Help with North Thailand Trip

Dec 25th, 2005, 09:08 PM
Original Poster
Join Date: Dec 2005
Posts: 8
Help with North Thailand Trip

Hi All -

I am planning to make it up to Northern Thailand in January.

I have from now until Mid Feb on budget money so about 7 weeks time but between now and then I want to squeeze in an Island visit with PADI Course, prob samui/tao for maybe 2-3 weeks. So lets assume 4 weeks spare for N.-Thailand and possibly Laos.

Would anyone suggest itinery or comment on what to include or skip?

Specific Questions:

a) How long and what to do in Chaing Mai?
I would like to do a Thai Cookery Course which might take up to a week and I have looked this up already.

b) Mea Hong Sorn Loop Trip
How long (1 week?), where to book, what to look out for, what not to do?
I read about heavy thunderstorms there so maybe not a good idea?

c) Should I bother with Chiang Rai?

d) Might want to go to Laos/LP.
Should I fly or go by boat? What to do there?

Suggestions where to book tours such as Mae Horn Song Loop or how to travel to places much appreciated. I don't want to get ripped off or left in alone the Jungle in then end ;-)
rtwguy is offline  
Dec 26th, 2005, 05:44 AM
Join Date: Dec 2005
Posts: 61
Fly to Luang Prabang. People we met who took the boat wished they'd flown and spent the time/money in town. Across the road from Hong's restaurant and in that area of town there is a guest House for $3 a night including hot water. Other people we met had massages for $2-3 so they could use the hot showers at the Garden Spa! We stayed at the Villa Santi out of town. IF we did again, we'd stay at the one of the guesthouses or the Villa Santi in town as they have a reciprocal agreement to use the pool out there in the pm as we ended up only using it twice. Likewise you can have your breakfast at the intown hotel after feeding the monks. Bring lots of low denomination $ bills for Loas and also use kips as cheaper that way.
smeddum is offline  
Dec 26th, 2005, 05:50 AM
Join Date: Dec 2005
Posts: 61
Morning boat tour to the whisky and textile villages (15-20 mins. at each--would have liked longer) and then to the Buddha caves. SOme people hire their own boat for $18-20 versus the $3-5 each for the group tour.
PM waterfall tours to the taller falls. If you arrange yourself go in the am before the groups. IN a group can be approx. $5 or by self $20-25 with your own tuk=tuk driver. Maybe arrange your own driver with some people you meet there. 1 hour from town.
Other smaller limestone water falls are 1 1/2 hrs. from town. You should spend the extra money and go through the elephant conservation center (Tiger Trails-they have a store front in town)-approx. $25-35 depending on what you do. $35 includes one hour drive in mini-bus to their property. Visit to the elephant camp, then kayaking up to the falls. Return to homebase and have soup lunch and return to town. Alternatively can do a 1 1/2 hr. elephant ride either to/from the falls for $28 including the things above minus kayaking. They also run a two day + mahout class.
Lots of hiking tours-stay within trails as there are still unexploded ordinance around.
Rent bikes.
Quiet town as no real discos but lots of people around and looks like Chiang Mai 30 years aog.
smeddum is offline  
Dec 26th, 2005, 05:54 AM
Join Date: Dec 2005
Posts: 61
Group tours refers to the store fronts where they gather groups of individuals or other travellers to fill a boat. The boat doesn't leave until everyone is there. Be aware that when you come of the boat after the morning tour, you may not be met immediately by the tour company for the waterfall tours in the pm. Make sure you find out exactly from the store front where to meet-it is only 1 block approx. from the water area to the storefronts so you might just make your own way back to their store or arrange to meet by a restaurant if you're eating first. We did one tour a day which was enough--the rest of the time we walked around the neighorhoods, visited the wats, the Royal Palace museum, etc. Best massages, believe it or not, were at the Red Cross. They also have a steam room with herbal remedies but only from 4:00pm onwards.
smeddum is offline  
Dec 26th, 2005, 06:22 AM
Join Date: Jul 2004
Posts: 4,282
Here's my report on a northern thailand trip I took a few years ago. You should note that I had already spent a fair amount of time in Chiang Mai so only spent three days there on this trip. For a first timer I would add a few days.

I did this with a private guide/driver.
We were particularly interested in learning more about the burmese refugee situation in Thailand (we had been in Burma the year before) and also wanted to learn more about the various ethnic groups. I had been to Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai several times but wanted to get off the tourist route a bit. We had an English speaking driver for the entire trip. Here's where we went.

