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Northern Thailand

Hilltribe trekking through the mountainous north

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The northern region of Thailand differs considerably from the rest of the country, both in climate and geography as well as culturally and linguistically. This diversity has been attracting foreign travellers and tourists year after year since the late 1970's and over time the region has developed into one of the prime destinations in Thailand.

Many consider the north of Thailand to be the birthplace of some of the first Thai kingdoms, and while evidence of this historical value can be seen at any one of the hundreds of important sites through the region, the north is also home to a uniquely Thai traditional culture that you'll undoubtably come across throughout your trip throughout the north.

Extremely mountainous, and in some areas still heavily wooded, travellers are attracted both to the cooler climate and to the very popular trekking opportunities that can be experienced in the far north. The hills and mountains of northern Thailand are populated by a great number of ethnic minority groups -- Akha, Lisu, Hmong, Karen and Lahu to name a few -- many of whom have traditional clothing, culture and language that are totally foreign not only to backpackers and travellers but also to other Thais. The opportunity to go trekking in the north, spending an evening or two in a minority village is, for many, one of the most memorable experiences of their trip to Thailand.

Traditionally Chiang Mai has been the trekking centre of northern Thailand, followed by Chiang Rai and, to a lesser extent, Mae Hong Son. But nowadays, with millions of tourists heading to the north, you can go trekking from just about any one of the provincial capital in the far north. Many try to trek from an outlying destination in an attempt get a more "authentic" experience, but regardless of where people decide to trek from, they're pretty much guaranteed to an experience they've not had before.

While there are many possible places to use as a trekking base aside from the above, Pai, Nan, Soppong and Umphang are arguably the most popular alternative options.

Aside from the minority groups, the north also has a wealth of National Parks, Nan province alone is home to six individual parks. For nature lovers planning on spending some time in the hinterland, northern Thailand can be a very rewarding destination.

There's a wide range of other activities that have appeared over the years -- white water rafting, elephant riding, rock climbing and yoga to name but four -- Pai has developed into one of the key destinations for those looking for a bit more activity and a little less hammock-resting. Or, if you really want to get off the trail, head to the old KMT hangout of Mae Salong -- one of the least Thai towns in Thailand.

Then there's the cultural side of the north. The northern cities of Sukhothai and Kamphaeng Phet each have a rich heritage -- and the ruins to prove it. Chiang Mai itself is overflowing with old temples and most of the other provincial capitals in the far north have at least one or two wats (temples) worth a look. Then there's national museums and a range of educational courses you can undertake -- Chiang Mai is famous for both its cooking and Thai language courses -- the two go together quite well!

Northern Thailand is also one of the popular gateways to Laos. Many travellers head to the border crossing town of Chiang Khong, from where they cross into Laos and take a two day, one night slow boat trip down the Mekong River to Luang Prabang.

Others travellers, intent on staying in Thailand, can brush through Chiang Khong enroute to stunning natural viewpoints like Phu Chee Fah and little known towns like Phayao and Phrae.

One of the best things about the north though is that if you want to wander off by yourself and swim in the pool of a little known waterfall, you can. The big-ticket destinations are all well-touristed, but for every one there's a half dozen other places nobody seems to know about -- don't forget to take your explorer hat with you.

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Northern Thailand

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