Northern Thailand is rich in culture and natural beauty. The area includes some of the tallest mountains in the country and it shares borders with Myanmar and Laos. The region's culture is influenced by these nearby countries as well as the Yunnan region of China.
The people in Northern Thailand speak a different dialect of Thai that is called Kham Meaung, but most people understand standard Thai as well.
Because of the region's mountains and higher elevation, the climate in Northern Thailand is cooler than the rest of the country. At the highest elevations the temperatures may even fall below freezing during the night. At lower elevations the temperatures are pleasant and comfortable for most of the year.
The natural landscape in Northern Thailand is quite beautiful. The area has rolling hills, dramatic mountains, and dense forests. The region is also culturally rich with a range of ethnic groups and a dramatic history. The area remains one of the most authentic and traditional regions in Thailand.
Sights in Northern Thailand include the temples of Chiang Mai and the historical sites of Sukhothai. It is also possible to visit the Golden Triangle, which is where Thailand, Laos, and Myanmar meet on the confluence of the Mekong River.
Northern Thailand can be divided into five regions: Chiang Rai Province, Chiang Mai Province, Mae Hong Son Province, the Northern River Valleys, and Lower Northern Thailand. The Golden Triangle is in Chiang Rai Province. Chiang Mai Province is the gateway to the north. Mae Hong Son Province has hill tribes and impressive mountains. The Northern River Valley is less frequently visited but has some interesting towns and Lower Northern Thailand is the ancient center of the country.
Major cities in the region include Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Mae Hong Son, Nakhon Sawan, Nan, Pai, Phitsanulok, Sukhothai, and Kamphaeng Phet.
Most people who visit Northern Thailand choose to do some form of trekking. Most travelers base themselves in Chiang Mai and it's easy to organize treks at any of the accommodations around town. Treks range in time and intensity from all- inclusive one day trips to multi-day tours with the bare essentials provided. Longer trips usually include rafting or elephant rides.
Many travelers also visit some of the hill tribes in the area. There are 7 main hill tribe groups. These include Akha, Lisu, Lahu, Yao, Hmong, Karen, and Lawa. Most of the groups originally migrated from China, Tibet, or Myanmar and maintain a traditional lifestyle as farmers in the rural communities. "Hill tribe trekking" packages are available for varying lengths of time. The experience is usually less than authentic and can feel touristy and staged. If you want a more authentic experience then you must hire a local guide and arrange private transportation. It is important to ensure that you don't exploit any groups during your visit and research tour operators in advance to make sure your chosen guide offers an ethical and interesting experience.
Northern Thailand also has many volunteer opportunities available. Like most volunteer experiences, it is important to understand the program you're working with in advance as experiences can vary. Research any organizations that you work with to ensure that the program is beneficial to the community and your resources will not be wasted.
Food and Dining
Northern Thailand has some of the best food in the country. The cuisine is somewhat different from what you'll find elsewhere in Thailand. Sticky rice is the norm and coconut milk is less common. Pork is the most common meat. Favorite dishes include kaeng hang le (a pork curry), khao soi (a curry noodle soup), and khanom jiin naam ngiew (rice noodles with pork ribs).
The largest airport in Northern Thailand is in Chiang Mai. This airport has connecting flights throughout Thailand as well as several international routes. Trains travel from Chiang Mai to Bangkok, frequently stop in Sukhothai. The bus network is well established as well. You can take a bus from Chiang Mail and head northwest to Mae Hong Son and Pai, then travel on to Chiang Rai. Phitsanulok is also a bus hub. If you're visiting areas that are not well served by buses, then your best options are minibuses, songthaews, and tuk-tuks. These options are usually less comfortable than a larger bus, but prices are cheap.
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