Culture, Mountains, Adventure – Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to spend two incredible weeks in Northern Thailand!
If you are short on time, make sure you also check out my 7-day itinerary to Northern Thailand as well, this one builds upon it.
Day 1 – Morning Train From Bangkok To Ayutthaya
Make your way out of Bangkok by catching a train, approximately 1,5-2,5 hrs heading north. One of Thailand’s historic capitals, Ayutthaya was once considered one of the most spectacular and largest cities in the world and served as the centre of “The Golden Age” of Siam. Today, it’s home to just under a million people.
A great way to see the sights of Ayutthaya is by bicycle and there are plenty to hire near to the train station. Alternatively, you can grab a tuk-tuk if you fancy a less energetic trip, there are always plenty of drivers around booing for your attention. Take the one that is least pushy and is happy to bargain with you.
The must-see temples of the city include the iconic bell-shaped towers of Wat Phra Si Sanphet and the beautifully preserved towering prang of Wat Mahathat. There are plenty of other amazing temples to see. If you are a history buff, you will want to take your time here.
On the way back to the train station, the Chan Kasem Museum is also worth a little visit. Based on the site of the original ancient palace and the remains of the more recent palatial building; the museum displays treasures and artworks from the city’s illustrious past. A lot of Ayutthaya’s success came from international trading and the remains of the Dutch, Japanese and Portuguese camps can also be visited outside of the city.
A local delicacy that is a must-try here is the super sweet Roti Sai Mai which is often dubbed as Ayutthaya’s cotton candy, a brightly coloured type of candy served wrapped in a thin pancake, available from one of the many small huts from the local market.
Tonight you’re gonna rest your head in Ayutthaya.
Where To Stay In Ayutthaya
Surround yourselves with good food, friendly staff, Thai antiques and traditional designs in a green surrounding at Baan Tye Wang Hotel which you’ll find close enough to the city centre, various local palaces and temples, but just far away from the buzz to get some rest after an exciting but exhausting day of sightseeing.
If you’re still wide awake, rent yourselves some bikes and go explore. Besides, at Baan Tye Wang Hotel, they offer what all us digital nomad love: a good wifi connection!
Day 2 – Train From Ayutthaya To Phitsanulok
A little off the usual tourist route, Phitsanulok is about 5 hours by train from Ayttuthaya and has maintained some of the traditional charm of a Thai City. Although a lot of the historical areas were destroyed in a fire a few decades ago, there are still a few things worth checking out.
Some of the city’s traditional house boats along the river still remain and are now repurposed into lovely restaurants and cafes, there is a small open Buddha statue workshop that is really interesting to look at. Who knew there is actually A LOT of work that goes into making a Buddha?
And of course you will get your fix on visiting several ancient temples too.
Come sunset and you should head to the Night Bazar, which is less hectic than the ones in Bangkok or Chiang Mai, it’s definitely smaller but a good starting point to feast on Northern Thai delicacies which the southern parts of Thailand can hardly live up to. Go on a food hunt here!
Stay Overnight In Phitsanulok
When it comes to staying the night at Phitsanulok, there are a few good options.
You want to go explore as much as possible in Phitsanulok without paying a fortune for accommodation? Then, P1 House is just perfect for you.
Located directly in the heart of the city centre, you will not miss out on anything be that the countless bars, restaurants and cafés that you’ll find right outside or the many, many temples and attractions you will find oh so close to where you stay. Also, Wifi is free!
You feel like your body and mind need a good rest and you’re not too concerned to pay more for a hotel room? Then, you might want to call this 3-star prime location with excellent river views your home for the night. Check out one of the many closeby restaurants along the river or have a stroll through the nearby Phitsanulok Night Bazaar. Enjoy free Wifi and fill up your energy level at the delicious complimentary breakfast buffet before heading out for another exciting day in Northern Thailand.
