Discovering Northern Thailand: A 2-Week Itinerary for Bangkok, Chiang Mai, and Chiang Rai

Discovering Northern Thailand: A 2-Week Itinerary for Bangkok, Chiang Mai, and Chiang Rai

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Thailand is one of the most visited countries. It provides visitors with a fascinating world, full of adventures, pleasures, and an atmosphere of freedom. There is something for everyone in Thailand. You can experience the vibrant nightlife in Bangkok, explore the ancient temples and ruins in Chiang Mai, and relax on the tropical beaches of Phuket and Koh Samui.

The Thai culture is influenced by Buddhism, which can be seen in the many temples and shrines throughout the country. When it comes to food, Thailand is a paradise for foodies, offering a wide range of delicious street food and local specialties. There are so many possible activities in Thailand, you’ll have a hard time choosing. Thailand is also known for its friendly people. Overall, Thailand offers a unique and diverse experience for everyone.

On this trip, we decided to concentrate on Bangkok and the Northern part of Thailand, mainly Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai. 

TukTuk

When is the best time to visit Bangkok and Northern Thailand?

The cold season (which is not really cold) is between the months of November and February and these are the best months to visit the entire country.

The weather in these months is comfortable and pleasant, allowing you to travel all over the country and make the most of your visit.

Tip: Try to avoid visiting northern Thailand (the Chiang Mai area and the surrounding area) in the months of March-April due to severe air pollution caused every year due to the extreme heat, dryness, and many fires.

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We recommend taking the train or a taxi from the airport to your hotel. The Airport Rail Link (ARL) is a train service that connects the airport to the city center. The trains run every 15 minutes and the journey takes around 30 minutes. The service has two lines: the City Line, which stops at all stations, and the Express Line, which has fewer stops and is faster.

Taxis are available 24/7 outside the airport terminal. They are metered and the fare is determined by the distance and time of the journey. We advise using the official airport taxi service to avoid overcharging.

SIM Card: we bought our sim card at the airport just after landing. From our research, AIS had the best coverage (especially in the north). You can pick from their packages depending on how many days you are intending to stay in Thailand. 

Accommodation: We decided to stay in our first part of Bangkok on Sukhumvit near a BTS station, and we found a great boutique hotel called “Hide and Seek”. The location was excellent with coffee shops, a supermarket, BTS, and more just around the corner.

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Day 2: Visiting the Grand Palace, Wat Pho, and Iconsiam

The Grand Palace

The Grand Palace is a stunning complex of buildings that were once the residence of the Thai king. The palace is adorned with intricate gold leaves and colorful mosaics. It features numerous halls, pavilions, and throne halls that showcase the wealth of the Thai monarchy.

Thailand_Bangkok

Your ticket allows you to enter the “Khon” Thai Classical Masked Dance. We recommend going to the show because although we didn’t plan to go, it was a really nice experience. There are fixed hours and a shuttle takes you from the palace and back. On the way back they also stop at Wat Pho, where we decided to depart. Click here to find information about the tickets and the show timetable.

The Grand Palace has a very strict dress code, and they do enforce it. You can check all their rules here: The Grand Palace In Bangkok.  

In any case, there is a little shop at the entrance that sells skirts, scarves, and all you need to adjust to the code.

The Grand Palace is a must-see attraction for any traveler visiting Bangkok.

How to get there: we recommend getting the MRT to Sanam chai station. From there grab a tuk-tuk or walk for around 15 minutes.

Wat Phra Chetuphon (Wat Pho)

Wat Pho, also known as the Temple of the Reclining Buddha, is one of the oldest and most famous temples in Bangkok. It is home to the famous 46-meter-long and 15-meter-high gold-plated Reclining Buddha statue, which is astonishing. You can take a guided tour of the temple but we decided to explore it by ourselves. Wat Pho is a must-see attraction. For more information, you can visit their website: Wat Pho

How to get there: the temple is about 10-minute walk from the palace. We took the shuttle from the dance show and departed there. You can also take a tuk-tuk.

