Northern Thailand Travel
(Mountains, Valleys And River Plains)

Chiang Mai Province

While Northern Thailand is well known for its ancient cities and being  home to the ethnic hill tribes (or mountain peoples), it is the natural beauty of Mae Hong Son, Sukhothai (also known as the first city of Siam), Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai which makes northern Thailand such a great place to visit.  

While there are six geographical regions to explore within Thailand, the northern city of Chiang Mai really stands out.  This city which is located approximately 700 kilometre's northwest of Bangkok is the largest of its kind within the north.

With a cooler climate, stunning national parks, and a more relaxed lifestyle than is found elsewhere in Thailand, Chiang Mai is a popular alternative to the extreme heat and bustle of the tourist orientated central and southern provinces of Bangkok and Phuket.

I have visited Chiang Mai on a couple of occasions and I can recommend that it should be on your Thailand travel itinerary.

HISTORY

Founded back in 1296 by King Mengrai upon the site of an earlier city known as Wiang Nopburi, Chiang Mai has led a checked history being overtaken and occupied by the Burmese in 1556 and returned to Siam/Thailand later in 1775.

One of the most recognizable features of this ancient city are the remnants of the defensive wall (which was meant to protect the city from the Burmese) and moat which surrounded the city, both of which can still be seen today.

The city of Chiang Mai has been built upon the Mae Ping River basin and is therefore subject to flooding. Surrounded by a a number of mountain ranges that includes the Khun Tan, Daen Lao, and Thanon Thong, Chiang Mai feels more like a large country town rather than a modern city.

While much of this province is covered with grasslands and dense rainforests and a variety of flora and fauna, it also boasts the 2,565 metre high Doi Inthanon Mountain, which is the highest in Thailand.

ETHNIC HILL TRIBES

Chiang Mai, also known as the 'Rose of the North' because of its lovely setting on the Ping River is also home to several ethnically diverse hill tribe communities, including the Lahu, Karen (i.e. who are known for wearing metal spirals around their necks and legs) , Lisu, Akha, Hmong, and Mien who migrated into the Chiang Mai highlands in large numbers during the twentieth century.  Over 600,000 members of these ethnic groups are believed to live in this region.

These minority groups are believed to have originated from southern Tibet, central China, Laos and Burma; many of these arriving at the end of the Chinese Civil War in 1949.  These people once cultivated opium in the Golden Triangle. 

In 1959 the Thai government established the National Committee for the Hill Tribes which aimed to assist with their integration into the wider Thai community while also promoting the preservation of their individual cultures and customs.

Because of their unique cultures, many tourists are now visiting the northern regions to experience the lifeways of these these hill tribe groups.

With so much history and diversity of culture, it is easy to understand  why Chiang Mai is a favorite northern Thailand travel destination.  For more northern Thailand  travel advice continue to read on below.

GETTING THERE

The best way to experience northern Thailand travel including  Chiang Mai province is to travel by plane, bus, or train.  A number of domestic airlines including Nok Air and Thai Airways have daily flights to Chiang Mai's International Airport departing from Bangkok. Flight time is approximately 1 hour.

Air-conditioned buses depart daily from Bangkok's Northern Bus Terminal (at Mo Chit on Kamphaengphet 2 Road) and the journey takes approximately 11 hours.

Trains to Chiang Mai depart from Bangkok's Hualamphong Station daily with the journey taking approximately 12 hours.

Chiang Mai Night Safari (Northern Thailand Travel)

The Chiang Mai Night Safari is a fabulous activity for all ages to enjoy.  If traveling through a game park at night in an open vehicle and viewing some of the most dangerous predators in the world sounds appealing to you then this is one attraction you don't want to miss.

Located just 10 kilometres from Chiang Mai town centre within the foothills of the Doi Suthep-Pui National Park in northern Thailand, this night safari was officially opened back on the 6th of February, 2006.  Set out over a 200 acre site this world class national park contains a variety of animals from all over the globe and is open to the public both day and night, although I would recommend you visit at night (Click here to read more).

GETTING THERE

The Chiang Mai Night Safari is located off the Chiang Mai - Hang Dong Road (Road 121) and is located approximately 10 kilometres from Chiang Mai town.

The safari opens daily between the hours of 10 Am -11 PM. The cost of admission is 500 baht for adults and 300 baht for children.

There is also a Day Safari which is open daily between 3 PM and 4.30 PM.

Doi Suthep National Park and Temple (Northern Thailand Travel)

Another destination which should be on your northern Thailand travel itinerary is the Doi Suthep National Park.  Located just 15 kilometres from Chiang Mai city this national park has another interesting feature known as the Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep Temple.

A monumental stairway flanked by two seven headed Nagas (mythical creatures which are half human and half serpent) lead up to the grand temple complex.   The complex is located at an elevation of  1,053 metres on the Doi Pui hill.  It was constructed in the year of 1383 during the rein of King Keu Naone. Visitors can walk to the Buddhist Temple via a 300 step stairway which begins in the car park, or take a more relaxed cable car service.

