Unseen Countryside from Northern Thailand

Although Bangkok is a beautiful city that is full of life, my instincts tell me that I would spend a few days in this city and go straight to the countryside. The more I travel, the more I realize that big cities are an amalgamation of different cultures, languages and religions. However, the essence of pure untouched countryside has a charm that lacks in big cities. Countryside villages have still preserved their cultures in a virgin state which allows me to spend some quality time in conversation with them.
I am heading from Chaing Mai to Pai. More than the destination, it is the journey that is beautiful. I take my time to drive at leisure and stop at the small villages I see on the way. While most of the people are rushing towards their destinations, I am in search of simpler charms that are spread across the mountains of Northern Thailand. Here is a shack run by a local family selling bamboo products.
Countryside of Northern Thailand
Countryside of Northern Thailand
While the traffic zoomed by, I stood in silence and soaked in the colors spread all over this hut. I come from a big city that is full of different kinds of sounds and smells. What would I not give up to spend a week in total silence and in the midst of such beauty.
Approximately 85 km from Chiang Mai, I see a narrow road going into thick forest. Not many people are going there, the road has pot holes, its raining and the sun is now beginning to set. But what compels me to take this detour is a small wooden board that says – ‘Pong Duet hot water spring’.
Northern Thailand is filled with hot water sulfur springs, and most of them are nestled deep into the forests. While trekking towards a hot water spring, I find these huts in the middle of nowhere. If I had more time, I would love to spend a night here, sit in the wooden balconies of one of these huts, smell the sweet fragrance of wood mixed with rain water and sip from a cup of tea.
Basic info about Pong Duet: The hot water spring is situated inside the Pong Duet National Park and requires at least 1 hour
Entry Ticket: 50 Baht (as of 2012)
Northern Thailand
Cottages in the forest in Northern Thailand
I choose to ditch the hotels and spend the night in a shack. I wake up early morning while the village is still asleep. The rice fields around me are bathing in the sunlight that is making them glow in golden color. I am far from the maddening crowd of Bangkok. Behind me is a hut, and the only sound is that of the paws and nails of a dog that walks up to me with its tail wagging.
Northern Thailand
Shack in the middle of rice fields, Northern Thailand
I take an early morning walk into the countryside. The village is slowly waking up. I walk past the local colonies and see men and women going about their daily lives, feeding the elephants and going to their farms. School children are beginning to show up on streets.
I see these children who are dressed up in colorful attire and playing around. A local fruit seller who speaks in broken English tells me that they are from the Lisu Tribe. The children are talking to each other. I do not understand their language but, it is a dream to see a local tribe. Would I have seen this in Bangkok?
Lisu Tribe Thailand
Lisu Tribe
About Lisu tribes: Lisu tribes are spread across China, Burma, Arunachal Pradesh (India), and Thailand and are said to have originated in Tibet. Lisu people have traditionally sustained themselves on paddy, fruit and vegetable farming. They are mostly followers of Animism, Shamanism, Ancestor worship, Buddhism and Christianity.

I walk further into the countryside where the rice fields are now replaced by mustard fields. The postcard perfect countryside is dotted by few wooden huts. Local dwellings are fading away and I am in open space where I can see for miles. An occasional villager bicycles past me with a child on the back. I want to keep walking with no destination to reach. The journey seems more beautiful than a destination.

Pai Northern Thailand
Postcard perfect countryside of Northern Thailand
I stumble upon another hot water sulfur spring. Local families have come here for a morning walk and although its written that they should not boil eggs here, they still end up doing it. I wonder what eggs boiled in sulfur water taste like.
Sulfur springs thailand
Sulfur springs in Northern Thailand
The cold mountain air has suddenly warmed up in this area by all the steam that is spewing from the bowels of the earth. I even begin to sweat here.
A word of caution: The temperature of water is up to 80 degree Celsius. I recommend that you keep some distance unless you want to end up getting boiled.
I spent four days in the mountains of Northern Thailand and they were much  more worthwhile than spending that time in a big city. In these four days, I have driven 600 kms, seen local tribes, interacted with people that do not speak my language, stayed in a shack in the middle of a rice field and seen local tribes up close. I am going back as a more peaceful person having given up a lot of my own baggage.

Basic Information about this journey:
Ways to Travel: Hire a motorbike in Chiang Mai, Travel in local bus (not too comfortable), Hire a private taxi. Most people prefer to drive because of the natural beauty.
Best time for this journey: October – January is the best time as the temperature is moderate
Distance: 128 km from Chiang Mai. Best time is to start early morning as there are many places to stop on the way
What to experience: Curves of Mae Hong Son loop, Countryside, Small villages on the way, Groups of motorbikers
Good quality and cozy eating outlets are available all along the way.
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For any questions on traveling to Northern Thailand, write in comments below or email me on gauravbhan@gmail.com
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Gaurav Bhatnagar
Gaurav Bhatnagar
Travel Writer, Photographer, Public Speaker, Entrepreneur @ www.thefolktales.com

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4 thoughts on “Unseen Countryside from Northern Thailand

  1. There is always this bucolic dream that somehow the countryside better reflects the "real" nature of a people. But, as an American, I can tell you New York City or Chicago is far more interesting and a better representation of America than some boring, redneck hamlet in Iowa. If someone were to come visit where you live, where would you direct them? Use that standard to plan your travels.

  2. It is mostly about personal choice and the country. What you said maybe true for America. However, if someone were to come to India where I live, I would definitely recommend them to see the villages. Not only India, Rural tourism thrives in Europe as well.

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