Much to a Bangkokian’s surprise, Thailand is a place of astounding nature.
From crystal-clear turquoise seas to luscious green mountain tops, this country is mighty fine when it comes to natural beauty. As much a city girl as I am, I sometimes find Bangkok’s urban lifestyle quite exhausting — not to mention pretty destructive of my health and sanity sometimes. Sure, most of us retreat slightly down south to Hua Hin or Cha-Am for a quick escape, but these beach towns are becoming a lot more ‘town’ and a lot less ‘beach’. As for those visiting the country and looking for a local’s guidance on where to go hiking or trekking in Thailand, you can skip out on asking a Bangkokian. They’ll be consulting the same Lonely Planet guides as you.
That is, until this Bangkokian right here decided to go up north to trek through a jungle in Umphang and camp out in a tent for four days. Camping in Thailand is an idea I haven’t even conceptualised before — typical city dweller me thinks the whole of Thailand is as hot, humid, and polluted as Bangkok. But the moment I landed at Mae Sot aiport (a three-hour drive from Umphang), I breathed completely different air. It was light, cool, and refreshing. I was even more shocked to discover that at night, the northern countryside in Thailand can drop to single digits.
It’s a long-held belief that submersing yourself fully in natural surroundings for a few days can help to de-stress you, “digital detox” you, and generally reset your mental wellbeing. But for me, it did so much more than that. It made me realise just how beautiful untouched nature really is, and let me tell you — that’s a scarily humbling experience. And I think everybody should try it at least once in their lifetime.
So now that I’ve appreciated first-hand that this country is one of the most remarkable places you could go to surround yourself with nature, here are four of my personal favourite destinations to go trekking in Thailand. I know I have yet to explore many more.
[All images courtesy of Tourism Authority of Thailand]
1. Chiang Dao
For family walks and first-time trekkers.
Found slightly north of Chiang Mai, Chiang Dao is a range of sloping green mountains that overlook the River Ping. The name literally means “City of Stars” — quite possibly because the mountain range is home to some of the tallest peaks in Thailand. With everything from lush jungles to flowing rapids, hot springs, and towering limestone mountains, Chiang Dao makes a great option if it’s the first time you’re trekking in Thailand. There are multiple hiking trails and treks you can do here, but it’s recommended you go with a guide who will often be someone of the local hill tribe. The Green Trail is great for families and takes you around astonishing scenery, local village life, and a natural elephant park. It’s also not too difficult and pretty flexible, which makes it ideal if you have children of different ages.
How to get there: Your best bet is to fly from Bangkok Suvarnabhumi or Don Muang to Chiang Mai Airport and get a taxi to Chiang Dao.
For waterfall and sunset chasers.
If you prefer water over mud (although you could still get both here), then a trek in Umphang is the one for you. This district in the northern province of Tak is home to Thailand’s most beautiful yet under-visited waterfalls and mountaintop viewpoints. Be sure to take a raft down the river towards Thi Lor Su waterfall because this journey is a spectacular destination in itself. You’ll pass towering limestone cliffs, lot’s of natural wildlife, and fairytale-like rainbows on the water’s surface. Thi Lor Su waterfall is an absolute majestic sight — you can swim in the bottom pond, but I recommend you brave it and climb just a little further to the second tier and dive in there. It’s so worth it. Just be warned, though: the water is very very cold. Be sure to visit between October and January when we’re just out of the rainy season but before it gets too dry to see the waterfalls at their best.
How to get there: Fly from Bangkok Don Muang to Mae Sot Airport. From Mae Sot, there’s an incredibly drive to Umphang that famously involves 1,219 road bends up the mountains. (Pack your motion sickness pills.)
3. Doi Inthanon
For trekking the tallest peak in Thailand.
It’s aptly nicknamed “the roof of Thailand”, making Doi Inthanon one of the tougher destinations to go trekking in Thailand. People mainly visit by car to enjoy the sweeping green views, but a hike up there is a uniquely rewarding experience. Going with a guide is recommended since some of the mountainous terrain is quite rugged and is not always clearly paved due to the infrequency of people passing through. But besides that, Doi Inthanon is an absolute paradise. You’ll find everything from gorgeous waterfalls to vast fields of orchids, historical royal projects, and excitingly diverse wildlife. Most trails here will last 4-5 hours each outing, but it’ll definitely take more than one in order to see everything worth seeing here. Pack well — the high altitudes mean that temperatures could well go below freezing between October and February, which are the best months to go.
How to get there: Fly from Bangkok Suvarnabhumi or Don Muang to Chiang Mai Airport and take a taxi to Doi Inthanin National Park.
4. Railay Beach Viewpoint, Krabi
For a magical hidden surprise.
I remember stumbling upon this trek (actually, it’s more like a climb), by accident. The signpost at the start of the trail pointed towards a “viewpoint”, so I just assumed it was a matter of walking up the beachside cliff to the top and enjoying some great views. Don’t make the same mistake I did. This hike to the Railay Beach Viewpoint in Krabi is challenging, yet always exciting and infinitely rewarding. Shortly after entering the start, which is along the path to Phra Nang Beach from East Railay, you’re soon faced with cave-like karsts and vines which you have to climb. The rest of the “trek” follows a similar trend, so make sure you wear grippy and flexible shoes (or just go barefoot). Halfway to the viewpoint, you’ll notice people going the opposite direction to you, probably telling you to turn back because there’s a steep downward climb. Don’t listen to them — the climb is surprisingly manageable, and waiting for you at the bottom is one of the most magical hidden lagoons you will ever find. The glowing blue kinds that seems to radiate its own light — that kind of lagoon. Get there, have a refreshing swim, and the viewpoint is an easy walk from there. But by then, the lagoon will have stolen the show.
How to get there: Fly from Bangkok Suvarnabhumi or Don Muang to Krabi Airport and take the ferry to Railay Beach.