The National Park itself which opened in 1981 (and was Thailand's 24th national park at that time) includes both the Doi Suthep Mountain which is composed of granite and rises to a peak of approximately 1,676 metres, and the Bhubing Palace (see below for more information).

With gentle cool breezes and views of Chiang Mai city on a clear day at the top of the Doi Suthep Mountain this is a wonderful destination for hikers and nature lovers alike who are visiting northern Thailand. The 261 square kilometres of landscape at Doi Suthep is vegetated with evergreen and deciduous forests, grasslands and a variety of shrubs and exotic flowers. The National Park is also home to a variety of fauna including 200 species of birds such as woodpeckers, and jungle fowl along with larger animals such as deer and monkey.

A number of the hill tribes also live within this area including the Lahus, Lisus, and Akhas and their villages can be accessed by a walking and mountain bike trail.

However, the crowning glory of this site would have to be the amazing Lanna-styled Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep Temple which has a beautiful golden chedi at the top of the structure and a five tier golden umbrella located at the side.

The Doi Suthep National Park and Temple are open daily and there is a 30 baht entrance fee to enter the Temple.

GETTING THERE

The best way to travel to this destination is by taking either a bus tour or public transport from Chiang Mai city.

Bhubing Palace (Northern Thailand Travel)

The Bhubing Palace located in northern Thailand is an interesting attraction to visit, especially if you are already visiting Chiang Mai.

This unique complex of buildings was built back in 1961 as a secondary residence for the Thai Royal family.  The palace is located within Thailand's beautiful Doi Suthep National Park, which is situated about 15 kilometres northwest of Chiang Mai city.

The complex of buildings including the main residence are said to have been designed and constructed using a style of Thai architecture known as Ruen Mu, meaning 'group of houses' (Click here to read more).

GETTING THERE

The palace is open to the public between 8.30 AM and 3.30 PM each day when the Thai royal family are not in residence. A strict dress code does apply to all people who wish to visit this site, so modest clothing should be worn by both men and women.  There is a 50 baht entrance fee for foreigners.

The best way to travel to Bhubing Palace is by taking either a bus tour or public transport from Chiang Mai city.

Doi Angkhang Nature Resort and Royal Agricultural Station (Northern Thailand Travel)

The Doi Angkhang Nature Resort is a beautiful mountain retreat for all nature lovers to visit.  Located within the Ban Fang district, this popular attraction which also incorporates a research station is only 160 kilometres from Chiang Mai city and is an enjoyable northern Thailand travel destination.

Forming a natural border between Thailand and Myanmar, the Angkhang Mountain rises to an elevation of around 1,400 metres above sea level thus providing breathtaking views of Burma from it's summit. This is a very mountainous area that includes steep valleys that are vegetated predominantly with forests and grasslands.


However, also located within this nature resort and established back in 1969 under the direction of King Bhumibol Adulyadej is the Royal Angkhang Research Station. Established as a botanical research facility the Research Station has become a site for the planting and monitoring of a variety of plants, shrubs, trees, flowers and vegetables (Click here to read more).

GETTING THERE

As there is no public transport to this destination the best way to travel to Doi Angkhang Nature Resort is by either taking a bus tour or hiring a driver from Chiang Mai city in northern Thailand.

Bo Sang Umbrella Village (Northern Thailand Travel)

Located just 9 kilometres east from Chiang Mai city in northern  Thailand is the Bo Sang Umbrella Village. This is a small village which traces its ancestry back to the ancient Lanna Kingdom and contains a number of local craft shops which produce a variety of hand made Thai handicrafts including the brightly coloured umbrella's and fans made from cotton and silk, and mulberry paper.

The Bo Sang (which apparently means umbrella) Village which has been involved in the manufacture of umbrella's for over two centuries has become a popular tourist destination for those wishing to view artisans engaged in the art of traditional umbrella making. The skills and knowledge of this industry have been handed down from one generation to the next, along with a number of other art/craft that are produced in the village including Thai silk and traditional lanterns.

Visitors can view and purchase (and barter with the shop owners) a variety of these hand made products and souvenirs from the local stores which line both sides of main street of the village.

The village really comes alive during the month of January of each year, when an annual festival is held along the main street. Apart from showcasing their umbrella industry the festival also includes a beauty pageant and other cultural performances, exhibitions and a number of live shows which are held during both the day and night.  This is a very unique northern Thailand travel destination.

GETTING THERE

The best way to travel to Bo Sang is by taking either a bus tour, or taxi from Chiang Mai city.

San Kamphaeng Hot Springs (Northern Thailand Travel)

The San Kamphaeng hot springs is another interesting northern Thailand travel destination which is located about 36 kilometres north of Chiang Mai city. Set within a lush 40 acre woodland and park environment with beautiful gardens the main site contains both a mineral water swimming pool and a number of mineral water bath houses with water temperatures reaching about 100 degrees Celsius. The water here is said to contain both a high sulphur content and restorative properties which are believed to be good for natural health.

