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North

Surrounded by the tallest mountains in Thailand, Northern Thailand is cooler than the rest of the usually sweltering country and thus particularly popular in December and January. In the mountains at night temperatures occasionally dip below freezing, although in the plains the daily average is rarely less than 77 Fahrenheit. Culturally, Northern Thailand shows heavy influences from the neighboring cultures of Myanmar and Yunnan (China). The kingdoms of Lanna (centered at Chiang Mai) and Sukhothai were the first historical Thai nations. Much of northern Thailand was for a long time off-limits due to a series of Communist insurgencies and Myanmar’s drug battles and civil wars spilling over the border. Both problems have been largely resolved, although caution is still advised near the border with Myanmar in the provinces of Tak and Mae Hong Son.

POINTS OF INTEREST

CHIANG MAI

Chiang Mai is the hub of Northern Thailand and the Capital City of the Province of this name. With a population of over 170,000 in the city proper (but more than 1 million in the metropolitan area), it is Thailand’s fifth-largest city. Located on a plain at an elevation of 316 m, surrounded by mountains and lush countryside, it is much greener and quieter than the capital, and has a cosmopolitan air and a significant ex-pat population, factors which have led many from Bangkok to settle permanently in this “Rose of the North”.

NAKHON SAWAN

Nakhon Sawan Province, also known as “Pak Nam Pho”, is where the rivers of Ping, Wang, Yom, and Nan converge and form the Chao Phraya River, the most important waterway of Thailand. Nakhon Sawan is in the lower northern part of the country between Northern Thailand and the Central Plains. It is regarded as “the doorway to the North” and it is the hub of transportation in the Lower North. Not many western foreigners visit Nakhon Sawan, therefore it can be hard to get by if you don’t speak at least a few words of Thai.

PAI

Set in a particularly picturesque valley north of Chiang Mai, Pai is a predominantly tourism-oriented town, offering a relaxed atmosphere with a broad tourist and pretty serious backpacker scene. The town’s permanent residents are a seemingly harmonious mix of Western hippies, Thai rastas, and Muslims (there is a big mosque in the center of town) which gives the place a unique vibe that may be appealing to some, even if it isn’t traditional.

PHITSANULOK

A city in the lower part of northern Thailand rich in historical, cultural, and natural attractions, Phitsanulok is some 235 miles from Bangkok. The province around it features mountains, plains, and forest in the east and river basin. The Nan River, the lifeline of the province, runs through the heart of the city.

Phitsanulok is a regional commercial and transportation hub. Many travelers will at least pass through Phitsanulok on their way to and from the north. While the city itself is not the most exciting or prettiest place in the world, it can be useful for stocking up on supplies, and Phitsanulok is a great starting point for exploring the ancient Thai capital of Sukhothai.

SUKHOTHAI

The city is a popular tourist destination because it is located near the ruins of the ancient city of Sukhothai, which was the Thai capital during the 13th Century C.E. The historical Sukhothai was the first capital of Siam founded by King Ramkhamhaeng. The province’s temples and monuments have been restored and Sukhothai Historical Park is an area with numerous sites of historical interest that has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Other interesting places include Ramkhamhaeng National Museum, Ramkhamhaeng National Park, Sri Satchanalai National Park, and The Royal Palace and Wat Mahathat.

KAMPHAENG PHET

Geographically located in the Lower North on the bank of the Ping River, Kamphaeng Phet (pronounced Gampaeng Pet) is 225 miles from Bangkok. To its East are riverine flatlands while the western areas are made up of high mountains lush with fertile forests where a number of national parks have been established.

Areas along the river bank at present-day Mueang district used to host several ancient towns that had played a major role as strategic front-line frontiers since Sukhothai was the kingdom’s capital down through the times of Ayutthaya and early Rattanakosin (Bangkok) eras. In fact, the name Kamphaeng Phet actually means as strong as walls or forts make of diamonds.

DOI INTHANON NATIONAL PARK

Doi Inthanon is one of the most popular national parks in Thailand. It is famous for its waterfalls, few trails, remote villages, viewpoints, sunrise/sunset watching, birdwatching, and year-round cold weather on higher elevations. The main park entrance is about 40 miles southwest of Chiang Mai city center. Also known as “The Roof of Thailand”, the park is part of the Himalayan mountain range with elevations ranging between 2600 and 8400 feet. The highest peak is at Doi Inthanon Mountain which is the highest mountain in Thailand.

THE GOLDEN TRIANGLE

The Golden Triangle is in Chiang Rai Province, in the far north of Thailand. The English name comes from the meeting of Laos, Myanmar, and Thailand here, but to the locals, it’s Sop Ruak, since this is where the Mekong meets the Ruak River. Historically the Golden Triangle has been an area well-known for the growing of opium, and the name comes from a US State Department memo on the practice. These days, though, the place lives on the cultivation of tourists, and this is undoubtedly the largest tourist trap in northern Thailand. The landscape is hilly, divided by the Ruak River that flows into the Mekong (Mae Khong) River. These rivers form a natural boundary between the three countries Laos (to the east of the Mekong), Myanmar (to the north of the Ruak), and Thailand (to the west of the Mae Khong).