Over the recent national public holidays and throughout upcoming December, Thais have been enticed to explore their magnificent country to boost the tourist economy. In a country blessed with natural beauty and rich in cultural traditions, the local population have wholeheartedly taken to the staycation drive, with an estimated 800m baht generated over the recent long holiday.
Chiang Mai and the north has proved to be a popular destination for domestic travel, with many of the tourist hotspots teeming with happy revellers for the first time in too long. With Chiang Mai promising temples, a relaxed café culture, and excellent food options with the countryside beyond offering stunning mountainous landscapes, intriguing hill tribes, and majestic elephants, it’s not difficult to see the draw for visitors.
We at Discova are always looking to diversify our products and offer travellers new and unique experiences. While international travel has seen this enforced break, a huge part of our efforts has been to invest in new avenues of exploration. In northern Thailand, our product team has put together an exclusive experience that allows travellers to explore the charming city of Chiang Mai and the enchanting countryside beyond on a 7-day itinerary.
The package is available for travellers who are currently in Thailand and will be available for international visitors once borders open. We thought we’d run through our new Tuk Tuk and Wild Elephants adventure in untouched northern Thailand, and perhaps inspire travellers to consider getting off-the-beaten-track.
The tour begins in the first two days with the welcoming familiarity of the cultural capital of the north – Chiang Mai. Here, there is a delightful blend of mysticism and modernity. There are historical relics to be found in the ancient temples and crumbling city walls, with the old city retaining its traditional feel. Yet, there is a burgeoning creative and innovative scene most overtly characterised by the many wonderful cafes in the city, often frequented by the city’s ever-increasing digital nomad population.
Travellers will get time to appreciate this mix of old and new on a rickshaw tour of the city. Along the way, they will visit Warorot market by the Ping river, a sprawling network of stalls where the locals come to buy food, flowers, clothes, and other items – it’s an excellent insight into the importance of these bustling markets to everyday life in Thailand. After soaking up the atmosphere, travellers will also visit some local artisanal shops to learn about the production of brass ornaments. Then, visit the ‘Silver Temple’ to witness the beautifully decorated ornate carvings and statues, and perhaps start the process of learning a little bit more about Buddhism. A fun-filled couple of days discovering the laid-back vibes of Chiang Mai, and the adventure is only just beginning!
Leaving Chiang Mai, we head south to begin our wandering exploration of the countryside. On this leg of the tour, guided by specialists, we explore the winding roads in a unique vehicle – the iconic Tuk Tuk. The old adage that the joy of travel is in the journey feels very relevant to discovering Thailand’s north. The roads themselves offer spectacular landscapes left and right, with the breathtaking views going on for miles in every direction. There is no better way to appreciate this than in a Tuk Tuk in which travellers can truly enjoy the sights, with the added novelty of getting a great reception as you pass through villages in the bright orange vehicle! With Bluetooth speakers available for travellers to share their perfectly crafted playlists, and walkie-talkies on hand to provide cross-Tuk Tuk-communication, this mode of travel offers plenty of opportunity for fun too.
The first stop is the remote mountainside Temple of Wat Tham Nam Hu where visitors have the chance to learn more about Buddhism, the life of the monks, and also ‘make merit’ for the adventure ahead. This is certainly a worthwhile activity considering all the upcoming adventures! On this first day exploring by Tuk Tuk, travellers will visit an ethical elephant home, take a hike to a pretty waterfall, explore some Karen farming communities, and enjoy a traditional evening Thai BBQ overlooking the endless rice fields.
The second day takes us on towards Myanmar, skirting the edges of Doi Inthanon, the highest mountain in Thailand, before arriving at our destination in Mae Sariang. Mae Sariang is a pleasant small town which is effectively the last stop before the border with Myanmar. With a real ethnic mix in the community – from Thai to Karen, Hmong to Burmese – the town is a fascinating place to explore and see snippets of these cultures. There are even a couple of great bars if you need a refreshing cold drink to end this adventurous day, and our hotel for the night has a swimming pool. Perhaps a bit of luxury wouldn’t go amiss at the halfway point in our intrepid adventure!
On the last leg of the journey, we head into the wild and the most remote parts of the region. Travelling into areas only recently opened to visitors, we need to trade our Tuk Tuks for 4WD vehicles to traverse the mountain roads. Our destination is a small Karen settlement. Made up of around 20-30 families, this community was the first to settle in the local area and is the highest village in the surrounding hills. The population have made their living through subsistence farming over the years. This community has literally only just opened up to receive tourists, and it’s an immense privilege to be one of the pioneer visitors to such a stunning and remote area.
After a traditional evening meal, it’s an early rise the next day to experience a real highlight of the tour. Visitors have already bathed and fed elephants in an ethical setting, but now they get the chance to hike and observe wild elephants in their natural habitat. . The community where we are staying have ‘owned’ elephants for generations and refuse to sell or rent them to the tourist camps in the lowlands. Our travellers’ stay in the village goes a long way to helping the community ensure that they can sustain not only the village but also these wonderful animals. We will be accompanied by expert mahouts who, through our translators, can share with travellers the history of these elephants and their relationship with the local community.
There’s time for one more ‘wow’ moment as we’ll walk up to the mountain top Temple in the late afternoon. Perched on a ridge overlooking the hills into Myanmar, and lived in by one solitary monk, this is a spectacular setting to finish up the trip with a mesmerising sunset and another reminder of the spirituality integral to the region.
End the day star-gazing once more at our homestay, chatting and reflecting on our incredible adventure together.
We are proud of our new exclusive tour exploring this magical area and hope that our overview of the trip inspires travellers to seek out those life-changing, off-the-beaten-track adventures. We’re also proud of the fact that some of the proceeds from this trip will contribute to responsible tourism drives, with money going to helping a number of Karen communities and for the ethical care of elephants in the area. We can’t wait to be able to take more travellers on this journey in 2021. We have full details of the itinerary, including pricing, and can answer any questions you may have about this experience. Don’t hesitate to contact us.