Northern Thailand comprises of high mountains, lush forests and cascading rivers, namely, the Ping, Wang, Yom and Nan Spanning over an area of 1,69,644 sq. km. The abundant alluvial soil at the river basins is good for farming. Home to many ancient civilizations in the past, Northern Thailand is less inhabited.
Northern Thailand was home by the Mons Civilization before the 12th century AD, the proof of which is the chronicles and mythology. 13th century onwards, historical records become clearer when the Thais ruled the Sukhothai kingdom and Lanna and Chiang Mai as the heart of the kingdom.
Build in the 13th century at the Yom Basin, Kingdom of Sukhothai in Northern Thailand aroused at the time of downfall of the Khmer Dynasty with the capital at Sukhothai. The other most important cities under the kingdom were Kamphaeng Phet and Phitsanulok. King Mengrai built at the Lanna Kingdom with capital at Chiang Mai. The kingdom lasted for 280 years with 19 successive rulers before felling to the Burmese attack. Some two hundred years after the Burmese attack, the Thip Chang Dynasty was organized, which ruled Lanna as a feudatory state of Thailand during the reign of Rama I.
Known as the ‘Rose of the North Chiang Mai ‘, was the provincial capital. Founded by King Mengrai in 1296 AD, Chiang Mai is located on the banks of the Ping River. Chiang Mai is well known for orchids, elephant training camps and handicrafts including lacquer ware, celadon, silk, umbrellas, and woodcarvings. Chiang Mai is also the famous for hill tribe trekking and river rafting. The most visited place in Chiang Mai is the Night Bazaar where one can look out for interesting bargains
Major tourist attractions of Chiang Mai are:
Wat Phra Sing
Situated on Sam Lan Road, Wat Phra Sing was constructed somewhere around 1345 AD. The temple surrounding does contain the Lai Kham Chapel adorned with stupendously carved with wood and northern style murals and an excellent storehouse of scriptures with a prominent sculptural relief. Wat Phra Sing is one of the important centers where Songkran Festivals are held every year from the 13th to 15th April. The ritual bathing ceremony of the honor Phra Phutthasihing Buddha image takes place
Wat Suan Dok
Put in the middle of a 14th century AD pleasure gardens of the Lanna Thai monarch on the Suthep Road, Wat Suan Dok is well known because many of the white chedis or pagodas contain ashes of Chiang Mai’s former royal family. Inside a secondary chapel is enshrined a 500 year old Buddha image made of Bronze, which is the biggest metal image in Thailand.
Wat Chiang Man
Situated on Ratchapkkhinai Road, is Chiang Mai’s oldest temple Wat Chiang Man, which can be dated back to 1296 AD. The temple compelling for a chedi supported by a series of giant bolsters and a little image of Buddha, Phra Kaeo Khao was the home of King Mengrai, founder of Chiang Mai.
Wat Chedi Luang
Situated on Phra Pokklao Road, Wat Chedi Luang is known for a colossal pagoda, primarily measuring 280 ft. in height. The pagoda was not completely destroyed by an earthquake in 1545 AD. The temple once enshrined the image of the Emerald Buddha, which is now preserved at Wat Phra Kaeo in Bangkok. The most amazing architectural feature of the temple is the splendid Naga or the serpent staircase, which adds to the beauty of the front portico of the chapel.
Located within the boundaries of the famous Golden Triangle where Thailand, Laos, and Myanmar meet at the confluence of the Mekong and Sop Suak Rivers is the Chiang Rai. Built in 1262 AD by King Mengrai, Founder of the Kingdom of Lanna, Chiang Mai is 785 km from Bangkok. Burma invades Chiang Rai between 1648 AD and 1786 AD. In the month of February every year, Chiang Rai promotes a weeklong traditional Northern culture during the colorful Wat Samae Fah Luang Festival. Chiang Rai is also the best retreat for exploring the Golden Triangle and taking the river trips down the Kok River, which joins the Mekong River. Chiang Rai is divided into following districts – Muang, Phan, Thoeng, Mae Chan, Mae Sai, Wiang Pa Pao, Chiang Khong, Mae Suai, Chiang Saen, Pa Daet, Wiang Chai, Phata Mengrai, Wiang Kaen, Mae Fa Luang, Khun Tan, Mae Lao, Wiang Chiang Rung, and Doi Luang.