Their is also chalet style accommodation, a picnic and camping area, a restaurant and Thai massage facility located here, so this site isn't only for tourists wishing to take advantage of the health benefits that are said to be associated with a dip in the hot mineral water pools.

GETTING THERE

The best way to travel to the San Kamphaeng hot springs which are open daily between the hours of 6 AM and 8 PM, is to take a bus from Chiang Mai to San Kamphaeng, and then take a songtaew from San kampaeng to the hot springs.   It costs around 200 Thai Baht. 

Alternatively, you could take a bus tour from Chiang Mai city. Admission to the hot springs is 40 baht for adults and 20 baht for children.

Kad Suen Kaew Shopping Mall (Northern Thailand Travel) 

Kad Suan Kaew (also called Central after the name of it's anchor department store), is the older of the two major shopping malls that are located in Chiang Mai city within northern Thailand. The newer of the two shopping malls is called Central Airport Plaza. I have been to Kad Suen Kaew a couple of times and have found the quality of the goods and services to be well priced and of a high quality.

While Kad Suan Kaew mall is a looking a little older now, make no mistake this is a excellent multilevel air-conditioned shopping mall and a great destination for shopaholics, or people who wish to escape the heat of the day for a few hours during their northern Thailand travel.

Well dressed doormen open the large glass doors at your arrival and once inside, the mall has just about everything you will need under the one roof including chemists, specialty shops (such as hairdressers), the Central department store, the Tops supermarket, and a number of restaurants including Pizza Hut, KFC, Swensens, Subway, and Sizzler. However, like most large malls of today Kad Suan Kaew also has a couple of food court that serve a variety of traditional Thai cuisine.

Besides the food outlets, this mall also includes a post office, IT city (where you can buy computers, mobile phones) a mini bowling alley, a fitness centre and a multiplex movie cinema called Vista which show the latest Hollywood and Thai films. There is also a large hotel called the Lotus Pang Suan Kaew which is incorporated within this complex. They also have a night market which is held outside the front of the complex (near Sizzler) on Friday nights.

GETTING THERE

Kad Suan Kaew mall is located at 21 Huay Kaew Road in Chiang Mai and is open daily between the hours of 10 AM and 9 PM. The best way to travel here is by taxi.

Chiang Mai Night Bazaar (Northern Thailand Travel)

If you are looking for something fun to do at night while visiting Chiang Mai you can't go past the Chiang Mai Night Bazaar or night market, especially if bargaining with shop owners over inexpensive goods within a busy market environment is your favorite way to shop.

Being one of the largest and most popular night markets within northern Thailand, this old fashioned market is located in the heart of the city centre, or to the east of the old city wall along a 1 kilometre stretch of Chang Klan Road.  I visited this market in 2009 after a long day touring around Chiang Mai so I was a little tired when I made it to the market around 8 PM.

The night market opens around dusk (or after about 6 PM) when venders set up their stalls along both sides of the road selling just about everything from CD's, t-shirts, jeans, leather belts, watches, shoes, jewelry, Thai handicrafts and handbags. The prices are very reasonable but remember to bargain hard as its all a part of this shopping experience. There are also a couple of arcades and a number of indoor shops so take your time and work your way from one end of the street to the other.

There is also a fantastic food court with a number of eateries so you can sit down and enjoy your dinner after choosing from a wide variety of traditional Thai food. Alternatively, you can choose to eat at a number of western restaurants including Daddy's Pizza and Steakhouse, Mcdonalds, Burger King and Starbucks cafe. Street food venders are also here in number as are several local pubs so it's easy to combine dinner and shopping at this venue.  This market is worth a visit as part of your northern Thailand travel. 

GETTING THERE

Being located within the heart of Chiang Mai you can either take a tuk tuk or walk and just follow the crowds to get there.

Chiang Mai Walking Street (Sunday Market) (Northern Thailand Travel)

Another popular activity on Sundays within the heart of Chiang Mai is the walking street or Sunday market. Held every Sunday between the hours of 4 PM and midnight the market extends primarily from the Tha Phae Gate (i.e. the eastern gate within the old city wall) down Ratchadamnoen and Pra Singh Roads which are both closed to traffic.

After dark is when the market gets extremely busy so it is best to arrive early if possible as this 1 kilometre stretch of road with its street lined stalls, peddlers, tourists and locals seems a lot longer when you are working your way through the crowds.

All the usual products that you would expect to find at a street market are here including CD's and pirated DVD's, t-shirts, leather goods including belts, ray Ban sunglasses, handbags and shoes, jewelry, Thai silk (i.e. ties and bags etc) plus lots of different Thai food, drinks and snacks.

GETTING THERE

The best way to travel here is by tuk tuk or by walking.

