Welcome to Thailand : First, Northern Thailand

Welcome to Thailand

 

“ Just as a master chef combines secret ingredients and flair to create wonderful dishes, Thailand blends beauty, charm and character to provide visitors with a never – ending spectrum of pleasures that delight the senses, yet still leave them hungry for more…” *

*  An excerpt from the book “This is Thailand”, by John Hoskin, Gerald Cubitt, which we found really worth reading

 

Now, having that in mind, which would be your answer if we  ask you which image comes first  to your mind when thinking of Thailand?…

This one?

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Kurst formations emerging from amazingly emerald clear waters in Krabi. Southern Thailand. Photo Credit: Matías Berra

Or this?

Phang Nga bay and its limestone islands (17)

Limestone islands in Phnag Nga. Southern Thailand. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

May be this?

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One of the most distinctive details of a Thai temple: its delicate spires trying to reach the sky. Grand Palace, Bangkok. photo Credit: Silvia Muda

Or this?

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Think of Bangkok, think of tuk-tuks, the most fancy transportation in the capital. You shouldn’t leave the city without being given a ride. You will find and feel another city …IN this image, Nana area, Bangkok. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

Or this one?

Sathon Tai Rd and Naradhiwas Rajanagarindra Rd- Slom area- Bangkok city 8

Cosmopolitan Bangkok. Glass, metal, and beliefs. Sathorn Tai Rd and Naradhiwas Rajanagarindra Rd, Silom, Bangkok. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

Or just this one?

Tempel bell at wat phra sing-Chiengmai

Temple bell at wat Phra Sing, Chiang Mai. Northern Thailand. Photo Credit: Margot Weinmann

… Or this?

detail roof wat Pan Tao-Chiangmai

Detail of this Lanna style roof at wat Pan Tao, Chiang Mai. Northern Thailand. Photo Credit: Margot Weinmann

Regardless which image came first or second,  just think that this is only the beginning, the tip of the iceberg. Always there will be another place to discover, another sight to enjoy… Welcome to Thailand.

 

 

“From the sun-kissed beaches of the South to the mist-shrouded mountains of the north; from the Central Plains to the mighty Mekong flowing at its border, the Kingdom of Thailand hosts a treasure of destinations for travellers to enjoy. Set against the backdrop of our ancient culture and heritage..*

* Part of the Preface of The Wonder of Koh Samui, Koh Phangan, Koh Tao and Ang Thong Maritime National Park, by Mark Standen. 

 

More than any other Southeast Asian country,Thailand , with a a population of over 68 million  according to a  2016 estimates,   is nearly the size of the whole Central America, or of France, or twice that of England, and it has  been, for long, identified with the region’ s uniqueness. We are witness of it, as well you will.

Living in Thailand is truly an experience in itself, an experience that one must live, just to be able  to believe it. As we understand this, having already experienced it all ourselves, we will try to help you by giving the basic information you should know, based on our own experience and research. Additionally, we suggest where to gather the information  we are presenting and much more, at the foot of each page.

In this way, we are introducing you to Thailand, so you will make your own informed decisions.

 

Thai Beliefs...

You will find this image being repeated wherever you go in Thailand. We will try to help you finding its meaning only with looking into our website…. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

 

Thailand

The country is generally divided in five regions: the North, the Northeast, the Central Plains, the Eastern Coast and the South. Each region has its own culture and appeal. When a Thai says “ I’m heading up country tomorrow”, she or he might mean anywhere outside Bangkok’s city limits.

So, we will do the same, we will explore the country learning a bit of history, culture and beliefs while highlighting some of the main attractions. Lets go upcountry…Lets start the tour from North to South.

If only I’d known…

If you are thinking in touring Thailand and are an independent traveler, as many of us became thanks to internet , a good idea would be just to visit TripAdvisor website : it is a quick- easy to use  way to read reviews of hotels, restaurants, activities and entertainments in any touristic destination.  TripAdvisor is  a resource of recommendation … or condemnation , as there will be several different perspectives and viewpoints there. Just visit: www.tripadvisor.com

Note:

Because our idea is to give you a compressive, although not a full, description of each  region of Thailand, we thought that it would be more convenient to have a page for each one. So, in this page we will talk about the north of Thailand, and in the following pages you will find the Central Plains, the Northeast, the Eastern Coast and the South.

 

First, lets have a look to this  map , just to have an idea of what we are talking about…

 

 Northern Thailand, Highlands and Hill tribes

 

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Lanna times… A Natural Treasure Lanna…The Charm of the North 2017, a Solo Art Exhibition , by Jay Surasen. Acrilic on canvas, ( 300 X 200cm). Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

Northern Thailand stands apart from other regions of the country as an area of forested highlands traversed by parallel river valleys. This is a region of hills covered in teak forests and valleys carpeted in rice, fruit trees and vegetables, bordered by Burma and Laos, forming the so-called “Golden Triangle”, a tourist spot of the north of the country.

But this area is also teak country where work elephants once played an important role in the extraction of logs, but over-exploitation has led to extensive deforestation resulting in the introduction of a logging ban in 1989, legislation that unfortunately came too late to save the finest teak reserves.

It is not only the geography that distinguishes the North; history, cultural traditions and ethnicity  all contribute to a distinct identity. From the late 13th century until the early 1900s the region was largely independent, in its early day it was a thriving kingdom known as Lanna, “The land of a million rice field”.

Autonomous development, coupled with strong influences from neighbouring Laos and , most especially, Burma, now Myanmar, resulted in distinctive northern arts and architecture. Observing the temples of Chiang Mai,  formerly capital of Lanna Kingdom , will give you a sight of how Lanna architecture was. In the same way, visiting Lampang , you will see easily the  Burmese influence with just visiting their temples.

