Northern Thailand: Travel/Tourist Information Guide
Northern Thailand is bordering Laos and Myanmar. It is an extensive region of mountains, valleys, and river. With its thickly forested tall mountains, Northern Thailand is cooler than the rest of the country. It is also a known place for trekking because of its natural beauty. The region's history and culture are related to the Lanna Kingdom with Chiang Mai as its capital. Nowadays, Chiang Mai still has traces of the Lanna Kingdom and still the capital province of Northern Thailand. The Golden Triangle, the former center of the world's opium trade, is located in the province of Chiang Rai at the northern tip of Thailand. On the northwestern part of Thailand, bordering Myanmar lays Mae Hong Son, which is rich in cultural and natural tourist attractions. The region is also the home of the Northern River Valleys; Lampang, Lamphun, Nan, Phayao,and Phrae, and the Lower Northern Thailand; Sukhothai, Kamphaeng Phet, Phitsanulok, Nakhon Sawan, Phichit, Tak, and Uthai Thani.
Chiang Mai, known as the “Rose of the North”, is a place that combines both modern and cultural diversity. Tourists find this city as a quiet and peaceful place to relax. It is a historical city; it was once the capital of the Lanna Kingdom and a center of Buddhism in Northern Thailand. There are temples, natural attractions, mountains, and national parks that exhibits the city's historical and cultural heritage. One of the most famous attractions in Chiang Mai is the Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep; a sacred place for the city's religious heritage. There are also numerous temples inside the old city walls with Wat Phra Singh as the best-known temple. There are museums in the city that feature artworks of the local Thai and Myanmar artists. Aside from the attractions that reflect the historical and cultural heritage of Chiang Mai, the natural attractions and gardens also has a great deal of number in this city. A beautiful waterfall is the Mae Sa Waterfall; it has secluded areas off trail for picnics. Chiang Mai is the home of Thailand's highest mountain; the Doi Inthanon.
Chiang Rai is a serene and quiet place with plenty of natural resources. The Golden Triangle bordering Thailand, Laos, and Myanmar is situated here; the former center of the world's opium trade. The city offers a blend of its cultural, historical, and natural attractions making it a place to escape the busy and noisy cities of the country. There are numerous temples in the city that are sacred and important to the locals and their religious aspect. The Wat Rong Khun, which is also called the White Temple, is a top attraction in Chiang Rai. An attraction that features the cultural heritage of Chiang Rai is the Chiang Saen National Museum. The natural attractions include Doi Tung, the highest mountain in the province. Located here are the Wat Phra That Doi Tung and the Doi Tung Royal Villa. The Doi Luang National Park features hiking trails, few waterfalls, and the Pu Kaeng Waterfall; the largest waterfall in the province. Other natural attraction is the Kok River that is famous for rafting and boat trips.
Mae Hong Son
Mae Hong Son, called the “Town of Three Mists”, is one of the remotest provinces in Thailand due to its location in a deep valley surrounded by high mountain ranges. It is a home of the pristine virgin forests, mountains, valleys, indigenous wildlife, and unique hill tribes making it a place that attracts tourists that wants to unite with nature. The day trip to the Mae Hong Son Loop is a popular tour that is a comprehensive way to discover one of Thailand's most authentic provinces.
There is a day trip that is offered in Chiang Mai. The first part of the day trip is from Chiang Mai to Mae Sariang. The town of Mae Sariang is a valley town surrounded by mountains and beautiful scenery. It is the home of Mae Um Long Luang Hot Springs. Other attractions are Wat Prahtat Chom Chaeng and the Wat Prathat Chom Thong that show the cultural diversity of the town.
Next part is from Mae Sariang to Mae Hong Son Town. The route is along Khun Yuam with Kaew Komol that is an ancient calcite crystal cave, Thai-Japan Friendship Memorial Hall at Khun Yuam, Thung Bua Tong Fields at Doi Mae U Kho, and Mae Surin Waterfall that can be spotted along the way. Before reaching the Mae Hong Son Town, Pha Bong village with a well developed hot spring and spa called Pha Bong Hot Spring is usually the stop for relaxation before reaching the second destination in the loop. At the Mae Hong Son Town, there are numerous Burmese and Shan style temples like the Wat Doi Kong Mu which sits on a hilltop. The center of the town is built around Nong Jong Kham Lake with the Wat Chong Klang that lights up beautifully at night. There are also Hill Tribe Treks, Long Neck Karen Villages, elephant riding, bamboo rafting, and the Phu Klon Country Club for recreational activities.
The final part is from Mae Hong Son to Pai. It is one of the most scenic drives in the North. Along the way, tourists can spot the little known Su Tong Pae Bridge in the village of Ban Kung Mai Sak. Other places along the way are the Ban Rak Thai that is a very tranquil Chinese village overlooking a beautiful lake, the Pha Sua Waterfall, and the Tham Lod. At the town of Pai, there are Bohemian style cafes, restaurants, bookstores and guesthouses for tourists who wants to enjoy the town for a couple of days. There are hot springs, rafting, and trekking opportunities in this beautiful town. Some of the main attractions are the Chinese Village, the Mo Paeng Waterfall, the Wat Klang that is an important temple in Pai housing large Buddhas and other significant artifacts, the Chedi Phra That Mae Yen that offers a panoramic view of the city, the Land Split that offers home made Rosella juice, the Pam Bok Waterfall, the Pai Canyon, and the World War II Memorial Bridge.
