The North is the birthplace of the earliest Thai civilisation and has many sites of archaeological and cultural interest. Northern people are famous for their courtesy and hospitality, and the region is also noted for its variety of cultural traditions. Many tourists from the surrounding provinces converge on Chiang Mai for the annual Songkran Festival, and to Sukhothai for Loi Krathong. The North falls into two distinct areas, the plains of the lower north from Nakhon Sawan to Sukhothai, and the mountainous upper north leading to borders of Myanmar and Laos. The mountain ranges along the borders are breathtaking, with waterfalls and fast-flowing rivers ideal for rafting. They are also the home of many ethnic hill people.
The region has three seasons, hot from March to May, wet from June to November and cool from December to February. High up in the mountains, though, “cool” may often mean extremely cold.
The Thai nation had its origins in the North, in city states that were gradually incorporated into the Lanna kingdom centred on Chiang Mai. Sukhothai became the first capital of Thailand, but the influence of the Lanna states of Laos and Myanmar can be clearly seen in the architecture and cuisine of the North.
The nomadic hill people of the region pursued their own course, moving back and forth across frontiers. There are six main tribal groups, Karen, Hmong, Lahu, Mien, Akha and Lisu, each with its own unique customs and clothing. Today, they are settled in villages on the mountainsides, a great attraction for travellers.
Most overseas visitors make for Chiang Mai, the northern capital, as a base for visiting ethnic tribes, soft adventure activities and shopping. Further north still, Chiang Rai and Mae Hong Son are centres for rafting, trekking and tours of tribal villages. To the south, the Historical Park at Sukhothai is an essential destination for all those wishing to discover more about the history and culture of Thailand.
The 17 provinces that comprise the North are Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Tak, Kamphaeng Phet, Lampang, Lamphun, Mae Hong Son, Nakhon Sawan, Nan, Phayao, Phetchabun, Phichit, Uthai Thani, Phitsanulok, Phrae, Sukhothai, and Uttaradit.