A 6-day road trip is one of the best ways to explore Chiang Rai – driving through mountain villages, and along the Mekong River, and tasting the highland coffee.
6-Day Northern Thailand Itinerary
Cupping Highland Coffee from Farmers
Trek to Phu Chi Fa for Sunrise
Eat Northern Thailand Food
Drive Along Mekong
The Best Places
Villages Around Phu Chi Fa
Pha Mee Village
Best Time to Visit
Dry Weather is between November to May
Wet Season is from July to October
Distance 450 KM +/-
Chiang Rai – Phu Chi Fa (91.4 km) – Chiang Khong (82km) – Pha Mee Village (122 km) – Mae Salong (57km)- Chiang Rai (52km)
Where to Stay?
Chiang Rai – Bambuh Boutique Homestay (1110 BHT – 2219 BHT)
Phu Chi Fa – เมฆสกุลดี ที่พัก ลานกางเต็นท์-ภูชี้ฟ้า (500 BHT)
Chiang Khong – Bann Tammila Guesthouse (450 BHT)
Pha Mee Village – Busaw Homestay (900BHt)
Mae Salong– Tea 101 Resort (900 BHT)
What Scooter and Where to Rent?
Scooter was rented from ST motorcycle For Rent. We rode in a new 120 cc Honda. Easy to handle and can have a pillion rider too. You can keep your extra backpacks in the shop’s storage. The lady who runs the rental is very friendly.
Tip: Pick the right helmet! Some are not in good shapes.
About Chiang Rai
Located in the very north of Thailand, Chiang Rai shares borders with Myanmar and Laos. Chiang Kiang is the border town to cross to Laos. Mae Sai is the border town to cross to Tachileik, Myanmar. A day permit could be arranged through the Burmese Immigration Office.
I’d say Chiang Rai is culturally diverse and landscapes vary from mountains to the Mekong River along the border with Laos. The hilly tribes that inhabited the mountain areas are Lisu, Karen, Mien, Hmong, Akha, and Lahu. Karen tribe is known for necked rings, who are refugees from Myanmar.
Opium was a cash crop for the hilly tribes during the 70s and the term ‘ Golden Triangle’ came to represent the confluence of the Mekong River. In the 80s, the hilly tribes in the opium zone were forced to adapt to different crops introduced by the late-Thailand King. In the mountains, fruit orchards and coffee farms are found. Young entrepreneurs received assistance and training to grow their coffee business from the government. Niche coffee shops mushroomed in the mountainous villages.
Day 1 Chiang Rai
We actually spent two days in Chiang Rai city. We loved Chiang Rai for its Lanna cuisine, from the Lanna Kingdom. Northern Thai sausage is my favorite. The surroundings of Chiang Rai city are interesting to visit, especially the tea and pineapple plantations. The Blue and White Temples are best known to tourists. The Black House catches the eyes of art lovers, designed by famous architect Thawan Duchanee. If you plan to have a relaxing holiday in Chiang Rai, I’d recommend taking quiet accommodation outside of the city center to listen to crickets at dusk. Tribal villages are scattered in Northern Thailand. Staying in a tribal village would be a great experience.
I did not visit the Black House and the White Temple. Then l like to take you to the other places outside of Chiang Rai.
How to Get to Chiang Rai City from Airport?
Airport is about 9.5 km from the city center. The best way is to take a Grab for hassle-free. Grab is the same as Uber. Download the APP and pay by cash or credit card!
Tip: Don’t forget to get a Sim Card in Airport and Exchange Cash!
How to Get Around Chiang Rai?
Many sightseeing attractions are around or outside of the city center. I’d recommend you to rent a scooter from ST Motor Rental after you come to the city center from the airport then drive to your destination. Another option is to rent a driver with a car or fixed tour package offers from the guesthouse. The alternative is to hire a tuk-tuk to go around.
Where to Stay in Chiang Rai?
Bambuh Boutique Homestay
Secluded in the back of a village, overlook at the rice paddy fields and surround by trees, this quiet property leaves you to absorb into nature. Keep the balcony doors open at night :).
What to do in Chiang Rai?
Khun Korn Forest Park Waterfall
A 30 minutes walk through the forest to this waterfall. It’s better to be there between 8 am to 10 am to avoid the crowd. We were the only ones there for about 40 minutes before anyone showed up. Dip yourself in the cold water :).
The city Chiang Rai has a decent scene of coffee shops that served food. They have niche designs and theme-based. These places are the best to spend the rest of your afternoon relaxing after a long day’s drive.
