Rustic North Thailand
Thailand is known for its sun and sand, lovely beaches, tropical weather and crazy beach parties. However, if you go up North to the Chiang Mai region you will be surprised with a different Thailand. This mountainous region is blessed with lush forests and rich wildlife. Living together in the mountains are the hill tribe people and their elephants. For generations these villagers have coexisted with nature and over time have developed a vast knowledge of the forest environment. Recently, due to unregulated development and a booming tourism industry, the forests in Northern Thailand are dwindling with many elephants in captivity being forced into unnatural living conditions. These majestic animals no longer are roaming the vast jungles of Thailand but are forced to perform for human entertainment. Our experience is set in an elephant sanctuary that is working towards bringing as many of these magnificent creatures back to the forests to live as naturally as possible.
Elephants never forget.
- Destination: Thailand
- Nearest City (Airport): Chiang Mai
- Dates: On request
- Months: Throughout the year
- Level: Easy
- Guide: Available
- Price: On request
The experience is centred around an Elephant Sanctuary in North Thailand. The sanctuary is run by an NGO whose aim is to provide a natural habitat for the elephants working closely with the local hill tribe community to provide more ethical and sustainable tourism opportunities.
As a traveler there are many opportunities.
– You could work as a volunteer at the elephant sanctuary and travel the surrounding area in your spare time. You can volunteer for a week or up to three months, depending on your interest and availability.
– The accommodation is in traditional Karen homestays in the village. This is a great opportunity to live and interact with the hill tribe people, eat with them and experience their culture and way of life.
– There is an option to sleep out in the forest in the field huts or on the forest floor.
– Basket Weaving
– Head Band Weaving
– Night Hike
– Thai Massage
– Muay Thai Lesson
– Local women cooking class
– Sleep-out in our forest (weather permitting!)
– Camping in Doi Inthanon
(could be customized based on request)
Arrival in Chiang Mai.
You will be starting your journey to the village at 9am. The van will stop off along the way to buy bananas for our elephants and you will stop off for lunch/toilet at Mae Chaem (2.5 hours out of Chiang Mai) where you will experience traditional Thai food. Once you arrive at the village, you will be given a tour, learn more about the project and meet the rest of the team.
Everyone will meet for breakfast at our base hut before 7:30am and our hike to the elephants will begin at 8am. When you get to the elephants you will have the opportunity to feed them bananas and take photos! You will spend the rest of the morning/early afternoon in the forest with the elephants observing them, learning about their natural behaviours and eating lunch. After the hike, you will learn more about captive elephants and their plight before spending your first dinner in your homestay (a staff member will be eating with you during your first week!). After dinner you will have the opportunity to teach English to our mahouts.
Breakfast and departure to the forest at the same time. Today you will be carrying out health checks on our elephants before observing them. When you return from the forest, you can come along to the school to teach English to the local kids! After dinner, you can sit down with your homestay family and teach them English (again a staff member will be present to guide you).
Breakfast and departure to the forest at the
same time. Today you will eat lunch in the forest with the
elephants and after the hike you will be given a Karen language lesson to help you communicate with the locals. You will also have the opportunity to cook with your homestay and teach English to our mahouts after dinner.
Breakfast and departure to the forest at the same time. More health checks will be carried out on our elephants today, to keep track of any changes (another great opportunity to take elephant photos!). After the hike, you can help us teach English at the school again (different grade). This evening is free to relax, play games and hang out together at our base hut.
Breakfast and departure to the forest at the same time. After the hike, volunteers who are finished project will leave in the afternoon. Volunteers who are staying longer than one week will have the opportunity to go back into Chiang Mai for the weekend if there is space in the transport, explore the surrounding area or simply relax in the village.
Explore the Surrounding Area:
Pai is a peaceful, picturesque mountainous valley situated 5 hours North-east of Nahklang. Pai is becoming popular with tourists as it boasts scenic mountain areas with hot springs, waterfalls and rivers. As well as the relaxing and shopping, one can enjoy the nightlife scene and take advantage of the many tourist attractions that Pai has too offer.
Night Market—The night market, which starts every afternoon from around 3pm until the sunsets, is a great place to grab some local food sold on the street as you wander around the vibrant stands covered with local arts and crafts. Th Chaisongkhram and Th Rangsiyanon become a massive buffet, offering lots of different food and drink options sure to please everyone. It’s a great place to start your night and experience some local culture.