Chiang Rai Province (Northern Thailand)

I recommend a visit to the Chiang Rai province as part of anyone's northern Thailand travel plans due to it's unique history; being situated near the infamous "golden triangle".  Indeed, this area (where the borders of Myanmar and Laos join Thailand) has a well known history as a drug cultivation and smuggling area that supplied much of the western world with illegal narcotics.

During 2004, Thailand under the Thaksin Shinawatra government, undertook a very public crackdown on illegal drugs which resulted in the death of around 2,000 criminals and the drug trade at least on the Thai side of the border is said to have been drastically reduced. As with Chiang Mai, this province is also home to Thailand's hill tribes including the Hmong people.  I visited this area in 2011 and was impressed with the natural beauty and relaxed atmosphere which you don't always feel while visiting the more busier parts of Thailand.

Today Chiang Rai is both a safe and beautiful tourist destination with its geography defined by mountains, valleys and river plains, and a cooler climate than southern Thailand.

The natural beauty that encompasses this region makes Chiang Rai a fantastic alternative to the busy Bangkok or the tourist dominated beach destinations such as Phuket. See below a list of the best places to visit in Chiang Rai.

GETTING THERE

The best way to experience northern Thailand travel including Chiang Rai province is to travel there by plane or bus.  A number of domestic airlines including Nok Air and Thai Airways have daily flights to Chiang Rai departing from Bangkok. Flight time is approximately 1.15 hours.

Air-conditioned buses depart daily from Bangkok's Northern Bus Terminal (at Mo Chit on Kamphaengphet 2 Road) and the journey takes approximately 11 hours.

Phu Chi Fa Forest Park (Northern Thailand Travel)

For tourists who wish to see the great outdoors while visiting the northern region of Thailand Phu Chi Fa Forest Park provides a fantastic nature experience. The Forest Park which lies along the Thai and Laos border within the Pa Mae Ing and Pa Mae Ngao National Forest Reserve was officially created by the Royal Forest Reserve on February 6 1998, and is said to be home to some of the Hmong hill tribe people.

While located approximately 110 kilometres from Chiang Rai city, this northern Thailand travel destination takes approximately 3 hours to reach due to winding roads and mountainous terrain, but despite this the views along the way are great.

Phu Chi Fa Forest Park is known by tourists as being both a quiet and peaceful place to visit with the summit providing spectacular views over the Mekong River into Laos. This is a popular destination for those wishing to engage in camping, hiking, mountain bike riding and birdwatching. During the morning the region can be covered in a blanket of mist, and during the daytime cool gentle breezes make sightseeing a more pleasant experience. Accommodation is available for those who wish to stay the night but don't want to camp.

With mountains ranging in size from 1,200 to 1,628 metres and vegetated primarily with forests (including cinnamon and plum trees) and grasslands with a variety of wild flowers, this region is also home to a variety of fauna (including deer, squirrels, tigers, junglefowl, wild pig and bats).

GETTING THERE

The best way to travel to Phu Chi Fa Forest Park in northern Thailand is either by car or public transport. Buses (i.e. number 677) depart Chiang Rai daily at 12.30 PM from the bus terminal and arrive after 4 PM.

Chiang Rai Night Bazaar (Northern Thailand Travel)

My wife and I visited the Chiang Rai Night Bazaar in 2011 as part of our northern Thailand travel itinerary.  Unlike similar night markets in Chiang Mai and Bangkok, a visit to the Chiang Rai Night Bazaar feels more like a pleasant evening stroll as the environment tends to feel a little more laid back and relaxed. I found this to be one of the best places to visit during the night while staying in Chiang Rai.

This night market offers similar products to those found at other Thai markets thus t-shirts, jeans, dresses, silk products (including dresses and ties), handicrafts, watches, bracelets (and other jewelry), Channel handbags (i.e. copies) traditional hand made bags (i.e. by the local Hmong hill tribe), shoes and DVD's are all for sale. Bartering is totally accepted while shopping here.

Delightful smells of food being cooked are a constant reminder of the Thai cuisine which is also available here. Apart from the local street food vendors selling their grilled pork and sticky rice, there are at least two large open air food courts where you can sit down and enjoy a variety of Thai cuisine while listening to local bands perform live on stage singing in both Thai and English. Other live performances include traditional northern Thai dancing.

Foot massage and nail painting facilities were also available on the night we attended and my wife had her hand nails painted with a lovely design for about 90 baht.

The Chiang Rai Night Bazaar is open daily from about 6 PM until midnight and is located off Phaholyothin Road.  Make sure you add this market to your northern Thailand travel plans.

GETTING THERE

The best way to travel to this northern Thailand travel destination which is located within the centre of town is to either walk or take a tuk tuk to get there.

Wat Rong Khun Temple (Northern Thailand Travel)

One of the most popular and beautiful temples in Chiang Rai and within northern Thailand is the Wat Rong Khun or White Temple which is located approximately 13 kilometres southwest of Chiang Rai city. As construction work only began back in 1997 this Buddhist structure has gained popularity not because of its antiquity (as is the case with many ancient Thai temples), but due to it's unique and modern, almost fairytale design.

