Gorgeous Northern Thailand Will Take Your Breath Away

  • Enjoying the view from Phu Chee Fah

    Photographer at sunrise, Phu Chee Fah

    Phu Chee Fah is a mountaintop viewpoint in northern Chiang Rai Province that offers dramatic views over Laos and the Mekong Valley. In the cool season here, the valleys below are filled with a sea of mist, and the area is a great place to come enjoy open space, hiking and fresh air.

    Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis

  • Sunrise over Laos from Phu Chee Fah

    Sunrise on top of Phu Chee Fah

    Sunrise on top of the peak is magical. Phu Chee Fah means “mountain pointing to the sky,” an appropriate nickname given that the high point of the 4731-foot-peak sticks out like a finger pointing upwards to the heavens.

    Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis

  • Valley of pink cherry blossoms

    Wild Himalayan cherry blossoms at Khun Chang Kian

    Another lesser known spot in northern Thailand is Khun Chang Kian, a valley that is filled with Wild Himalayan cherry blossom trees. The flowers only bloom during the end of the cool season (January) and the mountain valleys around Chiang Mai become a sea of pink. 

    Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis

  • Cherry blossoms by bike

    Motorcycle touring at Khun Chang Kian

    The road to get up here is extremely steep and narrow, far more suitable for a motorcycle than a car, and touring is popular at this time of year. Khun Chang Kian is only about an hour out of Chiang Mai, yet relatively few tourists have ever even heard of it.

    Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis

  • Kwan Phayao, Thailand's hidden northern wonder

    Sunset on Phayao Lake

    Phayao Lake, or Kwan Phayao as the Thais call it, is a large freshwater lake that fronts little visited Phayao city, an extremely pleasant spot to while away a few days, as there are comfortable lakeside guesthouses and a long car-free promenade from which to enjoy the magical sunsets on the lake.

    Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis

  • Sun rays over Kwan Phayao

    Dramatic light over Phayao Lake

    There are boat tours on the lake out to Wat Tilok Aram, a temple that is half submerged in the lake. Fishing is also popular here, with perch and tilapia heading the list of 22 species of fish to be found in this large body of water.

    Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis

  • Akha celebration in Mae Salong

    Akha dancing with bamboo poles

    There is also plenty of culture to be found in Northern Thailand. While many hill tribe groups no longer wear ethnic dress and while many that do only do so for tourist groups, festival times are a good opportunity to see traditions preserved in a natural setting. During the New Year celebrations in Mae Salong, the Akha put on traditional garb and do dances with bamboo poles.

    Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis

  • Old fashioned wooden ferris wheel in Mae Salong

    Wooden ferris wheel at Akha festival

    One of the highlights of a traditional Akha festival is the all-wooden ferris wheel, just as thrilling for the youngsters as a modern one.

    Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis

  • Doi Mae Salong, tea plantation central

    Endless tea plantation in Thailand's highest town

    Mae Salong is the highest town in Thailand, sitting on top of a mountain at almost 6000 feet. The region used to be a lawless area controlled by Burmese opium warlord Khun Sa, but today it's a peaceful tourist spot with an alpine climate and is noted for its abundant tea plantations.

    Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis

  • Hmong girls in the cabbage patch

    Hmong girls in the cabbage fields, Mon Jam

    Another ethnic group to be found in the north of Thailand are the Hmong. Mon Jam is a tiny mountain village in the Mae Sa Valley near Chiang Mai where Hmong grow abundant vegetables and Chiang Mai dwellers flock to enjoy cool temperatures, green vistas and warm welcomes by the locals.

    Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis

  • Hmong girls in native dress

    Heart to heart, two Hmong girls

    Hmong are subdivided into different groups. There are Black Hmong, White Hmong, Flower Hmong and several other groups. All are famed for their embroidery and patterned costumes, especially the women's wear.

    Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis

  • Hmong boy enraptured with his top

    Hmong boy and his top

    Hmong boys also have traditional dress and make their own wooden tops and other toys, which they are masters at playing with.

    Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis

  • Lisu dance

    Lisu women dancing at a festival

    The Lisu are another major hill tribe found in the north of Thailand. They inhabit mountain areas in Burma, Thailand, China and northeastern India, although their roots are to be found in Tibet. The women wear elaborate headdresses and skirts, and singing is a huge part of Lisu tradition with history being passed down through generations by extended songs.

    Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis

  • Lisu women in traditional dress

    Lisu women in Mae Salong

    The Lisu language is close to Chinese, and the Lisu are some of the most successful business people in northern Thailand; many have gone to Taiwan to work. Festivals still have them wearing traditional garb and taking part in dancing and singing celebrations.

    Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis

  • Misty morning on Pang Ung Lake

    Bamboo rafts in Pang Ung

    Pang Ung is a remote mountain lake on the Burmese border in Mae Hong Son Province. Few tourists make it out here, but it is well worth the effort to get over the mountain roads. In the mornings, the lake is covered in mist, and there are traditional bamboo rafts to go riding on while enjoying the scenery and cool weather.

    Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis

  • Thailand's Little Switzerland

    Quiet morning on Pang Ung Lake

    Locals have dubbed Pang Ung as the "Switzerland of Thailand." It certainly is a far cry from the crowded hot cities. There is camping along the lakeshore here, and great hospitality from the local ethnic Karen people who inhabit the small village above the lake.

    Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis

  • Tham Lod Cave by kayak

    The exit to Tham Lod Cave

    Tham Lod is a giant cave complex in Mae Hong Son Province that has a river running through it. One great way to explore the area is via kayak. Once out of the cave, the Nam Lang River winds through beautiful mountain scenery.

    Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis

  • Kayaking off a dam, Nam Lang River

    Descending the Nam Lang River, Mae Hong Son

    Besides the cave scenery, there is plenty of adrenaline rush to be had up north, as going off of dams on the river is just part of a fun day's ride.

    Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis

  • Heaven on earth, Wat Rong Khun

    Wat Rong Khun, the white temple

    The north of Thailand is not only about natural attractions. Wat Rong Khun is one of the most beautiful structures in Thailand, a completely white temple built by one of Thailand's top artists. The temple is said to represent heaven on earth. While the buildings were damaged by the earthquake in 2014, nothing was structurally affected and while Wat Rong Khun was briefly shut, it is now open again.

    Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis

  • Thawan Duchanee's amazing Black House

    Baan Dam, the Black House

    In contrast to the white temple, Chiang Rai's other architectural opus is Baan Dam, the Black House, built by Thawan Duchanee, one of Thailand's legendary art masters. The Black House is a series of architectural art projects, that Duchanee devoted his life to, which are surrounded and filled with bizarre sculptures, statues, and other artwork (with plenty of macabre additions like dead animal skulls and skins being incorporated into the building furnishings). The quiet grounds are filled with a variety of his temple structures, mostly made of intricately carved dark wood,

    Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis

  • Mountaintop temple, Chalermprakiat Prajongklao Rachanusorn Temple, Unseen Thailand

    Wat Chalermprakiat Prajongklao Rachanusorn Temple, abode of the gods

    Recently added to the list of new "Unseen Thailand" attractions, Wat Chalermprakiat Prajongklao Rachanusorn Temple is an amazing temple complex that sits atop a set of mountain pinnacles. Located north of Lampang city, the mountain lookout has incredible 360-degree panoramas of the valleys below, and is a pretty astounding and hidden spot. Get in now, before it makes every tourist's agenda in the coming years.

    Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis

  • Nan Province, Thailand's "Wild West"

    Rural and mountainous Nan Province

    Some of the least developed and most beautiful part of Thailand is to be found in Nan, in the far north of the country. Doi Phu Kha National Park is one of many parks to be found in this rural and mountainous province, where there are big mountains and deep forests.

    Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis

  • Bed under the stars, Phu Kha National Park

    Thousand star hotel, Doi Phu Kha National Park, Nan

    In Doi Phu Kha National Park, there is great camping, plenty of stars and a wonderful escape from city life. Few tourists venture this far, and those who do are highly rewarded.

    Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis

  • Sea of Mist, Huay Nam Daeng

    Sunrise from Huay Nam Dang

    One of the big draws of northern Thailand is the sea of fog to be found in the cooler months from many mountain vantage points. One of the best spots is in Huay Nam Dang National Park, on the high road to Pai, which overlooks the Chiang Dao Mountain Range and empty valleys below. Sunrises from here are magical.

    Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis

  • Northern Thailand's natural beauty

    Sunset, Doi Phu Kha National Park, Nan Province

    Sunsets up north are also wonderful. In places like Doi Phu Kha National Park in Nan, you'll practically have it all to yourself. What better way to discover Thailand's hidden and charming north?

    Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis