Thailand is a vast country visited by over 16,000,000 tourists each year. I think so many people are still visiting Thailand because it offers travellers a wonderfully diverse experience whilst remaining excellent value for money. The North of the country contrasts greatly to the central and southern part, from climate to cuisine and from landscapes to culture.
Fresh off the plane I arrived into Chiang Mai, Thailand’s second largest city. My first point of call was the bustling ‘Night Bazaar’- one of the city’s main evening attractions and the modern legacy of the original Yunnanese trading caravans that stopped here along the ancient trade route between Simao (China) and Mawlamyaing (on Myanmar’s Gulf of Martaban coast). Today the night bazaar is a small village of handicraft stalls, souvenirs and a great place to taste some of the local street food!
Photo credit: 501Room
By day we explored the moated quarter, filled with spectacular temples built by the Lanna Kings who formerly ruled the North. On the outskirts of the city and perhaps the most sacred temple of all is the incredible Wat Doi Suthep – perched on a forested mountain, offering superb views over Chiang Mai. The temple was actually built as a Buddhist monastery in 1383 and is still a working monastery today. The architecture, statues, murals and shrines seen here are nothing short of breath-taking.
Outside of the city, Chiang Mai is perhaps best known for its beautiful mountainous scenery, hill tribes and adventure – all of which are easily accessible by day trip from the city. It’s easy to fill up days in the North with active pursuits including trekking or cycling through countryside and hill tribe regions, visits to local elephant camps, kayaking or even ‘flight of the Gibbon’ where you explore 1,500 year old rainforest from a bird’s eye view along a 5km zip line!
After my few days in Chiang Mai were up, I continued to Chiang Rai which took around 3 hours by road. En Route we stopped off at Wat Rongkun also known as the white temple. While most temples visited by tourists have a history going back many centuries, this extraordinary place of worship was built only recently. It is the realization of a dream for Thai noted artist Chalermchai Kositpipat, who designed and is supervising the construction of this beautiful temple and its many statues of figures based on religious beliefs – the detail is simply unbelievable!
Upon reaching Chiang Rai we passed through the city and continued onto the infamous Golden Triangle.
The Golden Triangle is where the three countries border; Thailand, Laos and Myanmar (Burma) and also where the Ruak and mighty Mekong rivers join. This area boasts outstanding natural beauty with its dense rainforest, remote villages, rice paddy fields and spectacular mountain scenery. It’s a simply remarkable part of the country and offers an escape from mainstream tourism.
During my time in the Golden Triangle, I was very privileged to spend a night at the Anantara Golden Triangle Elephant Camp and Spa. The property is set in the most heavenly and peaceful location, perched on a ridge overlooking the hills of Thailand, Myanmar and Laos. The camp operates on a full board basis – all meals and a daily activity is included. The signature experience is the ‘Mahout Training’ which takes place at the nearby Elephant Camp.
During the ‘training’ you can get up close and personal with these amazing creatures and learn the basic commands of being a Mahout. It was one of the most incredible things I have done in a long time and entirely different to any other elephant experience that I have done elsewhere in Asia.
Other activities on offer at the camp are the rich cultural discovery trip to the Golden Triangle with private car and guide, Spa Package or an interactive cooking class. The nearby Opium museum is also certainly worth a visit – it was set up by the Mae Fah Luang foundation to present the history of the Opium wars and impact of illegal drugs on the region.
For trekking or biking enthusiasts we can put together longer itineraries, where it’s possible to venture into even more remote parts of Northern Thailand to experience first-hand the stunning landscapes, local villages, ethnic minority hill tribes, excellent cuisine and the Huay Nam Dang National Park.
Photo Credit: Anna Jedynak
Northern Thailand can of course be simply combined with an array of extensions within Thailand or the neighbouring countries, whether it be the beaches of the South, Bangkok, Cambodia or Laos to name but a few. A popular option for World Odyssey guests is the Luang Say cruise which is a relaxing 2 day journey along the Mekong River, from Chiang Rai to Luang Prabang in Laos or vice versa . Read more about Phil’s experience on the Luang Say cruise here: read our blog