I couldn’t have thought of a better destination to kick-start my trip around mainland South East Asian than in, drum roll, please …. Thailand!  So cliché, I know, but this country took up the lion’s share of the “banana pancake trail” for a reason: It had something to offer for every traveler. Beaches, Diving, Mountains  Waterfalls, Wild Parties, Classy Hotels, Modern cities, Delicious Local Cuisine, you name it…

My reasons for traveling was a bit different this time. My trip wasn’t only about visiting different places but also the experience of taking my “work” with me and being away from home for longer periods. I wanted to fully experience living a location independent lifestyle and was determined to know if a nomadic life was really something I would find fulfilling.

I didn’t plan an itinerary. All I started with were my flights to Chiang Mai and enough money to last me a couple weeks of backpacking.

Northern Thailand Itinerary

I spent the first three weeks of my trip in the Northern Thai city of Chiang Mai then, with a little more than a week before my tourist visa expired, I did a loop around few more tourist spots in Northern Thailand before crossing the border to Laos.

The main areas I visited included Umphang Rainforest in Tak province, Kamphaeng Phet, Sukhothai, Phrae, and Chiang Rai.


Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai, known as the cultural and tourism capital of Northern Thailand, had roughly 300 Buddhist temples scattered around the city and its outskirts. Wandering around these historic attractions was the main tourist activity in Chiang Mai. Additionally, the city was also a popular base for trekking and elephant park tours.

I started most of my mornings in Chiang Mai with cheap breakfast and coffee at the local market. Then, I’d take the bicycle out or walk to nearby temples and discover the gastronomic goodness that is Thai street food.

At night, I’d be on the rooftop terrace of my hostel or in my room, working on my blogs. Some days, I spent wholly for temple runs and food trips, while others were reserved as “work days.”

I loved my short stint at “living” in Chiang Mai. Now I understand who so many bloggers raved about this city being one of the best places for location independent lifestyles. The city was peaceful and urbanized, modern conveniences within an easy walking distance, and most of all, cheap. A thrifty backpacker can budget around US$6-10 per day in Chiang Mai.

I suffered from “temple fatigue” a few times after going overboard with my temple visits. Fortunately, I wasn’t in any rush and could spend the next day doing less intensive activities… like going to the mall :) So Filipino.

Pad Thai
Pad Thai, my ceremonial first meal in Thailand :)

Fort Walls

Cycling along the moat and brick fortress walls that completely surrounded the historic core of Chiang Mai

Fort Walls

Green views on one of the corner walls of Chiang Mai fort

Tha Phae Gate

Birds, locals, and tourists spending leisurely days at the lovely park outside Tha Pae gate

Work Room

My “workspace” at the rooftop terrace of Malak Guest House.

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Wat Chiang Man, the first temple in Chiang Mai, located a block away from my hostel.

Silver Temple at Wat Sri Supan

Visiting the Silver Temple with another Filipino travel blogger, who was also traveling in Chiang Mai at the time.

Wat Lok Molee

Wat Lok Molee, one of the lesser known yet exceptional temples in Chiang Mai

Wat Chedi Luang

Monk ceremony at the main hall of Wat Chedi Luang

Wat Chedi Luang

Hiding behind the rain while visiting the huge stupa of Wat Chedi Luang

Wat Chedi Luang

Beautiful cloudy sunset after the rain at Wat Chedi Luang

Night Market

Night market stalls in front of Wat Phan Tao, one of the few wooden temples in Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai Outskirts

I also got to wander around a few interesting spots outside Chiang Mai City Center. The first ones I visited were Wat Chedi Liam and Wat Jed Yod, which were accessible by bicycle.

Wat Chedi Liam

Wat Chedi Liam

Wat Jed Yod

Wat Jed Yod

Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep was a bit far and needed a ride aboard the local pick-up truck. Not only was it the most famous Buddhist temple in Chiang Mai, its hilltop location offered great overlooking views of the whole city and outlying towns.

Wat Doi Suthep

Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep

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Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep

Doi Inthanon, the tallest mountain in Thailand, could be easily conquered by joining one of the tours offered in Chiang Mai. Since my visit coincided with the rainy season, I wasn’t too interested in visiting the summit. I didn’t want to get disappointed by heavy clouds blocking the view.

I was, however, really excited to go to Doi Inthanon to visit its waterfalls, which should be at the peak of its beauty around that time.

