Northern Thailand

It begins with an easing of the dusty, overwhelming heat of the plains. Limestone hills draped with calming verdant forest, roads and rivers twisting into endless switchbacks. The air seems cleaner, the people and pace gentler. After the raucous intensity of most of the rest of Thailand, the north feels like another country; factor in the diverse array of the tribal hill peoples, and in many respects it is.

The north wasn't incorporated into the Thai nation until the beginning of the 20th century. For centuries local lords held sway over shifting principalities, the most significant being centred on Chiang Mai. This city remains the largest in the north, and a magnet for thousands of tourists. With its walled centre, serene and ancient temples, bustling markets and excellent accommodation it's easy to understand why.

Travel to the west of Chiang Mai and you'll find beautiful Mae Hong Son, encircled by hills and often cloaked in mist. En route take in Pai; set in a stunning location this is a travellers' hang-out with all the banana pancakes you could ever consume. Head upcountry and you'll reach the venerable city of Chiang Rai, an important trekking centre. Most of its history has been lost but Chiang Rai is still a friendly and proud place. Further north is Mae Sai, which offers the opportunity for excursions into Burma, while Chiang Khong, on the Mekong, is a crossing point into Laos. To the northeast is Chiang Saen, an early 14th-century fortified
(walled city) and the infamous Golden Triangle, where Laos, Burma and Thailand meet. Finally, some of Thailand's most beautiful and peaceful monasteries are found in the north. Wat Phra Singh in Chiang Mai, Wat Phumin in Nan and, perhaps the finest of them, Wat Phra That Lampang Luang, in Lampang, is an extraordinary display of temple craft.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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Chiang Mai & Northern Thailand Focus Guide

Roam ancient ruins, immerse yourself in the serene monasteries of Chiang Mai, or trek into the...
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