Thailand’s Northern realm has a storied and colourful history. Before Chiang Mai was nicknamed “the Rose of the North,” before the teak forests were depleted by avaricious loggers, and before the region was annexed during the reign of Chulalongkorn, the North belonged to the Lanna—a prosperous self-ruling kingdom, that was once the power base of Northern Thailand as well as parts of present day Myanmar (Burma) and Laos. From Lamphun to Phayao to Chiang Rai, this historic region of the country is rich with archaeological relics, minority tribes preserving traditions, and elements of the nearly millennium-old cultures integrated into modern-day life. And while history is certainly one of the region’s undeniable charms, its hilly topography, cool climate, and laidback lifestyle also plays a huge part in drawing millions of visitors eager to enjoy the great outdoors or simply soak up the slow life.
Whether voyaging north or northwest in Thailand, November is a prime time to explore this area, as the tourist high season hasn’t quite kicked in and the weather is primarily cool and dry. But no matter what time of year one decides to visit, there’s no shortage of fascinating destinations and diversions. The city of Chiang Mai is, in many ways, the epicentre of Thailand’s north, and is usually the first destination on the list for most travellers. Thankfully, despite its tremendous growth over the past decade—and the bizarre attraction it holds for the hordes of Chinese bus package tourists who arrive in endless succession—it retains a deeply artistic and spiritual core and a pleasant small town pace. Similarly, the bohemian mountain village of Pai (a four-hour drive northwest of Chiang Mai) is another magnet that attracts a never-ending stream of newcomers.
There are so many other northern destinations worth mentioning, including Phrae, Lampang and Sukhothai, three unique and equally intriguing locales that are finding themselves more and more the centre of attention on savvy tourist’s itineraries.