpoint in Phayao, Thailand)
It’s a 3-hour drive to get to the viewpoint. However, this journey is an experience in itself, leading you through beautiful rice paddies, farm fields, and stunning mountain roads. There are a few different routes to get to Phu Langka viewpoint, with the most direct being 2 hours on the highway. However, traffic is much busier here, so we recommend taking one of the alternative roads.
Renting your own transport means you can explore at your own pace and make up your own itinerary. We rented scooters from B-Rider, and another good option is Nice Rental. You can also opt to rent a car, as many of Thailand’s roads are improving.
Where to Stay in Phu Langka
You can stay in the tiny village where you’ll find the viewpoint. All the houses line one street, with a few cafes and restaurants serving food in the morning and evening. There are currently barely any accommodations on any hotel booking sites. We booked ours by looking on Google Maps and messaging them via FB.
Day 13: Back to Chiang Rai
On day 13 of your north-of-Thailand itinerary, head back to Chiang Rai and spend your last day strolling through the laidback city. Marvel at the golden clock tower if you haven’t seen this centerpiece yet, and relax at one of the many cafes in town. This region of the country is home to the best coffee plantations, so Chiang Rai has fantastic locally-sourced coffee. Some of our favorites:
- Chivit Thamma Da Coffee House
- Doi Chang Coffee
- Akha Ama Coffee
- Ban Mai Chay Nam
- Norn Nung Len Cafe
Day 14: Fly out from Chiang Rai
After an amazing two weeks in Northern Thailand, it’s time to say goodbye to this beautiful part of the country. Whether heading home or traveling elsewhere, you’ll have plenty of incredible memories of your journey here. It’s only a 15-minute drive from central Chiang Rai to the Mae Fah Luang – Chiang Rai International Airport, which has many domestic and international connections.
How to Visit Northern Thailand
Getting to Northern Thailand
The north of Thailand’s biggest airport is Chiang Mai International Airport, with many connections, particularly within Asia, and is only a short 10-minute taxi drive from the center.
Getting Around the North of Thailand
Depending on your preferences, there are a few different ways of getting around the region. In Thailand, getting around by taxi is the most convenient. For example, we mostly used the Grab taxi app to get around Chiang Rai.
Alternatively, you can also hop on a Tuk-Tuk or Songthaew to get around the cities. These are both cheap and convenient options for getting around and can be hailed from the street. Songthaews are the red shared taxis that are more affordable than tuk-tuks but can be a bit slower.
An easy way to get around on your route through the north of Thailand is by renting a car. The roads in Thailand are becoming more and more developed, making it easier to drive between destinations.
Renting a motorbike
Scooter/motorbike rental starts at around 150-400 THB (4.30 – 11.60 USD) per day, depending on the model you choose. There are lots of rental companies in the cities and towns of Northern Thailand, but keep in mind that you need to leave your passport or put down a deposit of 3,000 THB (87 USD).
Our Favorite Accommodations
There are many fantastic options when it comes to accommodation in northern Thailand, whether it’s a jungle bungalow high up in the mountains or a lively hostel in downtown Chiang Mai. Below are our favorites for each destination on this 2-week itinerary.
How Much Do 2 Weeks in Thailand Cost?
Overall, Thailand is very affordable, particularly if you’re staying in hostels and eating out at local restaurants or street vendors. The biggest expense on your north-of-Thailand itinerary will be transport, such as for the tuk-tuks downtown, car rental, or scooter hire.
Best Time to Visit Northern Thailand
Thailand is generally hot and humid. However, the weather depends on the region and time of year you visit. The country sees three seasons, with the cool season being the most pleasant time to visit. This period runs from October to February in Northern Thailand, bringing cool air up into the mountains. Due to its elevated position, Pai sees the coolest temperatures in the north.
However, this is also considered the high season in Thailand, so expect bigger crowds and higher prices. For that reason, the perfect months for your north of Thailand itinerary are October – November, just at the end of the rainy season.
Do I Need a Visa for Thailand?
Most passport holders do not require a visa to enter Thailand. However, you will need a valid passport and an onward plane ticket to prove you will exit the country within 30 days. You can check the national Thai embassy website to see if your country is exempt from needing a visa and how to apply for a Visa on Arrival instead.