North Thailand




North Thailand / The Region

Photo: Chedis at Chiang Dao, North Thailand

Bordered by Burma and Laos, characterized by forested mountains (lower extremities of the Himalayas range) and fertile river valleys, northern Thailand encompasses part of the fabled Golden Triangle.

The northern city of Sukhothai is commonly regarded as the cradle of Thai civilization in Indochina. In 1238, Sukhothai which had formerly been under Khmer rule gained its independence and rapidly expanded over a territory considerably larger than present day Thailand.

As northern Thailand is rich in attractions for different tastes, a number of places, including the regions center, Chiang Mai, are among the country's most preferred tourist destinations. As the Tourist Authority of Thailand has put it, "diverse elements, including crisp mountain scenery, exotic hill tribes, forests worked by elephants, colorful festivals, invigorating cool season weather, ancient cities, exquisite northern Thai and Burmese-style temples, and friendly people contribute to northern Thailand's enduring charm."


North Thailand / Economy

minerals, particularly lignite (brown coal), fluoride, gypsum, tungsten, antimony, lead, zinc, manganese etc. Lignite deposits at Mae Moh have proven reserves of 812 million tons, which is adequate for generating 4,500 megawatts of electricity. Some 20,000 barrels per day of crude oil are currently produced in Kamphaeng Phet and the natural gas by-product is used by the nearby gas-fired electric power plant.

Agricultural products are abundant in the north. They comprise rice, maize, beans, cotton, tobacco, sugarcane, tea, longan, lychee, as well as temperate fruits and vegetables. Livestock farming is also widespread in the north.

As mentioned, regional resources in terms of tourist attractions are abundant, with many beautiful mountains, forests, and waterfalls.

The manual skills and dexterity of northern workers, developed over the years in numerous handicraft industries, are now supporting the development of new industries such as electronics and garments.

As far as infrastructure facilities are concerned, the northern region has, according to the Thai Board of Investments, an excellent network of transport, telecommunications, and public utility services. Chiang Mai airport is the second largest international airport in the country and the Northern Industrial Estate at Lamphun provides comprehensive facilities. There is also an international school offering teaching in English for children of expatriate workers.


North Thailand / Climate

more agreeable than) the climate of central and other parts of Thailand, mainly due to the region's elevation (300m, around 1000ft in the valleys). The cool season lasts from late October to the end of February. Average daytime temperature is 21?Celsius (70?Fahrenheit); nights are much cooler. The coolest months are December and January.

The hot season is from early March to end of May. Average daytime temperature is 30?Celsius (85?Fahrenheit). The hottest month is April. The rainy season usually begins early June and reaches to the end of October. Average temperature is 25.5?Celsius (77?Fahrenheit). The wettest month is September.


North Thailand / Critical opinion

If you want to travel to Thailand for sexual or love relationships (and I do not mean with prostitutes), then you have a valid reason. For sexual and love relationships rightly take priority in anybodys life, and the promise of sexual and love relationships of better quality makes it worthwhile to take risks, and to spend money.

An interest in sexual and love relationships of better quality is a genuine reason to travel to Thailand. Most other reasons are not genuine in as they are not original. They have been implanted in peoples minds by marketing campaigns, or the joint interest of different players who all benefit economically from people making journeys to far away destinations.

These players include (in the case of Thailand): the Thai government that is interested in the economic benefits that can be reaped from the tourism industry, airlines that want to sell seats on their their long-haul flights, international hotel chains, travel agencies, the manufacturers of suitcases and swimwear, and, last not least, the publishers of travel guides who want you to buy their books.

But is a journey to Thailand without a definite reason, just for spending a holiday there, in your genuine interest?

What are the potential benefits:

A foreign, widely overrated, cuisine? If you do feel you need to taste Thai food, you can surely find a Thai restaurant in the next major city of your own country. Quite possibly, the food is better than in Thailand itself, and quite possibly, the hygienic standards are higher.

Beaches? You can find better beaches closer to home: in Spain or Greece if you are in Europe, or in California or Mexico if you are North American; and certainly, if you are Australian, no Thai beach is a match for the Gold coast.

Culture? How many Buddhist temples do you intend to visit? From an architectural point of view, they are overrated. And if ancient architecture is your reason, let me ask you: how much of the ancient architecture of Europe have you visited. I am really sometimes amused when I see tourists visiting a wat which may be 150 years old, but an 800 year old church in their own country, they ignore in spite of having lived just a few hundred kilometers away for decades.