Day 3 – Bus From Phitsanulok To Sukhothai
From Phitsanulok jump on the bus straight to Sukhothai, a small historic city that is popular with visitors heading for the UNESCO World Heritage site of Sukhothai Historical Park. The immaculately kept park encompasses the 800 year-old former capital city of Siam and is another place perfect for exploration by bicycle or tuk-tuk.
Sukhothai literally translates as ‘The Dawn of Happiness’ and its unique style of architecture makes its temples and other buildings a real spectacle to behold. At times you even feel like you are in a mini Angkor Wat!
The Central Zone alone contains 21 temples tucked amongst the trees and clear pools; the largest of these is Wat Mahathat that was built by the city’s original ruler in the 1300s and contains the famous lotus-shaped structures that became a key part of the city’s iconic style. So pretty!
Best time to visit is in the early hours of the morning as the air isn’t as hot as you’ll find it around midday.
The much less-visited outer zones are also home to some historical gems; Wat Chang Lom also named the ‘temple surrounded by elephants’ which lives right up to its name boasting a collection of delicately carved elephants guarding its central chedi and Wat Saphan Hin, ‘temple of the stone bridge’ that lies high above the city on the wooded hillside affording amazing views to those who make the trek.
Ready for a good night’s sleep after so much ancient Thai history?
Day 4 – Bus From Sukhothai To Chiang Mai
Another 6 hrs north by train and you’ll hit one of my favourite cities in all of Thailand.
One of the biggest appeals of Chiang Mai is its climate, laid-back vibe and oh, the delicious food of course! The best way to spend your first evening in town is getting a taste of it from one of the many city’s famous night markets and bazars. Influenced heavily by their northern neighbours of Myanmar, China and Laos, some must-trys are Northern Thai-style salad, Northern Thai Sausage and the yellow egg noodle curry Khao Soi. There is some awesome pork curry to be feasted on as well. And don’t forget to finish off with a traditional mango sticky rice, my absolute most favourite ever!
The Sunday night market in the Old Town and the Saturday evening market in the silversmith quarter are also the perfect spots for picking up authentic handicraft souvenirs.
Time for a good rest as tomorrow you will explore much more of this awesome city!
Where Best To Stay In Chiang Mai
Looking at finding accommodation in this exciting and vibrant city, there is plenty to choose from ranging from affordable budget stays to luxurious retreats – in short, there is something for everybody!
Here are a few options for you to look into.
Le Naview does not only go relatively easy on your budget, it also scores with clean and comfortable rooms, an outdoor pool and garden and the perfect location to start exploring Chiang Mai from. Merely ten minutes from the airport and located right in the heart of the Old City, you will have no difficulty walking to supermarkets, local food shops and restaurants as well as a lot of the must-see sights of the city.
With the breakfast à la carte and free Wifi you will get good value for money and cannot go wrong by booking yourselves a room here.
Since Thailand is quite affordable for travellers in general, you may want to consider investing a little in an incredible and unforgettable stay at the 99 Heritage. The convenient location as well as the taxi service, a swimming pool, a fantastic breakfast and the place’s beautiful interior and design are only a few things that will awe you about this hotel.
Being spoiled with impeccable service by exceptionally friendly and capable staff is what will make all the difference to an ordinary hotel stay. You might even forget what you came to Chiang Mai for in the first place – it’s absolutely that awesome! Look out for their 50% flash deals on Agoda!
Day 5 – Exploration Day In Chiang Mai
The city’s Old Town is wonderfully accessible by foot and has dozens of beautiful temples to explore. Some of the most popular are Wat Chedi Luang, Wat Phra Singh and Wat Chiang Man as well as Wat Phra That Doi Suthep that watches over the city from its mountaintop perch.
For the full travel itinerary on Chiang Mai, go ahead read my ultimate guide here!
Tonight you’ll again stay overnight in Chiang Mai.
Day 6 – Bus From Chiang Mai To Mae Hong Son
I recommend you organise a trekking adventure in advance in either Chiang Mai or online.
