Thailand boasts some of the best infrastructure for trekking in Southeast Asia. Most tours are led in the north where the rolling mountains are cut by navigable rivers and conceal hill tribe villages. Here, subsistence farmers have migrated over the centuries, speaking foreign languages and practicing unique customs.

Most treks last three to four days and involve overnight stays in primitive villages. These adventure tours often include a ride on an elephant and an afternoon bamboo rafting. They are one of the best ways to interact with hill tribe villagers and learn more about their customs.

Best In: Northern Thailand

  • Chiang Mai: Chiang Mai, Thailand’s trekking capital for decades, is the easiest place to be based for trekking trips into the mountains. Treks of varying length usually involve hiking, staying overnight in hill tribe villages, bamboo rafting, and elephant riding. Unfortunately, as Chiang Mai hosts so many visitors and the trekking industry has saturated the nearby tribal areas, its arguably better to arrange treks from more remote areas, including Mae Hong Son and Chiang Rai. Chiang Mai’s Doi Inthanon, Thailand’s highest peak at 8,415 feet is located within a national park; Treks into the park take in waterfalls, fresh-water swimming holes, and other natural attractions, with overnight stays arranged in hill tribe villages.

  • Chiang Rai: The Golden Triangle is the jewel of Chiang Rai’s trekking industry. This is the region where Thailand meets Myanmar and Laos, with China in the misty horizon infamous for illicit trade. Trekkers visit Karen hill tribe villages, ride elephants, and explore the caves at Chiang Dao. Other areas of Chiang Rai are easy to access on well-sealed roads but are still very traditional and happily coexist with modern Thai culture and a much smaller stream of foreign visitors.

  • Mae Hong Son: Pai is a common launching point for treks in northwest Thailand. Many overnight journeys out of Chiang Mai even first drive to Pai before setting off. This is one of Thailand’s more rustic trekking options, with very basic accommodation, plenty of uphill hiking, and enjoyable rafting on the Pai River. Treks from Pai to Mae Hong Son, stopping to explore Tham Lod caverns in Sompong is another enjoyable route. Both Pai and Mae Hong Son have exploded with popularity in recent decades, particularly to a young Thai clientele and foreign ‘hippie’ yoga types.

  • Khao Sok National Park: (Surat Thani) - Khao Sok offers the other side of Thailand’s trekking scene, with an emphasis on nature and wildlife rather than adventure activities. The park features numerous trails and a large lake. Lucky hikers may spot wild elephants, but are less likely to see the elusive leopards and tigers. The world’s largest flower, the rafflesia, also blooms here.

  • Khao Yai National Park: (Nakhon Ratchasima) - Khao Yai National Park is situated north of Bangkok and is home to an impressive range of wildlife. Travel agencies regularly lead wildlife safari treks through the park, pointing plant and animal species out along the way. Expect to see plenty of birds along with the possibility of sighting elephants, gibbons and Asiatic black bears.

  • Tak: The biggest draw for Tak province is Southeast Asia’s largest waterfall, Ti Lor Su. Tak makes for a nice escape as crowds don’t congregate here. Trekkers set out in smaller groups and are less likely to encounter others along the way. Nearby Highland Farm, a sanctuary for jungle wildlife, particularly gibbons, is a must-visit for anyone in the area.

  • Erawan National Park: (Kanchanaburi) - Located in Kanchanaburi, this is the largest protected forest in Southeast Asia. Treks in Erawan offer more amenities than most, taking advantage of the onsite resort rather than placing overnight guests in hill tribe villages. The most interesting feature in the park is a system of caves that show signs of prehistoric human civilization.

  • Doi Mae Salong: (Chiang Rai) - The Doi Mae Salong hill station is usually bundled into treks around the Golden Triangle. This unique town is comprised of Chinese immigrants who fled the motherland in the mid-20th century. Visits to Doi Mae Salong are coupled with overnights in Akha hill tribe villages.

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  • Asian Oasis: 7th floor, Nai Lert Tower, 2/4 Wireless Road, Bangkok • Tel: 66(0)2-655-6246 •

    One to five day trekking in Chiang Mai province. Trek from a comfortable hill tribe-style lodge to Lahu and Akha villages. Cooking classes, elephant rides, bicycling, rafting, and traditional massage are available at Lisu Lodge and Akha Outpost.

  • PDA Tour: 620/25 Thanalai Rd, Chiang Rai • Tel: 66(0)53-740-088 •

    Day trips and overnight/multi-day excursions begin with orientation at the Chiang Rai Hill Tribe Museum & Education Center.

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