Beautiful view hiking in Thailand.

Thailand Trekking Adventures: The Best Routes On Foot

3 August 2017
Read Time: 6.4 mins

It could very well be one of Thailand’s best kept secrets: the country boasts over 100 national parks.

Add to that the many wildlife sanctuaries and forest parks in its green, leafy midst – plus the fact that it’s home to one of the globe’s highest percentages of protected land – and, naturally, Thailand is an absolute haven for active holidays.

Nature-lovers, adventure-seekers and fitness fanatics alike will find their bliss in the rustic farmlands, mountains blanketed in lush jungle and breezy coastal landscapes – all best admired on foot.

Chiang Mai in Thailand. When it comes to trekking in Thailand, many travellers automatically think of Chiang Mai.

There just no other way to encounter such incredibly unique pockets of culture, wildlife and history, than one step at a time on a Thailand trek. Here’s a round-up of the best Thailand hiking trails to conquer.

For Trekking Paradise: Chiang Mai

Nestled among forested foothills in the north, Chiang Mai is a popular Thailand holiday spot and often, a welcome escape from Bangkok for travellers in search of an alternative cultural experience and all that peace and quiet on the city's doorstep. 

It’s paradise for trekkers; Chiang Mai is often the first spot that springs to mind for any traveller considering a Thailand jungle trek.

There’s a fine mix of easy, moderate and harder trails in the area and being such a busy hiking hub, there’s a route to suit everyone’s idea of ‘adventure’ and no shortage of Thailand trekking tours to ponder.

Chiang Mai Thailand trekking heaven. Chiang Mai is Thailand's busiest trekking hub, surrounded by jungle and hill tribes.

One of the best routes here is the Chiang Mai to Mae Hong Son trek – an ancient trade route that was once rife with merchants weaving their way through the forest-blanketed hills and misty mountaintops.

It’s a multi-day affair, but one that you’ll never forget as you tramp over ridges, through river-crossings, into lush valleys, past fields dotted with orchids and up high onto peaks that promise picture-perfect panoramas. You’ll also get to meet local hill tribes while witnessing what is truly some of Thailand’s most remote, naturally-beautiful parts.

Before you leave Chiang Mai though, be sure to drop by the Hilltribe Education Centre for fascinating insight into the tribes that call the region home.

For Village-hopping: Chiang Rai

Second only to Chiang Mai is Chiang Rai – another Thailand hiking hotspot. Being just a three hour drive away, the hiking potential is quite similar, it’s equally easy on the eye and yes, you’ll find even more Thailand hiking tours to contemplate.

Hmong tribe girls in Chiang Mai. Two Hmong tribe girls wearing traditional clothing in Chiang Rai.

Of course, if you wanted to do both of these northern jungle-clad gems, you could always tackle the journey between the two on foot. It’s a 10 day trek from homestay to homestay, meeting locals and hill tribes for insight into authentic everyday life in Thailand.

Don’t have 10 days to spare? Choose one of the day hikes, or one-, two-, or three-night treks on offer. The longer treks will sometimes add in other adventure activities if you like too, such as white water rafting, waterfall abseiling or up-close encounters with Thailand jungle animals.

Chiang Rai's Pha Tang mountain. Stunning panoramic views of Chiang Rai's Pha Tang mountain.

Just want some peace and quiet? There’s plenty of that in the scenic surrounds too.

For Hiking Near Phuket: Khao Sok National Park 

A true southern gem, Kaho Sok National Park is widely regarded as one of the best natural oases in Thailand. It’s laden with amazing trekking adventures epitomised by limestone karsts, fresh rivers and the beautiful Cheow Lam Lake intertwining in a mesmerising display of sheer natural beauty over 12,000 hectares of mostly virgin rainforest.

Better yet, it’s just a two hour drive from nearby holiday hotspot Phuket so it’s easy to get to and even better when paired with a beach holiday along those famed, sultry shores. Popular Krabi and Khao Lak are also nearby.

Khao Sok National Park in Thailand. Beautiful Ratchaprapha Dam at Khao Sok National Park.

Another highlight of taking in Khao Sok National Park one step at a time is the chance to spot a diverse line-up of Thailand jungle animals. Elephants, clouded leopards, Malayan sun bears, Tapir, pangolin, vampire bats and gibbons are all on the cards if you’re quiet (and lucky).   

Rafflesia flower in Thailand. Time your hike right and you might catch the rare Rafflesia flower in bloom.

Yet another local claim to fame to keep those eyes peeled for? The Rafflesia flower. It’s one of the world’s largest flowers, growing to an impressive span of 80 centimetres. It blooms just once a year, in January or February, though, so you’ll have to time your trip just right.

Khao Sok hiking is full of wonderful surprises.

For a Side of History: Kanchanaburi 

It’s just 150 kilometres from Bangkok but Kanchanaburi will take you a world away. An adventure in these parts is deeply rewarding and especially fascinating for hikers with an interest in world history. Natural beauty, history and culture come together in this unique spot overflowing with hiking potential.

The provincial town of Kanchanaburi is a common central place to start. It’s filled with humbling WWII memorials, cemeteries and museums that prove both emotional and rewarding. It's also home to the Burma Railway (aka “Death Railway”); over 12,000 POWS and 90,000 civilian workers died during its construction.

A stop to take all this history in is a must for anyone venturing to the wider province.

Panoramas of Kanchanaburi. Kanchanaburi offers a myriad of outdoor scenes and experiences.

A trek into the rugged jungle in Kanchanaburi at large offers a whole new local perspective where a positively compelling scene unfolds.

Dense tropical jungle, steep craggy mountains, spectacular criss-crossing rivers, limestone cliffs and caves once home to Neolithic tribes characterise the area. There are seven incredible national parks in total: Erawan, Khao Lam, Sai Yok, Chalerm Rattana Kosin, Lam Klong Ngu, Thong Pha Phum and Sri Nakarin National Parks.

Erawan waterfall in Thailand. Every section of Erawan waterfalls is different yet spectacular.

One of the most famous drawcards of Kanchanaburi trekking is without doubt the seven-tiered Erawan waterfall, which flows down 1,500 metres in a tumbling flurry of beautiful cascades and emerald water pools. The wows just keep on coming.

A very special experience is the chance to meet the Karen tribe, famous for their long, ringed necks. For that, an organised trekking tour is your best bet.

But one star highlight every hiker needs to know about are the Hindad Natural Hot Springs in Thong Pha Phum – perfect for soothing those hard-worked muscles. But really, the list of awe-worthy reasons to trek here goes on. 

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Tijana Jaksic

Tijana loves new adventures as much as she enjoys reliving old ones. Favourite stops on the map so far include Greece (beyond the islands!), Mexico City (hello ancient ruins and wonderful art), Poland (for the history and off-the-beaten-track finds), Berlin (so artsy and chilled) and Bosnia (ahhh the natural beauty). Choosing is always hard though - that's why her list is so long and she spends her 'real life' time writing about travel until she's out there on the road again.