Avoid Over-tourism And Crowds At 6 Lesser-known Destinations in Northern Thailand

06 Aug, 2020 | Travel Blog

Love Thailand but hate the crowd? Go to these gorgeous towns in remote northern Thailand.


There’s no denying it: Bangkok and Chiangmai are two best popular cities in Thailand. From all over the world, people are traveling there to seek splendid golden temples, world-famous street food, and the Thai Kingdom ruins. But popularity comes with a price. These places attract a significant number of visitors each year so you will always have a chance to find yourself in the crowds when visiting famous landmarks.

Rather than struggle for photo ops, there are many peaceful places in Thailand awaits to discover. They all have beautiful hills, tropical savanna climate, authentic local experiences, decadent food, and ancient architectures - except the crowds.

Scroll down to read more about 6 hidden germs in northern Thailand.

1. Mae Hong Son

Located in the north-westernmost province bordering Burma, Mae Hong Son captures visitors’ hearts by its beautiful rolling hills and peaceful rural landscapes. In 1969, King Bhumibol with his Royal Development Projects changed the local’s life in Mae Hong Son when he decided to turn fields of opium into coffee and fruit plantations.

Besides Pai which is now a tourist hotspot, Mae Hong Son offers a wide range of attractions. Mirror-like lakes and lush forests, waterfalls and hot springs, this is surely the place for people who seek natural beauty.

How to get there?

You can get to Mae Hong Son by both car and airplane. If you travel by car, you can drive from Chiang Mai to Mae Sariang District then to Mae Hong Son or from Chiang Mai to Pai District then to Mae Hong Son. The latter is faster which takes you 5 hours compared to 8 hours of the earlier. 

There is only Bangkok Airway providing daily flights between Chiang Mai and Mae Hong Son which takes you around 50 minutes.

Where to visit?

- Pai:

It seems 3 hours drive from Chiang Mai is not that long because of the pretty amazing scenery along the way. Even though Pai is the most tourist attraction in Mae Hong Son, this hippie sanctuary is still alluring for its lush and laid back vibe. 

Sai Ngam hot spring is a must-visit once you are in Pai. Famed for its warm, crystal, and clear water, visitors find it’s very pleasant and relaxing to swim in the lagoon. A short trek to Pai Canyon is a unique experience especially when you make it in the late afternoon to see the whole valley bathed in the warm light of sunset. If you missed the arms giving experience in Chiang Mai, Pai is a great place to witness this activity. Make a morning bike to the Kho Kho So Bridge and have a peaceful walk on the bamboo bridge that crisscrosses the fields where farmers are working on their crops with different traditional methods.

Read more about other activities in Pai here.

- Baan Ja Bo Village

Only about 55 kilometers from Pai, a visit to Baan Ja Bo Village is like stepping back in time. Old wooden houses leaning on mountain ridges, wandering animals, some souvenir shops, a cafe, fresh atmosphere, amazing views of white soft clouds below your feet, and Black Lahu culture are some of what you will find in this place. Visiting a Lahu family and having lunch with them is a great way to learn about their way of life and culture. Another interesting thing to do is going to a noodle restaurant that is built at the edge of a cliff. Although the noodles are good, people mostly go there to sit on its hanging terrace above the abyss and enjoy the 270-degree marvelous scenery that is spread in front of their eyes.

Opening Hours: Daily from 8:00 am - 6:00 pm

- Tham Pla (Fish Cave)

Located in Tham Pla Forest Park, this fish cave is only 17 kilometers from the city of Mae Hong Son. A pleasant walk beneath the canopy will take you to a clear water creek of hundreds of Soro brook carps. In the local’s belief, these fishes are sacred so it’s not allowed to catch them. You will find a Hindu God statue who is said to protect the fish. 

Opening Hours: Daily from 8:30 am - 4:30 pm

Entrance fee: 100THB.

- Wat Phra That Doi Kong Mu

Climb the hill west of town to visit the Burmese style temple Doi Kong Mu. Two Shan chedis, built between 1860 and 1874, enshrine the ashes of Phra Maha Mok Kallana Thera who is one of the disciples of the Buddha, that was brought to Mae Hong Son from Burma. This temple is also a perfect place to catch an impressive view of a sea of fog in the valley each morning. At other times, you will have sweeping views over the town and lush surrounding valleys. 

Opening Hours: Daily from 6:00 am - 6:00 pm

No entrance fee.


If you are looking for an authentic taste of Northern Thailand where you can do some solo soul- searching, Lampang is likely to be a choice. You can freely discover its charming river, attractive old buildings, and some of the best markets in the north without bumping into busloads of tourists.

How to get there?

