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Tours, Treks & Outdoor Adventure

There are so many tour groups in Chiang Mai that specialize in trekking that it can seem impossible to choose one. Below are some of the better options -- and most reputable operators -- for each type of trip. Most of the smaller companies have offices along Thapae Road, in guesthouses, and all along the major tourist routes in the city, and they are always happy to talk about what's on offer. Many adventure tours mix mountain biking or motorcycling with tribal village tours.

For jungle trekking, one of the most efficient and reliable organizations is Active Travel (www.activethailand.com; tel. 05385-0160). Combining treks and village stays with multisport adventures by jeep, bicycle, and kayak, the folks at Active can cater a tour to any need and price range. They also offer more traditional itineraries with visits to caves, and relaxing bamboo-raft river trips, and their English-speaking guides are the best in the area. Treks from Chiang Mai stop at Lisu, Lahu, and Karen villages. A 2-day/1-night trip is 4,600B per person if you join their regular tour, or 5,600B per person for a private group trip. A 3-day/2-night trip, which takes you to a greater variety of villages, is 5,500B per person if you join their regular tour or 6,850B per person for a private group. Their office in Chiang Mai is at 54/5 Moo 2, Soi 14, Tambol Tasala.

Another company with lots of experience specializing in customized trekking tours (with a focus on bird-watching or rare orchids, for example) is the Trekking Collective (tel. 05320-8340; 3/5 Loy Kroh Soi 1; www.trekkingcollective.com). Expect to pay around 3,000B per person per day, depending on the itinerary.

Boat Trips -- Within the city, a boat trip along the Mae Ping River is a fun diversion. Two-hour rice barge tours depart hourly from 9am to 5pm (minimum 2 people, 250B per person including hotel pickup), operated by Mae Ping River Cruise Co. (133 Charoen Prathet Rd.; www.maepingrivercruise.com; tel. 05327-4822). From the deck you’ll get great views of old teak riverside mansions, behind which rise the tall skyline of this developing burg. While on the outskirts of the city, you’ll see villages that offer scenes of rural living

History buffs might prefer to cruise the river in a scorpion-tailed boat of the kind that used to be poled up and down the river in the late 19th century when first missionaries and later teak traders turned up to try their luck in this remote outpost. The modern version is propelled by an engine, but visitors can look forward to a running commentary on the historical significance of places passed along the route. Tours are by arrangement and rates depend on numbers of passengers in the group. Call tel. 053254-5888 or visit www.scorpiontailed.com for more information. Rates vary by the number of passengers aboard the boat.

Elephant Encounters -- One of Thailand’s greatest treasures, the domesticated Asian elephant, has worked alongside men since the early history of Siam, and these gentle giants are an important symbol of the kingdom. Elephant training culture is strongest in parts of Isan (the northeast) and the far north. In and around Chiang Mai there are a growing number of elephant camps that try to cash in on the popularity of these gentle giants. Remember: not all elephant camps are ethical: at shoddier camps, creatures are drugged to keep them placid, and conditions are grim, so choose your elephant camp wisely. Fortunately, camp owners are finally starting to realize that visitors would much rather get up close and personal with the elephants than watch them performing in a show, and this has softened their treatment at many camps.  Resort-run elephant camps, such as that shared by the Anantara  and Four Seasons Tented Camp, north of Chiang Rai in the Golden Triangle, are among the most humane. A popular and ethical place nearer Chiang Mai is the Patara Elephant Camp  (www.pataraelephantfarm.com; tel. 08199-22551), located on the Samoeng Road to the southwest of town. It runs an enjoyable program called “Elephant owner for a day,” in which visitors spend a day feeding, bathing, caring for, and riding their own elephant bareback. Rates start at 3,200B and include professional photos and videos. Elephant Nature Camp (www.elephantnaturepark.org; tel. 05381-8754) was one of the first camps in Thailand to give a home to rescued elephants and now leads the charge for ride-free interactions. Tourists work alongside a mahout (elephant trainer), helping feed and wash their assigned elephant. Elephants wander semi-wild and form herds, with older females caring for young that were orphaned or abandoned. The park is 60km outside of Chaing Mai and a day costs 2,500B. Longer volunteer vacation options are available, too.

Mountain Biking -- In the fresh air in the hills outside of town, you can get a slower, closer look at nature, sights, and people. Many small trekking companies and travel agents offer day trips, but I recommend the folks at Mountain Biking Chiang Mai (www.mountainbikingchiangmai.com; tel. 081024-7046) for their 1-day excursion cycling down Doi Suthep mountain, and for multiday adventures in the region for everyone from beginners to experts. Bikes and gear are well maintained and included in the trip costs. Day trips start at 1,600B.
Cultural and temple tours in Chiang Mai itself are offered by Click and Travel (www.chiangmaicycling.com; tel. 05328-1553). The tours’ information is engaging for children as well as adults and adult-child tandem bikes make this a great choice for families. Rates start at 950B.

Golf

For Thais and Western retirees, golf is a favored hobby in Chiang Mai, especially in the cooler months. All courses below are open to the public and offer equipment rental. Call ahead to reserve a tee time.

      • Summit Green Valley Chiang Mai Country Club, located in Mae Rim, 20 minutes north of town on Route 107, 186 Moo 1, Chotana Rd. (www.summitgreenvalley.com; tel. 05329-8220), is in excellent condition with flat greens and fairways that slope toward the Ping River (greens fees: Apr-Oct. 1,800B, rest of year 2,400B)
    • Royal Chiang Mai Golf Club, a 30-minute drive north of town toward Phrao (tel. 05384-9301;  www.royalchiangmai.com), is a fine 18-hole course designed by Peter Thompson (greens fees: 2,800B).
    • Lanna Golf Club, on Chotana Road, 2km (1 1/4 miles) north of the Old City (tel. 05322-1911), is a challenging, wooded 27 holes, and a local favorite with great views of Doi Suthep Mountain (greens fees: weekdays 1,200B, weekends 1,400B).

Other Activities

One of the most popular activities around Chiang Mai is to spend a day on the zip lines at Flight of the Gibbon (www.treetopasia.com; tel. 05301-0660-3). A day tour includes hotel pickup, a few hours on a zip line canopy adventure, and a 1-hour trek in the rainforest, and costs around 3,000B.

Rock climbers can get their kicks at the North’s main climbing area near Sankampaeng, about 35km (22 miles) east of Chiang Mai. Hundreds of routes have been pegged on the Crazy Horse buttress. If you’re a beginner and you’d like to learn the ropes, so to speak, contact Chiang Mai Rock Climbing Adventures (www.thailandclimbing.com; tel. 05320-7102), which organizes 1- to 3-day introductory courses for 2,795B and 8,995B, respectively.

Learn the “art of eight limbs” at a Muay Thai camp; many in Chiang Mai have trained top Thai fighters along with game foreigners. Most hotels offer one-hour lessons if you’re looking to get your heart rate up, but more technical skills can be acquired at camps like Chai Yai Muay Thai (www.chayyaimuaythaigym.com; tel. 082938-1364), which has been around for nearly 30 years and offers half-day classes for 400B, private lessons for 850B. East of town is Santai Muay Thai (www.muay-thai-santai.com; tel. 082528-6059), a gym that specializes in getting hard-bodied boxers ready for competition. Join the sweaty fun for a week of training, lodging, meals, and more for 4,000B.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.