Get some snacks and prepare for a bus ride through the mountains to get to Mae Hong Son, a sparsely populated province close to the boarder of Myanmar. This bus trip takes from anywhere from 5,5 to 8hrs depending on a number of factors.
This area blurs the lines between both countries with an ethnically diverse population. Here’s your starting point to trekking through the remotely stunning mountain landscapes when you wake up in the morning.
Day 7 – Day Of Trekking In The Mae Hong Son Hills
Mae Hong Son is the perfect base for heading up into the surrounding hills and go on a trekking tour to visit the local hill tribes. If you haven’t organised your trek yet, now is the time, many guesthouses offer guided tours, the choice is yours if you just want to trek for a day or if you have more time and make it overnight which will give you a whole different experience as you stay in the mountains with one of the local hill tribe families.
At the end of any trekking adventure, a trip to the Phu Klon mud spa is a nice way to treat those tired legs and soak up the suggested healing powers of the local mud.
Where To Sleep In Mae Hong Son
The views and the surrounding scenery that the Green Mountain Resort has to offer might leave you little speechless. It’s a great spot for travellers with the local attractions easily accessible and only of short walking distance – after all the city centre is less than 1 km away. Hang out in the hotels beautiful garden while uploading all your snaps from your trekking trip as there is free throughout. Sound good?
Day 8 – Morning In Mae Hong Son, Then Bus To Pai
Before jumping on the 3,5 hr bus ride to Pai, there is just time to take a wander around Mae Hong Son’s lake with its surrounding temples with the striking Wat Jong Klang and Wat Jong Kham and their glassy reflections. It’s most beautiful around here in the early mornings.
The next stop is Thailand’s worst kept secret, the hippie town of Pai. The bus takes about 3.5 hours so after an afternoon of travelling. When you arrive be sure to kick back and relax at one of Pai’s laid-back bars or cafes and dig into some of its famous healthy vegetarian cuisine.
Another one of its key attractions are the Tha Pai Hot Springs – natural hot pools nestled in the forest as well as a much more chilled out version of Chiang Mai’s night markets. You won’t get bored that’s for sure.
Looking for the ultimate travel guide to Pai? Have a look here.
Where To Stay Overnight In Pai
Unwind after a long day of exploring Northern Thailand and Pai’s surroundings. There’s no place better to do so than at Pai Vimaan Resort. With fantastic views overlooking the river and the surrounding mountains you will be able to relax by the pool, enjoy the beautiful scenery or treat yourselves to a massage.
Once you’re done, the lit-up Klang Temple, Wat Phrathat Mae Yen and Pai Walking Street, which comes alive at night, are only a short walk or bicycle ride away.
Day 9 – Spend The Day In Pai
Despite its quiet hippy beginnings, Pai now thrives on tourism while it still manages to maintain its relaxed bohemian vibe which is perfect to just lounge around the town for the day. For those wanting a bit more adventure, there are some amazing waterfalls such as Mo Paeng and Pam Bok and natural phenomena The Land Split and Pai Canyon.
Rent out a scooter and just ride around town and stop wherever you fancy. Traffic is reasonable so even if you are only just getting started riding a scooter, you should be more than okay here.
You can either stay another night in Pai or take a late afternoon bus back to Chiang Mai. I recommend the later.
For more travel information and things to do in and around Pai, what to see and where to see – read on here.
Day 10 – Have A Day At The Elephant Nature Park
It’s back in Chiang Mai for a day spent with beautiful elephants. Although there are many opportunities to experience elephants in Thailand, a lot are inhumane and do not offer the animals a good quality of life.
However, the ecotourism project and animal sanctuary Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai is a great place to spend the day volunteering and interacting with the elephants that have been saved from lives of cruelty and mistreatment. Plus, it is really fun to interact with those gigantic but super gentle creatures!
Again you will stay overnight in Chiang Mai before heading off in the other direction in the morning.
