Travel

A day out in Mae Sa Valley

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Chiang Mai

Joanna Horanin

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Last updated at 25/07/2024, 09:30

Hi, I'm Joanna, the author of The Blond Travels. In the worlds of Thailand and Portugal, I feel like a fish in water - and it's no coincidence! I've been exploring Thailand for over a decade, and I've settled in Portugal for 6 years now. My mission is to support Dreamers - just like you - in discovering these fascinating countries and helping those in love with them find their own place on Earth, preferably for good! Let's uncover these unique corners of the world together.

I bought a new scooter. The previous one was slowly falling apart. My new toy is black and shiny, and it drives like a dream. Every time I start the engine it amazes me how wonderful it sounds – a pure bliss to my ears, after my last, coughing, old Honda Click. Now I am trying not to miss any opportunity to take my toy for a spin, and I can go to the mountains, without  being scared that I will get stuck somewhere in the middle of nowhere.

A couple of weeks ago I decided to go for a day trip, not far from the city (around 30-40 minutes drive), to the lovely Mae Sa Valley. It is not very high in the mountains, but it is enough for you to breathe in some fresh air, and get some rest from the city.

The road out of Chiang Mai to Mae Rim is busy and, at one point, changes into a building site. Driving in the dust, between hundreds of other vehicles is not easy, but after 15 minutes there is a turn to Mae Sa waterfall and you can finally enjoy the country road.

This article is for you if you want to visit the Mae Sa Valley, even if you don’t drive a scooter in Thailand.

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    The Mae Sa Waterfall

    With 10 levels it is the biggest waterfall in the area. You can climb to the top by pretty steep, rocky stairs. At level 5 the water is not that deep and it is safe to swim. The waterfall is the favourite place for the locals to chill during weekends.

    The entrance fee for farangs is 100 Baht, plus 20 Baht for a scooter.

    I stopped at the waterfall for a little bit. It was already afternoon and I wanted to explore other parts of Mae Sa Valley. I sat a little at the level 5 and enjoyed the chill.

    Waterfall, Mae Sa Valley, Chiang Mai
    It’s always nice and cool here.

    Botanical gardens

    Queen Sirkit Botanic Gardens are located approximately 20 minutes drive from the waterfall. The area is not too large, but not small either. You can easily spend there a whole day, wondering around the glass houses and fountains. It is allowed to drive your car, or scooter, around and I would advise you to do that.

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    The gardens are pretty and have some amazing, exotic plants. There are areas for small walks, with white, antique benches, with views on the mountains. You can enjoy a coffee and cake in a local cafe and see plants from all over the world.

    Botanical gardens, road with pink flowers, Mae Sa Valley, Chiang Mai.
    It’s really pretty at any time of the year.
    Trees and palm treets, botanical garden, chiang mai.
    The garden has many unique trees.
    View Point near Chiang Mai.
    The view point.

    The road

    From the gardens I drove up the mountain. The road was great. I passed a couple of small towns and villages, a lot of spas, resorts and meditation retreats. The air became cooler the further I went. I stopped for gas, for lunch, to take a couple of photos. I started to get a funny feeling in my hands, from holding onto buzzing handlebars of my bike.

    After a couple of kilometres the road became more curvy and for a while I didn’t pass any cars, or motorbikes. There were no buildings to be seen. I sighed with relief. There’s nothing better than driving on an open road, with wind on your face and green mountains around you.

    At one point I passed a huge tree, surrounded by little phi houses (locals believe that the ghosts, called in Thai phi, inhibit the houses. Every business, institution, and house has one of those little huts. Every morning the owner of the place prays there and offers drinks and food to the ghosts), statues of monks and elephants. I stopped there for a minute or two to take photos. I wanted to stay a little longer, but the mosquitoes were literally eating my alive.

    Phi houses, mae sa valley, chiang mai.
    Phi houses
    A statue of an old man sitting under a tree.
    Doesn’t it look mysterious?
    A close up of an old statue of an old man.
    I think this must be a god, or a saint
    A big tree with small houses and a statue, mae sa valley, chiang mai, thailand.
    One last photo of the place

    A few meters further from the tree I found a view point. There was no one around and I sat on a concrete bench admiring the view.

    View point near Chiang Mai.
    This view was like a balm to my eyes

    I decided to leave when a couple of cars stopped and some loud, drunk teenagers got out.

    It was beginning to get cloudy and cold. I was a little concerned that it was going to start raining, but I was curious what was behind one last turn. There I found a sign, pointing into a dirt path, informing me that 2km further I could find ‘a priest camp’. That was intriguing, so I followed the path. I drove, and I drove…and I drove…and I couldn’t find anything except dust, trees and a couple of farms. Nice views, but no camping, and definitely no priests…

    Green hills on a cloudy day in Chiang Mai.
    No priests in sight!

    It was time to head back to Chiang Mai, but I stopped on the way to take a couple of photos of my new toy on the road.

    A motorbike on a dusty road, chiang mai.

    Other things to do

    Straight after you turn from the busy road into the Mae Sa Valley, you will stumble upon a series of attractions. Quite honestly, I’m not such a big fan of things like that, so I haven’t been, but maybe that will be something interesting for you.

    • PoopPoop Paper is a eco-friendly company producing paper from…yes, you guessed it, poo. Luckily, it’s animal poo, so don’t worry. They gather what elephants, donkeys and horses produce and turn it into notebooks and other paper products.
    • There are a number of shooting ranges, if that’s your kind of thing.
    • There is also an insect zoo, where you can see many species of local butterflies, beetles and spiders.
    • There is also an orchid garden, which is supposed to be very pretty.

    Going further

    If you go a bit further, you will get to other lovely destinations. Here are my recommendations:

    • Mon Jaem – you can camp here. There are tents and bungalows to rent and the view from them is amazing.
    • Nong Hoi Project – is in Mon Jaem and it’s worth visiting, if you have a bit more time.
    • Samoeng Loop – can be done in one day, if you don’t stop too often. It has lovely views and leads through mountains and villages. Samoeng is also famous for its strawberries.

    Pro Tip: Don’t go to any of the elephant camps in the area, even if they claim that they are ‘sanctuaries’. These places have been offering elephant rides for ages and are not good for the elephants. If you want to meet these animals, visit Elephant Nature Park. It’s the only ethical place in the area.

    How to get to Mae Sa Vally even if you don’t have a scooter

    If you drive your own two or four wheels, then getting to the valley is fairly easy. Here is the map. It’s only about 3-40 minutes from Chiang Mai. The road there is busy at first, but then it turns into a lovely paved motorway, which has less cars.

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    However, if you don’t have your own transport, it might seem that it’s a bit more difficult. Don’t worry though. It’s easy to get there with a driver. You can either hire someone in Chiang Mai, or buy an organised trip. Usually, those trips take you to all the touristy destinations and don’t allow you to enjoy the ride. I would suggest renting an independent guide, who will take you where you want to go.

    Accommodation in Mae Sa Valley

    It’s possible to stay in Mae Sa Valley and I really recommend it. There are a lot of nice spa resorts and some more budget-friendly places. I stayed at Sukantara Resort, which is amazing. I even got married there!

    Spending a day in the Mae Sa Valley is an amazing experience and a very good idea for a trip outside of Chiang Mai. I suggest planning your stay in the north of Thailand for a couple of days and including this trip in your itinerary. It’s really worth it and if you have even more time, visit Sticky Waterfall and Dantewada Waterfalls.