The Diversity of North Thailand

Table of Contents

Geography of North Thailand

Northern or North Thailand comprises 17 of the 76 provinces of the kingdom, divided in two regions: the upper and the lower northern region. The upper region consists of these provinces: Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Phrae, Nan, Uttaradit, Mae Hong Son, Lampang, Phayao and Lamphun. The lower region consists of these provinces: Phichit, Sukhothai, Nakhon Sawan, Petchabun, Phitsanulok, Kamphaeng Phet, Uthai Thani and Tak.

We have limited ourselves mostly to the upper region but also organize historical tours in the lower region such as to Sukhothai, Si Satchanalai and Kamphaeng Phet. Most of our research takes place in the upper North provinces, primarily in Chiang Rai, Chiang Mai, Lampang, Lamphun and Mae Hong Son provinces.

Rice fields with palm tree north thailand
Ban Thi rice fields with sugarpalm

The people of the North

The ethnic and linguistic diversity of North Thailand is simply mind-boggling and never ceases to amaze me. I have devoted pages to the Tai Lue, the Lawa, Tai Ya and the Pa’O people but there are more pages under construction. The Lawa people are considered the indigenous people of the North. In general, all the other ethnic groups once entered the territory that is now Thailand for various reasons. Muslims came to Mae Sariang all the way from Chittagong (now in Bangla Desh) in the early 20th century. Karen and Shan people escaped violence in Myanmar in the 1980s. Chinese Nationalist soldiers (Kuomintang) came from Yunnan via Burma, just to give a few examples.

Three people in tribal dress
Lisu people in Chiang Dao

Festivals of North Thailand

There are some great festival in the North. By far my most popular festival is the Songkran Festival, which is also the longest and the most intense of all festivals in the country. Songkran is the Buddhist New year, that takes place in April. Another very popular festival is the Loy Krathong festival which is a full moon festival. Every year the date of Loy Krathong, the Festival of Light, is different. Authorities in Chiang Mai publish the date and program of Loy Krathong usually quite late, which causes a lot of confusion and irritation. The release of sky lanterns attracts many tourists.

Another interesting event is the Poy Sang Long ceremony, a Shan Buddhist ordination event. This takes place in many temples, mostly in Chiang Mai and Mae Hong Son provinces.

People releasing sky lanterns at Doi TI Loy Krathong Chiang Mai
Loy Krathong sky lantern release at Doi Ti

Buddhist Temples of the North

I have focused on the Buddhist temples in the upper north region. There are thousands of temples in the North of Thailand so I had to make a selection, based on my own preference and on popularity. There are just too many interesting temples and I had to skip some. This section is a work under construction. I visit all the temples personally.

Wooden temple and garden
Wat Nantaram in Chiang Kham

Ancient ruined cities of North Thailand

As we consider the provinces Sukhothai, Si Satchanalai and Kamphaeng Phet to be part of North Thailand the ruined cities in the provinces are in North Thailand. These are the historical parks of Sukhothai, Si Satchanalai and Kamphaeng Phet, that make up the UNESCO World Heritage Site “Historic Town of Sukhothai and Associated Historic Towns”. There are more ruined cities in North Thailand than most people realize. The ruined city of Wiang Kum Kam is the predecessor of Chiang Mai. South of Chiang Mai lies Wiang Tha Kan, another ancient ruined settlement albeit much less known than Wiang Kum Kam. The ancient city of Chiang Saen should be a UNESCO World Heritage Site. enigmatic Wiang Lo is probably the least visited ruined city of North Thailand.

Ruined temple
Stupa of Wat Jorm Mork in Chiang Saen