North Thailand – Where To Go & What To Do
October 29, 2015|Posted in: Thailand
When most backpackers land in Thailand, their first stop is usually Bangkok. The hub of South East Asia travel, this place connects travelers from all over the world. And once you’ve landed, taken in the sights it has to offer, from stunning temples, the Grand Palace and the infamous Khao San Road, most people head either South to the Islands or North.
When I was planning my trip, the North of Thailand was the only country where I really set out the places I wanted to see. And luckily the two other people I traveled with wanted to see the same. You can easily catch a train or bus straight from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, but if you want to see more stunning temples and visit the ancient cities of Thailand, make sure you put these onto your list.
I’ve already written about this place (here) – but that was mainly for the beautiful Erawan Falls that are situated about 1 hour from the town. However, one of main reasons to visit here would be the historical events that happened. In 1942, the town was under Japanese control who, in WWII, used Asian forced labourers and POW’s to build the Burma Railway. The infamous ‘Bridge over the River Kwai’ was built on this site, where almost half of the workers died, from malnutrition, mistreatment or accidents.
There is only a small part of the original bridge still left, but a newer more modern bridge has been built. The JEATH War Museum located next to the bridge is an interesting visit and they have some good artifacts and information about the prisoners, their life and what happened to them whilst they built the bridge. In the centre of the town there is also a War Cemetery. It’s a beautiful piece of land where the people work tirelessly to keep it well maintained and pristine. You can go and see memorials to POW’s who died from various countries.
Annoyingly, it was so hot when we got to Ayutthaya (or at least my electrical appliances hadn’t acclimatized) that I only managed to get a few photos of the park. But just google it – it’s beautiful. Ayutthaya itself is pretty spread out. Founded in 1350, it was the second capital of Ancient Siam and the remaining structures were recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1991. Located only 1 hour from Bangkok, you could also do this as a day trip from there. But you can find some great little guesthouses for brilliant prices. If you want to see all of the city, you’ll need more than 1 day. However, it is possible to see everything in half a day. We hired a Tuk-Tuk driver for 500 baht for half a day and picked certain sights we wanted to see and he drove us around and waited for us too finish. You can alternatively hire a bicycle and cycle around, as the area is mainly flat and well paved, but the heat will be more of a factor to look for. Cycling in 34 degrees all day isn’t my idea of fun!
The historical city of Sukhothai was the first capital of Ancient Siam and nowadays it is a UNESCO World Heritage site, with the temples and monuments being constantly restored and maintained. Sukhothai itself is separated into the old and new cities. The guesthouses are located in the new city, with the historical park being located in the old part. The old city is located 12km from the new city, so the best way to get from one to the other is on a songthaew (20 baht).
The old city itself is enclosed, with no traffic and only a specific area for gifts/touts. This makes it one of the most pleasant places to look at temples I’ve been to. The best way to get around the park is by bicycle. You can hire these at the beginning for around 50 baht per day. They are pretty knackered bikes, but they do the job. Walking around the park will take you forever and a day, and the heat will probably kill you in that time.
After cycling around some amazingly well kept temples, the next stop is to head to the food market in the park and sit down for a mango and lime smoothie with your Sukhothai Noodles. Probably the best dish I had in Thailand, and one of the best smoothies too. We went twice that day…
Last time I came to Thailand in 2013 I spent 3 days in Chiang Mai, and 1 of those days I was pretty ill… But I knew I loved the city and I was excited to spend more time here this time around. Apparently I loved it quite a lot, as in total I spent around 2 weeks in the city! My first week I spent doing all the touristy things, and relaxing after the week of traveling. The 3 of us did a cooking course, run by Siam Rice Thai Cookery School. 7 courses for 900 baht. Safe to say I was absolutely stuffed (Note: Do NOT eat beforehand!). The women at the school are hilarious and the class was brilliantly run. The group we had was great and we made some amazing meals!
If you like cats, then definitely also visit Catmosphere Cafe – a cat cafe just outside the city. The cats they have are so cute and they also serve the best cheesecake! They are also named after sci-fi characters, so if you wanna meet a cat called Anakin or Darth, this is the place to do it… It’s also one of the cleanest cafes I went to in Asia… Who knew.
I actually left Chiang Mai to head to Pai (read my post here about Pai…) and the only reason I came back was to recover from my horrible bout of food poisoning. I stayed in the city for 5 more days, with 3 of those I spent watching films and failing to eat. But I luckily picked up, and managed to drag myself to see a Muay Thai fight at the stadium with a group from the hostel and also spend the next day exploring on a bike, visiting waterfalls, temples and (after 3 hours) finding the ‘Grand Canyon’ at sunset.
It was also the Flower Festival whilst I was there, with some amazing parades and displays of flowers around the city. The three day festival is held in February each year, at the end of the cool season.
I didn’t stay in Chiang Rai, but rather passed through on my way to the border to catch the slow boat down the Mekong River to Laos. But most people stop off here to see Wat Rong Khun – the white temple. Rather than a public temple, this is actually a privately owned contemporary art exhibit in the style of a Buddhist temple. From a distance it looks quite grand and spectacular, but once you get nearer to it, the different features become more apparent. From skulls decorating the area around the temple to outstretched hands reaching from pits surrounding the temple. It’s quite eerie but different and worth a see. You can see it in day trips from Chiang Mai, but its a long journey for the one temple.
So there you have it, my run down of the North of Thailand. It’s beautifully cultured and wonderfully cheap, and something altogether different from the Islands in the South and Bangkok. If you have any other great places that I didn’t manage to visit, write them in the comments and I’ll make sure to add them to my list next time!
Amy is the founder of thewanderlustadventures.com. Currently residing in Reading, UK with a love of adventure travel, writing and photography - she pretty much writes about whatever the hell she wants!