Day 1-4: Mae Sot: Mae Sot is a true frontier area, replete with smuggling, refugee camps, and occasional border skirmishes between Myanmar’s government troops and the Karen or Kayah insurgents. a. Among the sights in Mae Sot are the main market behind the Siam Hotel and the border market on the Moei River. About 7 miles northwest of Mae Sot on a 1000-foot hill is Wat Phra That Doi Din Kiu - a forest temple, reminiscent of Myanmar’s Kyaiktiyo Pagoda. We also visitied Sukothai from here

Since Mae Sot is in a major refugee area, we spent a lot of time visiting some of the refugee camps as well as Dr. Cynthia’s Mae Tao Clinic. About 60 kilometers southwest of Mae Sot is the border town of Waley. On the way is the Mawker Refugee Camp as well as several hilltribe villages. On the way to Mae Sarit, you can find Mae La, a Karen refugee center. Nearby is also the Mae Salit refugee camp. Visiting the refugee camps was fascinating and very moving. We also realized why some of the thais resent these camps as they are actually nicer than many of the nearby villages . Dr. Cynthia’s clinic is inspirational.

Day 5: We drove 140 north to Mae Sariang. In addition to stopping at refugee camps along the way, we went to the Mae Kasa Falls and the huge limestone caverns at Tham Mae Usu. The road passes through Mae Ramat, Mae Sarit, Ban Tha Song Yang, and Mae Ngao, crossing from Tak Province to Mae Hong Son Province. Most of the villages along the way are Karen, although there are also Hmong and Shan.

Mae Sariang itself may well have been part of an overland link through Burma to the Gulf of Martaban. It has two Burmese style temples – Wat Jong Sung and Wat Si Bunruang. Accomodation here was very basic.

Day 6: We drove to Mae Hong Son today. Enroute we stopped at a couple of hilltribe villages but the highlight was Ban La Up, about 15 miles off he highway. It is a Lawa village known for its cloth and silver. We spent several hours there and had a great time. They only see a few tourists a year so we felt like we were actually seeing how people live. Right before Mae Hon Song we stopped at Thailand’s highest waterfall, the 820-foot Mae Surin Falls which is near the town of Khun Yuam,. Khun Yuam also has a charming Shan temple – Wat to Phae – containing a well-known Shan tapestry.

Day 7-10: Mae Hong Son Lots of people have talked about this lovely area. We thoroughly enjoyed the town, the lake, the temples, the market and the laid-back feel of the place. We also went visited several hill tribe villages in this area.

Day 11: Went to Pai via Soppong which has a wide variety of ethnic villages – Shan, Karen, Lisu, and Lahu. We also went to the place where the fishes and caves are.

Day 12:: Drove to Mae Salong. On the way, we visited some more villages. Mae Salong was established originally by the Kuomingtang’s 93rd regiment. Opium cultivation is rife in this area, and the drug warlord Khun Sa had a base in the region until the early '80s. In the early days, it is said that the U.S. paid the Kuomintang people to grow opium, hoping to destabilize the Communist Chinese regime. Later, the opium was sent to Vietnam and used by our soldiers. Many of the older local people we met talked about how they often worked for the CIA. The Doi Mae Salong mountains of the area are noted for their indigenous Akha hilltribes. In the Akha villages, the women work in the fields, while the men stay home, smoke opium, and care for the children.

Day 13-15 We spent these days visiting the local tribes in the Mae Salong area and around Ban Terd. Doi Mae Salong itself is a Chinese Haw village, located along the Thai/Burma border. This beautiful mountain area is home to many ethnic minorities - Lisu, Akha, Musser, and Yao. There is also a wonderful local market. Not to be missed are the local alcohol shops, selling a potent rice whiskey laced with snakes, herbs, and lizards. In addition to opium, the area is famous for its gems, the money often going to finance the Burmese government. The Queen Mother has made great efforts to help the hilltribe people get their goods to market and the government has been encouraging the hilltribes to grow tea, coffee, corn and different fruits. The tea factory in town, selling the Mae Salong teas is one example of the government work.

Day 16 - 18: Chiang Rai – had a respite with some luxury and spa experiences. Went into town a bit and did spend a day at the Queen Mother’s fabulous gardens but this was really just some time to have a bit of self-indulgent luxury.

