Bordering Laos and Myanmar, Northern Thailand is known for its thickly forested mountains inhabited by several hill tribes and the unique local Lanna culture. Its relatively high elevation and latitude result in seasonal temperature variation, with cooler winters than the other regions.
Tourism-wise, the mountainous north of Thailand boasts the world’s latest biosphere reserve in Chiang Mai’s Doi Chiang Dao, the breathtaking Mekong in Chiang Rai and the remotely wondrous and ethnically diverse Mae Hong Son, and that’s not all. Sukhothai and lesser-known provinces like Phrae, Nan and Lampang are all destinations well worth visiting in their own right.
How to Get There
There are countless daily flights from Bangkok to Chiang Mai operated by THAI, Nok Air, Bangkok Airways and Thai Smile, Thai Lion Air, and Air Asia.
EVA Air and Air Asia operate direct flights from Taipei to Chiang Mai. From Hong Kong, Cathay Pacific flies directly. Qatar Airways flies directly from Doha to Chiang Mai.
Local airlines also operate flights from Bangkok to other cities including Chiang Rai, Mae Hong Son, Phrae and Lampang.
Bus service from Mo Chit 2 Bus Terminal on Kamphaenphet Road, Chatuchak is available from early morning until late at night. Train service from the capital city’s Bang Sue Grand Station connects to most of the northern cities.
The Rose of the North is the most visited province of the region for many reasons. The convenience of the transport helps facilitate guests with ease. A variety of attractions indeed is a magnet that constantly draws visitors to a charming Chiang Mai.
The city boasts countless beautiful temples, including Wat Doi Suthep, Wat Chedi Luang and Wat Phra Sigh. It is also home to breathtaking national parks, with Doi Inthanon being Thailand’s highest peak. The unique Lanna cultural heritage is an added appeal, while the northern cuisine can make you drool at the mention of some local dishes. Culinarily, it is also one of the provinces featured in the annual Michelin Guide Thailand.
The northernmost city enjoys a fair share of visitors, local and international, and has quietly gained recognition as a destination worth visiting. Sharing the Lanna culture with Chiang Mai, neighboring Chiang Rai offers a more tranquil ambiance.
The Mekong scenic landscape in Chiang Saen district, which connects to Laos, draws slow-travel embracing visitors to the province, with the historic Golden Triangle firmly placed on the international travel map.
Mae Hong Son
Bordering Myanmar, the mountainous Mae Hong Son is ethnically diverse and home to different hill tribes. The remote province is often referred to as ‘the city of three veils of mist’ since it is surrounded by foggy mountains, with cold weather all year round. It is sparsely populated and somehow manages to draw visitors who prefer the unbeaten tracks due to it once being hard to access to, with Pai being the most popular district.
Phrae, Nan & Lampang
While being distinctive in their own right, the provinces of Phra, Nan and Lampang are quiet towns that embrace a slow-life ideology and share cultural heritage and natural wonders as main attractions for visitors. Phra has Khum Wong Buri and Khun Chao Luang, two ancient mansions, as main tourist spots in its Muang District. Bordering Laos, Nan has numerous national parks that include Doi Samer Dao, literally meaning ‘mountain on the same level of stars,’ atop Sinan National Park, while Pua district has gained popularity in recent years. Lampang boasts Chae Son National Park known for hot springs, and Kad Kong Ta walking street, with some no-frills stores selling handmade products and oozing local community vibes.
The ancient empire of Sukhothai has its own unique charm. Its most visited attractions are historical parks, Sukhothai and Si Satchanalai, which were declared UNESCO World Heritage Sites with the associated park in Kamphaeng Phet province. The two sites are ideal for bicycle-excursion adventures. Sukhothai is also famous for celadon and ancient gold jewelry, while Ban Na Ton Chan has set exemplary standards for its award-winning homestay management.
Phetchabun is sometimes referred to as the Switzerland of Thailand, thanks to its cool weather almost all year round. The small quiet town’s natural beauty is nearly its sole attraction, and can turn into a crowded destination during the peak season when locals seek to experience one of the coldest spots the country has to offer. It is difficult to book any accommodation in Phu Thap Boek on short notice from November to December, so be sure to plan ahead. The province also boasts other mountainous destinations, including Nam Nao National Park, Khao Kho, and Thung Salaeng Luang National Park which it shares with Phitsanulok province.