You can get to Lampang either from Bangkok or Chiang Mai. From Bangkok, you can take a 3-hour flight or a 10-hour train to get there. But if you are already in Chiang Mai and want to visit Lampang for one or a few days, there are several trains that take you there in 2 hours. Traveling by car takes approximately 1 and a half hours.

Where to visit?

- Wat Phra That Lampang Luang

The Lanna-style temple holds Lampang’s important history. Legend has it that Buddha gave the name “Lampang” to this land and the stupa enshrines a Buddha’s hair in a golden box. 

There is a Lanna twist on Thai architecture that makes Wat Phra That Lampang Luang more beautiful. Admirable paintings and carvings leave you in awe and the peaceful surrounding brings the philosophy of Buddhism alive. 

Wat Phra That Lampang Luang is highly sacred by local people. Just like other Thai temples, you should dress appropriately when visiting. 

Opening Hours: Daily from 6:00 am - 6:00 pm

Entrance fee: 40THB.

- Louis House

Take a horse cart ride to the 114-year-old Louis House to see the former residence of a British businessman Louis T. Leonowens who was described as a colorful character. Louis’s mother was a royal teacher of King Mongkut’s children so Louis grew up with King Rama V, Chulalongkorn. 

While Louis was Anglo-Indian, his house is built in Lanna style with impressive architecture. Step through the doors of the teak wallahs’ house and daydream about when Lampang was the center of the thriving teak industry in northern Thailand.

Opening Hours: Daily from 8:00 am - 4:00 pm

No entrance fee

- Ban Sao Nak (House of Many Pillars)

Ban Sao Nak is an outstanding example of houses owned by wealthy teak traders in the heyday of teakwood business in the late 19th century in Lampang. At the entrance, there is a big tree that is older than the building itself. The house is a gorgeous Lanna architecture with a fusion of Burmese style in its terraces. 

Ban Sao Nak consists of 116 teak wood pillars and reflects the luxury lifestyle and taste of the rich folks who once lived here. The original furniture of the Chantarawirot family remains on display: lacquerware, silver bowls, porcelain, tables, and chairs that you will need around 1 hour to discover.

Opening Hours: Daily from 10:00 am - 5:00 pm

Entrance fee: 50THB.

Lampang rice fields Image by Eric Blandin from Pixabay

- FAE’s Elephant Hospital

The World First Elephant Hospital was opened in 1993 from an 8-year-old girl’s dream: having a hospital to cure an “Uncle Elephant” that was hit by a truck. FAE’s Elephant Hospital has treated over 3,000 elephants who have gunshot wounds, broken bones, drug addictions, or terrible injuries caused by cruel treatment in the logging industry. The most famous elephant in FAE’s Elephant Hospital is lady Motala. She stepped on a landmine on the border to Burma in 1999 and lost one foot. She had been taken to the hospital and still lives here until now. Motala is the first elephant ever to have a prosthetic leg. 

FAE’s Elephant Hospital now becomes a world leader in treating these gentle giants. 

Opening Hours: Daily from 9:00 am - 5:00 pm

No entrance fee.


Surrounded by mountains and the Yom river valley, Phrae still remains a secret to visitors. This quiet town has a rich history and natural beauty. It was once a key hub in teak trade in Northern Thailand. The glorious history is revealed through an impressive collection of antique wooden mansions, scenic temples, a charming riverside location, and the most ancient wall in Thailand that was founded in 1371. 

How to get there?

560 kilometers from Bangkok and 208 kilometers from Chiang Mai, from these two places, you can go to Phrae by both car or train. But there is only Bangkok providing daily flights to Phrae.

Where to visit?

- Wat Chom Sawan

Built from 1900 to 1912 by Shan workers employed in the teak logging business, this Burmese style temple is located just outside the skirt of the city. The highlight of this temple is the large viharn with a multi roof, teak ceilings, and beautiful wood carving and painting in bright red color. Next to Wat Chom Sawan is a brick chedi recalling one of many stupas in Bagan, Myanmar.

Opening Hours: Daily from 8:00 am - 4:30 pm

No entrance fee

- Wongburi House

Wongburi is one of the most impressive teak houses built in Phrae. It’s a beautiful two-story teak wood mansion with tile-roofed, high-ceiling, and it shows European influences in architecture and interior. The property is set in manicured gardens and has over 20 rooms with displays of utensils used by Phrae’s royal family a century ago.  

Opening Hours: Daily from 9:00 am - 5:00 pm

Entrance fee: 20 Baht

- Phae Muang Phi Forest Park

Don’t expect it to be as large as other forest parks. In fact, you will need only 30 to 45 mins to walk around Phae Muang Phi Forest Park to explore the otherworldly rock formations, but it’s worth a visit. Red sandstone formations are in various shapes of mushrooms, chimneys, and pillars formed by erosion over 2 million years ago. 