Rafting—Pai offers some amazing white water rafting trips, taking you down the Mae Nam Pai. There are a variety of trips available, ranging from 1 day to 3 days depending on what type of experience you are looking for! Both Pai Adventure and Thai Adventure Rafting offer trips down the river, with stops at waterfalls, a fossil reef, hot springs and permanent camps to sleep along the way.
Kayaking—If kayaking is more your speed, there is an opportunity with Pai Kayak to go on a two hour excursion on the Mae Nam Pai.
Trekking—Many of the local accommodation spots can provide information on local treks around the Pai Valley and into several Hill Tribe Villages. The treks allow you to fully appreciate the beauty and peacefulness that Pai has to offer along its rivers and through its valleys.
Massages—An essential piece of relaxing, especially in Thailand, is the art of massage. And what better place than the peaceful and beautiful town of Pai than to truly relax?
Traditional Thai Massage, you can enjoy massages, saunas, and even learn the art of massage yourself during your time there. The rest of the town is filled with local Thai Massage studios if you are looking for something more casual.
Nightlife—Your trip to Pai will not be complete without experiencing some of the unique nightlife found there. Along Th Wiang Tai, you will find chill reggae bars, such as Ting Tong, that mimic the hippie feel of the town. Other notable places include Bebop, which is a favorite of tourists and has live music every night.
Hot Springs—Tha Pai Hot Springs is a park that has a beautiful stream and lots of warm pools to bathe and swim around in. It lies about 7km from the main part of town, so transport will need to be organized before heading out of town.
Classes—In addition to learning the art of massage, there are opportunities to take a cooking class at Pai Cookery School, Yoga classes at Mam Yoga House, and Thai Boxing Lessons at S Wirasut.
Getting Around—Pai is very accessible by foot, but if you want to travel to places out of town or out of reach by walking, there are several local places, such as aYa Service and North Wheels, that rent motorbikes, push bikes, and cars for the day.
Doi Inthanon National Park
Doi Inthanon (abbreviated to Doi In) is Thailand’s highest peak which is 2565m above sea level. It has a 1000-sq-km national park surrounding the peak which has hiking trails, waterfalls and two monumental stupas in honour of the king and queen.
Waterfalls— Mae Klang Falls, Wachiratan Falls and Siriphum Falls are all found within the National Park and provide a background that belongs on a postcard. At each of the waterfalls, you will find food vendors and picnic areas to continue to enjoy the views.
The Summit—It is most common to take a bus from Mae Klang to the peak of the mountain, but there are opportunities to climb to the top. The rock formations make it difficult to make it to the peak, but the hike promises great views and heart-pumping climbing. Once you make it to the top, there is a café offering hot and cold drinks and a gift shop.
Bird and Biodiversity Watching—The national park is great for those interested in bird watching and nature with over 400 bird species recorded there. The best birding season is February to April and the best spots are the bogs near the top. The mountain is one of the last habitats of the Asiatic black bear, Assamese macaque, and Phayre’s leaf monkey.
Nature Trail—Ang Ka Nature Trail is a 360 meter platform walkway through the bogs at the top of the mountain that provides great views and opportunities to search for some of the amazing biodiversity in the area.
Accommodation—Park bungalows can be booked 31km from Chom Thong, or for the more adventurous, traveller tents can be booked per night.
How to get there—Local from Nahklang – ask staff for details or tour group from Chiang Mai.
Many of the hill-tribe settlements in the Mae Hong Son Province are concentrated in this town and Khun Yuam is a great departure point for treks to Hmong, Karen and Shan villages.
Boat Trip— Nearby is Mae Sam Laep, which can be reached by songthaew or motorcycle. Once you arrive, boat can be hired for journeys along the very scenic Salawin River. It’s a great way to relax and take in the scenery of Northern Thailand.
Hill Tribe Villages and Waterfalls—Around 25 km outside of Khun Yuam is a Hmong Village called Ban Maw U Kaw, which hosts the highest waterfall in Thailand! Maw Surin Falls is 250 meters tall and although beautiful all year long, the period right after the rainy season is when it is at its peak. The Sunflower Festival, which also happens in November at the end of the rainy season, is another reason to make the trek to Khun Yuam, even if it is just a stop along the way.
