Unique from the rest of Thailand both culturally and linguistically, Northern Thailand is a diverse region that has been a tourist hotspot since the 1970s.

Explore: Chiang MaiChiang RaiMae Hong SonMae SaiNakhon SawanNanPaiPhitsanulokSukhothai

  • Chiang Mai: The largest city in the north, known for its old-city temples.
  • Chiang Rai: The access point for the Golden Triangle.
  • Mae Hong Son: A picturesque little town with lush valleys.
  • Mae Sai: Northernmost city in Thailand and border crossing town to Burma.
  • Nakhon Sawan: One of the regions larger cities.
  • Nan: Former capital of a small kingdom, filled with history and temples, and surrounded by mountains.
  • Pai: A laid-back backpacker atmosphere and a good starting point for trekking tours.
  • Phitsanulok: A favorite overnight stop between Bangkok and Chiang Mai and gateway to Sukhothai historical park.
  • Sukhothai: Thailand’s ‘original’ capital, now famed for its ancient ruins.

The cooler climate of mountainous Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai Provinces and the ethnic diversity of the area established it as a favorite trekking area, with the capital cities of the aforementioned provinces providing charming launching points for excursions into more remote provinces, including the popular Mae Hong Son Province.

Northern Thailand is a region on immense historical importance, as the first Thai kingdoms, including Lan Na (Lanna) were established here. There are hundreds of fascinating ancient ruins spread across the region that can be appreciated while sampling traditional Thai culture, and looking for exotic wildlife in some of Thailand’s most pristine forests.

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 center, 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, though the quality of such treks and the treatment they provide their elephants varies greatly -an unfortunate consequence of the popularity of the pasttime.

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 among the activities available. Alternative pursuits are popular in Pai, which has developed into one of the North’s key destinations for hammock-resting, leisurely bike rides, 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, Thai language, and traditional Thai massage schools.

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


Top Cities

  • Chiang Mai: A cultural hub in northern Thailand, famous for its ancient temples, vibrant night markets, and mountainous surroundings.
  • Chiang Rai: Known for the striking White Temple (Wat Rong Khun) and its rich Lanna heritage.
  • Mae Hong Son: A serene town surrounded by misty mountains, known for its hill tribe cultures and picturesque landscapes.
  • Mae Sai: The northernmost town in Thailand, popular for its bustling border market with Myanmar.
  • Nakhon Sawan: Often called the “Gateway to the North,” known for its scenic rivers and the beautiful Bueng Boraphet.
  • Nan: A charming town with a rich history, stunning temples, and a laid-back atmosphere.
  • Pai: A bohemian village in the mountains, famous for its natural hot springs, waterfalls, and relaxed vibe.
  • Phitsanulok: Known for Wat Phra Si Rattana Mahathat, home to one of Thailand’s most revered Buddha images.
  • Sukhothai: Famous for the Sukhothai Historical Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site showcasing the ruins of the ancient Thai capital.

National Parks

  • Doi Inthanon National Park: Host to Thailand’s highest mountain.
  • Doi Suthep-Pui National Park: Countless waterfalls and home to one of the country’s most sacred temples.
  • Doi Khuntan National park: Forests, wildlife, and the longest rail tunnel in the country.
  • Ob Luang National Park: Best known for its interesting rock formations.
  • Huai Nam Dung National Park: Warm up at Bong Duat hot spring.
  • Doi Luang National Park: Waterfalls and mountains dominate this scenic park.
  • Doi Ang Khang: Mountain resort northwest of Chiang Mai.
  • Doi Tung: Royal villas and a mountaintop temple with stunning views and (so they say) the Buddha’s collarbone.
  • Golden Triangle: A bit of a tourist trap, but the opium museums are worth a visit.
  • Mae Sai: Thailand’s northernmost town, daytrips to Burma.
  • Mae Salong: Founded by Chinese Nationalists who fled their homeland after defeat.
  • Thaton: Small village with good guesthouses.

Destinations

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  • Worth it?: Definitely, especially for those who enjoy temple hopping, visiting hill tribes and jungle trekking. [delete?]
  • What to do: Temple hopping, visiting remote hill tribe villages, jungle trekking on the back of an elephant, river rafting, shopping at night markets.
  • Best time to go: November until February is blessed with cool, dry weather and is when the region receives the largest number of visitors.
  • How long?: At least five days and nights are needed for those who plan to go trekking.
  • Trivia: Northern Thailand is surrounded by the tallest mountains in Thailand, including Doi Inthanon, Doi Pha Luang and Doi Ang Khang.

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