Wat_Pho

ICONSIAM

Icon Siam, located on the banks of the Chao Phraya River in Bangkok, is a state-of-the-art shopping and lifestyle mall. This iconic complex features a wide range of shops, restaurants, and entertainment options. The complex also boasts of impressive architecture, with a unique combination of Thai and contemporary design. There is a beautiful river view from the observation deck and a great food court that resembles the floating market.

How to get there: The easiest way to get to Iconsiam is by taking the BTS Skytrain to the Taksin Station and then taking the Iconsiam Shuttle Boat. The shuttle boat service runs regularly from Sathorn Pier (BTS Saphan Taksin Station) to Iconsiam Pier. We took a tuk-tuk (the kids loved it!) from Wat Pho.

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Day 3: Exploring Chatuchak Weekend Market and Terminal 21

*not on weekdays

Chatuchak Weekend Market 

Chatuchak Weekend Market, also known as JJ Market, is a destination for anyone looking for an authentic shopping experience in Bangkok. It is the largest outdoor market in Thailand, featuring over 15,000 vendors selling a wide range of goods, from clothing and accessories to food and souvenirs. You can find there everything from traditional Thai handicrafts to trendy fashion items. The market is bustling with energy and vibrant culture. We absolutely loved it!

How to get there: take the BTS to Mo Chit station, then leave on exit no. 1. Go straight (with the crowd) until you will see the sign to turn right into the market.

Opening hours: Saturday and Sunday 9am-6pm

You can find more information on their site: https://www.chatuchakmarket.org/

Terminal 21

Terminal 21 is a one-of-a-kind shopping mall located in the center of Bangkok. The mall boasts an innovative concept where each floor is designed to transport you to a different international city, such as Tokyo, London, and Paris, through its unique architecture and themed decor. It’s a nice mall but not our top pick.

How to get there: take the MTR to Sukhumvit station or BTS to Asok station.

Opening Hours: 10 am to 10 pm.

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Day 4: A Day Trip to Ayutthaya and Shopping in Central World

Ayuthaya is an ancient city that was once the grand capital of Siam (1350 to 1767). It is located 80 km north of Bangkok. Today Ayuthaya is an UNESCO World Heritage Site that has well-preserved ruins of temples and palaces. Ayuthaya is immersed in history and culture, and offers a unique experience. We think Ayuthaya is a must-visit destination for those looking for an off-beaten path experience.

Ayutthaya
Ayutthaya_Thailand

The Burmese invasion of Ayutthaya in 1767 resulted in the destruction and burning of the ancient city, leaving behind only the stone foundations and brick walls of the once grand temples and palaces. The war’s impact on Ayutthaya’s ruins can still be seen to this day, with many of the historical structures remaining in a state of disrepair for centuries following the conflict. The ruins of Ayutthaya serve as a  reminder of the destruction caused by war. 

You can learn about our day trip to Ayutthaya here.

Ayutthaya
Ayutthaya

Central World Shopping Mall

Central World is a large shopping mall in Bangkok and one of the largest malls in Southeast Asia and features a wide variety of stores, restaurants, and entertainment options. We thought it was the best shopping mall in Bangkok.

How to get there: take the  BTS to Siam station or Chit Lom station.

Opening Hours: 10 am to 10 pm.

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Day 5: Flight to Chiang Mai and Exploring Ching Mai's Night Bazar

Flight to Chiang Mai and Renting a Car

We took an early flight with Thai Smile which was an excellent choice. It is about one hour flight. When we arrived, we took the car that we rented online. We were a bit nervous about driving on the other side of the road and also after hearing about the bad driving habits in Thailand. However, we were surprised to find out it is not so bad and it was one of the best decisions we made in this itinerary. It gave us the freedom to explore the North at our own pace.

Chiang Mai is the largest and main city in northern Thailand. It is considered a favorite destination for many backpackers and it is located on the banks of the Ping River surrounded by green hills and clear rivers. This thriving city has a rich history, friendly residents, and dry, cool weather. The uniqueness of Chiang Mai is reflected in the special architectural styles, dances, music, food, and festivals.

