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Duration: 5 days
Operator: Intrepid Travel
Cost: US$425 twin share, $535 single

This Northern Thailand hilltribe tour is absolutely the most popular and most highly rated adventure package offered by Intrepid Travel.  It’s a medium level physical tour with some walking through the foothills of Northern Thailand, but it’s worth the effort.

The Thapae Gate in the walled city of Chiang Mai
Your tour starts in historic Chiang Mai
You'll be walking through lowland tropical jungles
You’ll be walking through lowland tropical jungles
Sometimes you'll be climbing over taller hills
Sometimes you’ll be climbing over taller hills
You'll stay in an authentic hilltribe village
You’ll stay in an authentic hilltribe village
You'll even get to ride an elephant in the jungle
You’ll even get to ride an elephant in the jungle

Your tour starts in Chiang Mai, the walled northern capital of Thailand and once the seat of power in the Lanna Kingdom (before Thailand was united). You have the full first day to wander around and absorb Chiang Mai before meeting the group at People Place 2 on Charoen Prathet Road near the Chiang Mai Night Market at 6:30 pm. You’ll typically head out for a group dinner, explore the night bazaar and stay overnight in a Chiang Mai hotel before heading north in the morning.

Day 2 starts with your local guide meeting you and the other travellers in your small group at the hotel after breakfast (usually about 8:45 am). You’ll head north in a songthaew (a covered utility vehicle with bench seats) for about three hours and then stop for lunch. After lunch you’ll move off on foot through tropical jungle country and you’ll need to carry your own backpack and other personal items – but the pace is pretty comfortable.

Over the next two days you’ll wander through the foothills of Northern Thailand on small trails, visiting various authentic hilltribe villages and interacting very closely with these amazing and incredibly diverse people. You’ll stay in the hilltribe villages in bamboo huts for two nights, help prepare the tribe’s evening meal and join the village elders for a chat after dinner. You won’t get a more authentic hilltribe experience than this. As these villages are also training grounds for working elephants, you’ll get to find out about the life of a mahout (elephant handler) and see how the elephants are cared for. You’ll also go for an elephant ride through the jungle.

After lunch on Day 4 it’s back into the songthaew for the three hour trip back to Chiang Mai where you’ll stay overnight in the hotel again before saying goodbye to the group the next morning. Expect to be a little confronted on this tour by the poverty of the villages you’ll stay in. Accommodation outside Chiang Mai on this tour is basic (1-2 star), so you won’t have hot showers or soft beds. You’ll travel between various points in Northern Thailand by songthaew, on foot and by elephant. This is basic level adventure travel and a great way to experience how Intrepid Travel conduct adventure tours before you go on anything more strenuous.

The tour cost includes your dinners and breakfasts in the hilltribe villages and your lunches when out trekking in the jungle. It includes two nights hotel accommodation in Chiang Mai and two nights in bamboo huts in the hilltribe villages plus the cost of the songthaew transfers and the elephant ride. The only additional costs will be your other meals while in Chiang Mai and an option tip for your local tour guide (usually $2-3 per day).

Find out more about the Northern Thailand Hilltribes tour from Intrepid Travel.