Day 19: Today we went south to Phayao. Archeologists believe that the history of Phayao goes back to the Bronze Age, not impossible, since the Ban Chiang ruins in the northeast date back to that time also. In 1096, Phayao became the capital of the kingdom of Chiang Saen, and later of Mengrai’s Lanna kingdom. The Burmese invasions forced evacuation of the city, but Lampang residents reoccupied it in the mid-nineteenth century.

The high point of Phayao is its freshwater lake, measuring about 9 miles in circumference and supporting more than 5,000 acres of fish farms. We walked along the lake, took a boat out on it and ate some delicious seafood. We also went to the Phayao Fishery Office which is interesting. Believe it or not, this is the place where the first artificial insemination of the giant catfish took place. In the exhibition room, various Mekong fishes are displayed and the general area has been designated a fresh water animal park. The most important temple in Phayao is Wat Sikhom Kham, containing a 400-year-old Buddha image – Phra Chao Ton Luang. This is a “real” Thai town. No tourists. But the same wonderful people. Walking around we felt like we were really seeing how people live.

Day 20-23:We drove to Nan which was established in 1368 by migrants from the Mekong River region, Nan was part of the old empire of Sukkothai and later of Lanna. From 1558 to 1786, Nan was under Burmese sovereignty before being ruled by hereditary princes. From 1931 onwards, Nan was controlled by Bangkok. Nan is known for being the site of the 1933 film King Kong!

One of the days we were there was Children’s Day so we spent a lot of the time watching the festivities and the games and connecting with children and their families. But we did to the Nan National Museum, which is in the Ho Kham Palace. The palace itself was built in 1903 by Prince Phalida. The museum has ethnographic displays, explanations of the history of Thai art, and a highly valued black elephant tusk. Across the street is Wat Chang Kham Vora Viharn, built in 1547, and containing a pure gold walking Buddha, discovered in 1955 when the plaster covering the image was broken. Architecturally, Wat Phumin, dating from 1603, is one of the finest examples of Northern Thai construction. The cruciform pattern of the central viharn and the four Sukkothai style Buddhas at each of the cardinal points is highly unique. The carved doors of the temple are among the finest in Thailand. On the wall are murals painted by Thai Lue artists that represent the Thai society of 100 years ago. Wat Suan Tan, with its Khymer style spire enshrines a 12-foot bronze image of the Buddha, cast in 1449 by the king of Chiang Mai after his conquest of Nan. Wat Prathat Chae Heng, just outside of town, is a 14th century shrine with a spectacular golden chedi and viharn in the Laotian style. The oldest structure in the region is said to be Wat Prayawat with Sinhalese-style Buddhas and an altar reminiscent of Laos. We are both interested in murals so we went to visit Wat Nongbua outside town in Tha Wang Pha District. Done by the Thai Lue artists, these frescoes, depicting legends from the Candgada Jataka, are in excellent condition and considered to be the finest in the region

: We also took a day trip to visit the Mrabi Hill Tribes. Called Phi Thong Luang by the Thais and nicknamed the “Spirits of the Yellow Leaves” because of the color of the leaves used in building their huts, the Mrabi are nomadic hunters. There are fewer than 200 of them still living.

Day 24: Leaving Nan, we drove to via small roads that cut through the hills to Lampang. ,Lampang’s history goes back to the 7th century and Queen Chamdevi of the Haripunchai Kingdom. With the rise of King Mengrai, the city became part of the Lanna Kingdom before coming under Burmese sway in 1556. When Thailand was finally unified in the 18th century, Lampang was brought back into the fold. The town was a center for teak trading and still today has many lovely old temples and mansions. One of the finest is Baan Sao Nok or the “House of Many Pillars.” Lampang’s main temple, Wat Pra Keo Don Tao, briefly housed the Emerald Buddha and has a distinctly Burmese influence. Although there are many other spectacular temples in Lampang with both Burmese and Lanna influences, about 13 miles outside of town is we felt was one of the most gorgeous temple in all of northern Thailand --the 11th century Wat Prathat Lampang Luang. Once part of the walled city of Princess Chamdevi of Lamphun, the temple has extraordinary artwork and architecture.

Day 25: Today we went to the elephant training camp and then headed to Chiang Mai for 3 days before returning to Bangkok,
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