The Night Bazar

One of our favorite places in Chiang Mai was the Night Bazaar. This is a popular market held every night in the city center, offering a range of items such as traditional crafts, clothes, jewelry, and trinkets. It’s also a great place to taste some local dishes and street food. You also get to enjoy live music played there every night. We really recommend checking it out at least once when in Chiang Mai. Tip: there is a public toilet (with a fee) near McDonald’s.

How to get there: We got around Chiang Mai city center with a tuk-tuk which was a great experience.

Opening hours: 5 pm- 12 am

Accommodation: we recommend taking a place inside the old city or nearby. We were staying at A Day Villa Chiangmai which was great value for money and located perfectly.

Chiang_Mai_Bazar

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Day 6: A Beautiful Day at Doi Inthanon National Park

We drove early in the morning to Doi Inthanon which is about a two-hour drive from Chiang Mai.  Doi Inthanon National Park is the highest mountain in Thailand, standing at 2,565 meters (8,415 feet) tall. It is located in the Chiang Mai province and is part of the Himalayan mountain range. Doi Inthanon is not just the highest peak in Thailand, it’s also a natural wonder and a treasure trove of biodiversity. The mountain is a popular destination for trekking, hiking, and bird watching, and it also features several waterfalls and temples.

First stop: Kew Mae Pan nature trail – this is a popular hiking trail that offers beautiful views of the surrounding jungle and mountains, as well as the opportunity to see a variety of plants. You will need to hire a local guide (there are many at the entrance waiting for hikers). It is not an easy trail but well worth it. When you finish, don’t forget to grab some local snacks in the little restaurant there, very tasty. 

Doi_Inthanon

Second stop: The Grand Pagodas – also known as Phra Mahathat Naphamethanidon and Nophamethanidon, are two unique and impressive pagodas located at the summit of Doi Inthanon. Both pagodas were built entirely of Italian marble and offer a great panoramic view of the surrounding mountains and valleys. One pagoda represents the king, and the other one the queen. If you arrive before 3 pm, you need to park out side and take their shuttle.

Doi_Inthanon

Third stop: The local market – we were starting to feel hungry so on the way down the mountain we stopped for some fruits and snacks at the small market. There is a great variety of dry fruit as well as fresh ones. 

Fourth stop: Wachirathan Waterfall – a beautiful waterfall that is fed by underground streams and is, therefore, able to maintain its flow throughout the year, making it a popular destination even during the dry season. It’s also known for its impressive height of about 80 meters (262 ft) and for being surrounded by lush jungle vegetation.

After a beautiful day at Doi Inthanon, we’re heading back to Chiang Mai.

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Day7: Elephant Sanctuary and The Sticky Waterfall (Bua Tong)

Elephant Sanctuary

There are many elephant sanctuaries near Chiang Mai, but we decided to go with Chiangmai Elephant Heritage which was a great decision. They pick you up with an air-conditioned van and the guide was super friendly with great knowledge. The elephant sanctuary is a unique and responsible way to interact with these majestic animals. These sanctuaries provide a natural habitat for elephants, and visitors can observe them in their natural environment and learn about elephant conservation and welfare. We got to feed, bathe, and pet the elephants. This tour serves traditional lunch in place (included in the fee).

Elephant_Thailand
Elephant_ChiangMai

You can book your trip to the Elephant Heritage Sanctuary here.  You will need to pay a small deposit via PayPal to reserve your spot. 

The Sticky Waterfall (Bua Tong)

This is a bonus you get only with the Elephant Heritage tour and one of the reasons we chose them. This waterfall is a unique one located near Chiang Mai. It is unique due to the mineral deposits that make the rocks sticky and therefore allow visitors to climb up the waterfall. It’s also known for the formation of small ponds and caves. This was a great experience.

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Day 8: Exploring Chiang Mai's Nearby temples

Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

Wat Phra That Doi Suthep is an important temple situated on a mountaintop and offers stunning views of the city below. The temple is also a significant religious site, as it is believed to contain a relic of the Lord Buddha, making it an important pilgrimage site for Thai Buddhists. It has a beautiful golden pagoda and intricate carvings and murals.