Opening Hours: Daily from 7:00 am - 6:00 pm

No entrance fee

4. NAN

Nan isn’t a kind of destination most travelers are going to as it is in the most eastern part of northern Thailand. Surrounded by misty mountains, this charming little town is the place where you find many old temples, teak wooden houses, hill-tribe villages, waterfalls, national parks, and the traditional slow lifestyle of northern Thai people. Nan is one of the best places to experience authentic Thai culture. 

How to get there?

To get to Nan, you can drive from Chiang Mai (travel time is approximately 5 hours) or take a flight from Bangkok. Thai AirAsia provides daily flights between Don Mueang International Airport in Bangkok To Nan Nakhon Airport in Nan.

Where to visit?

- Phumin Temple

Beautiful mural paintings on the walls of Wat Phumin. The famous "Whispers of Love" is just on the left of the door

Wat Phumin is the most well-known temple in town. Built in 1596, Wat Phumin looks quite simple from the outside, but the inside is outstanding with beautiful mural paintings that were drawn by a local artist in Thai Lu style. They depict legends concerning the Lord Buddha and the local ways of life. The most famous picture is the “Whispers of Love" depicting a Thai man whispering to a woman. If you go with a local guide, he can tell you interesting love stories over this picture.

Wat Phumin, with intricate wooden ceiling and four Buddha statues in the main halls with their backs against one another, facing four directions, is such a treasure of Nan.

For someone who likes local experience, on the road in front of the temple, a night market is held every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday selling Thai souvenirs and good food. 

Opening Hours: Daily from 6:00 am - 6:00 pm

Entrance fee: 50 Baht

- National Museum

Just over the road of Wat Phumin is Nan National Museum: a must-visit in Nan. Surrounded by well-maintained gardens, this museum was home to the Lords of Nan before it was dedicated to preserving Nan’s History and Culture. Well organized, it features a great collection of Nan Art, Lanna Art, Siam Art, and the mixing of these with other cultures from Burma and Laos that influenced the local art and made it rich and unique. Also on display is a rare Black Ivory said to be from a 60-year-old elephant in the 14th century AD. 

Opening Hours: Tuesday to Sunday; from 8:30 am to 4:30 pm

Entrance Fee: 150 Baht.

- The Noble House

Owned by Chao Fong Kham who is the descendant of Chao Anandhawararittidetch, the 62nd ruler of the town, this is a large teak house in classic Northern Thai style. In the old-time in Nan, the best teak was reserved for nobility so this property is probably the best example of its kind that is well preserved until even though it was built nearly 200 years ago.

On the ground, there is a woman demonstrating the traditional textile weaving. The second floor is the living room, bedroom, and kitchen etc that are still furnishing like in the olden days. 

Opening Hours: Wednesday to Sunday, from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm

Entrance fee: 20 Baht

Nan is where you can easily spot the traditional slow lifestyle of northern Thai people. In the photo is woven fabric hanging to dry on the rice field

- Nan Riverside Art Gallery

Located on the banks of Nan River, the gallery is delightfully nestled amidst attractive, well-maintained gardens. It was found by a famous Thai artist and a native of Nan. He decided to provide an opportunity for regional artists to showcase their talent. Painting, sculptures, as well as other artworks, are just excellent and will soothe the soul of people who love art. This gallery has many quirky objects but one of the most interesting is a few beasts ascending the stairway to the owner’s private residence.

This is well worth 1 hour or two of your time when visiting the province. 

Opening Hours Daily from 06:00 am to 06:00 pm.

Entrance fee: 50 Baht

- Cocoa Farm

Located in a small village just outside Pua town, the cocoa farm is to help to change the local's agriculture habit from planning crops to cocoa trees. This is an ecological improvement for the mountains as well as local people’s income. You’ll be explained about the growing and harvesting of cocoa. You will also know that different tastes of chocolate depend on the soil, weather, and altitude of where the trees are grown. Then, you’ll learn to make chocolate bars from cocoa beans, that is fun and interesting to do.


The ruins of Sukhothai, meaning “The Dawn of Happiness”, is one of Thailand’s best -kept secrets. Sukhothai was once the capital of the Kingdom of Siam for some 200 years, beginning in the 13th century but it soon was conquered by the Ayutthaya Kingdom in 1438 and abandoned in the late 15th century. Fortunately, in the 1970s, the Thai government launched a project to restore the town and its surroundings which is now a UNESCO Heritage Site. Visitors can meander through magnificent religious brick monuments and recall the heyday of the Old City.

How to get there?

427 kilometers from Bangkok and 315 kilometers from Chiang Mai, you can get to Sukhothai from these two cities by car, or by plane from Bangkok. But have in mind that Sukhothai airport is 25 miles away from the city. 

Where to visit?