This ornate White Temple was designed by local Chiang Rai artist Chalermchai Khositpipat (see image below), who was born in 1955 and attended Silpakorn University graduating in 1978 with a Bachelor's Degree in fine arts. Although primarily a painter, Chalermchai's work has become world renowned especially for his use of Buddhist imagery, with Thailand's King Bhumibol Adulyadej (Rama IX) also being a client.

At the White Temple Chalermchai's imagery is on display everywhere from the the 'pit of hell' over which you must cross via a bridge to enter the White Temple, to the mural of Buddha and gold covered restroom found inside. While work at this site is ongoing (i.e. there are a number of buildings designed but yet to be built), the main structure and the immaculately kept grounds (including water features) that surround, look as though they have been imprinted upon the landscape for centuries, which I guess is all part of the allure of this site.

Admission to this site is free but as it is a temple you must show respect as you would at all Buddhist temples in Thailand by removing your shoes and being dressed appropriately.

GETTING THERE

If you are visiting Chiang Rai city the best way to travel to the White Temple (which is open daily) is by bus or taxi.   This attraction is well worth adding to your northern Thailand travel list.

Doi Tung Royal Flower Garden and Doi Tung Palace (Northern Thailand Travel)

Another popular destination for both Thai and foreign tourists visiting Chiang Rai is the Doi Tung Royal Flower Garden and Doi Tung Palace which are situated adjacent to the 1,389 metre Doi Tung Mountain within the Mae Fa Luang district.

With its cooler climate, this site is located over 90 kilometres north of Chiang Rai city within northern Thailand and is basically a botanical park which also houses the Thai Royal summer Palace. The Palace was built back in 1990 for the Late princess mother (i.e. mother of the King of Thailand, Bhumibol Adulyadej) who died in 1995.

Construction on this Royal Palace is said to have commenced in 1987 under the direction of the Late princess mother and incorporated both Thai and Swiss design influences, as she previously lived in Switzerland for a number of years.

Also built alongside the Royal Palace at an elevation of approximately 950 metres are the Mae Fah Luang Gardens (i.e. Royal Flower Garden) that contain a variety of colourful plants, shrubs and flowers including at least 70 species of cool climate flowering plants.

This Mae Fah Luang Gardens are said to be the most beautiful in all of Thailand and along with the Palace, were said to have been designed and built at this location in order for the Late princess mother to encourage the local Akher and Muser hill tribe communities to cease cultivating illegal opium crops. This site is open daily between the hours of 7 AM and 5 PM and is well worth adding to your northern Thailand travel itinerary.  

GETTING THERE

The best way to travel to Doi Tung Royal Flower Garden and Doi Tung Palace in northern Thailand is by bus or to hire a driver/taxi from Chiang Rai city.

Doi Mae Salong (Santikhiri) (Northern Thailand Travel)

One of the best places to incorporate within your northern Thailand travel plans is Doi Mae Salong (also known as Santikhiri). This is a beautiful mountain retreat that is located within the northwest of northern Thailand. This area is well known as being the place where the former Kuomintang (KMT) 93rd regiment (under Chinese General Tuan Shi-wen) settled after fleeing China during the reign of communist leader Mao Zedong in 1949, and then Myanmar in 1961.

The town of Mae Salong with its misty mornings, and cool temperatures is also home to a number of ethnic hill tribe communities (including the Akha and Lisu). This is one of the most isolated area's within the northern region of Thailand and was previously marred by years of violence by a number of drug lords who sought control over the lucrative opium drug trade.

The Thai government worked tirelessly to stop opium production by introducing a variety of crop substitution programs including both tea and coffee, corn and fruit crops (i.e. peaches and lychees) which are established over the entire country side along with cherry blossoms.

The area is said to have become subdued in 1982, when the Thai Government bestowed citizenship upon the remnants of the 4,000 Kuomintang soldiers (as a reward for years of service in helping to rid Thailand of communist insurgent groups), and due to the crop substitution programs, noted above.

Today Mae Salong (which is located about 80 kilometres from Chiang Rai city within the Mae Fah Luang district) is both a safe and peaceful northern Thailand travel destination.  After 1982, a 36 kilometre road network was built from Basang, making the transportation of goods and people into Mae Salong much easier.

The area has become a popular northern Thailand travel destination due to its natural beauty, the cooler climate and the unique culture which has been influenced by the Chinese-ethnic groups who reside here. This is reflected by the various handicrafts, Chinese influenced temples and shops which sell a variety of locally grown teas and preserved fruits.

GETTING THERE

The best way to experience northern Thailand travel to Mae Salong  is to catch a bus or to hire a driver/taxi from Chiang Rai.

