1-Week Northern Adventure Tour
Here's a good way to get to see a huge tract of the northern hills, as well as the ancient temples of Chiang Mai. You'll follow the Mae Hong Son Loop out to the northwest border with Myanmar. On the return leg, the route detours from the Loop to the highest point in Thailand, where you might even need a jacket or sweater.
Day 1: Bangkok to Chiang Mai -- After a flight or an overnight train journey from Bangkok, arrive in Chiang Mai. Reasonable, centrally located guesthouses dot the Old City here. Alternatively, try upscale old-world gems, such as the Rachamankha, or such modern boutique properties as the Chedi.
After checking into your hotel, savor the many sites inside the Old City. Don't miss Wat Phra Singh or Wat Chedi Luang, two of the city's most revered places of worship. If you have time, shop for fabulous home wares and fashions along chichi Nimmanheimin Road. Then get ready for dinner at the fantastic modern Thai-fusion restaurant The House.
Day 2: Chiang Mai to Pai -- Book a car and driver for 5 days, during which you will explore the north. Set out early and catch a show at an elephant camp in the Mae Sa Valley, before continuing north on Route 107, then branching left at Mae Malai onto Route 1095. The road follows switchbacks over an attractive range of hills before arriving at Pai. Check into the gorgeous Belle Villa outside of town. Take a stroll around town and soak up its laid-back atmosphere. If you need some exercise, walk up to Wat Mae Yen, on a small hill to the east of town. In the evening, enjoy a tasty Thai meal at Baan Benjarong, and then check out the live music next door at Bebop.
Day 3: Pai to Mae Hong Son -- It takes about half a day to negotiate the steep, narrow road through the mountains to Mae Hong Son, and a full day if you stop off to explore Spirit Cave, located near Soppong.
In Mae Hong Son, check into the Imperial Tara or Fern Resort, and then take a stroll around Jong Kham Lake and a grab a few pictures of the Burmese-style temples of Wat Jong Kham and Wat Jong Klang. Dine at Fern Restaurant and get an early night, as tomorrow is a long day's drive.
Day 4: Mae Hong Son to Doi Inthanon -- Today's journey starts out on the southern (and longest) part of the Mae Hong Son Loop, passing through Khun Yuam and Mae Sariang before branching off to Thailand's highest peak -- Doi Inthanon. The long journey doesn't leave much time for sightseeing, but it's a good idea to take frequent, short breaks to stretch your legs. One such stop could be at the Japanese War Museum, in Khun Yuam, while the Riverhouse Resort, in Mae Sariang, is a good choice for lunch. About 80km (50 miles) east of Mae Sariang, turn left onto Route 1088, and then at the small town of Mae Chaem, turn right and climb to the peak of Doi Inthanon. Stay in the log cabins at the national park headquarters, and eat at the neighboring cafe.
Day 5: Doi Inthanon to Chiang Mai -- It takes only a couple of hours to drive from the summit of Doi Inthanon to Chiang Mai, so you can spend the morning exploring the upper reaches of the mountain, where it's much cooler than down in the valley. Walk the Kaew Mae Pan trail, near the park headquarters, and notice the wealth of plant and bird life. On the way down, stop at the Wachirathan and Sirithan Falls for some photos, and at the Mae Klang Falls for a grilled chicken and sticky rice lunch on the fly.
Once back in Chiang Mai, unwind with a spa session, either at your hotel or at Oasis Spa, in the town center.
For dinner, sample some northern delicacies at Huen Phen.
Day 6: Around Chiang Mai -- Head straight up the city's guardian mountain to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, where you can listen to bells tinkling in the breeze and look down on the city sitting in the valley below. The classic image at this temple is of the gleaming stupa that stands in a marble courtyard at the heart of the complex.
At the base of the mountain, turn left onto the Superhighway, which sweeps around the north of the city, and look out for the turn to Sankampaeng along Route 1006. After breaking for lunch at Le Grand Lanna, keep driving east, stopping at any showroom or workshop that catches your eye. These present good opportunities not only for interesting photographs, but for souvenir shopping too.
You can complete your shopping in the evening at the Night Bazaar, where you'll find everything from a 50¢ hill-tribe doll to a $50,000 antique. If you dine in the simple Kalare Food & Shopping Center, you can also take in a performance of traditional dance as you eat.
Day 7: Chiang Mai to Bangkok -- If you find that all your shopping won't fit into your bags, hurry to the post office and mail a box of goods back home. After that, head for the airport and wave goodbye to the friendly folks of northern Thailand.