Mae Ya waterfall particularly stood out. Its impressive size and fan-like cascades were unbelievably stunning.  Best of all, I had the waterfall all to myself! No other tourists around because the waterfall wasn’t included in most of the “tour group” itineraries. I had to go there DIY style.

Mae Ya Waterfall

Mae Ya Waterfall at Doi Inthanon National Park

Umphang, Tak Province

Now it was time for the main course: trekking to Thee Lor Su, the highest and largest waterfall in Thailand.

To get there, I got on the bus to the Thailand-Myanmar border town of Mae Sot, then rode aboard the long pick-up truck ride to Umphang, situated deep in the rainforests of Tak province.

Fortunately, there was a group of Spanish backpackers who also wanted to see the waterfalls when I arrived in Umphang. We booked an overnight trekking tour to Thee Lor Su, which involved a scenic 4-hour river cruise on a slow raft and another 4-hour light trek to the campsite near the waterfall.

Truck ride to Umphang

Top loading a songthaew (local pick-up truck) on my way to Umphang town.

Truck ride to Umphang

Beautiful countryside views on the ride from Mae Sot to Umpahng.

Thi Lor Su Waterfall Slow Raft

Our awesome guide masterfully navigated our slow raft through the scenic Klong River, which was bordered by thick forest and tall limestone formation. Some even had waterfalls flowing down its rugged walls.

Thi Lor Su Waterfall Trek

Our trekking guide goofing around during our the trek to the camp site.

Thi Lor Su Waterfall Trek

Finally, the view of Thee Lor Su Waterfall. The rainy season wasn’t actually the best time to visit the falls. The strong water flow filled the whole area with a thick haze of cold mist.

Sukhothai and Kamphaeng Phet

The remnants of the ancient Sukhothai Kingdom was a popular backpacking destination in Thailand. UNESCO included Sukhothai ruins in its list of world heritage sites under the category  Historic Town of Sukhothai and Associated Historic Towns.

Kamphaeng Phet was one of these “Associated Historic Towns” that tourists often overlooked.  I enjoyed cycling around two of the bigger temple complexes at Kamphaeng Phet without sharing the space with bus loads of tourists. Most people I met were Thai tourists and locals doing their afternoon jog around the historical park.
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Wat Chang Rop within Khet Aranyik temple group in Kamphaeng Phet

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Tall stupa ruins at the main temple complex in Kamphaeng Phet

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Me under a big tree

Sukhothai Historical Park was also beautiful and worth a visit. The temple ruins were larger and more impressive. There were also more tourists around, though.
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Late afternoon at the Wat Mahathat, the main temple ruins in Sukhothai

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Sunset view beside one of the larger ponds beside Wat Mahathat


On my way to Chiang Rai, I broke the long land journey by spending one night in Phrae, a peaceful town 120 kilometers north of Sukhothai. Phrae was a charming little town with a couple of interesting sights like old teak wood houses and temples. The main draw there, however, was the experience of being on the non-touristy side of Thailand.

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Welcome to Phrae ^_^

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Detailed wood carvings on the facade of one of the temples in Phrae

Chiang Rai

Chiang Rai, the northernmost major urban center in Thailand, was an excellent place to visit for a few days before crossing the border to Laos.

The city seemed like the awesome “wicked” little sister of Chiang Mai. I had been waiting all month to see the insanely interesting conceptual architectures of the White Temple and the Black Houses.

Clock Tower

Twilight at the Chiang Rai Clocktower

White Temple

Countless sculpted hands depicting purgatory on the path to Wat Rong Khun a.k.a “The White Temple” in Chiang Rai

Black Houses

The biggest out of nearly 40 mysterious black houses, built on the outskirts of Chiang Rai. These structures exhibited the work of Thai National Artist, Thawan Duchanee.

Black Houses

One of the devilish black houses that caught my attention. Almost all of the structures had bizarre and innovative designs that played with the mix of traditional Thai elements and modern contemporary concepts.

Black Houses

Looking out from inside the main hall, which was filled high teak wood beams and long tables laid out with beastly remains like with animal skulls, deer horns, leopard, and snake skin.

Nothern Thailand Backpacking Summary

  • Total duration of the trip: 30 days
  • Total budget: US$500 (approximately) or $15 to $20 per day