When traveling to Thailand, Chiang Mai is an essential part of any Thailand itinerary. This northern city provides a more relaxed and culturally rich experience for those looking for an escape from the buzzing hubs of Bangkok or Phuket. Chiang Mai and the surrounding area is resident to many prominent temples, one of the few true elephant sanctuaries, and contains Asia’s largest night market. It is also an area full of nature; a Chiang Mai waterfall, secret emerald pool, and majestic mountains all around. It is no wonder it’s home to a huge expat community who have uprooted from all parts of the world to live the digital nomad lifestyle, bringing with them a touch of the western world through trendy coffee shops and international gastronomy. Whether you are taking a Chiang Mai day trip or staying for months at a time, Chiang Mai is a popular Thai tourism destination for good reason: it renders cooler temperatures, great food, and offers many opportunities to fully immerse in to the culture and experience the way of the Thai people.
Related: Ultimate 10-Day Thailand Itinerary
Chiang Mai Day Trip to Lampang – Chiang Mai Waterfall & Emerald Pool
Chiang Mai also serves as the perfect base to take day trips to other neighboring northern destinations such as a day trip to Chiang Rai, Pai, or Chiang Mai to Lampang. The best way to experience these trips is through booking a guide, and as this was my second time visiting Chiang Mai, I was excited to experience Thailand through the eyes of a local. After browsing the various day trip options from Chiang Mai offered through TakeMeTour, a service which matches local tour guides with tour seekers, I settled on a nature tour for my husband and I to visit Tham Phatai National Park. Being that it was our second time visiting Chiang Mai, we really wanted to go off the beaten path– and off the beaten path we really did go! The national park can be found nestled in the remote mountainside about 2 hours outside of Chiang Mai in the aw-inspiring nature-filled Providence of Lampang. Filled with waterfalls, limestone caves, and a strikingly beautiful emerald pond, yet completely untouched by tourism (for now), this national park is a true hidden gem of the north.
Our day began early in the morning when our local TakeMeTour guide Eddie picked me and my husband up from our hotel and drove us safe and sound to the National Park. Along the way, Eddie briefed us with facts about the area and the park we were about to visit. Eddie was friendly, funny, and extremely accommodating. Upon arriving to Tham Phatai National Park, our first stop was to the Emerald Pool, known locally as Lom Phu Kiew. A short hike led us to a peak where we caught a glimpse of the astonishing turquoise waters, which resembled the cenotes you’d find in Mexico. Even from high above, the water was so crystal clear you could see the fish swimming down below. We made our way down the peak and to the edge of the water, where we were met with complete tranquility and aw-struck by the emerald water. The pool is the type of place you’d imagine going to when meditating, and truly one of the most ethereal places I’ve ever visited. At the center of the pond, there is a whirl-pool making it difficult to determine it’s true depth; and legend has it that the Hindu snake-god lives in the waters, as believed by the locals.
After basking in the beauty of this natural wonder, our next stop was to the Mae Kae Waterfalls. These two glorious waterfalls are made from limestone and their beauty rival those of Hawaii or Costa Rica. Mae Kae 2, the smaller of the two falls is perfect for climbing because it is more level and the limestone offers a sticky surface so you won’t slip. The water is clear, cool, and refreshing, offering small springs at every level. Mae Kae 1, the large and idyllic fall requires a short hike to get to, but at the top awaits a huge reward. From the peak of the waterfall a large pool can be found with another giant cascading fall from above it. This pool is perfect for swimming, and with no one else in sight, it is the prefect place to spend the afternoon and enjoy the falls all to yourself. Compared to the much more popular “Bua Tong Sticky Waterfalls” closer to Chiang Mai (also known as Chiang Mai Sticky Waterfalls), the Mae Kae Falls serve as a perfect escape to paradise, where you could pack a picnic and enjoy the day hiking, swimming, and getting in touch with nature while savoring the complete isolation. As such a popular travel destination, I never thought Thailand would have such secluded beauty left. These falls and the Emerald Pool of Lampang may be some of the last natural wonders of mainland Thailand that are completely untouched by tourism.
