Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai Sample Itinerary based on 4 days, covering the highlights and off-the-beaten path areas too
Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai Itinerary
October 5, 2017
1 Day Hilltribe tour Chiang Ma
2 Day Itinerary Chiang Mai
October 10, 2017
Show all

Top 7 Excursions from Chiang Mai

Top 7 Excursions from Chiang Mai

Explore the best of northern Thailand by taking some excursions from Chiang Mai. Getting out of the city and into the countryside is best way to see the authentic parts in this region. Trips to the Golden Triangle and Doi Inthanon are widely promoted, but away from these well-trodden routes are where the locals prefer to travel too. There are  some pretty spectacular spots of natural and cultural beauty, that surprisinly remain unknown to tourists.

The number of days you have available will determine which excursion is best for your itinerary. The more days you have, the further out you can travel. Whether its a 1 day trip or multi-day trip, northern Thailand has something to offer every traveler’s schedule.

Here are our Top 7 Excursions from Chiang Mai

1. Sameong Loop

A 100km road trip through the outlying countryside west of Chiang Mai city.  It’s popular with motorbike riders, due to the windy mountain roads that take you through some of the best scenery in Chiang Mai, passing forested hills and rustic hill tribe villages. Whether by bike or car – it’s just as beautiful. The views on the way look something like this …

1 Day Trip from Chiang Mai to Sameong

Sameong Forest view

The loop starts and ends in Chiang Mai and will take you through the areas of Mae Sa, Mae Rim and Sameong town. There are various places of interests you can stop off at, and even side trips from the route (such as Mon Chaem).

Points of interest along the route include;

  • Mae Sa Waterfall
  • Sameong view point
  • Hill tribe villages

The furthest point on the loop is Sameong town, which is a good pit-stop for lunch. This small town has several local eateries and a market. Sameong is a small municipality with a distinctly local-vibe, and you won’t see many tourists here. It’s the perfect day trip for anybody wanting to get out of the city, to be immersed in the verdant nature of the Chiang Mai countryside

2. Doi Chaang Mountain

Located around 4 hours drive north of Chiang Mai (technically closer to Chiang Rai city), Doi Chaang can be visited as an overnight excursion from Chiang Mai , or as part of a longer trip to Chiang Rai.

The region is mostly known for its cultivation of Arabica coffee, and the ‘Doi Chaang’ coffee brand which can be seen in coffee shops and outlets across the country.  The ‘Doi Chaang’ coffee company started off from humble beginnings – as a grassroots enterprise set up by it’s local Akha hill tribe community. Today it is a globally-acclaimed fair trade cooperative which exports coffee worldwide.

The site of the Doi Chaang Coffee factory site is open to visitors. The windy mountain road leading up to the site, offers breathtaking views along the way. It passes sweeping valley landscapes, villages and forested hills. The views on the way look something like this….

3. Doi Angkhang mountain

Doi Angkhang is a popular mountain retreat for Thai tourists but largely unknown to foreign tourists. Although it’s only 2 hours drive from Chiang Mai, a trip here will feel like you have been transported worlds away from Chiang Mai. Sitting at one of the most remote corners of Northern Thailand, this rugged and mountainous frontier forms part of the Thailand-Burma border.

Doi Angkhang is home to colourful hill tribes such as the Palong, Lahu, Lisu and Hmong. Most of them still live in traditional-style stilt huts, in villages nestled on the mountainside. Most are employed by the Doi Angkhang Royal Agricultural Center – a royal research and development initiative, founded around 30 years ago to wean the hill tribes off growing opium to more productive crops. Today, the agricultural center is open to visitors, where you can see beautifully manicured gardens and learn about how they cultviate a range of local vegetation and crops.

Enjoy the scenic drive up to Doi Angkhang. A windy road that snakes through misty mountain landscapes will take you to the central point of Doi Angkhang town.  Where there is a handful of guesthouses, restaurants and markets. During the high season winter months, the area is filled with Thai tourists eager to experience the fresh air and cooler climate in the clouds. The cherry blossom trees which bloom during January are also a major attraction of the area.

Doi Ang Khang Mountain Range

Doi Ang Khang Mountain Range

4. Lampang

To experience a traditional Thai town, then take a trip to Lampang. Only one hours drive from Chiang Mai, Lampang boasts a number of intricate and ancient Lanna-style temples. A must-see on a trip to Lampang, is the National Elephant Institute (formerly the Thai Elephant Conservation Centre). This is where they rehabilitate and take care of injured elephants. Or for a typical Lampang experience, take a horse-drawn cart to enjoy the sights of this sleepy historic town.