Chivit Thamma Da Coffee House, Bistro & Bar
It’s tucked in a quiet valley behind the main road along the riverside. It’s a favorite and patronized by many tourists. You will find a large crowd. The pineapple rice is worth trying; it is stuffed in an empty pineapple.
Tip: Looking for Halal Food? Visit Isaraparb Road. It is where Darulaman Mosque is at.
Day 2 Phu Chi Fa
Distance 91.4 km
HWY 1173 – 1126
We were on the road at 8 am. Chiang Rai is slightly busy with traffic. The two routes’ distances suggested by Google maps are more or less the same distance. You will drive through numerous towns and some farming fields. The roads are well-maintained and some constructions on the way but not to be bothered. Traffics are normal that does not bother much. As you are familiarized with the country, food eateries are everywhere. No worries to find food if you are fine with anything.
Phu Chi Fa Forest Park is in the Phi Pan Nam range that offers a great destination for camping and maybe to see the sunrise. The reason that summer is the off-shoulder season is that the summit becomes misty and not the great season to see the sunrise. It’s bordered by Laos. From the summit, dirt roads take you to an isolated village on the other side of the border. We visited Phu Chi Fa upon arrival in the town.
The Road to Phu Chi Fa inside the national park is 30% – 70% steep and somewhat curvy. Don’t hold your break tight :). You can immediately feel the temperature drops and surround in a pine forest. Take a deep breath!
Phu Chi Fa Town
Phu Chi Fa Town’s resorts and guesthouses were closed that left the town ghosted and the parking area Phu Chi Fa was empty. The vendors were desperate to sell food. Gangs of dogs roaming the deserted town. Only the permanent residents stay here and two restaurants open. If you come at this season, you do not have to make any bookings. Walk into any gate-open accommodations, the care-taker would show you around. We chose one with a large garden and a view of the ranges. We ate every meal in Miracle Coffee. It offers coffee and a classic Thai menu.
Where to stay in Phu Chi Fa?
This guest house with two rooms and a spacious garden where you can camp.
Day 3 Phu Chi Fa’s Sunrise at 5:45 am
The duo brother and sister dancers took every opportunity to put up their shows. They are no less than aged 7 and already turned on the radio when we arrived in the Phu Chi Fa parking lot at 5:40 am.
The sun slightly peeks out from the clouds but the way up the summit was still dark. We were not alone. Five local tourists were with us to make up seven altogether walking on the trail. The trial is easy, well-defined amid fields of lush grass. It is not possible to get lost. The summit was windy and misty. At 6:25 am, the sun finally came so closer to us. The clouds moved too quickly and block the sun, unfortunately. We were like chasing the clouds just to get a glimpse of the sun.
Breakfast in Phu Chi Fa Town
Day 3 Chiang Khong
Pit Stops Rom Fa Hill, Panorama Coffee, Ban Chaem Pong
You have a choice between highway 1020 or 1155. Check with google satellite view. HWY 1155 is driving along with the mountain ranges, one of the best experiences on this trip, seeing farming lands, orchards, and small villages. The weather was dry and cool, an enjoyable ride. As you descended the national park, the route goes through towns and paddy fields.
About Chiang Khong
With a population of 64,197, the town is an important transit town en en-route to Laos. Many pubs, restaurants, and guest houses depend on foreigners. You still will find some attractions in this small town: the temples, pier, and walk along the Mekong Riverbank.
Where to stay in Chiang Khong?
In the low season, Baan Tammila Guesthouse was very quiet as we booked the place for ourselves. It’s on the river bank but the entrance is from the main road. It has a nice guest area and a balcony.
I am not sure about the sunrise in Rom FA Siam Hill compared with Pu Chi Fa. It’s another tourist destination. If you are not in a hurry, camping grounds are available here. I stop here for the coffee shop. The shop is next to the soccer field and opposite the white plaster milestone. Look out for the Arabica Coffee signboard that you won’t miss. They sell decent quality Arabica beans and honey. Stop here for a cup. I already packed some in my backpack :).
A small village built on the bank of the Mekong River. Through the pier, locals travel freely between the borders under immigration office checks. It looks like an important trade center for residents on the other side of the Mekong river and Thailand. Supermarkets and markets around the pier. Restaurants here are simple and family-owned. They serve Khao Soi Po Orn, a curry noodle dish.
The coffee is on the highway along the Mekong river. As its name suggested, a panorama view of the Mekong river from its balcony. We caught in the monsoon rain and this coffee saved us. It has decent cakes and coffee. Watch the Mekong River soaked in the monsoon.
