Northern Thailand Holidays

Delve deeper into Thai culture by heading north and it will feel like you're in a different country: the landscape, the language, the architecture, the food and the people of this region are quite distinct. The "Rose of the North" and Thailand's second largest city, Chiang Mai is the gateway to the region and the most culturally significant; Chiang Rai is gateway to the infamous Golden Triangle, where Thailand, Laos and Myanmar (Burma) come together; and the sleepy market town of Mae Hong Son nestles high up in a picturesque valley surrounded by mist-shrouded hills.

Famous for its beautiful women, historic temples, distinctive festivals and handicrafts, Chiang Mai is also a great location for those seeking soft adventure such as elephant encounters, mountain biking and rafting. Its moat-encircled Old City dates back to the 13th century and it's within these narrow streets that you'll find many remarkable temples including Wat Phra Sing, which houses the highly revered Phra Singh Buddha. Not too far away is one of the most holy Buddhist sites in Thailand, Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, which overlooks the city from its spectacular setting atop Mount Suthep. Dating back to the 14th century this awe-inspiring temple is crowned by a gold-plated Chedi (monument) and on a clear day has towering views over the city and valley. Adding to the prestige of Doi Suthep is Phu Phing Palace, the winter residence of the Thai royal family, whose landscaped gardens are open to the public.

Surrounded by majestic mountain scenery Chiang Rai has more than its share of natural attractions and antiquities. Thailand's most northern city, it's a peaceful and laid-back place, which is easy to explore on foot, whether you explore by the Kok River where there's even a 'beach', or head out to the nearby hills and forest parks. Alternatively bicycles are readily available to hire and the river itself is great for rafting or longtail boat rides.

Mae Hong Son is home to a number of attractive temples, the most striking being Phra That Doi Kong Mu, set high up on a hill overlooking the city. Visit at dawn to see Mae Hong Son bathed in the mist or later in the afternoon for panoramic views of the surrounding area. Other notable temples include Wat Jong Klang and Wat Jong Kham which sit beside the serene waters of Jong Kham Lake in the heart of the town. Many hilltribes can be found in the area – Shans, Lanna, Thais and Karens, each with their own unique style, language, customs, traditions and cuisine. The most popular villages to visit are those inhabited by the long neck (Padong) Karen tribeswomen, who originated from Myanmar and are so called because of the layers of brass rings worn around their necks.

Trekking is a major attraction in Mae Hong Son and can be done as part of a day tour for a few hours or even longer to fully appreciate the stunning mountain scenery. Alternatively a more leisurely option is to combine an elephant trek through the jungle with a gentle raft trip along the picturesque Pai River. As you glide along, you'll hopefully catch glimpses of the local women washing clothes in the river while children splash and play about nearby.

Chiang Mai is an area rich with cottage industries and it's possible to visit workshops to watch the artisans at work and learn about the production of umbrellas, silk, silverware, lacquerware, furniture and ceramics. At the bustling Night Market, which sprawls along the main thoroughfare, there are countless pavement stalls selling the handicrafts as well as local wares, clothing, authentic Thai cuisine and much more. It's a great place to practice your bartering skills and pick up some bargains. Chiang Rai has its own Night Bazaar, which while a fraction of the size of that in Chiang Mai, you'll still find stalls brimming with hilltribe handicrafts, clothing and souvenirs.

    Why visit Northern Thailand?
  • Fascinating culture
  • Historic temples
  • Elephant trekking
  • Hilltribe villages
  • Incredible scenery
  • Fantastic soft adventure

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Essential facts about Northern Thailand
Local Time

GMT +7 hours


Thai Baht

Travel information

There are no direct flights from the UK to Northern Thailand. From Bangkok the flight north to Chiang Mai or Chiang Rai takes approximately 1 hour 30 minutes. The flight from Bangkok to Mae Hong Son takes approximately 1 hour 15 minutes, or just 30 minutes from Chiang Mai.

Best time to go

Northern Thailand has an agreeable climate with three distinct seasons: cool, hot and rainy. The most popular time for visiting is the cool season which runs from December to February when temperatures still climb above 30ºC during the day, but it can be chilly in the evenings. The hot season runs from mid-March to June when the humidity is a lot higher, and the rainy season is from June to November when sudden torrential downpours can be expected, but do tend to clear up quickly.

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