This itinerary includes the two small but quite different towns of Mae Hong Son and Pai. Both are blessed with lovely mountain scenery, both have numerous places of interest to visit, and are enhanced by the colourful costumes of various hill tribes. The difference lies in the type of visitors. In Mae Hong Sorn, most travellers stay for one or two nights, interested in the culture of a place close to Myanmar. The majority here are perhaps mostly middle-aged. By contrast, Pai is home to large numbers of young western people, mostly so-called “Millenials” with a sprinkling also of white –bearded expatriate retirees.

DAY 1 | (_/L/D)

Pickup from hotels, airport, railway station or bus terminal and depart Chiang Mai in an off-road vehicle. Visit the hilltribe museum (closed on Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays) to learn about the hill people in Thailand and the fascinating origins of the seven ethnic groups. They consist of the Hmong, the Yao, the Lisu, the Akha, the black and red Musers and the Karen. Proceed to the local market of Mae Malai, a colourful rendezvous for local village selling their produce. Continue to Ban Mae Taman to trek through the rain forest on elephant back for about 45 minutes. In a pleasant contrast, conclude with a leisurely ride on an ox-cart for 15-20 minutes.

As an alternative to the elephant and ox-cart rides, continue from Mae Malai market to the Doi Chiang Dao Cave, located 70 kilometres nort h of Chiang Mai city, en route to Fang. Mount Chiang Dao is Thailand’s third highest peak, rising to 2,175 metres. This huge limestone mountain is penetrated by a 14-kilometre network of pitch dark caverns and underground passages. Lunch at the local restaurant before boarding an inflatable rubber raft to shoot the white water rapids. Depending on the season the exciting journey lasts about one hour. This ride combines very enjoyable soft adventure with some spectacular views and lovely riverine vistas. Continue by four-wheel drive to Ban Pang Hai, a simple Thai village 850 metres above sea level. Check in at Hmong Hilltribe Lodge for one night. During dinner in the cool mountain air, enjoy barbecued meats, different Thai dishes, salad, pasta, fruits and desserts. To follow, a number of Hmong cultural presentations provide an entertaining and interesting finale to the evening.

DAY 2 | (B/L/D)

After breakfast, depart on a full day excursion to Mae Hong Sorn via Kalaya Watana (Wat Chan). The scenic journey takes you through rolling terrain and countless steep hills. In some areas the road cuts through forests, passing simple local people and several hilltribe villages. A brief stop made at the Luang Mae Saab Cave. On arrival at Wat Chan, enjoy lunch at a local restaurant. Proceed to Ban Huay Tong and Ban Huay Pu Loei where the majority of inhabitants are Karen hilltribe. They still live simply here, doing most things by hand, including pounding rice and weaving beautiful fabrics.

On arrival at Mae Hong Sorn if time permits, visit Wat Phra Thart Doi Kong Moo for a panoramic view of the city and the surrounding landscape. Proceed to Wat Jong Kham and Wat Jong Klang, two of the most beautiful old Burmese-style temples. Check in at Imperial Hotel for overnight, and enjoy dinner at the long- established Bai Fern Restaurant to sample the tastes of Thai and local dishes.

DAY 3 | (B/L/D)

Visit the early morning market to watch local people making merit by offering alms to the monks. See farmers and hilltribe folk bringing in their produce to sell. Some live very far away and have to leave their farm before dawn for the long walk to town. Return to the hotel and relish a hearty breakfast. After breakfast, check out from the hotel and enjoy a morning river trip by local boat. After about 45 minutes, reach Ban Nam Pieng Din home to the Kayan Lahwi (Padaung) people, best known for the ‘long neck’ women with their extraordinary brass coils. The interesting Phu Klon Country club, known for the healing qualities of its hot springs and mineral-rich mud which form the base of beauty treatments and therapies.

Lunch at Ban Ruk Thai and continue to visit the impressive 1.7 km long Lod Cave. This is traversed end-to end by the Nam Lang River, and filled with stalactites and stalagmites. Check in at Pai Hot Springs Spa Resort for dinner and overnight. For those who wish to explore the lively nightlife of Pai, there is a walking street nearby.

DAY 4 | (B/L/_)

After breakfast, tour the small town of Pai. Visit the sacred temple of Wat Nam Hoo where water accumulates in the hollow head of the principal Buddha image, Luang Por Oon Mueng. This water is widely believed to be sacred, and capable of curing many illnesses. Continue to the picturesque temple of Wat Hua Na, and the refreshingly cool Mor Pang Waterfall. End the morning tour at the Tha Pai Hot Springs, and close by, see the famous Iron Bridge said to have been constructed by Japanese troops during World War II. Enjoy lunch in a local restaurant. After lunch, check out from hotel and depart for Chiang Mai.