The last stop before our local guide Eddie dropped us off at the hotel was found half way back on our journey, at Banrimnam Coffee Lampang. It was the most charming and woodsy cafe set in a tranquil, green environment on the edge of a small creek. This local cafe has some of the best coffee I’ve had in all of Thailand (their specialty is an amazing iced cappuccino that puts any Starbucks frappe to shame), and a full menu of local Thai dishes with plenty of options for vegans/vegetarians or pescatarians. We shared a leisurely afternoon enjoying Thai delicacies with our guide, who after spending the day with, quickly felt like a new friend. After lunch, Eddie dropped us off at our hotel, but not without a souvenir. Throughout our tour, he took nearly 100 photos both candid and selfies with his awesome camera. He is a skilled photographer and we were happy to have such amazing photos to remember our day by.
More about TakeMeTour
TakeMeTour offers tours all over Thailand led by Thai guides so you can experience Thailand through the eyes of a local. On the website, you can browse tours of all kinds in Chiang Mai and the rest of Thailand from cultural, to cooking/food tours, Chiang Mai trekking tours, and more. They only offer ethical experiences (e.g. no elephant riding) and offer tours for all budgets. All TakeMeTour guides go through a very rigorous screening process as safety is their foremost priority. TakeMeTour handles all the logistics for you including transportation, attraction tickets, and they even provide you with a Thai SIM card, so all that’s left is to sit back and enjoy Thailand with your own private local guide.
dtac SIM Card
When booking through TakeMeTour, there is an option to add on a dtac SIM card which you can pick up when you land at the airport’s Happy Tourist kiosk. Dtac is the number one best selling SIM card for tourists and has many affordable options for call, text, and data depending on the length of your stay. I was very happy with my dtac SIM card and it proved to be a reliable way for me to stay connected throughout my trip.
Getting to Chiang Mai: Fly AirAsia
AirAsia offers both international and domestic flights to various cities in Thailand and all throughout Asia. They offer many flight options to and from Chiang Mai throughout the day, and are great for taking flights to other Thai cities, such as Chiang Mai to Bangkok. They are reliable, comfortable (leather seats!) and an economical option when traveling to, from, or around Thailand or Asia.
The Best Place to Stay in Chiang Mai for 5-Star Luxury
Watch the drone video I have created above to get an introduction to Chiang Mai's greatest luxury resort.
The Veranda High Resort & Spa in Chiang Mai, Thailand
Tucked high above in the lush mountainside and away from the buzz of Chiang Mai below is the most tranquil luxury resort in all of Thailand. The breath-taking Veranda High Resort and Spa Mgallery By Sofitel offers a zen-like experience with 5-star hospitality perfect for what Chiang Mai is built for: reconnecting with nature and enjoying the slower pace of Thailand.
Rooms at the Veranda offer spacious views of the mountains with modern-meets-traditional zen design. All rooms feature an open floor plan with a balcony to fully relinquish in the surroundings. Enjoy a dip in the private pool directly accessed from Plunge Pool Pavilion suite or a soak in the massive stone tub found in all guest rooms. The Jacuzzi Pavilion offers a sunken jetted jacuzzi perfect for a spa-like experience without having to leave your room. A comprehensive slate of bathroom amenities goes beyond the typical shower cap and sewing kit. Razors, a dental kit, and even laundry detergent are all provided to make your stay as comfortable and convenient as possible.
Get lost in the beauty of your surroundings at Veranda’s incredible infinity pool– one of the most stunning and unique pools in all Thailand. Enjoy all day dining or high tea on the private valley overlooking the pool at The Higher Room, which offers gourmet European fare. For dinner, savor modern Thai cuisine under the stars at the resort’s Rabiang Cha Restaurant which overlooks the beautiful rice and tea terraces. If you’re feeling extra romantic, private dining can be arranged for just you and your loved one and the care and hospitality you will receive will surely leave a memorable impression.
Serene and scenic luxury will encompass you at every turn during your stay at the Veranda, while you engage in resort amenities such as a five star spa, daily yoga classes, a fitness center, and a cultural pavilion where you can take traditional Thai cooking classes, fruit carving, basket weaving, or flower garland making. There are plenty of opportunities to indulge your senses without ever leaving the resort, but of course, all that Chiang Mai city offers is just a complimentary shuttle ride away. Staying at the Veranda High Resort is the perfect option for a true off the beaten path experience, as you enjoy a taste of Thailand from high above.