Northern Thailand region shares borders with Myanmar (Burma) and Laos, as well as Central Thailand and Isaan (North-East Thailand).
Surrounded by the tallest mountains in Thailand, Northern Thailand is cooler than the rest of the usually sweltering country and thus particularly popular in December and January. In the mountains at night temperatures occasionally dip below freezing, although in the plains the daily average is rarely less than 25 Centigrade.
Culturally, Northern Thailand shows heavy influences from the neighboring cultures of Myanmar and Yunnan (China). The kingdoms of Lanna (centered at Chiang Mai) and Sukhothai were the first historical Thai nations.
Much of northern Thailand was for a long time off limits due to a series of Communist insurgencies and Myanmar's drug battles and civil wars spilling over the border. Both problems have been largely resolved, although caution is still advised near the border with Myanmar in the provinces of Tak and Mae Hong Son.
The people of Northern Thailand speak their own dialect of Thai called Kham Meaung (or Kham Muang; คำเมือง), however standard Thai is widely understood. In addition, the hill tribes speak their own languages.
The main airport in Northern Thailand is Chiang Mai, which has connections throughout Thailand and some international links too. Domestic flights (some of which may be seasonal) connect with Bangkok, Chiang Rai, Ko Samui, Mae Hong Son, Nan, Pai, Phitsanulok, Phuket, Sukhothai and Udon Thani.
Trains from Bangkok go regularly to Chiang Mai via Phitsanulok.
There is an extensive bus network with the main backbone being between Bangkok and Chiang Mai. From Chiang Mai, buses head north-west to Mae Hong Son and Pai, and further north to Chiang Rai.
Regular flights connect Chiang Mai with Chiang Rai, Mae Hong Son, Pai, Phitsanulok and Sukhothai.
The only railway line within Northern Thailand runs between Chiang Mai and Sukhothai (and further on to Bangkok).
There is an extensive network of public bus services with major hubs in Phitsanulok and Chiang Mai.
Minibuses, songthaews and tuk-tuks also serve many places which are not directly accessible by bus. Cheap but not always comfortable.
Temple-tramping in Chiang Mai and historical sites in Sukhothai are the major cultural attractions of Northern Thailand, the birthplace of Thai civilization.
Northern Thai food is somewhat different to that eaten in the rest of the country. Northerners prefer sticky rice over steamed, bitter flavours to hot ones, and avoid using coconut milk. The favoured meat is pork, which finds it way into a variety of sausages (cooked or fermented) and whose skin is fried as the ubiquitous snack khaep muu. The traditional way of sampling Northern food is a low round table known as a khan tok, laden with dishes. Some favorites include:
While the larger towns (Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Phitsanulok) offer a broad range of accommodation, in the smaller villages the tourist has to refer to guest houses and smaller hotels. Prices are usually lower than in Bangkok. Booking ahead (using the Internet or travel agencies) may give you better rates at some hotels.