Natural Attractions in Northern Thailand

Chiang Rai was the first Lanna Thai capital and contains the historic sites of this northernmost area of Thailand. The area is bordered by Burma and Laos with the three countries meeting at the Golden Triangle on the Mekong river.

The whole area is hills and valleys with many hill tribe communities - so nature tours and treks are the basis of the area's activities. Treks usually include mixtures of walking, elephant riding, rafting and visits to hill tribe villages.
In Chiang Rai, a whole range of treks have been developed for periods from a half day to about a week. Quite a few treks from Chiang Mai travel to Chiang Rai, including treks by mountain bike and raft, and after such a trek to Chiang Rai there is lots of scope to continue trekking around Chiang Rai.

The most developed tourism is in the north - in Chiang Rai - and a newer wilder area is opening up to the south - in Nan. In hills on the border with Laos, Nan offers nature treks and tours of up to 3 or 4 days including white water rafting, elephant riding and one of the rarest hill tribe communities of all; the paths are less worn and nature a bit more natural.
The best accommodation is in Chiang Rai but Good 'n' Clean and Tourist accommodation is available in provincial centres. On the treks accommodation is generally quite simple, including home stays in hill tribe villages. There are flights into both Chiang Rai and Nan and a good road network.

Doi Luang National Park
It covers about 1,172 sq km of Chiang Rai, Lampang and Phayao. Mostly mixed deciduous forest, the park has 89 confirmed bird species and 12 mammal species, including wild pig, slow loris and barking deer.
Wang Kaew waterfall is regarded as the park's most beautiful - and the nearby Wang Thong waterfall and Nang Phaya Pang Ding Cave are well worth a visit.
In the Chiang Rai part of the park, about 9kms from the 773 km marker on the Bangkok-Chiang Rai road, is Namtok Pu Kaeng, the largest waterfall in Chiang Rai with a good flow cascading all year - there are also some caves nearby. In Phayao's area, Namtok Champa Thong is a beautiful waterfall surrounded by rich forests.
Doi Phu Kha National Park
It's situated in the north-east of Nan's provincial capital on Doi Phu Kha, a mountain of 1980m. The park, close to the border with Laos, offers magnificent mountain scenery with forests and numerous waterfalls and caves.
The variety of forest types attracts botanists who have discovered rare and unique botanical species, including a plant with multi-coloured petals of which only six of the species are believed to bloom each year.

There is an equally rare hill tribe. The elusive Mrabi - or Phi Thong Luang - are nomadic hunters in the forests who have had very little contact with the outside world until the last few decades.It is a very rewarding experience, as its very remoteness has preserved its bucolic charms. There are barely 150 Mrabi in total but they, and other communities can be visited on treks in Nan. The nearby Namtok Sila Phet is a beautiful waterfall. There are no bungalows in the park, but tents can be rented.
The Tham Pha Tup Forest Park (12 km north of Nan city)
The park is well worth visiting not only for the natural forest but the network of 17 limestone caves, half of which can be reached on nature trails.

About 25 km south of Nan on the road between Wiang Sa and Na Noi are the caves of Tham Pha Mong and Tham Pha Wiang with fascinating stalactites and stalagmites.

A short distance further south are Sao Din and Hom Chom, areas of earth pillars produced in erosion of the softer layer of rock beneath the sandstone which forms and protects the top of the pillars.

Some 40km west of Nan, on the road to Phayao, Doi Pha Chi is a mountain with its forest still in perfect natural condition - once a base for insurgents who tended to keep the loggers away.