North Thailand consists of 17 provinces and covers an area of approximately 170,000 km2.
The most northerly point is Mae Sai, where the borders of Thailand, Laos and Burma meet, better known as the 'Golden Triangle'. The north is home to the oldest Thai civilisation. A good example is Sukotai, the “Ancient City”, with its sublime temples and monuments, which have been carefully restored, and are on show in the Sukotai Historical Park.
A large part of the northern landscape is mountainous and covered with dense wooded areas.
Mountain ranges run from the north to the south of Northern Thailand. For a long time past forestry has been an important source of income. Nowadays, elephants are still being used to help with the timber because of their enormous strength. To ensure that there will be sufficient new timber in the future the Thai government has initiated several forestation projects to ensure re-generation.
A number of rivers, amongst which the Mekong, irrigate the most beautiful natural countryside ever seen. The landscape is wild and untouched, and there is an enormous diversity in flora and fauna.
There are steep slopes, which can only be reached when the weather conditions are favourable, sweet-scented valleys with rice fields, and villages and Buddhist temples along the rivers. During the summer thousand of types of indigenous orchids bloom and the trees show off their scale of colours.
There are various possibilities for discovering the area in an adventurous way, such as jungle trekking, rafting, mountain biking, or even an elephant safari.
The northern climate is cooler and has lower humidity than in the rest of the country, especially during the night, making it feel very pleasant.
Northern Thailand is an extremely special part of Thailand, and it differentiates itself from other regions. This is particularly due to the fact that in the past Northern Thailand remained isolated from the rest of the country. Only when a northern railway track was built in 1921, connecting Chiang Mai to the rest of the country, did the isolation of the northern region slowly come to an end.
The northern customs and traditions remained intact in the north over a longer period of time than elsewhere in Thailand.
The northern Thai are well-known for their hospitality to strangers and for their gentleness. This is even noticeable in the variant of the language, which is not only different to the Thai spoken in central Thailand, but also has more polite phraseology and sounds more melodic.
Religious festivals and other national, cultural festivities and attractions in the North are celebrated in a special Northern way, when there is usually more intensive celebrating and more enthusiasm than elsewhere in the country, breaking the daily routines and in aid of “sanuk”!
Many colourful mountain tribes live in the Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai regions, such as the Lahu, Yao, Karen and the Hmong. Most of the tribes are nomads and travel of their own free will across the various borders.
Handicraft workers remain loyal to their craft. Traditions in the industry have been passed on from generation to generation. Examples of specialised handwork by craftsmen, which is widely available, is the work of silversmiths, woodcarvers, hand-made lacquer work and specialists in pottery-making and bronze work. For a small sum of money many high quality, hand-made products are available. The northern cuisine is also very characteristic. Northerners prefer steamed glutinous rice, dipped in more liquid-dishes. Usually the curry dishes and salads have a milder taste, excluding the spicy exceptions. Burmese influences to the northern cuisine provide a very special taste.
All in all, Northern Thailand has its own unique atmosphere, where it is fantastic to live if you love nature and culture, and if you want all the necessary facilities within easy reach.
The central lowland is an elongated, flat and very fertile area, where the Chao Praya River, the most important waterway of Thailand, weaves her way. This lowland is both the geographical and the cultural heart of the Thai kingdom, as well as being the economical heart of the country too.
Trips to ancient temples, palaces and places of historical importance can easily be combined with visits to dense forests and woods, high waterfalls, caves and beaches. Bangkok is surrounded by green plains with fields, gardens and orchards. The Thai live in small villages, located between countless rice fields, consisting of several groups of ten small houses. The major activity in this fertile basin is the growing of rice.
The central lowland is also called the “Rice Bowl of Thailand”.
Slightly further a field the landscape becomes wilder. In the province of Kanchanaburi, where the infamous bridge over the River Kwai can be found, the landscape is dominated by rivers and mountains. Thanks to the natural beauty of the region, the inhabitants have created an amazing labyrinth of dam-reservoirs and energy is won with the help of hydro-power.
For nature lovers, it is possible to enjoy all that rusticity has to offer, and at only a two hour drive from Bangkok, you won’t have to give up any luxury or home-comforts.