Day 11 – Bus From Chiang Mai To Chiang Rai
Chiang Rai is a perfect base to explore this northern corner of Thailand fringed by neighbouring countries Myanmar and Laos. It’s a 3,5hr bus ride from Chiang Mai which can easily be done in the early morning.
Situated 15km from Chiang Rai, the exquisite ivory decadence of the White Temple is an absolute must-see and will make you question the purpose of temples all together.
Continuing the colour theme at the other end of the spectrum you can visit Thailand’s Black House (Baan Dam) with its dark structure and decorations made from hundreds of animal antlers, shells and skins. It’s only a 30 minutes ride from the White Temple away.
The Mae Fah Luang Art & Culture Park is another of Chiang Rai’s highlights and includes a museum of artefacts from the surrounding Lanna area, several Buddhist temples and an amazing collection of antique and contemporary art.
Additional Travel Tip: There are many so-called ‘Golden Triangle Tours’ offered up here, which essentially all wheel you past the White Temple to then taking you on a boat ride on the Mekong River along the boarder where Thailand, Laos and Myanmar meet to then take you to a longneck tribe in the mountains for a visit.
I didn’t really enjoy this tour since it takes a whole day with a super early start and getting back after dark with most of the day being spent by sitting on the bus. It purely shows the tourism side and has nothing authentic to it and I would not recommend taking it.
Where To Stay Overnight In Chiang Rai
This unique and conveniently located place enables you to explore Chiang Rai’s sights, markets and attractions easily, mostly by foot. If you’re in need of a vehicle take advantage of the taxi service the offer to get around.
The pool, the cleanliness, charm and comfort of the rooms, friendly and helpful staff as well as the free Wifi will do their part for you to relax and chill out after a busy day in the city.
Day 12 – Mae Salong Daytrip From Chiang Rai
Home to Oolong Tea and sprinkled with a tiny taste of China left over from its military and opium-swathed past, visitors will find the town of Mae Salong resting in the hills above Chiang Rai, about an hour and a half away.
The main attractions around here are the widely expanding tea plantations that can be visited by motorbike and the nods to the Chinese occupation at the Chinese Martyr’s Memorial Museum and Tomb of General Tuam. Don’t miss out on trying some deliciously exotic Yunanese food while you are here.
Where To Stay In Mae Salong
There are some interesting mountain homes you can consider staying at. Otherwise make your way back and sleep overnight in Chiang Rai.
On top of Doi Mae Salong mountain, My Place will awe you with magnificent panoramic views over the valley and towards the illuminated temple all the way across the valley.
Showers are hot, beds are comfortable, rooms are spacious and clean, staff is friendly and meals are good value for money. Make sure you check out the nearby tea plantation while you’re there. Enjoy your stay!
Day 13 – Doi Luang Daytrip From Chiang Rai
Stretching out over 1100km, Doi Luang is one of Thailand’s biggest national parks, formed by the amalgamation of four waterfall forest parks. As their name suggests, these parks are home to a stunning collection of waterfalls and you can enjoy a multitude of hiking trails that criss-cross the area. To get here, you’d either hire a care with driver which will take approximately 2hrs, or alternatively, take the bus which I estimate takes about 4hrs.
The cooler months of November to February are perfect to go hiking extensively around here. This national park is nothing short of natural abundance, lush forests, natural pools and waterfalls in which you can swim mostly too.
The only accommodation in the park is camping but it is possible to do this as a day trip from Chiang Rai.
If you have more time on your Northern Thailand trip, also consider the little-known town of Nan, a remote village close to the boarder of Laos. It’s a 5 to 6hr bus trip from Chiang Rai and only worth if you have a few nights more to spend.
Day 14 – Bye Thailand
Unfortunately, it’s time to fly back to Bangkok today. You can find many different connections from up here.
Alternatively, take the train or an overnight bus or train from Chiang Mai back to Bangkok.