Chiang Khong Market
It’s on the main road, after the bridge. Like anywhere in Thailand, the market is lively in the morning and evening or even all day. It was like I want to taste everything in the market. I found the red ruby dessert that I wanted but it was soaked in coconut milk. The vendors sell bbq fish, sausage, and wild herbs, etc.
Day 4 Pha Mee Village
Pit Stops: Golden Triangle, Mae Sai
We started the trip as early as 8 am and many restaurants have yet opened. The road condition is good and not much traffic. The pit stops are the typical tourist routes. Mae Sai is a transit town to Myanmar. The highlight is the homestay in Pha Mee Village :). I could stay there for a week just doing nothing. We planned to stay in Mae Sai then I came across a news report on the national rescue of students and a teacher trapped in Tham Luang Nang Noncave near Pha Mee Village. The villagers belong to the Akha tribe. You will find orchards, coffee farms, and vegetable farms around the village. Luckily we arrived in Pha Mee Village before the rain caught on.
Where to Stay in Pha Mee Village?
We haven’t decided where to stay then saw the signboard of Buswa Homestay as driving up the hill. The homestay is at the end of the road surrounded by orchards. It offers a panoramic view of the valley. After the rain, the landscape turns to mystical as clouds slowly moving in. It also a coffee shop. You can enjoy homemade food here.
Explore Pha Mee Village
The homestay owners speak very limited English. It is best to hire a guide to explore the culture and food of this village. On a good day, short treks from Buswa Homestay could be done independently. Next to the homestay is a big swing. Akha tribes celebrate the new year around the swing. You will find swings in many villages as you drive through.
You wouldn’t expect a coffee shop to be found along the highway. The surprisingly stunning garden and the balcony faces the Mekong River. I absolutely amazed by the toilet especially. It thoughtfully places the toilet inside a mini garden :).
The golden triangle is the joining point of Laos, Myanmar, and Thailand’s border and confluence formed. You will see villages in Laos and Myanmar from the viewpoint. Golden Triangle has a dark history of poppy cultivation and drug smuggling. The Hall of Opium Museum is one of the attractions.
The interesting observation of Mae Sai is the large market and the shops around the immigration checkpoint borders. Students attend school on the other side of the border and take public transport home to the other side.
HWY 1149 – 1388
Pit Stops Ban Pha Hee
Morning in Pha Mee Village
The morning in Pha Mee clears up after heavy rain. Misty. The perfect lazy weather. The common area gives a great view of the valley while enjoying your breakfast and highland coffee :). The ground was too wet to explore the area sadly. A camping ground next to the homestay looks abandon. Otherwise, maybe you could bring your camping gear.
The ride to Mae Salong takes you through national parks and botanical gardens. They are popular attractions in the area.
Where to stay in Mae Salong?
101 Tea Green View Resort
The resort is also a tea factory. The rooms are decent and a great view of the tea plantation. You can walk into the garden and snap some beautiful sunset photos. In the morning you will see the tea pickers come in baskets.
About Mae Salong
Mae Salong’s recent history has dominated by the 93rd Division of the Chinese Nationalist Army. The second and third-generation descendants of the soldiers are still lived in Mae Salong.
Tomb of General Tuan, who was the founder of Mae Salong, and The Martyr’s Memorial Museum are points of attraction to learn more about the history.
Since opium was forced out, tea plantation is a popular crop for the villagers. Almost everyone is drying loose tea leaves in front of the home. Mae Salong is great for a short trek to Akha village. The guesthouse can arrange it for you.
Highway 1149 is along the border with Myanmar. The road is a bit bumpy with heavily military guarded. Vegetable and coffee farms on both sides of the borders in a dense forest. I definitely loved the ride on this road. In this short road, you will see many niches and locally own coffee shops.
I’d definitely called this village a coffee village. It hosts more than 10 coffee shops here. Some even own by young people. Stop by กาแฟยอดดอยผาฮี้ for the stunning view and cupping the highland Arabica :). Don’t forget to take a village tour!
The weather is completely different from the highland. And I missed the highland now. It’s harvest season. You will see golden paddies everywhere and smokes from burning farm waste. Take a narrow lane into the farm. Stop by golden paddy fields :).
Day 6 Chiang Rai
HWY 1130 – 1089
Yesterday we arrived quite late and the town was quiet. Before we left, we visited the Tomb of General Tuan, and coincidently the last few living soldiers from the 93 division were there to talk to visitors. I hope you had tried the Yunnan sausage before you leave :).
Highway 1130 is only for the locals. You will find farms and small villages. The road condition is quite bumpy, narrow, and curvy. Don’t hold the break tight!