Cooler than the rest of the sweltering country, the north is remarkably different from the rest of Thailand, with influences from neighbouring Burma and China. Strewn with paddy fields and home to ancient Kingdoms and traditional hill tribes, the northern reaches of Thailand are awash with culture. Although the region is easily accessible, it still remains somewhat off the normal beaten track, and is well worth visiting to discover the essence of Thailand.
Surrounded by the tallest mountains in the country and scattered with paddy fields, northern Thailand is a place of calm, and rich with traditional Thai culture. There’s a lot to do here, such as trekking through rural countryside, bamboo rafting down rivers, visiting elephant sanctuaries, playing golf, and shopping in superb markets selling locally-made handicrafts.
Chiang Mai is the cultural hub of northern Thailand. Its character and dynamic is quite distinct from the rest of the country, and is the focal point for a lot of activities in the Northern provinces. The Doi Suthep Temple overlooking the city and many smaller temples dotted around the old city give a more provincial feel to Chiang Mai than its size would have you believe. The nightly market is a good place to buy handicrafts from everywhere in the north. Learn about wonderful and delicious Thai cuisine with its numerous cooking schools. It’s an excellent way to learn how to make the perfect papaya salad or Thai green curry, finishing the day with a wonderful feast of your creations.
The Golden Triangle, one of the true gems of Northern Thailand, has a laid back feel to it. Bordered by Laos and Burma, and divided by the Rauk and Mekong Rivers, this area was once famed for the trade of opium. Today the area around Chiang Rai is one of the gateways to some of the best trekking in the north and to the many small hill tribe villages sprinkled around the stunning countryside. With excursions into Burma and Laos possible, and even longer journeys to be made down the mighty Mekong River, the Golden Triangle will enchant you.
The once isolated village of Mae Hong Son, now easily reached by air or by the long winding road, has a more Burmese than Thai feel to it. Famed for its great trekking opportunities to visit local hill tribe villages, as well as elephant treks through the unspoilt jungle, Mae Hong Son is a reminder of how Chiang Mai used to be.