Important tourist places in Chiang Rai are:
Wat Phra Kaeo
In heart of the city is Trairat Road, Wat Phra Kaeo is the site where one of the most admired statues of Buddha was discovered in 1444 AD. Many state rulers including Lampang, Chiang Rai and Vientiane had moved the statue to be placed in their own capitals as a symbol of dominance before it was finally placed at Wat Phra Kaeo in Bangkok during the terms of King Rama I of the Rattanakosin Period. The other famous attraction of the temple is a 700 years old bronze statue, Phra Chao Lan Thong, which is housed in the Chiang Saen-style Ubosot.
Wat Phra That Doi Chom Thong
Situated on Doi Chom Thong on the bank of the Kok River within Muang district, Wat Phra That Doi Chom Thong is known to be the oldest Holy Relic in Thailand. It is dated even before the period when the King Mengrai built Chiang Rai. Now a highly sacred temple in Chiang Rai, it was the very site from where the King Mengrai decided to finalize and to establish the town. The chedi of the temple hold the Holy Relic was probably renovated at the same time the town was being built.
Ho Watthanatham Nithat
Situated at the former town hall, Ho Watthanatham Nithat is a museum with amazing display of ancient antiquities and written texts on history, literature, and indigenous intelligence. On display are also the royal activities of the late Princess Mother at Doi Tung. The museum is open to the public from Wednesday to Sunday from 8 in the morning until 3 in the evening.
Chiang Saen National Museum
National Museum of Chiang Saen exhibits many artifacts about archaeology, settlements, and history of the town. On display are the duplicate of the community and several ancient relics including Lanna-style sculptures, Buddha statues, and inscription stones found from Phayao and Chiang Saen. Also on evidence are the indigenous art objects including musical instruments, ornaments, opium-smoking accessories of the Thai Yai, Thai Lu, and other hill tribes.
Wat Phra That Chedi Luang
Chiang Saen old town is the Wat Phra That Chedi Luang built by King Saen Phu, the 3rd ruler of the Lanna Kingdom in early 13th century AD. The most important element in the temple is the bell-shaped chedi built in Lanna-style measuring 88 m in height and 24 m in width at the base. It is the biggest such structure in Chiang Saen. You may also see the remains of ancient wihan and chedi.
Wat Phra Chao Lan Thong
Situated within the city wall, Wat Phra Chao Lan Thong was built in 1489 AD by Prince Thong Ngua, a son of King Tilokkarat, the 12th ruler of Lanna Kingdom. The temple has a 1200-kilogram statue of Buddha statue, Phra Chao Lan Thong, which has a lap width of 2 m and is more than 3 m high. There is another equally famous statue, Phra Chao Thong Thip, cast brass in the Sukhothai style.
The Golden Triangle
9 km from the Chiang Saen old town to the north along the corresponding road to the Mae Khong River is the Golden Triangle. The area where the Mae Khong meets the Ruak River is originally referred to as Sop Rukae and it is here that the borders of three countries, Laos, Myanmar and Thailand, meet. The places of many ancient places and structures are worth having a look. The various different legends on the origin of the ancestors of Lanna are traced to this place.
Hill Tribes of Thailand
Spread throughout mountains and hills, hidden in dense jungles deep in Thailand’s north, live Thailand’s minority groups. The Thai Hill Tribes migrated from southern parts of China centuries ago. They had left their native lands of Yunan, Tibet and other regions and settled in Thailand. Hidden in the remote lands between Myanmar, Laos and Thailand, these people have cultivated their ways of life for hundreds of years. Not only their unique culture prevailed, but also until nowadays, they speak their very own languages.
There are seven major tribes in Thailand: Karen, Hmong, Akha, Law, Lahu, Lisu and Yao. Some of the groups are also known by their alternatives names, for instance: Miao (Hmong) or Mnien (Yao). Each of those exceptional groups has their own culture, religion, language and spectacular fashion, not only far from resembling anything people wear in XXI centaury, but also being enough extravagant to fill peoples’ mind with awe. Most of the groups welcome visitors providing them with opportunity to learn about their ways of life and beliefs.
The main occupation of Hill Tribes is farming, using of slash and burn agricultural technique; however they are also skilled in making various crafts and weaving.
The Karen are one of the most teeming among tribal groups in Asia, although their total population is uncertain. This is because majority of Karen live in Burma where political situation and civil wars have successfully prevented any reliable census. It is estimated though, that there are around 10 millions Karen living in Myanmar, Laos and Thailand. There are 300.000 thousand Karen in Thailand, occupying areas of both mountains and plains, mainly in the north of country. The Karen tend to have better relationships with their hosts countries as they are more willing to integrate than any other minority groups.
