If you are planning on going to Chiang Mai to see beautiful nature and doing some adventuring, don’t miss Mae Rim just north. With beautiful valley sceneries, waterfalls, and exotic hill tribes, this district will make every nature enthusiast thrilled. The following are some of the attractions in Mae Rim you cannot miss.
The hills of Mae Rim
Mae Rim has since long been home to numerous hill tribes growing crops on an altitude between 850 and 1,450 meters above sea level. With an average temperature of 21 degrees Celsius (70 degrees Fahrenheit), these hills are perfect for growing crops that can’t be cultivated in other parts of Thailand due to the hot climate such as cabbage, broccoli, tomatoes, chamomile, rosemary, strawberries, plums, and red olives.
However, the terraces on these hills have not always been used for growing fruits and vegetables; until 1984, the hill tribes grew opium poppies before the much-beloved King Bhumibol Adulyadej decided to make a change and started the Royal Project Nong Hoi to help the tribes with new farming methods. The growth of opium poppy is today officially banned, and visitors are welcome to see the new plantations and terraces and to join the activities at the Royal Project Nong Hoi [see map].
The hills of Mae Rim with its fresh, clean air and stunning viewpoints offers one of the best hiking in Chiang Mai. And knowing that you will encounter different hill tribes make it even more adventurous. You can also stop by a strawberry farm and pick some by your own [see map] before heading back to your hotel; make sure you have a bottle of sparkling wine waiting for you in the mini bar.
We stayed one night at Baan Mon Muan Resort which is a fantastic hotel with cozy houses built in traditional Lanna-style 1,250 meters up the hills next to the sites mentioned above. Even if you don’t plan to stay here, I recommend dining at the hotel’s restaurant with a breathtaking view serving delicious foods with veggies grown on site.
Mae Sa Waterfall, Doi Suthep-Pui National Park
About 14 km from the Royal Project Nong Hoi — part of Doi Suthep–Pui National Park — is the popular Mae Sa Waterfall. Although it’s not a spectacular steep waterfall, its 1,500 meters cascade over ten levels each of them with a plunge pool below is impressively beautiful. Many Thais come here for a picnic with family and friends, and visitors like to swim in the pools. The trail up to level ten offers some nice jungle scenery and the best time to come here is during the cool season between November and January. We went here in March having much fewer visitors and falls still flowing nicely.
Another level higher up with dry-looking trees and vegetation being greener after the rainy season ends in October. Up here, it was just my wife and me splashing around in the water. If you’re a forest lover, then you need to visit Mae Sa Waterfall.
Baan Tong Luang Eco-agricultural Village
Only a 10-minute drive from Mae Sa Waterfall is the Baan Tong Luang Eco-agricultural Village, which is a cultural preservation project aimed for tourists to provide an income for the hill tribes. The village makes up eight different tribes separated by rice paddy fields, each of them with their own culture and language. The most famous tribe is the Karen Long Neck with women wearing brass rings around their neck. When visiting Baan Tong Luang, it’s important to support the people by buying their crafts.
More attractions in Mae Rim
It’s said that taking a walk in the park makes us happier. With this in mind, why not visit Queen Sirikit Botanical Garden or Chiang Mai Erotic Garden both located in Mae Rim. Another popular thing to do is to visit the Maerim Elephant Sanctuary where rescued elephants are taking care off. You can feed them, bathe them, but not riding them.
When exploring Chiang Mai and around I recommend renting a vehicle; we rented a car at the airport on arrival while some prefer renting a scooter. Like always when driving in Thailand, you should be careful, but also enjoying the ride. And you can of course also grab a bus, taxi, tuk-tuk or songthaew if you prefer that.
When to go
The best time to visit Chiang Mai is from November to February as the weather is less hot — the nights can be chilly enough to wear a lighter jacket. We visited Chiang Mai at the beginning of March with temperatures at 35 degrees Celcius (cooler up the hills in Mae Rim). While I love heat and fewer people, March is the ‘burning’ season when farmers burn crop waste in their fields making the skies hazy, and that was a bit of disappointment. Late March and April can see temperatures up to 40 degrees Celcius and June to October is the rainy season.