What else? Nature? Thailand has little to offer nature-wise. Most of the country has long been the subject of deforestation. There are a few national parks, yes. But if you arent into national parks in Europe or the US, your interest in national parks in Thailand would likely be the product of slick advertising brochures, rather than genuine (just as in the case of architecture).

And now, take a look at the risk factors:

There is first the long flight. Yes, statistically, flying is safer than traveling the same distance overland (and its certainly much faster). But there will always be flight accidents, and its unpleasant, indeed, to be in one.

I am not afraid of being dead. But to die in an airplane is one of the worst possible deaths. And this is simple math: the more you fly, the more you are likely to be in an air travel misshape.

Furthermore, there are very definite health risks: malaria, cholera, hepatitis, salmonella, to just give some household names. There also are more exotic strains, such as SARS and bird flu. Furthermore, there are the diseases that dont have illustrious names, such as diarrhea.

And then, next, think whether you really want to be in a country where you are constantly cheated (and often, you dont even notice)?

Most Thais like foreigners as a source of income, but thats about it. Their friendliness is of the kind, motivated salespeople also display.

Yes, if the reward are better sexual and love relationships, then there is a valid reason to travel to Thailand. For others (especially women and men traveling with women), its smarter to stay at home, or spend a holiday somewhere nearby.


North Thailand / Phitsanulok

commerce, transportation and communication.

Phitsanulok is the birthplace of King Naresuan and his equally brave and able brother, King Ekathotsarot. As the cross-road between the northern and central regions of the country, Phitsanulok has long been an important city both for political and strategic reasons. It was a recruiting place when Ayutthaya had a war with Burma. It was a training ground for many kings of Ayutthaya and it was a capital of Thailand for 25 years during the reign of King Boromtrailokkanat of Ayutthaya.

Covering an area of 10,816sqkm (4,175sqmi), the province is divided into 9 districts. Phitsanulok's other name is Song Kwae, meaning town or province of two rivers. Nan River is the main one, running 128km (80mi) across the province. Kwae Noi River (named like the more famous river running through Kanchanaburi) joins the Nan River near Phitsanulok city. This joint river divides Phitsanulok city into two parts, the East and the West Bank. Along both banks of this main transportation artery of the province, people live on house boats and house rafts. Thousands of these houses lay afloat in the rivers while some are in the swamps along the rivers.


North Thailand / Sukhothai

Dawn of Happiness), founded in 1238, was the capital of a Thai kingdom considerably larger than Thailand is now, for approximately 120 years. Today, it's just the capital of Sukhothai Province with an area of 6,596sqkm (2,546sqmi), approximately 427km (267mi) north of Bangkok.

It is believed the Thai people originated some 4,500 years ago in the Ulthai mountain area of present-day Mongolia. Subsequent migrations took them to South China where they formed a kingdom called Nanchao and from South China to the Indo-Chinese peninsula.

The southward migration received marked impetus during the time of Kublai Khan who was rapidly expanding his empire towards Southern China during the 13th century, resulting in a quite numerous Thai population in a region where Khmers and Mons were the established settlers.

Thais settled in various parts of the north of what is today Thailand and established city states which were not much connected to each other. In the middle of the 13th century, two Thai princes in the Sukhothai area, Phor Khun Pha Muang of Muang Rad and Phor Khun Bang Klang Thao of Muang Banyang combined their forces and fought off the Khmers who commanded an extensive empire on the Indo-Chinese empire at that time.

They drove the Khmers out of Sukhothai, then a major frontier post of the Angkorian (Khmer) Empire, and established it as their capital in 1238. Phor Khun Bang Klang Thao, urged by the people to be King, was enthroned with the royal title of Phor Khun Si Sri Inthrathit.

Sukhothai became the first kingdom where before smaller Thai principalities had existed, mostly under Khmer overrule. Thais today view Sukhothai as the cradle of the Thai nation.

King Si Sri Inthrathit had two sons, Phor Khun Ban Muang and Phor Khun Ramkhamhaeng. After his death, Phor Khun Ban Muang, succeeded him first. His brother, Phor Khun Ramkhamhaeng, ascended the throne in 1278 and reigned for 40 years.

One of Thailand's greatest warriors, King Ramkhamhaeng made Sukhothai a powerful and extensive kingdom which included many parts of what are today neighboring countries.

King Ramkhamhaeng opened direct political relations with China and made two trips to China - the first in 1282 to visit the Emperor Kublai Khan and the second in 1300 after Kublai Khan's death.

