“Award-winning eco lodge set in the hills above Chiang Mai, with a variety of treks, hill-tribe tours and cookery courses on offer”
Or you can get well off the beaten track by hiking 5 hours up to their Lahu Outpost, perched on a hilltop with early-morning panoramas over endless jungle-covered ridges. Even here, bedding and basic ablutions are provided, and locals stir-fry your dinner in front of you while you sip chilled beer and get your tired limbs expertly massaged. This is roughing it with the edges smoothed off.
Why we chose this partner
- We liked their low-key approach, with limited group numbers (often only 4-6)
- There's an amazing range of activities on offer, from cycling around a peanut plantation to lurching across a river on a raft
- The obvious experience and professionalism of the guides, some of whom are native hilltribe villagers, means guests are welcomed as friends rather than as gawpers
- We were impressed by their commitment to eco and social issues
- We also loved their Lanjia Lodge near the Laos border - see our separate review
Best time to go
Avoid March-June. In March, swidden-burning is in full swing - there's barely any green left and the sky is filled with smoke, reducing visibility to a few hundred metres. The waterfalls are nearly dry, and rafting is more a case of getting grounded. April-June may be freshened by the first rains, but the humidity and heat still make it uncomfortable.
July to September is green and lush but can be wet - you might typically get 2 or 3 dry days in a week, and 2 or 3 very wet ones - but if you are lucky it is very clear, with cooler air temperatures. Don't forget that mud and rain will add 50% to hiking times in the wet season.”
Our top tips
Lisu Lodge is 1-2 hour's drive north of Chiang Mai; they also run 2 simpler mountain outposts, which are only accessible on foot or by jeep track.
Several spacious wood and bamboo huts are set in lush wooded gardens next to a Lisu village, whose inhabitants made and now staff the lodge. The 4 guesthouses are based on local Lisu design, but with a few tourist concessions such as windows and bathrooms!
The dishes are a selection of simple and often spicy Thai dishes - stir fried vegetables, noodles, fried pork with basil. Dinner is followed by a demonstration of singing and dancing by the local Lisu villagers (mostly children). A gift for the children is usually appreciated (pens are better than sweets).
This is a simple, stilted bamboo hut on the edge of a high Lahu village called Kup Kap, with spectacular views over wooded valleys. The accommodation is in 4 small bamboo rooms with a communal dining terrace dotted with traditional Thai mawn khwaan (axe pillows).
An extremely good Thai meal is prepared by the guides and served to the accompaniment of the villagers singing (and expecting songs in return!). A traditional Lahu massage is offered after dinner.
This is a simple village house, which we have not seen yet, with 6 bedrooms, 2 western toilets and 2 bathrooms.
A range of packages is available, combining hiking, cycling and bird-watching with a large dose of local culture and insight - including Hmong dance, market visits and trips into the Golden Triangle if you want. See Itineraries for details.
- We went on the 3-day, 2-night adventure, which included an energetic uphill climb to the waterfall, source of the village’s water, and a trek through the local fields. As you walk you'll see corn, tapioca, rice, beans and a wide variety of other crops under cultivation, and taste the local tea
- All packages include a visit to the local Lahu and Hmong villages. A cookery class is not to be missed, while a visit to the village shaman for some spiritual healing is an enlightening experience
- This is an early to bed, early to rise place, and not a lot happens after nightfall. Take the opportunity to listen to the sounds of the countryside - animals, insects, village life - and revel in the total darkness of the hills around you. A telescope is provided for stargazing
- Cooking classes
- Mountain biking
- Plantlife / flora
- Shopping / markets
- Traditional cultures
- Well being
For trekking programmes, there is a minimum age of 10.
If you're just staying at the lodges, all ages are welcome. Babies aged 0-2 stay for free. Children aged 2-12 are charged 75% of the adult rate for an extra bed in parents' room
Teens (over 12)
Family friendly accommodation:
Extra Beds Available
Lisu Lodge is 1-2 hours' drive north from Chiang Mai airport. The more remote Lanjia Lodge lies about 1.5 hours northeast from Chiang Rai airport.
Chiang Mai International Airport (100km) can be reached by internal flights from Bangkok and from several other cities in and around Thailand (Phuket, Luang Prabang, Yangon, Kunming, Chittagong).
If you really enjoy train journeys, and/or you want to save money, there is a handy 'special express' sleeper train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai; but you will need to book a few days ahead (best done through your previous hotel). There are also daytime trains, including the 'Sprinter' which jogs out of Bangkok in the morning and hobbles into Chiang Mai around tea time.
The 12-hour buses from Bangkok are only for serious masochists.
You will be picked up from your hotel (or the airport) in Chiang Mai, and returned there.
Detailed directions will be sent to you when you book through i-escape.com.
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