Central Plaza Mall (Northern Thailand Travel)

First opened in March 2011, the building of the Central Plaza Mall in Chiang Rai is an indication that this city, located within northern  Thailand is growing up. I visited Central Plaza Mall in 2011 and really liked it although it doesn't compare in size to the larger malls located in Bangkok. However, if you are planning on spending a quiet day in Chiang Rai then add this plaza to your northern Thailand travel plans as it is worth a visit.

Advertised as the best lifestyle centre in northern Thailand and utilising Lanna inspired architecture, this new air-conditioned 4 level shopping mall contains almost everything for shopaholics with over 280 retail shops including Powerbuy (electronic goods), Supersports (sporting goods), Tops supermarket and Robinson department store.

Central Plaza Mall also caters for health and beauty, fashion, banking and IT services. For those who just wish to escape the outside world for a couple of hours the complex also contains Thailand's Major Cineplex movie theatre (with 5 cinema's) showing the latest movies in both Thai and English. Movie tickets range between 120-140 baht per person.

Once you start feeling hungry you will be pleased to know that Central Plaza also has over 30 restaurants and cafe's including the popular food outlets that you tend to expect within large Thai shopping malls such as McDonald's and Starbucks and of course a 900 seat food court.

There is also a Playland and Games centre for children located within the complex, which provides the latest arcade games and entertainment for the youth.

Central Plaza Mall is located within the heart of Chiang Rai within  northern Thailand at 99/9 Moo 13, Rop Wiang, Mueang district, Chiang Rai 57000. The Plaza opens daily between the hours of 11 AM and 9 PM Monday to Friday, and between the hours of 10 AM and 10 PM on Saturday and Sunday.  If you plan on conducting northern Thailand travel then don't overlook this plaza if you are in Chiang Rai. 

GETTING THERE

The best way to travel to Central Plaza Mall is by taxi.

Mae Hong Son Province (Northern Thailand)

One of the most beautiful northern Thailand travel destinations can be found in the Mae Hong Son province.  Being situated within a deep valley in one of the most mountainous parts of Thailand's northern region, it is little wonder that Mae Hong Son is also one of the most isolated and pretty of all Thai cities.

Nestled between the Shan Hills mountain range in Thailand's far north, this province was once considered a sleepy backwater, due to its village like feel and remoteness. The origins of Mae Hong Son are somewhat sketchy despite the existence of archaeological remains but in 1874 during the rein of Rama V the village was upgraded to a city with its own governor. Indeed, most of the old buildings that exist today are said to date from this period.

With a landscape that is often covered by a blanket of mist this is definitely a destination for tourists seeking to experience a part of Thailand that was isolated from the world until quite recently. If hot beaches and large crowds are not for you, Mae Hong Son province is worth a visit. I have listed my best places in this province below.

GETTING THERE

The best way to experience northern Thailand travel to Mae Hong Son is by taking a bus from Chiang Mai city or catching a plane as this province does have an airport.  Once in Mae Hong Son the best way to get around is by tuk tuk, motorcycle taxi, and walking.

Pai (Northern Thailand Travel)

Pai is a small sleepy town located within the Mae Hong Son province and has in recent years become a popular northern Thailand travel destination. Being located close to the Myanmar/Burmese border and only 80 kilometres to the north of Chiang Mai city, Pai has a local population of around 3,000 people.  Known as a sleepy town with a relaxed atmosphere, this area has become a popular tourist destination for Thai people since 2006, after the release of a couple of Thai romance films.

With a history as a small market town and being situated within the middle of a green valley, the town also provides access to some great sites including the Pai Hot Springs (located about 7 kilometres out of town), a number of waterfalls (including Pam Bok and Mae Ya), Pai Canyon, and the lazy Pai River. This really is one of the best places to visit within northern Thailand being a great destination for people seeking a quiet getaway.

While the town was affected by a bad flood and mud slide back in 2005 it quickly recovered. Since then Pai has been experiencing a period of growth and now contains a small airport, several 7 Eleven stores, bars with live music, disco's, souvenir shops and several tourist resorts. You can get around Pai by either walking, bicycle, and motorcycle.

The local Pai residents are comprised primarily of Thai, Shan and Muslim backgrounds. The Shan people have a particularly strong heritage to Pai as this area has a Shan history which dates back over 800 years (when the former city of Ban Wiang was founded in the year 1251 by Shan immigrants about 3 kilometres from present town of Pai).


Pai is also a town which is used by tourists as a stepping stone to travel further into the surrounding hills (including the Huai Nam Dang National Park) to visit the ethnic hill tribes including the Karen, Lahu, Lisu and Hmong people (See below Huai Nam Dang National Park).

GETTING THERE

The best way to travel to the northern Thailand travel destination of Pai is to take a bus from Chiang Mai.  Alternatively, you can travel to Pai by plane as the town also has an airport.

Nok Air Kan Airlines have flights to Pai on a regular basis with air fares averaging around 2,000 baht each way.