From the second visit he brought back Chinese artisans who taught the Thais the art of pottery. Today the old Sangkhalok potteries are eagerly sought by collectors.

A major achievement of King Ramkhamhaeng was the revision of various forms of Khmer alphabets into a system suitable for the writing of Thai words. The Thai alphabet of today is essentially the same as the one Ramkhamhaeng invented in 1283.

Thais today have a fairly romantic perception of Sukhothai as a kingdom of happiness. Actually, this perception is partially based on historic records. A famous stone inscription reads in part: "This Muang Sukhothai is good. In the water there are fish, in the field there is rice. The ruler does not levy a tax on the people who travel along the road together, leading their oxen on the way to trade and riding their horses on the way to sell. Whoever wants to trade in elephants, so trades. Whoever wants to trade in horses, so trades. Whoever wants to trade in silver and gold, so trades."

King Ramkhamhaeng also promoted religion and, through his efforts, Buddhism became strongly embedded in Thai culture, giving birth to classic forms of Thai religious arts. Images of Buddha sculptured during the Sukhothai era are cultural treasures which impart a feeling of peace and serenity.

A total of eight kings ruled Sukhothai. The gradual decline of Sukhothai occurred during the reigns of the last two kings. The end of this first Thai Kingdom came in 1365 when it was degraded into a vassal state of Ayutthaya, the young and rising power to the south.

The former greatness of Sukhothai has been preserved in architectural monuments. Ruins of the royal palaces, Buddhist temples, the city gates, walls moats, dams, ditches, ponds, canals and the water dyke control system which was the economic base of the kingdom has been restored by the Fine Arts Department with the cooperation of the UNESCO, not only to foster Thailand's national identity but safeguard an important part of mankind's cultural heritage.

The new town of Sukhothai, a few kilometers away from the old one, is where hotels, restaurants and other infastructure facilities are located today.


North Thailand / Si Satchanalai

Standing Buddha

Photo: Si Satchanalai's well-maintained Historical Park is graced by a number of giant Buddha statues.


Si Satchanalai is a town in Sukhothai Province, some 65km (41mi) north of the town of Sukhothai. During the Sukhothai era, Si Satchanalai was the second most important Thai city, after the capital, Sukhothai


North Thailand / Lampang

Horse-drawn carriage
Photo: Horse-drawn carriage in Lampang


The town of Lampang, at the junction of the highways from Bangkok to Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai, lays claim to two unique features: to be the sole Thai town still using colorful horse-drawn carriages as a means of everyday urban transport, and to have the world's only training school for baby elephants (even though it's 54km, 34mi out of town). Both attractions account for the bulk of Lampang's Thai and foreign visitors.

The town of Lampang, 604km (378mi) north of Bangkok, also is the capital of the province of Lampang, stretching over an area of 12,534sqkm (4,838sqmi) on the right bank of the Wang River.


North Thailand / Lamphun

Queen Chammathewi

Photo: Statue of Queen Chammathewi, Lamphun


Lamphun is an old town, several centuries older than Chiang Mai, some 25km (16mi) to the north. Founded by Mons around 660 A.D. , Lamphun became the center of a small Khmer kingdom, named Hariphunchai, around the year 1000, For about 100 years, Hariphunchai was just a vassal state of Angkor. But when the influence of Angkor waned in the decades around 1100, Hariphunchai became pretty much independent. The town and its kingdom were conquered by the ruler of the Lannatai kingdom, King Mengrai, in 1283, a few years before he founded Chiang Mai as his new capital. Queen Chammathewi, who governed the city in the second half of the 17th century, is the local hero.

Lamphun, approximately 670km (419mi) north of Bangkok, is the capital of a province by the same name. According to a publication of the Tourism Authority of Thailand, "this charming province is also noted for its beautiful women and tasty Longans." The province with an area of 4,506sqkm (1,739sqmi) is divided into the 5 districts of the town of Lamphun (Muang), Pa Sang, Ban Hong, Mae Tha and Li as well as the Thung Hua Chang sub-district.

Additional information on Lamphun:


Authors note:

Tourism for idiots

I can understand some forms of tourism: for example, if people from cold countries want to go to a beach place in a warm country for two weeks. I can also understand those who go to a fun place to party. I can even understand parents who bring their children to Disneyland (though I personally regard this as a waste of money).

But the tourism you have in Northern Thailand and in Laos is for idiots.