Bangkok has manifested itself as a splendid, chaotic, inviting and amazing world capital. Without doubt, this many-sided metropolis has something for everyone. An important attraction is the abundance of shopping possibilities. Innumerable shopping malls and markets make Bangkok a true shopping paradise. There are also many places of culture, which can be visited, two examples of which are the Grand Palace and the National Museum. Being mobile in the city is not a problem, certainly since the arrival of the sky train and the recent opening of the metro lines.
North East Thailand
The North Eastern plateau, often indicated as Isan, covers almost a third of the entire kingdom of Thailand, and has seven of the most highly populated provinces, and the second largest city in Thailand, namely Khon Kaen.
The Phu Pan-mountains divide the area in two parts, creating the Mekong river valley and the Khorat plains.
North East Thailand has a centuries-old civilisation, dating back to pre-historic times. In the village of Ban Chiang in Udon Thani, relics of pre-historic skeletons and tools have been found, evidence of a Bronze Age civilisation which existed 5000 – 7000 years ago. The excavations have still not been completed.
Between the 9th and 14th century North East Thailand was an important centre for Khmer culture. There are more than thirty impressive Khmer structures still preserved today, which is a testament to the splendour and grace of the past centuries (amongst others in Nakon Phanom, Khorat and Buri Ram).
To the present day, the North East is an area which has attracted the least attention from foreign visitors. This is probably due to certain preconceptions, caused by the fact that this area has been confronted with great challenges for a long time past. The land is poor and there is a great difference in the temperature and the amount of rainfall. This makes life difficult for the local population. These living conditions have lead to the people developing an independent character. They have learnt to deal with adversity and have become very inventive. It is no wonder that the most outspoken writers and politicians in Thailand have an Isan background.
The silk industry is well known in the North Eastern region, particularly a subtly coloured batik-form (called Mudmee), which has been made popular by Queen Sirikit.
Connoisseurs of the Thai cuisine put the case that the food from the North East is the best in the country. More and more typically Isan-dishes are appearing in very chic restaurants in Bangkok. Glutinous rice is always present on the table, or as a base for other dishes, or as a sweetmeat, when it is steamed in a hollow bamboo-stick with coconut milk and black beans.
Characteristic herbs from Laos, such is dill, are often added to the recipes. The Isan-Thai use more chilli peppers than anywhere else, making the dishes very spicy.
Fresh water fish and shrimps are often used.
Old North Eastern traditions, which are not known elsewhere in Thailand, are being kept alive. For example, there are rocket-festivals held in different provinces. At the culmination of the festivities, fireworks, often metres long, are fired into the air, with the purpose of creating a rain-shower effect and giving much pleasure to the villagers.
A more dignified example is a procession which takes place at the beginning of the Buddhist fasting period (Khao Pansa). During a two-day feast the local inhabitants carry gigantic, hand-made candles through the town of Ubon Ratchathani, under the watchful eye of all Thailand.
Both Southern Thailand and the East coast of Thailand are strongly dominated by the ever present influence of the sea; to the east the peninsula of the Gulf of Thailand, and to the west, the Indian Ocean.
And there is more moisture which plays an important part in the South. There is rainfall, almost eight months per year, in short hefty downfalls, and less often there are heavy monsoon storms. Thanks to the rainfall a dense-wooded ridge has been created on the chalk-stone mountain ridge, which runs lengthwise over the peninsula.
The Southern flora and fauna is extremely varied, and the landscape has long rows of rubber and coconut trees, mangrove marshes, marshes, rain forests and paradise-like silver-sand beaches.
The Southern coast line covers more than 2,500 km. Places such as Phuket and Krabi, and islands like Koh Samui, are very popular resorts, thanks to their natural beauty, combined with the sun and the sea.
Tourism forms an important source of income for this region. The fishing industry, however, is even more significant. Thousands of fishing boots sail daily to bring back supplies of fish for both local consumption and for export. Rubber is also collected from rubber trees, which are grown in extensive plantations, and mining for tin also takes place on a large scale.
In the far South, in the provinces Narrathiwat, Pattani, Yala and Satum, there is a quite a large Muslim community. This differentiates this region from the rest of Thailand.
Mosque domes are a normal part of the landscape here, alongside the Buddhist temples.
The East Coast is situated between Chonburi and Trat, south of Bangkok, and is also an attractive coastal location. Nature has adorned the area with waterfalls, mountains, beaches and islands. In addition, facilities and amenities have been added, which have made the East Coast a pleasurable and comfortable tourist location. The East Coast also has an abundance of archaeology and history.