10 Highlights of Northern Thailand
10 Highlights of Northern Thailand
Magnificent mountains, colourful culture, and fabulous food all combine to make Northern Thailand a region to appeal to all types of visitor ranging from solo travellers to couples to families. And with so much to see and do in north Thailand, this region is a year-round destination that can be a delight to visit even during the low season months.
Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai are perennial favourites and a great introduction to the north of Thailand. They also have the advantage that they can be used as a base to explore other stunning areas of the north with Chiang Mai offering easy access to Mae Hong Son, Lampang and Lamphun. And staying In Chiang Rai is perfect for exploring the delightful small provinces of Nan, Phrae and Phayao. In no particular order, here are 10 reasons that make Northern Thailand so special:
1) Experience Lanna Culture
The north of Thailand was once home to an independent kingdom known as Lanna (‘Land of a Million Rice Fields’) and the local people are proud of their heritage. The Lanna influence remains strong here and can be seen in the traditional dress, local dialect, architecture and food.
2) Stand on the Roof of Thailand
The north is home to spectacular highland scenery with a visit to the highest mountain in the country, Doi Inthanon, one of the most popular day-trips from Chiang Mai. Take in the cool, crisp air and enjoy the vistas from the the gorgeous royal pagodas.
3) Visit Dazzling Temples
Chiang Mai is renowned as a city of temples and there are dozens to explore in the lovely Old Town area. Outside of the city, the mountain-top temple at Doi Suthep is a must-see. In Chiang Rai, the surreal beauty of the White Temple and Blue Temple are a photographer’s dream. And over in Mae Hong Son, the hilltop temple of Wat Phra That Doi Kong Mu provides spectacular views over the city below.
4) Enjoy Unique Festivals
There is hardly a month goes by without there being a celebratory event in the north. Amongst the most popular are the Chiang Mai Flower Festival and the amazing Yi Peng Lantern Festival.
5) Feast on Fabulous Food
Although Thailand is famous for its food it can still surprise visitors just how much regional variety there is. With influences from Burma, the Lanna-style of cooking conjures up an array of tempting local dishes including khao soi, gaeng hinlay and sai oua. Visitors can also learn how to create their own Thai signature dishes at any of the popular cooking schools in Chiang Mai.
6) Discover the Diversity
The northern provinces are home to various hill-tribe communities which each have their own unique traditions and way of life. In recent years, a number of Community Based Tourism projects have been established in the north of Thailand and these make for a fascinating addition to any trip to this part of the kingdom.
7) Learn About the Royal Projects
The legacy of His Majesty the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej lives on in the highlands of the north with the various Royal Project initiatives. Land that was once use for illegal opium production has been transformed with the introduction of new crops and organic farming techniques helping to empower rural communities. A visit to one of the Royal Projects is an interesting addition to itineraries that take in popular attractions such as Doi Inthanon or the Golden Triangle.
8) Ethical Elephant Experiences
Although there is still much work to be done, it’s encouraging to see the change in attitude with regards to the role of elephants in the tourist industry. It’s a complex and emotive issue, but elephant owners and tourists in the north of Thailand are increasingly aware that there are viable alternatives to elephant riding. Amongst the venues worthy of special mention are Anantara Elephant Camp, Tong Bai Elephant Foundation and Elephant Nature Park.
9) Wander Along the Walking Street Markets
Northern Thailand is renowned for its arts and crafts and is the best place in the country to stock up on all those souvenirs and gifts for friends and family back home. Many of the cities in the north host popular weekend markets where the roads are temporarily closed to traffic as stalls set up and independent traders sell their wares. This is Thailand, so the food stalls are an integral part of the shopping experience with the wafting aromas of Thai favourites tantalising the taste-buds of shoppers and vendors alike. The biggest of these markets is Chiang Mai’s Walking Street Market although you will also find them in other cities around the north including Chiang Rai, Phrae and Mae Hong Son.
10) Mountain Hikes and Soft Adventure
With mountain trails, rivers and stunning countryside, the northern provinces are a haven for lovers of the outdoor lifestyle. Enjoy hiking, mountain bike riding, ATV rides and ziplining amidst a lush rural setting.