Remote hill tribes! Wow. The Golden Triangle, the world's traditional opium-growing region. And you were there! Elephant trekking through the jungle. Real adventure!

The fact is that all of this is so totally commercialized, that it is no different from a theme park. Only less convenient.

But at least a theme park is honest in that it admits that it's all just show. On the other hand, North Thailand and Laos tourism promotion pretends that all of this is authentic. But it's a lie. It's all only about making stupid tourists spend money. Preferably a lot. For nothing of genuine value.


North Thailand / Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai's moat
Photo: The old city of Chiang Mai is still surrounded by a moat.


Chiang Mai, some 700km (438mi) north of Bangkok, is Thailand's second largest city (though it does not even have 10% of Bangkok's population), capital of one of the largest provinces of Thailand (roughly 20,000sqkm, 7,720sqmi) and in general the center of Northern Thailand.In many aspects, it's much more pleasant than Bangkok. A common claim is that it has the advantages of Bangkok without suffering the capital's disadvantages.


North Thailand / Chiang Mai / History

Wall and Moat
Photo: Part of Chiang Mai's old wall and moat

Chiang Mai has an history of more than 700 years. Oddly enough, it doesn't begin in what is today Northern Thailand but the Southern Chinese province of Yunnan, a few hundred kilometers to the north. There, the well developed Thai kingdom of Nanchao existed from the middle of the 7th until the middle of the 13th century (for 604 years to be exact). In 1254, however, the Nanchao Kingdom was conquered by Kublai Khan, resulting in the southward migration of a large number of Thais. Most of these Thais settled in what is today northern Thailand.

A result of this influx of Thais from southern China was the founding of several towns and principalities in what is today northern Thailand. Among the towns founded and the principalities established in the second half of the 13th century was Chiang Mai.

However, a predecessor of Chiang Mai was Chiang Rai, some 180km (113mi) to the north. There, a prince of the Nanchao Kingdom who had migrated south with his people, Mengrai, established in 1262 the Lannatai principality (commonly translated as Kingdom of one Million Rice Fields). If one prefers to speak of a Lannatai Kingdom instead of a Lannatai Principality at that early stage, one of course has to upgrade Mr. Mengrai's rank to that of King. However, one must be aware that Mengrai was of course designated in Thai and with a Thai title, and ranks of nobility in Western and Thai history are not equivalent to each other. Certainly, Mengrai was an independent and absolute ruler, but his realm just had the size of what would be considered as a principality in Europe


North Thailand / Chiang Mai / Cuisine

Thai and Chinese food, visitors can enjoy Italian, French, German and Muslim food in specialty restaurants. US-style steakhouses, sandwich bars, fast-food outlets, English-style pubs and vegetarian restaurants offer a broad range of cuisines. International fare is widely available in teahouses and coffeeshops.

Local culinary specialties include highly spiced Naem sausages and mildly curried Khao Soi noodles.

Many visitors enjoy a traditional Khan Toke dinner which is accompanied by a display of northern dances. Khan Toke actually is a wooden tray for carrying dishes. In a Khan Toke dinner the guests sit in groups of five or six on the floor.

Major Khan Toke dishes include glutinous rice, Burmese and northern Thai-style curries, spiced mincemeat dishes, Chiang Mai sausage, highly seasoned sauces and dips, and crisp pork rind.

Diners eat with their hands while groups provide entertainment, performing popular Northern dances such as the graceful fingernail dance, the candle dance and the sword dance.


Chiang Mai / Attractions

Buddha image
Photo: Buddha image at Wat Doi Suthep, Chiang Mai


North Thailand / Chiang Mai / Celebrations

Flower Carnival (on the first Friday, Saturday and Sunday of February), Songkran (April 13-15) and Yee Peng (on the day of the full moon of the twelfth lunar month, generally mid-November).

The Flower Carnival celebrates the time when Chiang Mai's temperate and tropical flowers are in full bloom; it is characterized by colorful floral floats and parades.

Songkran is the traditional Thai New Year. Chiang Mai celebrates Songkran with special elation in a 3-day carousel of religious merit-making, pilgrimages, beauty parades, dancing and uninhibited good-natured water throwing.