Wat Pha Lat

Wat Pha Lat is a peaceful temple that is hidden away in a jungle, surrounded by natural beauty. It’s also known for being one of the oldest temples in the city, dating back to the 14th century.

Wat Umong Suan Phutthatham

Wat Umong Suan Phutthatham is an interesting temple that has a tunnel system that runs beneath the main stupa. It also has beautiful gardens and natural springs which is a perfect place to relax and escape the hustle and bustle of the city.

Wat Phra That Doi Kham

Wat Phra That Doi Kham is an important temple with an impressive golden stupa, which stands over 20 meters (66 ft) tall. It is also known for housing a sacred relic of the Lord Buddha, making it an important pilgrimage site for Thai Buddhists. It stands on a hilltop which provides a panoramic view of the surrounding area, making it a great spot to enjoy the scenery while visiting the temple.

wat-phra-that-doi-suthep
wat-phra-that-doi-suthep

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Day 9: Driving to Chiang Rai and Visiting The Blue Temple, Singha Park, and Night Bazar

We left Chiang Mai for one night to explore Chiang Rai. We left our luggage at our next hotel in Chiang Mai and off we went. This is a three-hour drive on a relatively good-condition road.

The Blue Temple (Wat Rong Suea Ten)

Our first stop in Chiang Rai was Wat Rong Suea Ten also known as The Blue Temple.

This temple is unique for its striking blue and gold color scheme, a departure from the traditional gold and red in many Thai temples. You can see the giant dragon statue that adorns the entrance of the temple and all the beautiful carvings and sculptures.

The entrance is free and is open every day from 7 am to 20 pm.

There is a nice restaurant just across the street with tasty food and decent prices.  

Blue_Temple
Blue_Temple

Singha Park

In the afternoon we decided to go check Singha Park. This is a huge park with plenty of attractions such as cycling, motocross, zip-lining, and ATV riding, as well as a large lake for boating. The vibes in this park are relaxing especially at sunset. We initially didn’t plan to go there, but we’re glad we did and recommend it to anyone visiting Chiang Rai.

Opening hours: 9.00 am – 6.00 pm every day

You can find more information on their website: https://www.singhapark.com/

Chiang Rai Night Bazaar

The Night Market in Chiang Rai is a relatively small market that offers a variety of goods, including traditional handicrafts, clothing, jewelry, and souvenirs, as well as local street food. It was nice to stroll there, but not a must.

Opening hours: every day between 6 pm to 11 pm.

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Day 10: Exploring The White Temple, Driving Back to Chiang Mai, and Getting a Foot Massage

The White Temple

The White Temple, also known as Wat Rong Khun, is a real masterpiece of contemporary Thai architecture. This unique temple, which is colored only in white, is visually striking and definitely unlike any other temple in Thailand. This temple is a must-see attraction. Try to get there early to be able to experience it with fewer crowds.

Opening hours: every day from 8 am to 5 pm.

White_Temple
White_Temple

A quick stop at Wat Huay Pla Kang

This huge white Buddha can be seen from the road and so we decided to stop for a quick visit. the temple complex features a nine-floor pagoda with a giant Buddha. The statue sits on the top of the hill with great views of the rural surroundings. 

Buddah_ChiangRai

Driving back to Chiang Mai

After this amazing visit to the white temple, it was time to head back to Chiang Mai. We took a lunch break at Doi Chang Coffee on the road, which was really nice and the cakes were delicious!

Massage

You cannot visit Thailand and not experience a great massage at least once. We did one in Chiang Mai which was a bit fancy but cheap by western standards.

Calm Massage at Fern Forest

52/4 Singharat 1 Alley, Tambon Si Phum

Opening hours: 11 am – 9 pm

Foot_massage
Foot_Massage

Pratu Tha Phae Gate 

In the evening we walked to the famous Pratu Tha Gate. This gate was built in the 14th century as part of the city’s defensive walls. Now you can find there a great street food market, although a bit crowded. The food was excellent!

