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 Home > About Thailand > Subdivisions of Thailand > Regions of Thailand > Northern Thailand

Northern Thailand

Northern Thailand usually describes the area covered by 17 provinces.

  1. Chiang Mai (เชียงใหม่)
  2. Chiang Rai (เชียงราย)
  3. Kamphaeng Phet (กำแพงเพชร)
  4. Lampang (ลำปาง)
  5. Lamphun (ลำพูน)
  6. Mae Hong Son (แม่ฮ่องสอน)
  7. Nakhon Sawan (นครสวรรค์)
  8. Nan (น่าน)
  9. Phayao (พะเยา)
  10. Phetchabun (เพชรบูรณ์)
  11. Phichit (พิจิตร)
  12. Phitsanulok (พิษณุโลก)
  13. Phrae (แพร่)
  14. Sukhothai (สุโขทัย)
  15. Tak (ตาก)
  16. Uthai Thani (อุทัยธานี)
  17. Uttaradit (อุตรดิตถ์)
Much of the area's territory is mountainous, making it relatively cool compared to Central Thailand.


The history of Northern Thailand is dominated by the Lanna kingdom, which was founded in 1259 and remained an independent force until the 16th century.

Cities

  • Chiang Mai — the largest city in the north, well known for its temples.
  • Chiang Rai — the usual access point for the Golden Triangle , where Thailand , Burma and Laos meet.
  • Mae Hong Son — a small town in the north-west surrounded by wonderful landscape. One of the major starting points for trekking, especially to the different "hill-tribes"
  • Pai — another small village, located between Mae Hong Son and Chiang Mai. A nice overnight stop with a laid-back backpacker/ traveller atmosphere and a good starting point for trekking tours.
  • Phitsanulok — a good overnight stop between Bangkok and Chiang Mai and a gateway to the Sukhothai historical park
  • Sukhothai — the first capital of Thailand.
  • Mae Sai — northernmost city in Thailand and border crossing town to Burma .

Other destinations

  • Chiang Dao — known for its caves and next to Chiang Dao National Park
  • Mae Salong — A very interesting place to stop on the way Chiang Mai .
  • Mae Fah Luang Garden — Beautiful botanical garden.

The many national parks in the mountainous North make it a popular destination for trekking

Understand

Surrounded by the tallest mountains in Thailand, the North of Thailand is cooler than the rest of the usually sweltering country and thus particularly popular in December and January. In the mountains at night temperature will occasionally even dip near freezing, although in the plains the daily average is rarely less than 25°C.

Culturally, the North of Thailand shows heavy influences from the neighboring cultures of Myanmar and Yunnan (China). The kingdoms of Lanna, centered on Chiang Mai, and Sukhothai were the first historical Thai nations.

Much of northern Thailand was for a long time off limits due to a series of Communist insurgencies and Myanmar's drug battles and civil wars spilling over the border. Both problems have been largely solved, although some caution is still advised near the border with Myanmar in the provinces of Tak and Mae Hong Son.

Talk

The people of northern Thailand speak their own dialect of Thai called kham meaung. Standard Thai is widely understood though.
In addition, the hill tribes speak their own languages.

Get in

By plane
The main airport in northern Thailand is Chiang Mai, which has connections throughout Thailand and some international links as well. Domestic flights serve Chiang Rai, Mae Hong Son, Phitsanulok and Sukhothai.

By train
Trains from Bangkok go regularly to Chiang Mai via Phitsanulok.

By bus
There is an extensive bus network serving with the main backbone being from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, from where buses leave to the North-West (Mae Hong Son, Pai) and further north to Chiang Rai.

Get around

By plane
There are regular flights between Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Sukhothai and Mae Hong Son.

By train
The only train line within northern Thailand runs between Chiang Mai and Sukhothai (and further on to Bangkok).

By bus
There is an extensive network of public bus services with major hubs in Phitsanulok and Chiang Mai.

By tuk-tuk or minibus
These serve the places not accessible by bus. Cheap but not always comfortable.

Trekking is one of the main attractions in northern Thailand, there are trekking tours suiting everybody's needs. From one-day-all-inclusive to tours which last several days you can choose what fits you most. Many tours include rafting and elephant riding.

Another major attraction are the many hill tribes who inhabit the North. The ethics of hill-tribe trekking are somewhat questionable, with tour groups tramping through some villages daily — particularly those inhabited by the famous long-necked Karen women — and the tribes consequently abandoning their traditional lifestyle in favor of hawking trinkets to tourists. Some trek operators attempt to limit the damage by restricting the number of visitors and employing local hill tribesmen as guides, but the competition is tough and many simply aim to minimize costs and maximize profits.

See

Temple-tramping in Chiang Mai and historical sites in Sukhothai are the major cultural attractions of Northern Thailand, the home of Thai civilization.

Do

Trekking is one of the main attractions in northern Thailand, there are trekking tours suiting everybody's needs. From one-day-all-inclusive to tours which last several days you can choose what fits you most. Many tours include rafting and elephant riding.

Another major attraction are the many hill tribes who inhabit the North. The ethics of hill-tribe trekking are somewhat questionable, with tour groups tramping through some villages daily — particularly those inhabited by the famous long-necked Karen women — and the tribes consequently abandoning their traditional lifestyle in favor of hawking trinkets to tourists. Some trek operators attempt to limit the damage by restricting the number of visitors and employing local hill tribesmen as guides, but the competition is tough and many simply aim to minimize costs and maximize profits.

Eat

Northern Thai food is somewhat different from that eaten in the rest of the country. Northerners prefer sticky rice over steamed, bitter flavors to hot ones and avoid using coconut milk. The favored meat is pork, which finds it way into a variety of sausages (cooked or fermented) and whose skin is fried as the ubiquitous snack khaep muu . The traditional way of sampling Northern food is a low round table known as a khan tok , laden with dishes. Some favorites include:

  • kaeng hang le , a Burmese-style pork curry
  • kaeng khae , a soupy curry flavored with bitter herbs
  • khao soi , a Yunnanese curry noodle soup much favored in Chiang Mai
  • khanom jiin naam ngiew , rice noodles with pork ribs and a complex tomatoes and black bean sauce
  • nam phrik , covering a variety of spicy dips for rice and vegetables

Sleep

While the larger towns (Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Phitsanulok) offer a broad range of accommodation, in the smaller villages the tourist has to refer to guest houses and smaller hotels. Prices are usually lower than in Bangkok. Booking ahead (using the internet or travel agencies) will give you better rates at many hotels.


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