Yee Peng is Thailand's loveliest festival when, under the full moon, people float banana-leaf boats bearing a lighted candle, incense, a flower and small coin onto rivers, canals, lakes and streams to honor water spirits and float away the past year's sins. <


North Thailand / Chiang Rai (Golden Triangle)

Photo: Statue of King Mengrai, Chiang Rai

Chiang Rai city is the capital of Chiang Rai Province, Thailand's most northern province, about 785km (491mi) from Bangkok and at an average elevation of 580m (1,900ft) above sea level. Its area, mostly mountains, is 11,678sqkm (4,508sqmi) and divided into 12 districts and 1 sub-district. The most important river is the Mae Kok which is about 130km (81mi) long and flows through Chiang Rai city.

Chiang Rai was founded in 1262 by King Mengrai (see Chiang Mai). At the end of the 13th century, for around 30 years, Chiang Rai was the capital of the Lannatai Kingdom. Later the city was conquered by Burma and remained under Burmese rule for several hundred years. It was not until 1786 that Chiang Rai became Thai territory. It was proclaimed a province during the reign of King Rama VI in 1910.

Chiang Rai is famous for its tasty lychees and the Golden Triangle in Chiang Saen district where the borders of Thailand, Laos and Burma converge.


A highly recommended apartment building in Chiang Rai is the Condotel. Apartments are available for rent from 2000 baht, and also for sale. They have a swimming pool, and guarded parking.'

While other apartment buildings may also have swimming pools and guarded parking, the owner / manager, Mr. Puthiphong, is quite unique for his honesty.

A member of our team reports that the Chiang Rai Condotel has been the only place he rented in 20 years in Asia where his security deposit was returned in full, as well as a month of rent paid in advance.

That is remarkable indeed.



North Thailand / Mae Sai

border to Burma, Burmese goods, especially handicrafts, can be purchased at good prices. Thais and Burmese and foreign tourists can cross the border officially during daytime. Actually, many Burmese work in Mae Sai. The border river is just about 30cm (1ft) deep.

Authors note:

Tourism for idiots

I can understand some forms of tourism: for example, if people from cold countries want to go to a beach place in a warm country for two weeks. I can also understand those who go to a fun place to party. I can even understand parents who bring their children to Disneyland (though I personally regard this as a waste of money).

But the tourism you have in Northern Thailand and in Laos is for idiots.

Remote hill tribes! Wow. The Golden Triangle, the world's traditional opium-growing region. And you were there! Elephant trekking through the jungle. Real adventure!

The fact is that all of this is so totally commercialized, that it is no different from a theme park. Only less convenient.

But at least a theme park is honest in that it admits that it's all just show. On the other hand, North Thailand and Laos tourism promotion pretends that all of this is authentic. But it's a lie. It's all only about making stupid tourists spend money. Preferably a lot. For nothing of genuine value.


North Thailand / Mae Chan

trading post for the Akha and Yao hill people who sell their goods and buy manufactured items. One can find silver ornaments and other tribal handicrafts at the shops of this town.


North Thailand / Mae Salong

Mae Chan. What makes this little town different from others in northern Thailand is its Chinese populace. The inhabitants are mostly the families of Chinese Kuomintang soldiers who fled from the communists in 1949, first to Burma. They were driven out of Burma in 1961 and then settled on Doi Mae Salong (Mae Salong Mountain), just some 7km (4.4mi) from the Burmese border. Architecture as well as cuisine are Southern Chinese, and in spite of the fact that the place has become a popular tourist destination, it has kept its own distinct appearance.


North Thailand / Chiang Saen

Golden Triangle in the narrowest sense of the designation. Its lovely setting on the Mekong enhances the charm of its old temples, Wat Pa Sak and Wat Phrathat Chom Kitti, as well as the Chiang Saen Museum.


North Thailand / Mae Hong Son

cool climate almost all year round. Until a few years ago, the town was pretty isolated from the outside world and as late as the 70's accessible only by plane whenever bad weather rendered the roads impassable. As good roads exist now, the town is much visited by tourists who look for a last frontier experience. Apart from flying, one can go to Mae Hong Son comfortably from Chiang Mai either on Highway 108 via Mae Sariang or on the 274km (171mi) Highway 1095 via Pai. Mae Hong Son Province is bordered by Burma to the north and west, and a strong Burmese influence can be seen in the provincial capital's temples and other buildings. Mae Hong Son Province, with an area of 12,681sqkm (4,895sqmi), is divided into the 5 districts of the town of Mae Hong Son (Muang), Mae Sariang, Mae La Noi, Pai and Khun Yuam and the 2 sub-districts of Bang Ma Pha and Sop Moei.


Map of North Thailand

North Thailand