Northern Thailand Travel Guide

Unique from the rest of Thailand both culturally and linguistically, Northern Thailand is a diverse region that has been gaining attention as a tourist hotspot since the 1970s. Its cooler climate than the south of the country and its scenic mountain geography has helped this region of ethnic diversity become a favorite trekking area.


Formerly the centre of the powerful Lanna Kingdom, Northern Thailand is a region on immense historical importance. These are hundreds of fascinating ancient ruins spread across the region while this region is also one of the best places to sample traditional Thai culture. The north is probably best known for its trekking opportunities to hilltribe communities, but for those willing to get off the beaten track a little, this region has much more to offer. Although some regions have been exhaustively explored, there are still large tracts of quiet places where it is easy to slip off and relax, while still experiencing the unique northern culture.

Inhabited by colorful ethnic minority groups such as the Akha, Lisu, Hmong, Karen and Lahu, the mountainous North offers visitors endless opportunities to interact with these groups and learn of their traditional clothing, culture and language. Trekking to hill tribe villages is, for many, a highlight of a trip to Thailand.

Chiang Mai is the largest city in Northern Thailand and the region’s trekking centre, with dozens of travel operators here organizing one to three-day treks. Trekking agents typically take tourists to neighboring provinces to appreciate the scenic views and spend a night at a hill tribe village. Elephant riding is often included.

Other trekking bases include Chiang Rai, Mae Hong Son, Pai, Nan and Soppong, each of which is worth visiting in itself. The North also has an abundance of national parks with six individual parks in Nan province alone. For nature lovers, Northern Thailand can be a rewarding destination to spend time camping in the hinterland.

Adventure activities have become increasingly popular in Northern Thailand over the last decade with white water rafting, elephant riding and rock climbing available. Alternative pursuits are popular in Pai, which has developed into one of the North’s key destinations for hammock-resting and yoga.

For temples, Chiang Mai is perhaps the best city to visit yet most provincial capitals in the North have a selection of temples worth visiting. Not just for temple-hoppers, Chiang Mai is also a centre for cooking and Thai language schools.

Due to the mountainous landscape, the temperature in the north can get quite cool. The cold season runs from the end of November to late February, with the coldest months being December and January. During this time the average temperature is 30° C, but nights average around 14° C. Nights can however drop to around freezing in higher altitudes. The hot season runs from early March to late May with the heat in April being particularly unbearable. During this period the average temperature is 35° C. The rainy season is from early June to late October with an average temperature of 31° C. If you are there in September take your wellies, raincoat and possibly even a boat, as the term ‘wet’ is an understatement.

Boasting modern conveniences in its cities, Northern Thailand has good tourist infrastructure making it easy to explore. Despite drawing large tourist crowds, it is never difficult to get off the beaten path and out into the little explored wilderness.