ChiangMai_gate
ChiangMai_gate

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Day 11: Enjoying a Cooking Class and Visiting the Sunday Market

*only a Sunday if you want to explore the market

Thai Cooking Class

We have never taken a cooking class before, so we were very excited. We booked our class at “Zabb E Lee Thai cooking school” which didn’t disappoint. We got picked up and headed to the local market (with some tourist traps, but it was ok). The guide explained about the Thai local produce and from there she took us to her farmhouse to start cooking. You can choose from several dishes and they also adapt to dietary restrictions.

For more information, check their website: http://www.zabbeleecooking.com/

Sunday Market (Tha Phae Walking Street)

This is a huge market that opens only on Sundays after noon (it starts around 16:30). Several streets are closed and the number of vendors is unbelievable. You want to get there early otherwise it gets super crowded. We were sleeping just a couple of streets from the market which was a perfect decision as the whole area is closed. We enjoyed it very much and recommend it.

Accommodation near the Sunday market: Wonderwall Hotel

7 3 Rachadamnoen Rd, Si Phum Sub-district, Mueang Chiang Mai District, Chiang Mai

Sunday_market

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Day 12: Flying Back to Bangkok and Visiting Siam Paragon

Flight to Bangkok

We had to say goodbye to charming Chiang Mai and fly back to Bangkok for the last part of our vacation. We took an early flight so we had the all after noon to do some more…. shopping.

Siam Paragon

Another great shopping mall. The Thai malls are really on a different level from what we have seen elsewhere. It is known for its high-end brands, designer labels, and exclusive boutiques. It’s also well-known for its impressive architecture and design with its grand central atrium, high ceilings, and large skylights that allow natural light to flood the space. The food court was one of the best we experienced in Thailand.

Accommodation: This time we decided to stay in China Town. We really recommend the hotel we stayed in, next to the MTR with great service. We stayed at: Old Thai Heng Hotel, 368 Thanon Santiphap, Pom Prap, Pom Prap Sattru Phai, Bangkok 10100, Thailand

Siam_Pargaon
siam_paragon

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Day 13: A Trip to the Floating & Railway Market, and Chinatown

The Railway Market

We took a guided tour from Bangkok to visit both markets. We arrived at the train station and took the train to the market. The railway market (also known as Maeklong Railway Market) is a unique experience. The market is situated on an active railway track, and vendors set up their stalls right on the tracks. As the train approaches, vendors quickly remove their goods, allowing the train to pass through and then set up again once the train has passed. The market is a great opportunity to observe local life and it has become an attraction on its own. However, it is really crowded and the vendors were not that happy with the tourists.

Railway_market
Railway_market

The Floating Market

The floating market, also known as Damnoen Saduak Floating Market, is an authentic destination and a landmark of Bangkok. The market is situated on a network of canals, and vendors set up their stalls on boats. You can take a boat tour through the market to see the vendors selling a wide variety of goods such as fruits, vegetables, souvenirs, and traditional Thai street food, all from the comfort of a traditional longtail boat.

Floating_Market
Floating_Market

Chinatown

Chinatown in Bangkok is located on Yaowarat street and it is a bustling area with a mix of old-style shophouses, temples, and street markets selling Chinese food. Really nice experience, but very crowded.

How to get there: take the MTR to Wat Mangkong station.

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Day 14: A stop at Wat Arun Ratchawararam and Flying Back Home

Wat Arun Ratchawararam

Wat Arun Ratchawararam, also known as the Temple of Dawn, is a unique and iconic temple located near the Chao Phraya River. The temple has a striking and colorful design and it is particularly beautiful at sunset.

Wat_Arun_Ratchawararam

It was time to head to the airport (by train) and get back home. We enjoyed this destination very much. There are so many other great things to see and experience in Bangkok and Northern Thailand, but you can never see it all. Hope this itinerary will help you when planning your next vacation to Bangkok and Northern Thailand!

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