Northern Thailand Travel Guide
Safety and Precautions
Malaria and other mosquito-borne diseases are rare in northern cities, but if you're traveling in the jungle during the rainy season (June to October), consider taking antimalarials. If you're trekking in the mountains or staying at hill tribe villages, pack mosquito repellent. Spray your room about a half hour before turning in, even if windows have screens and beds have mosquito nets.
Chiang Rai and other communities in northern Thailand are generally safe. However, it's a good idea to leave your passport, expensive jewelry, and large amounts of cash in your hotel safe. Keep a copy of your passport with you at all times, as police can demand proof of identification and levy a fine if you don't produce it. Always walk holding bags on the side of you facing away from the street. In a medical emergency, head to Chiang Rai or Chiang Mai. The police hotline is 191.
ATMs are everywhere in Chiang Rai and Pai, and most towns and larger villages have at least one machine. Every bank has at least one ATM, but if there are no convenient banks, head for a branch of the ubiquitous convenience store chain 7-Eleven, where an ATM is invariably to be found next to the entrance. Banks are open weekdays 9:30 to 3:30, closing on weekends and public holidays. All banks have an exchange counter; money can also be exchanged at some outlets in central Chiang Rai. Most businesses and restaurants accept credit cards (usually preferring MasterCard or Visa). Simpler Thai restaurants accept only cash.
Tours of northern Thailand are offered by Bangkok travel agencies, but it's best to book with one of the many reliable companies in Chiang Mai or Chiang Rai, which are likely to have a deeper local knowledge of the region. Mountain tours of one or two days, which pack in elephant riding, whitewater rafting, jungle trekking, and visits or overnights in hill tribe villages are popular. They are invariably led by guides with close knowledge of their region and with acceptable English. If you're touring alone or as a couple, you can draw up your own itinerary (omitting, for instance, visits to "Long Neck" villages, a controversial issue in Thailand), but it's far more fun to join a group—and, of course, it's cheaper (B800–B1,000 a day). Tours are also arranged by the Tourism Authority of Thailand (or TAT; www.tourismthailand.org), which has offices in Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Mae Hong Son, and Nan.