1. Chiang Mai to Mae Hong Son
An ancient trade route once saw the pristine forests of Thailand’s northern hinterlands busy with merchants. Today it is just trekkers who make their way through the forest-covered hills and misty mountains of Mae Hong Son, traversing some of Thailand’s most remote natural areas. You’ll start in Chiang Mai and spend between six and eight hours a day trekking, over ridges, down into lush valleys and up onto mountain peaks.
You’ll visit Huay Hee Karen village, staying in a traditional home and learning about how the tribe live in harmony with their land. The trek winds up orchid-clad slopes before you spend the night in Ban Huai Tong Kaw, where ritual singers and sword dancers will entertain you. Challenging terrain, river crossings that get your boots wet and a greater understanding of this off-the-beaten-track area are all guaranteed.
Duration: 8 days with World Expeditions.
2. Chiang Rai to Chiang Mai
When it comes to truly understanding a culture, slow travel is best – and this laidback trek through northern Thailand is certainly that. You’ll trek from homestay to homestay, hosted by local people and gaining a real insight into village life. Your trek begins in Baan Tha Sob Van in the Chiang Kham District and ends at the northern capital of Chiang Mai. In the Thai Lue community of Baan Tha Sob Van you’ll spend a day with the locals in the fields, before heading west to Ban Dok Bua, an organic farming community that aims to be entirely self-sufficient.
From here you’ll trek through the lush Doi Luang National Park to Ban Maena, a Lahu ethnic minority community in Chiang Dao District, where you’ll stay in a simple thatched hut guest camp and head out for walks in the forest with the villagers, birdwatching and farming, before finishing up in Chiang Mai. An unbeatable option for those who really want to discover Thailand and its people.
Duration: 10 days. Departures with Village Ways from October-May.
3. Sri Phang Nga National Park, Khao Lak
Trekking needn’t mean slumming it. Luxurious boutique resort The Sarojin, in the midst of the national parks on the island of Khao Lak, specialises in local adventures. Their Extreme Trekking Adventure, which covers 8km of wild terrain in Sri Phang Nga National Park, one of Thailand’s largest national parks and set up to protect one of the country’s last remaining blocks of pristine rainforest. You’ll hike past cascading waterfalls, swim through parts of the jungle that are impossible to cross on foot and navigate your way through the untamed undergrowth using a bamboo cane.
Duration:3–4 hours. Departs daily with The Sarojin.
4. Khao Pom, Ko Samui
Sure, you could just sit on the beach and soak up the idyllic atmosphere of Thailand’s most popular island. Or you could explore a place few visitors do: the jungle mountain of Khao Pom. This verdant wilderness is criss-crossed by lush trails, from the mangroves of the coast to the 635-metre-high peak at the island’s centre. Head out with Samui Trekking from Maenam on the “avocado trail” and you’ll wind your way uphill through the vegetation until it gives way to views out over the island and the Gulf of Thailand beyond – a view few visitors to this popular island ever see.
Duration:4–5 hours. Departs daily with Samui Trekking.
4. The jungle in Kanchanaburi
The Karen, with their long, ringed necks, may be Thailand’s most well-known tribe, but few visitors get to discover much about their traditional way of life. Join this two-day trek into the jungle around Kanchanaburi and you’ll be the exception, staying with the tribe in the Karen village of Nong Bang, sleeping in a bamboo hut, preparing dinner with the locals and watching a traditional Karen cultural dance. The next day you’ll ride a bamboo raft before boarding the infamous Death Railway back over the River Kwai into Kanchanaburi.
Duration: 2 days. Departures daily with Good Times Travel at 7am from Kanchanburi, Bangkok.
6. Pang Mapha, northern Thailand
This circular trek is a great introduction to village life in northern Thailand, staying in two very different villages and visiting several more. You’ll trek through farmland and teak forest, learning about bush food and medicinal plants as you go, before walking through rice fields and valleys to reach Ban Pha Mon, home to a Lahu tribe and – for one night – you. You’ll help with the cooking and can even have a Lahu massage.
A three-hour trek the next day takes you to the Karen village of Ban Muang Pam, where the local shaman will teach you about traditional medicine – or you can challenge the locals to a game of football. Before returning to Chiang Mai you’ll take a bamboo raft into the 1666-metre deep Tham Lod cave, dripping with stalactites and the clear waters of the Nam Lang River.
Duration: 5 days. Departures with G Adventures, every second Saturday.
Explore more of Thailand with the Rough Guide to Thailand. Compare flights, find tours, book hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.