PAI MEMORIAL BRIDGE (Northern Thailand Travel)

Pai also contains some popular attractions including the Pai Memorial Bridge which is located about 9 kilometres from the town centre traveling along highway 1095. It is said to have been built by the Japanese in 1942 (i.e. during WW2) when Japanese forces were in occupation of Thailand, with the bridge serving to assist the Japanese transportation route from Chiang Mai to Burma (see picture down below). The bridge looks almost identical to the famous Bridge on  the River Kwai located within the Kanchanburi province within western  Thailand.

PAI HOT SPRINGS (Northern Thailand Travel)

The Pai Hot Springs which are located about 7 kilometres southeast from town are a great place to visit while in Pai. The best time is during the morning as the springs have an average temperature of about 80 degrees centigrade. There are a number of both private spa's and public bathtubs at the site for visitors to enjoy the therapeutic properties of the water and it is also possible to bathe within the stream itself.  Camping at this site is also available although I have not camped there myself.

GETTING THERE

There is a paved road direct from town to the hot springs so it is easy to travel here by taxi etc.

Pang Ung (Northern Thailand Travel)

Located approximately 44 kilometres from Mae Hong Son, is one of the quieter northern Thailand travel destinations, known as the village of Pang Ung (or Ruam). Pang Ung is a beautiful little village with traditional bamboo style homes and a landscape defined by mountains covered by vast pine forests and a picturesque lake. Its Shan minority inhabitants live a simple village life within this region which is characterised by early morning fog and cool mountain breezes.

This village which now receives over 100,000 visitors a year was once the location of a number of opium plantations that were operated by the local hill tribes. Consequently, the natural environment had undergone severe deforestation, however, under the Royal Forest Project (overseen by Queen Sirikit) the area has undergone a transformation including the planting of flower and herb farms, and pine trees that surround the large water reservoir that is home to a number of black swans.

In fact, Pang Ung is probably the most beautiful northern Thailand travel destination, having been dubbed "Switzerland in Thailand" as temperatures can fall below zero during the cool season (i.e. December to February). This village is a perfect holiday retreat for people seeking a relaxed and natural environment in which to engage in activities that include hiking, jogging and camping, raft riding, cycling and nature watching.

The village also includes a walking path to the popular Nam Yot Cliff, flower and shrub gardens on display at Pang Ung Park, and a number of flower and fruit farms to visit within the area.

GETTING THERE

The best way to experience northern Thailand travel to Pang Ung is to take a bus from Mae Hong Son town market which depart daily at 9 AM and 3 PM with the trip taking about 2.5 hours. There are also several guesthouses located at Pang Ung for people who wish to stay overnight and visit for longer periods.

Huai Nam Dang National Park (Northern Thailand Travel)

Declared as Thailand's 81st national park back in 1995, Huai Nam Dang National Park covers a large area of some 1,247 square kilometres, and lies within 4 separate districts of 2 province; being Chiang Mai and Mae Hong Son (including Pai district). Although this park contains a great deal of natural beauty with it's steep rugged mountain peaks blanketed with early morning mist, the area was apparently gazetted as National Park in order to preserve it from the effects of deforestation which had occurred due to the large scale cultivation of opium by the hill tribe communities.

Today, the area appears to be recovering well as noted at locations such as Pang Ung (noted above) where opium cultivation has been replaced by flowers, fruits and herbs and pine plantations. For visitors though, this park is excellent for those wishing to bask in nature enjoying both the flora and fauna and scenic views that are on offer. Hiking, camping and mountain bike riding are the more popular activities conducted within the park.

The entrance to the Huai Nam Dang National Park is about a 40 minute drive from Pai town centre. Within the park there are at least four guesthouses (which each sleep 6 people) and a number of camping sites available but you must have your own tent and food.

One of the other reasons why tourists visit the park is to gain access to the hill tribe people including the Lisu (as seen in the picture below).

Hence Huai Nam Dang National Park is an ideal day trip for people who are vacationing at either the town of Pai or Chiang Mai within northern  Thailand.

GETTING THERE

The best way to get there is by tour bus Chiang Mai.

Wat Phra That Doi Kong Mu (Northern Thailand Travel)

Located within the city of Mae Hong Son in northern Thailand, the beautiful Wat Phra That Doi Kong Mu is said to be the oldest landmark within this province and provides a scenic vantage point over Mae Hong Son city.

Built atop of Kong Mu hill, to the west of the city, the white coloured Wat Phra That Doi Kong Mu (which was originally named Wat Plai Doi) is a Buddhist temple that is defined by it's two Burmese-styled chedi. The larger chedi was built in 1860 and is said to contain the ashes of Phra Moggalana (who was a Shan monk and disciple of Buddha).

The second chedi which was built in 1874 is said to contain the ashes of Mae Hong Son's first governor (i.e. Phraya Singhanat Raja) who oversaw the construction of this second stage of the temple.

Located behind the two chedi is a large courtyard which is called the "Viharn" and which contains the main altar. This is an area where you can either pray or reflect upon the site.

