In a lush, jungle setting in the shadow of a mighty limestone mountain, Chiang Dao is a popular country escape from the steaming urban plains of Chiang Mai. Families and 30-something travellers come to relax and wander, enjoying the area's rural character. The star attraction is Doi Chiang Dao, allegedly Thailand's highest limestone mountain.
Fang & Tha Ton
The northernmost towns in Chiang Mai province feel light-years removed from the provincial capital and its sophisticated ways. Few foreigners stop in at Fang, which was originally founded by Phaya Mengrai in the 13th century, although the locale dates back at least 1000 years as a stop for jeen hor caravans.
Hang Dong, Ban Wan & Ban Thawai
Of Chiang Mai's two handicraft centres, the area south of the city still retains its reputation as a 'furniture highway' where stores and workshops specialise in decorative arts, woodcarving, antiques and contemporary furniture. The area is 15km south of Chiang Mai accessible by private transport via Rte 108.
Mae Sa Valley & Samoeng
One of the easiest mountain escapes, the Mae Sa–Samoeng loop travels from the lowland's concrete expanse into the highlands' forested frontier. The 100km route makes a good day trip with private transport or a country getaway with an overnight in Samoeng. Golden Triangle Rider (www.gt-rider.com) publishes a detailed map of the area and provides trip reports.
Doi Inthanon National Park
Thailand's highest peak is Doi Inthanon (often abbreviated to Doi In), which measures 2565m above sea level, an impressive altitude for the kingdom, but a tad diminutive compared to its cousins in the Himalayan range. The 1000-sq-km national park surrounding the peak has hiking trails, waterfalls and two monumental stupas erected in honour of the king and queen.
If you plough across the Ping Valley on Rte 1317 past the housing developments and the rice fields to Mae On district, the road begins to narrow and climb into the forested hills of Mae Kampong, one of Chiang Mai's closest and most accessible high-altitude villages. Most visitors are first introduced to the area on day trips with Flight of the Gibbon, a zipline canopy tour.
Doi Suthep-Pui National Park
Sixteen kilometres northwest of Chiang Mai is Doi Suthep (1676m), a peak named after the hermit Sudeva, who lived on the mountain’s slopes for many years. Near its summit is Wat Phra That Doi Suthep (entrance fee 30B, tram fee 20B); first established in 1383 under King Keu Naone, it is one of the north’s most sacred temples.