Northern Thailand is about staying in green jungle lodges, riding slow-rocking elephants, meeting colorful hill tribes and seeing the spectacular scenery of rolling hills and twisting rivers. Select this program; a circle starting from Chiang Mai that not only combines it all, but also let your guests support local people in community-based projects.
Pick up at your hotel in Chiang Mai. Up into the countryside you go to the local town of Prao, scenically located in a wide valley full of rice fields. Somehow this valley doesn’t appear on most itineraries and it remains somewhat of a hidden secret. Your base will be Khum Lanna lodge, a collection of Thai teak wooden houses in a tropical garden setting along a stream. This is rice-country and it is very interesting to get to know all about this process from the experts. Pick your way through the herbal garden and take what you need to prepare your own dinner; in an outdoor kitchen you learn the secrets of Thai cooking and prepare several dishes. Your amazing dinner will have an herbal massage treatment as a dessert! Overnight in comfortable teak-wooden rooms around a communal veranda.
When day breaks you will cycle in the cool morning mist towards the local market. Be surprised how busy this hour is; local ladies come to shop to prepare the meals for a day in the fields. Bamboo shoots, small but fierce green chili peppers, frogs and eel from the pond and so much more. The streets are quiet as you continue to another market to pick up some offerings and enjoy a local coffee with snacks. At the village temple your guide explains the rituals to you. Time for a good breakfast at the lodge before you take off to meet the Akha tribal people in the foothills and the lower levels of the jungle. Chat with them and get to know about the culture and costumes. After a picnic on the riverbank you will get your hands dirty by potting the seeds you have collected during the walk this morning. These will in the right season be planted and become part of a unique reforestation-project called Himmapaan, after the mythical forest in Thai lore. Arrive in the Lisu village where you will have tea with the shaman, or miracle doctor while exploring the viillage and can participate in some local activities. Overnight in Community-based Lisu Lodge where you will enjoy dinner on your private terrace while the young Lisu show their traditional dance.
You will leave early to enjoy the elephant camp on the river near Chiang Dao where you can feed the small and large pachyderms, enjoy their bathing rites and see them hauling logs, nothing else. Optionally you could do a trekking in the jungle. We follow the lantern into the Chiang Dao cave, with Buddha statues and local color. Further on the road winds and takes you
the small city of Thaton, close to where the Khok-river enters Thailand. The huge temple towering above the city and Khok-river gives you a nice little exercise to climb up and enjoy a great view. Myanmar is not far from here, just a stone throw. You will reach your next lodge only by boat; Huay Khum Resort on the banks of Khok river, a tributary of the mighty Mekong. Quiet and serene on the hillside, overlooking jungle and a Lahu village where you can take a walk by yourself if you like.
Wake up with the sounds of the Lahu-village below you; roosters, pigs and playing kids. Sit on your balcony and enjoy a picture-postcard view; this is the real Thailand you looked for! After breakfast on the riverside you will climb (by car) up high into the hills to discover Wawee-town, an outpost with a rich Chinese heritage coming forth from the settlers escaping the Chinese rule, bringing long their culture and tealeaves. The circular tea bushes on the steep hills are simply beautiful and it is interesting to see what it takes to fill a pot. You drive on the ‘roof of Thailand’ here, looking far and wide across the valleys and jungle. Locals pass by on the back of pick-up tricks and motorcycles, often carrying loads of firewood or bamboo. The afternoon is at leisure in the lodge; enjoy the pool. Discover the Lahu-villages on the valley-floor on foot, peddle a canoe or ask a guide to take you deeper into the hills and fields on foot.
Take more pictures of rolling green hills today. After a steep climb through the bamboo forests you will get of the car and you walk down through the fields to enjoy the fresh air and views far into the Mekong valley. Reach Doi Tung, a famous project by Thai King Bhumibol who banned the opium trade and gave the local farmers other crops to cultivate, a success-story copied in many parts of the country. The Mae Fah Luang- garden up here is simply stunning. Drive down a little know route along the Burmese border to the border town of Mae Sai and browse the local market together with Chinese, Lao and Burmese traders. View the Mekong river at the infamous Golden Triangle near the historical city of Chiang Saen with old city walls and mighty temple ruins. This was the town of young King Meng Rai, the founder of Chiang Rai und Chiang Mai more than 700 years ago. Late afternoon, reach remote Lanjia Lodge – fitting well into the surrounding nature and tribal villages. Two nights in this atmospheric lodge run in cooperation with the local community. From a huge veranda you see the sun set over the hills and the Mekong River; another view scoring high points on the ‘best views in the world-list.’ Dinner is served kantoke-style on the veranda while the local kids make Lahu and Hmong tribal music.
In the early morning we trek through fields and forests, where Lahu people work on rolling hills and fertile fields of ginger and mountain corn. Amazing views and scenery with a small waterfall at the end to refresh. Down on the Mekong river you chat with the fishermen about the
art of fishing the giant of the tropical waters – the giant Mekong cat fish. A boat ride on the river takes you to Chiang Kong, where life is slow and relaxed, great for a coffee. The opposite bank is Laos, the ‘magical land of 1,000 elephants.’ Back at the lodge your guide takes you around the two villages surrounding the lodge; a Lahu and Hmong, with women wearing beautiful local dresses made with the Batik technique. You can practice your skills at this and make your own souvenir. The shaman or miracle doctor will explain you what his task is in the community and share a cup of tea with you. Night falls over the Mekong while you enjoy a cold beer on the wide communal veranda.
This morning you say goodbye to the hill tribes of the north and drive past Lake Phayao, the largest lake in the country. There is a colorful local produce-market that has strong coffee to test. Reach Chiang Mai by early afternoon and be dropped off at your hotel, the local airport or train station. Enjoy your stay here or travel onwards to the (beach) destination of your choice.