GETTING THERE

This is a well known landmark and the easiest way to get there once you are in Mae Hong Son is to walk, get a motorcycle taxi or tuk tuk.

Sukhothai Province (Northern Thailand)

Located approximately 427 kilometres north of Bangkok within northern Thailand, is the quiet rural town of Sukhothai (which means "the Dawn of Happiness"). This province which is perhaps less well known and visited than other northern cities, is said to have been the cradle of Thai civilisation (being the birthplace of Thai architecture, art and language). Sukhothai has a rich cultural heritage dating back to the 13th Century and is also known as being the first city of Siam.

The former Kingdom of Sukhothai included a vast territory that included the Ping, Moei, lower Yom, Nan, and upper Pa Sak River systems, and was situated between the Pagan Kingdom to the west and the Khmer Kingdom to the east. Historians tend to agree that the succession of this area from the Khmer empire occurred around 1180 AD.

The Sukhothai kingdom reached its peak during the reign of Pho Khun Ramkamhaeng around 1275 AD when the influence of this kingdom stretched to Laos and the Malay Peninsular. According to a discovered stone inscription, this revered Thai king is credited to have united the people under a single Buddhist religion and created the first Thai alphabet.

Today, this province is best known for its treasure trove of ancient ruins that are dispersed across the landscape; some of the well preserved ruins are still quite spectacular. If you are interested in history and ancient ruins and material culture then Sukhothai province should be on your list of places to visit within Thailand.

The new Sukhothai is a modern town that has has most things that the tourist will require including a Big C shopping centre (which opened in 2008), 7 Eleven stores, massage shops, outdoor markets, street side dining options, bars with live music and hotels. Sukhothai is also well known for its pottery which has continued to be have been produced since the Sukhothia period. The town suffered flooding during September 2012 as did a number of other provinces within northern  Thailand. However, Sukhothai province is one of the best places you can visit in northern Thailand.

GETTING THERE

The easiest way to travel to Sukhothai is by bus. Buses depart from Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai daily.

Sukhothai Historical Park (Northern Thailand Travel)

The Sukhothai Historical Park which is located approximately 8 kilometres from modern Sukhothai, is a World Heritage listed site which includes a 70 square kilometre area that covers the ancient city of Sukhothai. An ancient city wall in the shape of a rectangle and measuring 2 kilometres by 1.6 kilometres surrounds an ancient royal palace and 26 temples.

Sukhothai Historical Park which opened in 1991 also includes the former towns Satchanalai and Kamphaeng Phet, and when combined, they contain a total of 193 ancient ruins along with Buddha sculptures, inscription stones and other art objects.

Within the historical park there are a number of temples and monuments that of significance including 21 within the old city walls and a further 70 outside the walls but within close proximity.

Wat Mahathat is said to be the largest and most spectacular of the ancient ruins and contains numerous chedi and a 12 metre tall standing Buddha. This is the site where Thai King Mongkut (Rama IV) first re-discovered the stone inscription of Pho Khun Ramkamhaeng.

The historical park is divided into five zones, central, north, south, east, and west and there are bicycles or a tram to transport people between zones. The Sukhothai Historical Park is open daily to the public between 8.30 AM and 4 PM.

GETTING THERE

The easiest way to travel to Sukhothai Historical Park from the town is by taking a songtaew. The fare is approximately 10 baht.

Si Satchanalai-Chaliang Historical Park (Northern Thailand Travel)

Located approximately 60 kilometres north of the town of Sukhothai, the Si Satchanalai-Chaliang Historical Park is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Set amongst forested hills, the 13th and 14th century ruins are comprised of over 204 temples and other monuments. These ruins cover an area of approximately 45 square kilometres and the Historical Park is divided into two main area's, Si Satchanalai and Chaliang.

Si Satchanalai ruins are located approximately 10 kilometres south of the new town of Si Satchanalai along the Ping River. The ruins found here date from the Khmer, Mon and Thai periods with the most impressive structure being Wat Chang Lom which is recognisable by its bell shaped tower and by incorporating elephant statues within its surrounding structural base.

Si Satchanalai is said to have been a major producer and exporter of glazed pottery across Asia, and various kilns are still on display today.

Another interesting temple at this site is Wat Khao Phanom Phloeng which features a large sitting Buddha statue.

Located within the Chaliang area are the oldest ruins of the Si Satchanalai-Chaliang Historical Park, and indicate architectural influences from the Mon, Khmer and Thai periods.

The most spectacular feature is the large temple known as Wat Phra Prang. This ancient royal temple complex which boasts a huge spire and includes a stairway leading to a small shrine is located outside of the ancient city walls.

GETTING THERE

The best way to travel to Si Satchanalai-Chaliang Historical Park is by hire car or bus tour. Traveling from Sukhothai take highway 101 north to Sawankhalok and follow the signs. The closest railway station is located in the town of Phitsanulok (located east of Sukhothai).

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