Surrounded by the tallest mountains in Thailand, Northern Thailand is cooler than the rest of the rest of the country and shows cultural influences from the neighboring cultures of Myanmar and Yunnan (China).
How to get there: you can either fly to Chiang Mai airport or get there by bus or train. We took the 14 hour night train from Bangkok and was very comfortable and enjoyable views, specially at sunrise.
Where to sleep: Nature´s Way House offers dorm beds from 3$ and a convenient location.
Where to eat: Bodhi Tree Cafe has affordable organic vegetarian meals and Blue Diamond offers a larger but more expensive variety of healthy food.
How to move around: you can easily reach all the main attractions within the historic city walls by foot.
What to see: the night bazaar and temples like the Lanna style Wat Phra Singh or Wat Chiang Man, the oldest royal temple in the city.
What to do: the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary is an ethical and sustainable eco-tourism project located 60km outside of the city. It´s a joint initiative between members of the Karen hill-tribes and Chiang Mai locals to look after the welfare of elephants in Thailand. I loved it in there but I felt like is not worth 40$ for the half day visit. It was very crowded and the activities felt a bit rushed.
Tip: book the train ticket in advance as is often fully booked, specially the sleeping class.
How to get there: is 3-4 hours away from Chiang Mai by local bus. They depart every hour from the Arcade bus terminal.
Where to sleep: Ann Guest House and hostel are new and have a perfect location near the bus station and the night market, private rooms from 12$.
How to move around: is a good idea to rent a motorbike to go to the White temple or the Black house as they are outside of the city.
What to do: visit Wat Rong Khun, also known as the White temple, an unique modern temple designed by artist Chaloemchai Khositphiphat. There are also a few treks you can do outside of Chiang Rai visiting the bamboo forest and tribal villages from China and Myanmar. I would recommend the one day trek with Coconut tours. https://www.coconutstourschiangrai.com/trekking
How to get there: is a 4 hour minivan ride from Chiang Mai, beware it’s a steep and winding drive, with 762 curves, so it´s highly recommended to take motion-sickness pills.
Where to sleep: Purple Monkey hostel with clean, basic rooms from 5$.
Where to eat: the night market has one of the best street foods ever with plenty of choices and cheap prices. For healthy eats Good life restaurant and Earth tone vegetarian are great.
How to move around: a motorbike is a must to explore the caves, waterfalls, hot springs and the canyon.
What to do: all the above. Fluid swimming pool is great to chill during the day, really clean and chill vibe. For live music Edible Jazz is great in the evenings with a relaxed atmosphere