Northern Soul: A Foray into Northern Thailand
Northern Thailand provides a vastly different atmosphere to Bangkok and the Islands. The mountainous, forest ridden terrain contains beautiful natural scenery making outdoor pursuits, such as trekking or cycling particularly popular. The north gives its own specialties to the Thai food menu; as well as different dialogues of the Thai language. The three main ports of call are Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai and Pai and each in their own right deserve a visit.
With cheaper and cheaper flights available the quickest and easiest way to the north is flying into Chiang Mai. Alternative methods include; my favorite, the night train that snakes across the country from Bangkok, it is comfortable, safe and has beautiful views. Finally, buses and minivans are available, although they are the cheapest but probably least comfortable mode of transport, and take approximately 10 hours.
Train, Northern Thailand
Naturally most people begin their northern adventures in Chiang Mai. This old city maintains much of the architectural and cultural beauty that has seen it become so popular. Although busy and touristy it maintains a more laid back atmosphere than Bangkok and many other cities around Thailand. The main attractions within the city include; numerous temples, excellent restaurants, and quaint markets. Chiang Mai is excellent for casually walking or cycling through the old city, stopping by various temples and talking to the monks. In addition, there’s amazing Thai food, and many independent shops and market stalls with many beautiful trinkets and crafts for sale.
Thai Pizza, Northern Thailand
From Chiang Mai, It is a three hour bus ride to Chiang Rai. If you get travel sick, tablets are recommended due to the mountainous terrain. Chiang Rai can be done as a day trip, however if time is on your side a couple of nights are a better option to avoid rushing. The city of Chiang Rai is a scaled down version of Chiang Mai with small markets and temples within the city. The main things to see and do are away from the city. The famous Black house temple (Baan Dam) and White temple (Wat Rong Khun) are short trips and provide different takes on the other temples around Thailand. After seeing the temples take a day trip to the golden triangle which is where Laos, Myanmar and Thailand meet at the joining of the Mekong and Ruak River which provide a natural border between the countries as well as vast natural beauty.
Night market, Northern Thailand
Next on the list is Pai, this small town close to the Myanmar border is very popular amongst tourists, and rightly so. The natural scenery is stunning and just cycling or trekking around the area is worth the 5 hour bus journey. The town itself has a bit of a hippie vibe with many backpackers using it as a base to relax before further travel. The town has a fantastic night market with amazing food and items to buy. But the ultimate highlight in Pai is simply the nature. Places like Pai canyon, Tha Pai hot springs and various waterfalls await; just make sure your camera is fully charged!
Landscape, Northern Thailand
A minimum of a week is recommended to appreciate the natural beauty and history of the north. However, with many more towns and cities to choose from, in addition to the numerous treks and cycling tours; you can easily enjoy Thailand’s northern soul for much, much longer.
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