Lisu Lodge and Khum Lanna

nr Chiang Mai, Chiang Mai & North, Thailand

Award-winning eco lodges set in the hills above Chiang Mai, with a variety of treks, hill-tribe tours and cookery courses on offer
Hill treks and activity tours are two-a-baht in Chiang Mai. But the ones run by Asian Oasis are a cut above the rest. Like their imitations, they offer 1- to 5-day combinations of trekking, paddy field visits, white water rafting, visits to hill tribes, cycle rides and cookery. But what sets them apart are their two flagship lodges, Lisu Lodge and Khum Lanna, built in differing architectural styles and set in the lush countryside surrounding Chiang Mai. You can expect sunset drinks, tasty and lovingly cooked Thai food, woven walls and floors, mosquito nets and simple bathrooms.

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

The best months are November, December and January - neither too hot (25-30 celsius) nor too wet (occasional showers). But the jungle is still lush and the waterfalls run. October is 50/50: if the rains hold off it can be lovely. February is also borderline: it can get uncomfortably hot, but more importantly it's the start of the swidden (brush) burning, which is widely practised to encourage edible plants and mushrooms to germinate in place of the bamboo. This fills the skies with smoke and progressively reduces visibility and vegetation. Water-levels for rafting are touch-and-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

Pack outdoor clothes, a waterbottle, and a small daypack. For the evenings, take a torch and mozzie repellent, especially in the rainy season. If you're going on the more serious treks, you'll need comfortable walking boots.

Great for...

Eco
Great Outdoors
  • = Recommended
  • = Best in region
  • = World favourite
Room: Khum Lanna

Lodging

There are 2 flagship lodges 1-2 hour's drive north of Chiang Mai, and 2 simpler mountain 'outposts' which are only accessible on foot or by jeep track.

Khum Lanna
Lanna Farm is a beautiful, secluded teak house set amidst rice fields near the town of Phrao. It's idyllic countryside, with hills ringing the horizon, and lanes winding through villages untouched by tourism. Gentle cycle rides into the Thai hinterland and to local markets are a highlight.

Dinner, which is served by the husband and wife who run the farm, is of exceptional quality. Among the dishes served, some particular to this region, are: ginger and chicken stir fry, pork and sweet basil, yellow chicken and potato curries, grilled snapper encrusted with garlic, spicy Northern Thai sausages and banana fritters.

Lisu Lodge
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).

Lahu Outpost
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.

Akha Outpost
This is a simple village house, which we have not seen yet, with 6 bedrooms, 2 western toilets and 2 bathrooms.

Activities

A range of packages are 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

Activities include:

  • Birdwatching
  • Cooking classes
  • Cycling
  • Hiking
  • Mountain biking
  • Plantlife / flora
  • Rafting
  • Shopping / markets
  • Traditional cultures
  • Trekking
  • Well being
Activity: Lisu Lodge
Kid Friendly: Lisu Lodge

With Kids

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

Best for:

Teens (over 12)

Family friendly accommodation:

Extra Beds Available

Transport

Lisu Lodge and Khum Lanna offers the itineraries below, as well as longer and shorter versions of each one (enquire when booking).

Transport: Lisu Lodge

Our guests' ratings...

9/
Rooms
9/
Food
10/
Service
10/
Value
10/
Overall

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Itineraries