The Karen live in wooden, elevated houses, beneath which they keep their domestic animals. Chickens, pigs and buffalos serve them as source of food. Karen wear very colorful uniforms, which indicate their relationship status. Unmarried women wear white lose tops, whereas married women put on daring colors and skirts.
The Hmong live in various countries, occupying area of southern China, Vietnam, Laos and Thailand. They originally come from western China, where they are believed to have lived around the Yellow river valley. Being forced to migrate towards the south was a result of escaping pressure and persecution from the increasing number of Chinese who greatly outnumbered the Hmong and tried to subdue them.
The number of Hmong in Thailand is estimated to be approximately 150 000; most of which occupy area of highlands and mountains. The Hmong’s main source of income used to be growing opium poppies; however, most of Hmong nowadays changed their occupation to sewing and other needle works using cotton or hemp.
The colorful Akha, known for their extraordinary costumes and extravagant appearance, are believed to have come from area of China’s Yunan. There are around 70 thousand Akhas living in Thailand and around 3 more millions in other countries. Although they have their own spoken language, it does not exist in any written form. Similar to other Hill Tribes, the Akha live on elevated bamboo structures with steeply pitched roofs. They believe that humans are not separated from nature and duality between people and natural world does not exist. Their shamans teach them chanting prayers and various rituals. The Akha work both farming land and crafting cultural items and other handicrafts.
The Lisu is yet another colorful Hill Tribe that can be found in China, Myanmar and northern Thailand. Similar to other ethnic groups, Lisu make their living by farming land and selling crafts, although they are known to be involved in opium poppy production. There are above 20000 Lisu in Thailand, most of which live around Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai provinces. Their villages are characterized by bamboo houses, which unlike other groups, are not elevated, but built on the ground. The Lisu wear clothes of many colors and abundant silver ornaments and due to this special fashion style, they are considered by others (and themselves) to be one of the best looking Hill Tribes in Asia.
The Lisu are very devoted to their pagan beliefs and spirit world. Their shamans are believed to be in power of curing illnesses and contacting ghosts.
Originally from Laos, they migrated in search of work. There are very few Khanu living along Thai and Lao border in small villages located on the hills and mountains. It is estimated there are less than 10 thousand of them in Thailand. Their lines of work involve farming, fishing, hunting and also trading. The Khamu practice pagan rituals and beliefs, where they shamans are considered to have magical powers.
The Lahu, originally stemming from south west China, occupy areas of highlands in, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand and China. Found on higher altitudes than other ethnic groups, the Lahu live in elevated structures requiring ladder or steps to enter. Underneath the house, various animals can be found. The Lahu are famous for making fine baskets and other wood items. Similarly to other Tribal Hills, Lahu beliefs oscillate around nature, spirits and shamans.
The Lawa have been in the region of nowadays’ Thailand at least as long as the Thais themselves. They are believed to migrate from the area of today’s Cambodia, but due to the length of their stay in Thailand, not only they speak Thai as their first language, but also they live their ways almost identically to the rest of Thais. That being said, there is an exception of around 15 thousand Lawa living in Mae Hong Sorn province, where they still cultivate their native culture. They are not as skilled in crafts as other groups, but they are also better in agriculture, which gives them significant financial support. Depending on their relationship, there is a difference in their dress code, with unmarried girls wearing white and pink tops and bright colored necklaces, whereas clothes are replaced with long dress once the girl gets married. The Lawa’s religions are split between traditional paganism and Buddhism.
The most of 28 thousands Thins are to be found in the north of Thailand, around Nan province. They have been present in the area for a very long time. They villages consist of bamboo made houses and their main occupation is growing rice. Similarly to Lawa, their religious beliefs are split between animists and Buddhists.
The Palong originally come from Myanmar (Burma). They had migrated and settled in Thailand recently, no more than 20 years back. There are not too many Palongs in Thailand; nonetheless, their villages are a great stop over during mountain treks. Their present numbers oscillate around 60 thousands, most of which live in Burma. Most of Palong have converted to Buddhism, but some cultivating old pagan habits can be still found.
Their main source of income is wrapping cigars, which they are very good at.
Originally from Laos, Malbri who are also known as “spirits of the yellow leaves”, live around Thailand’s north, although their numbers are extremely small. The remaining 100 of Malabri live around Nan and Phrae provinces. The Malabri are nomads and tend to move around every week. Their occupation oscillates mainly around hunting.
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