Northern River Valleys
The Northern River Valleys is a hilly area dotted with river valleys in Northern Thailand. It includes Lampang, Lamphun, Nan, Phayao, and Phrae.
Lampang is an ancient city founded in the 17th century. In the 19th century, the city of Lampang was fortified by walls and was the center of the teak industry. Nowadays, it is an urban city in the region that escaped modernization and commercialism. The city is known for its horse-drawn carriages and with a cockerel that is the city's emblem. Some of the attractions in the city are the Ban Sao Nak or the House of Many Pillars, the Lampang Herb Conservation Assembly, the National Elephant Institute that features Elephant Art Work, the Wat Phra Kaew Don Tao that contains Thailand's second Emerald Buddha after the first one in the capital city, Bangkok, and the Wat Phra That Lampang Luang that is a traditional Lanna architecture.
Lamphun is an old province in the Northern Thailand, however, it is a small town. Generally, Lamphun is just mostly visited by boat trips from Chiang Mai. The main attraction in the city is the Luang Pha Waing Cave. It is one of the largest caves in Northern Thailand.
Nan is also a historical city that is filled with temples and surrounded by mountains. The Wat Phra That Chae Haeng is most sacred wat in Nan Province. It is located in a walled enclosure on top of a hill. The second most important temple is the Wat Phra That Chang Kham with a huge seated Buddha image and faint murals. Other temples are the Wat Hua Khuang, the Wat Suan Tan, the Wat Min Muang, the Wat Phaya Phu, and the Wat Phra That Khao Noi.
Phayao is a peaceful province. It is a home of natural attractions and religious sites. The Doi Bussarakham has a thick and lush forest with a nice waterfall and a string of important Buddhist temples. The Wat Analayo is one of the temples found in the Doi Bussarakham. It is beautful temple with a huge stone Buddha image offering views of Phayao. The Wat Si Khom Kham is the most important temple in Phayao that houses a significant Buddha image.
Phrae has one of the largest reserves of teak forests in the country. Some of the oldest teak houses in the province are the Pratabjai House that is made from nine buildings, the Baan Wong Buri (Vongburi), and the Khum Chao Luang that was the place where the King and Queen stayed when they visited Phrae.
Lower Northern Thailand
This region is mostly centered around the historic city of Sukhothai. Other provinces are Kamphaeng Phet, Phitsanulok, Nakhon Sawan, Phichit, Tak, and Uthai Thani.
Sukhothai was the first capital of the Sukhothai Kingdom that was established in 1238 by Phokhun Si Intharathit, the founder of the Phra Ruang dynasty. Today, the temples and monuments are now restored that is now the Sukhothai Historical Park; a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The inner city was enclosed by walls. There are major historical sites in the inner city like the Ramkamhaeng National Museum. It houses many artifacts found around the old city. Other important temples and historic sites can be found outside the old city walls such as the Wat Phra Pai Luang that contains the remains of a number of buildings, the Wat Si Chum that has a massive seated Buddha figure, and the Wat Saphan Hin. It's sister city, Si Satchanalai, is also listed as UNESCO World Heritage Site. Some of its historical sites and temples are the Wat Phra Ratana Mahathat that features a large seated Buddha figure and a central chedi with two standing Buddha figures, the Wat Khok Singkharam, and the Wat Chom Chuen.
Kamphaeng Phet is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The main attractions are the Walled City and the Araynik; the two zones that comprises Kamphaeng Phet Historical Park. Some of the historical places of interest are found in the walled city such as the remains of the two state temples: Wat Phra Kaeo and Wat Phra That, the city pillar shrine, and a Shiva Shrine. Araynik means forest, it is the name given to an area north of the walled city which encompasses a small hill. It is covered with the remains of many temples.
Phitsanulok is a small province with less attractions, but a stop may be interesting. A unique place to visit is the Buranathai Buddha Image Foundry. It specializes in the reproduction of the Chinnarat Buddha image found in Wat Phra Si Rattana Mahathat. The temple has a big fair every January. Other attractions are the Folk Museum and the temples of Wat Ratburana and Wat Phra Sri.
Nakhon Sawan is regarded as the doorway to the North due to its location between the Northern Thailand and the Central Thailand. It is not a place that most tourists would take time to visit. It has only two main attractions; the Nakhon Sawan Tower on top of the Wat Kiriwong Mountain and the Bung Boraphet; the largest freshwater swamp and lake in the Northern region.
Phichit is known as the land of crocodiles. The Crocodile Pit is a pond with crocodiles, which can be observed behind a wired fence. Another popular attraction is the Utthayan Mueang Kao or the old City Park. It features the ruins of an ancient town dating back more than 900 years. In the town center is Wat Phra Si Rattana Mahathat with its large bell-shaped chedi.
Tak has an elevation of around 162 meters. It is a land of natural beauty. Some of its natural attractions are the Thi Lor Su Waterfall and the Thi Lo Cho Waterfall, the Doi Hua Mot, the Takhobi Cave, and the national parks of Taksin Maharat and Lan Sang. Some temples are the Wat Phra Boromthat and the Chedi Yutthahatthi with a lotus bud shaped chedi.
Uthai Thani is housing the Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Reserve; a UNESCO World Heritage Site that has jungles, forests, plains, streams, and rare wildlife. Another attraction is the Wat Tha Sung. It is also known as the Wat Chantharam and the Diamond Temple. Nearby is the Golden Castle or the Prasat Thong Kam. It is a completely golden castle with carved doors and walls, pillars, and ceiling decorated with gold foil.