5. Phayao Lake

This vast and impressive natural landmark – the largest freshwater lake in northern Thailand, receives surprisingly few tourists. Located around 3 hours drive north of Chiang Mai on the way to Chiang Rai, it can be visited as part of a multi-day excursion to Chiang Rai.

A picturesque expanse of lake with distant mountains in the backdrop bears a striking resemblance to Inle Lake in Myanmar. Local fisherman and their boats can be seen on the lake – an iconic postcard scene . Sunrise and sunset over the lake are a photographer’s delight. Local eateries serving fresh fish from the lake, and street vendors adorn the lakeside.

Around the lakside area locals can be seen enjoying recreational activites, from cycling to picnics. Lined with trees, and boulevard-type sidewalks, and benches for you to sit back and take in the beauty of the lake.

Sunset at Phayao Lake

Sunset at Phayao Lake

6. Pa Pong Piang Rice Terraces

One of the most photogenic spots in Thailand, Pa Pong Piang rice terraces (sometimes spelt as Pa Pong Pieng) are a hamlet of tiered rice terraces nestled in the area of Doi Inthanon. Around 2 hours drive south of Chiang Mai, these are best visited as an overnight excursion from Chiang Mai. Both sunset and sunrise are pretty special here, and a photographer’s delight.

There’s no electricity or phone signal here. The off-the-grid setting adds to the ambiance and beauty of Pa Pong Piang. Surrounded by fertile forested mountains, the verdant views and nature here are spectacular.  The pictures speak for themselves.

Pa Pong PIang Rice Terraces Chiang Mai

Pa Pong PIang Rice Terraces Chiang Mai

7. Mae Ngat Dam

Located in Mae Taeng district, only 1 hours drive north of Chiang Mai, this tranquil reservoir feels worlds away from any city. Unknown to foreign tourists, this spot is popular with locals looking for a trip to cool off by the water.  Water activities such as kayaking are available on the reservoir, making it a popular choice for families with children

The main feature here though, are its rustic floating bamboo houses. Most travellers make this an overnight excursion from Chiang Mai, to experience the novelty of staying overnight in one of these. The houses and conditions are basic, but being surrounded by the beauty of the water and mountains, this is soon forgotten.


We hope the list above will give you some ideas for excursions you could take from Chiang Mai, to help you plan your trip to Chiang Mai and experience the best northern Thailand has to offer.

Related Posts


  1. Anna says:

    I would love to visit Chiang Mai one day! My partner visited this wonderful place and did not manage to do any of the 5 things listed. Doi Angkhang especially sounds amazing, I love meeting rural tribes and seeing their ways of life.

  2. Great post! Thailand has been on our list of places to visit for so long. Too bad it’s so far from the US. Hopefully we’ll make it there soon!

  3. Yukti says:

    Trips from Chiang Mai looks wonderful with lots of places to see around. I loved stunning White Temple. I would also love to stay at Mae Salong for tea plantations. Thanks for sharing great information about Golden Triangle.

  4. Meagan says:

    It’s funny, most posts I see are about what to do IN Chiang Mai – so this is really unique! That white castle at Chiang Rai looks incredible… we’ve never been able to explore this part of the world but this definitely makes me want to go even more!

  5. We’ve never traveled to Thailand but we’ll go when we’re over 40. Haha.. And when we do, well go to Chiang Mai too and certainly have some day trips from there. So we’re keeping this post for later. Thanks for this!

  6. Maggie says:

    I’ve never been to Thailand, but the area around Chiang Mai looks really cool! That White Temple looks unreal. And that mountainous region near Burma sounds like a great place to visit- I love all things outdoorsy.

  7. When I first heard of Thailand, I imagined it as silver paradise beaches, much like Hollywood depicts. But there’s been so much written recently that compel me towards exploring the heart of the country, and this post is one of them. I’ve heard of Chiang Rai before, and the white temple looks stunning (as everyone seems to be saying). We actually plan to spend some time in Chiang Mai in the next couple of years to work out there, so this post is going in my bookmarks :). Thanks for posting.

  8. So much beauty! I cannot wait to visit. Chiang Rai would be my #1 most desired side trip for sure. I liked the way you shared these places in order or distance from the main destination. Very easy to read and makes it easier for me to determine which places I would like to see separately. Well done!