The Northern region of Thailand is still considered underrated and relatively untouched, and differs considerably from other parts of Thailand, both geographically and culturally.
In term of geography, the region features an extensive range of mountains, with deep valleys, caves, rivers and spectacular waterfalls. The north also borders Laos, and many travellers head to Chiang Khong in order to cross the border.
Culturally, Northern Thailand is unique too, with influences from China, Laos, Myanmar and many hill tribes i.e. the Akha, Karen, Lisu, Hmong and Yao.
Here’s a bit more information about the most popular cities in Northern Thailand and why they’re the ideal destination for nature enthusiasts and culture vultures.
Situated about 440km north of Bangkok, Sukhothai is Thailand’s former capitol before Ayutthaya and Bangkok and is home to two grand historical and cultural sites: Sukhothai Historical Park and Si Satchanalai Historical Park.
For an unforgettable experience, visit Sukhothai on Loi Krathong Day. Loi Krathong is celebrated every year on the full moon of November.
During the festival, people make Krathongs or a buoyant, decorated flower shaped baskets, which are then floated on a river to pay respect to the goddess of the river. There will be a lot of fireworks and cultural performance at temples and venues along the rivers.
CHARMING CHIANG MAI
As Thailand’s second largest city after Bangkok, Chiang Mai features luscious natural scenery, cultural treasures and variety of attractions.
Its diverse ethnic communities showcase a wide variety of cuisines, architecture, festivals and classical dances that are exclusive to northern Thailand.
Visitors can explore Chiang Mai’s rich nature through a unique hill tribe trekking experience, river rafting or zip lining. Nature and adventure lovers should visit one of the many national parks including Thailand’s highest peak, Doi Inthanon and Doi Suthep – Doi Pui.
For those who want to look deeper into Thai culture and handicrafts, there are workshops on the production of Thai silk, silver and hand-crafted goods. Ban Tawai and Wualai Street have a fascinating range of handicraft demonstrations and goods. Among the many must-visit local sights is Wat Prathat Doi Suthep – the most important Buddhist temple in Thailand’s north.
For those who love shopping and tasting local food, Warorot Market is the best place. Popular shopping spots among tourists are Night Bazaar and Sunday Night Market on Ratchadamnoen Road and off streets inside the old city walls.
CHILLED OUT CHIANG RAI
Chiang Rai is situated about 800km north of Bangkok or 200 kilometres northeast of Chiang Mai. It features stunning natural beauty, breathtaking landscapes and remote hill tribe villages.
Among the many iconic landmarks is the Golden Triangle i.e. where Thailand, Laos and Myanmar share the border. Another famous attraction is the White Temple or Wat Rong Khun. This is probably Thailand’s most unique temple, with a white exterior, decorated with sculptures and mural paintings of gods and demons.
For visitors looking for a laid-back atmosphere, Doi Tung is definitely worth a visit, with spectacular views of both Burma and Thailand from its peak. This is home to Doi Tung Royal Villa, a former residence of the grandmother of the present king.
She has always been very well-respected by the locals as she fought against the opium cultivation in the area and instead promoted the cultivation of eco-tourism in order to improve the living of these hill tribes.
For elephant lovers, visit Golden Triangle Elephant Foundation (within the compound of Anantara Golden Triangle). The elephant camp is in a resort rich in wild plants and natural water sources, which makes it an ideal habitat for elephants. The elephants are domesticated and trained to be with humans. The resort set up an elephant camp as part of an effort to help ease the problem of elephants roaming city streets.
ECO-CONSCIOUS MAE HONG SON
About 260km northwest of Chiang Mai and bordering Myanmar lies Mae Hong Son, known as the city in the fog. Surrounded by stunning landscapes and river systems, Mae Hong Son is ideal for eco-tourism and nature lovers.
The small village of Pai in the northeast of Mae Hong Son, which used to be a popular destination among backpackers, now has luxury accommodations on offer too. However it still maintains its charm and tranquillity, probably because of its remote location. Other natural attractions worth visiting include Pang Oung, a beautiful lake, and Tham Lot Cave, a cave with a river characterised by stunning rock formations.
In terms of cultural attractions, the twin Burmese-style temples of Wat Chong Kham and Wat Chong Klang overlooking Nong Kham lake are definite must-sees.
Learn more about Northern Thailand and the rest of the Land of Smiles by visiting www.amazingthailand.com.au and discover a different side to the destination you thought you already knew…