- Sukhothai Historical Park

Cover 27 square miles, Sukhothai Historical Park contains more than 190 historical ruins and marked a golden period of temple architecture. Sukhothai craftsmen developed a significant Sukhothai style in temple building with lotus-bud chedis and brick-over-stucco construction techniques. 

The epicenter and also the spiritual center of the UNESCO heritage site is Wat Mahathat. This temple is often depicted in most photos from its eastern front, with an image of a giant Buddha sitting behind rows of collapsed columns.

Opening Hours: Daily from 06:30 am to 07:30 pm.

Entrance fee is 100THB to each zone (350 Baht for all five zones)

Note: The Historical Park is quite large, so it’s better to explore by a bicycle or a tuk-tuk.

- Ramkhamhaeng National Museum

Located across the road from the Sukhothai historical park, the two-story museum tells us more about the history of the town. It houses archaeological artifacts unearthed during the excavation and restoration of the park such as Hindu bronze deities, stucco relief images, and Sangkhalok ceramics so it’s a great destination for people who love heritage, history or art. You will need about one hour to walk through impressive collections. Some people like to visit Ramkhamhaeng National Museum to get general information before visiting the UNESCO Heritage Site of Sukhothai Historical Park.

Opening Hours: Tue - Sun from 09:00 am – 04:00 pm.

Entrance fee 150 Baht

- Ban Na Ton Chan Eco Village

The famous delicacy “Khao Poeb” of Ban Na Ton Chan.

Backed by rice fields, this village is a 90-minute drive from Sukhothai. No waterfalls, no beautiful mountains, but this eco-village gains its reputation from its way of living and local intellect. Most families in Ban Na Ton Chan have links to Lanna Kingdom ancestors who arrived in the village a couple of centuries ago. Used to be a poor and remote village, nowaday, Ban Na Ton Chan has become a role model of community-based tourism in northern Thailand.

You can choose to stay one or two nights in one of many gorgeous homestays or stop for a day tour only. Everyday life here is very peaceful and simple. Ride your bike on the scenic paths, breathe in the fresh air, try their famous delicacy “Khao Poeb” and see how they make their cotton fabric unique from other villages’ textiles by soaking the fabric into their village mud to soften it. 

Opening Hours:  Daily from 09:00 am – 05:00 pm.

- Buddhist votive tablets learning center

Another interesting thing to do when you are in Sukhothai is learning how to make Buddhist Votive Tablets from clay. The artist will explain to you about the meaning of Buddhist votive tablets in Thailand’s society and four Buddha postures: Sitting, Standing, Walking, and Reclining. After that, learn to create small terracotta Buddha images that you will bring home later as a memory of the trip to this land.


Phitsanulok is one of the oldest cities in Thailand located in the lower northern part of Thailand. It’s known as the birthplace of King Naresuan the Great, who freed Ayutthaya from the vassalage of Burmese in the late 16th century. 

Phitsanulok, probably not a name that many travelers put into their itinerary when they are traveling to Thailand, but it’s full of authentic Thai life and some interesting cultural heritage. The most outstanding is Wat Phra Si Rattana Mahathat that was built in 1357.

How to get there?

There are several ways you can opt to get to Phitsanulok. You can travel by car or train from Chiang Mai or Bangkok which takes around 5 or 6 hours accordingly. The fastest way is to fly from Don Muang Airport and you will be transferred to Phitsanulok Airport in only 1 hour. 

Where to visit?

- Wat Phra Si Rattana Mahathat

Located on the banks of Nan River in downtown Phitsanulok, this temple is home to golden Phra Buddha Chinnarat - one of the most revered and beautiful Buddha images in Thailand -  sitting in the subduing Mara posture. Its large vihara is beautiful with a multi-tiered roof and a wooden door decorated by mother-of-pearl that was donated by King Boromakot in 1756. 

Better to visit the temple on weekdays as it’s busy with local people coming to worship on weekends. Bear in mind that this is a sacred place so dress appropriately. 

Opening Hours Daily from 06:00 am– 06:00 pm.

Entrance fee: 40 Baht

- Buranathai Buddha Casting Foundry

The Buddha Casting Foundry was established in 1968 where Buddha images of all sizes are cast. All the processes at the foundry aren't set up for tourists, but they’re daily activities of craftsmen. You’re free to witness craftspeople casting bronze Buddha statues in ancient methods. 

Opening Hours: Daily from 8:00 am – 5:00 pm.

No Entrance fee

- Phitsanulok Night Bazaar

Located along the Nan Riverside of Phutthabucha Road, between Naresuan and Surasari Roads, night bazaar is something that you shouldn’t miss once you are in Phitsanulok. Colorful and busy with shops and street food stalls, this night market is where you can find nice clothing and souvenirs at a very good price. Food is delicious as well and there are fried bugs of many kinds if you dare to try.

Opening Hours: Daily from 5:00 pm to 11:00 pm

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