Accommodation—Mit Khun Yuam Hotel is an old wooden hotel in the centre of town with rooms from 100B per night. Towards the northern end of town is Baan Farang which, for the budget traveller offers dorm rooms from 50B per night but also row houses and bungalows for 200-300B per night for those wishing for more luxury.
How to get there—Located about an hour from Nahklang, ask staff to arrange transport.
Mae Hong Son
When you picture a Northern Thai City, what you are probably picturing is Mae Hong Son, a beautiful city surrounded by mountains and offering some unique activities in remote places. Established as an elephant training center in the early 19th century and transforming into center for logging, the culture here is unique to anywhere else in Thailand. Temples, treks, spas, and lots of amazing food are sure to make the trip enjoyable for everyone.
Temples—Wat Jong Kham and Wat Jong Klang are two temples in Mae Hong Son that boast bright colors and whitewashed stupas. Wat Jong Klang also has a museum with jataka paintings and ancient dolls. Their lighting at night adds to the beauty of the temples and provides a great photo opportunity.
Trekking—Nature walks and mountain treks provide a great opportunity to see Mae Hong Son and the jungles and countryside that surround it. With Nature Walks, Friend Tour, and Nam Rim Tour, you have the opportunity to take all day nature walks or multi-day treks across the province. Personalized tours can be booked for special interests such as rafting add-ons or interests in orchids.
Spa/Massages—Pooklon Country Club is Thailand’s only mud-treatment spa, with herb-treated, pasteurized mud that can be used for a range of treatments, including facials. Massages and mineral water baths are also available to tailor the day to make it as relaxing as possible for you.
Markets—The morning market in the city is a great place to grab local breakfasts foods before starting your day. There are two night markets in Mae Hong Son, with the one closest to the airport specializing in take away food and the other, which is found at the southern end of Th Khunlum Praphat, has more generic food and more opportunities to sit down. There are several local restaurants that boast local Thai recipes, along with western food offerings.
Karen Long Neck Village—Take a trip to the long neck villages in the surrounding area, there are several. Here you can check out how other Karen villages raise money, get talking with the locals on their traditional custom of extending their necks and buy traditional souvenirs.
Fish Cave— On the road towards Pai, about twenty minutes drive from the town center is a mysterious fish cave, where thousands of carp live together for an unknown reason. Take a trip to experience this weird and wonderful mystery!
Nightlife—Many of the restaurants that are popular for tourists also host live music and draught beer collections. Three in particular that might be a great place to spend the end of your night are Crossroad Bar, Sunflower Café and Fern Restaurant.
• Residence @ Mae Hong Son—owned by an English speaker and providing bicycles free of charge, the Residence is one of the newer places to stay in the area.
• Romtai—If you are looking for a variety of options of where you want to stay, Romtai is a great option. They have typical hotel rooms and bungalows overlooking gardens and fish ponds.
• Fern Resort—A well-known Eco-Resort with 40 bungalows among rice paddies and nearby streams. Nature trails run through the resort and lead to Mae Surin National Park, encouraging time spent outdoors and surrounded by nature.
Getting around—There are several places to rent motorbikes throughout town to get anywhere that is not in walking distance.
Getting there—By combining a stopover in Khun Yuam, it is possible to make a weekend trip out of the journey to Mae Hong Son. A villager’s vehicle is an option depending on the number of people. There is also transport available from Chiang Mai by bus.
Mae Chaem is a small town about an hour and a half away from Huay Pakoot. It hosts a lot of traditional Thai restaurants and food markets and is surrounded by the waterfalls of Doi Inthanon, a hot spring and many hill tribe villages. Perfect for a quiet weekend away.
Markets— There is one street full of markets in Mae Chaem which includes fruit, vegetables and cheap clothes. This market is on every day and runs from the morning until late afternoon.
Food and Nightlife— Mae Chaem offers a good variety of traditional Thai food in its many Thai restaurants which are cheap and tasty! As far as night life goes, Mae Chaem does not have a lot to offer. It is very much a sleep early town, however it does provide a karaoke bar in one of their restaurants that you can hang out in until the late evening.
• Som Porn – Stay in huts that can sleep 2-3 people with an air-con, fridge and a TV for about 100 baht per person
Getting around— Everywhere in Mae Chaem is within walking distance and a vehicle is not required.
Getting there— A villager’s vehicle is the easiest option and a bus is available if coming from Chiang Mai.
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