Northern handicrafts, too, have remained a thriving tradition, and skills in woodcarving, silverware, celadon pottery and lacquerware continue to flourish. Proud of their own heritage, Northerns tend to remain more faithful to long-held values than their Bangkok counterparts and are generally home-loving, thrifty and wary of spending money ostentatiously.

The custom of entering the monkhood is still widespread among boys and young men, and ordination ceremonies are particularly elaborate. Festivals in the north are celebrated with greater panache and exuberance than elsewhere in the country, and the local cuisine, with a strong Burmese influence, is a notable treat even in a land renowned for its culinary arts.

The region is strongly coloured by ethnic minorities, hilltribes who continue to pursue independent lifestyles outside mainstream society. Inevitably, the modern world is now beginning to encroach upon tribal ways, yet hilltribes villages with their typically costumed inhabitants continue to characterize much of the northern landscape.

Along with the rest of the country, the North is today changing under the influence of Thailand’s last economic boom years. Chiang Mai, the region’s largest city and focal point, is no longer the quit but old fashionable city  it was once. Less altered, however, are historic towns as Chiang Rai, Lampang, Lamphung, while sleepy highland settlements like Mae Hong Son still are able to retain a character all their own, hidden in valleys surrounded by timeless hills.

 

Chiang Rai

Chiang Rai, Thailand’s northern province, is a land of outstanding natural beauty. It is a traveler’s paradise, endowed with abundant natural attractions and antiquities. Attractions range from ruins of ancient settlements and Buddhist shrines to magnificent mountain scenery and hill tribe villages, the Yao, Akha, Lahu, Hmong, Lisu and Karen, who cling to independent life-styles in spite of the strong invasion of the stream society.

Chiang Rai has been inhabited since the 7th century, but it was not until 1262 that King Meng Rai established it as the first capital of the Lanna Kingdom. The capital was later relocated to Chiang Mai and since that time Chiang Rai has lived in the shadow of its neighboring province. Because of its beauty and tranquility this place was chosen as residency by many Thai and foreign artists. It is also center of traditional Lanna medicine. It perfect base for those who wants to explore Golden Triangle with its exotic culture.

Sights of Chiang Rai include a handful of venerable temples, the most famous being Wat Phra Keo where the Emerald Buddha image, now in Wat Phra Kaew, or Emerald Buddha temple, inside the Grand Palace, Bangkok, was first discovered. Among the other interesting attractions that the city offers, are the impressive Black Temple and houses, created by late Thailand’s national artist Thawan Duchanee. The grounds include nearly 40 small black houses , that accommodate Thawan’s collection of paintings and sculptures, in various unique styles and design scattered around the temple area.

Another place really worth visiting is Wat Rong Khun or The White Temple, that for many, is the most beautiful temple built in this century. A masterpiece of artist Chalarmchai Kositpipat, famed for his extravagant and unique Buddhism-related paintings, Wat Rong Khun reflects the artist’s grand visions of Heaven, Hell and Nirvana.

 

entrance to one of Thawan duchanees house-chiengrai province

Entrance to one of Thawan Duchanees’ houses. Chiang Rai. Photo Credit: Margot Weinmann

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Detail of the Mae Fa Luang Art Museum in Chiang Rai. Photo Credit: Margot Weinmann

flagpoles at mae fa luang art museum-Chiengrai province

Flag poles at mae Fa Luang Museum. Chiang Rai. Photo Credit: Margot Weinmann

 

People of the Hills in Northen Thailand

“The tribal people of Thailand make up fewer than one in fifty of the nation’s population, but their way of life continues to lure thousand of foreigners that annually trek to their mountain villages in the northern Thailand. But for locals, however, tribal people are considered as foreigners, if not illegal aliens, and thus, not entitled to the same rights than Thais. Most of tribal immigration, especially from Burma and Laos, has occurred in the last 10 years.

Thailand is home for up to 20 tribes, but there are six main groups: Karen, Hmong, Mien, Lahu, Lisu and Akha. Living in villages at higher elevations, most hill-tribe farmers practice slash-and-burn, or swidden, agriculture. The ashes at first provide a rich fertiliser, but over the years the process depletes the soil, and unfortunately, today there’s no longer much forest left to burn. In the past, villagers used to move their villages to a new site, but there’s no place to move nowadays.With poor soil and increasingly less of it, villagers sometime rely on the opium poppy as a cash crop.

The Karen form the largest tribe, and have been settled in Thailand since the 18th century and they are still trickling in, on illegally basis, from Burma. The Karen were early converts to Christianity when Burma was a British colony, also there are some Karen who are Baptists or Seventh- Day Adventists, mixed with animism. All Karen place great emphasis on monogamy, condemn pre-marital sex and trace ancestry through the mother. Unlike otherTthai tribes, they have long practiced lowland wet-rice farming.

The Hmong are the second largest hill tribe in Thailand and are the most recent arrival, when the majority of them immigrated to Thailand in the 1950s and 1960s fleeing from the civil war in Laos. Thai military regarded them as subversives ( coming from a communist country), and Hmong relations with Thai officialdom remain complicated. Ironically, Hmong are renowned for their fierce independence and, in Laos, for anti – communism, as they were American allies during Vietnam War.

Opium use is common, kinship is patrilineal, and polygamy is allowed. Dialect and clothing identify the Hmong: Blue Hmong women wear indigo, pleated skirts and their hair in huge buns. White Hmong women wear white hemp skirts and black turbans.

Most Mien ( also known as Yao) came to Thailand from Laos, but there are also large number in Burma, Vietnam and China’s Yunnan province. Many Chinese elements, such as ancestor worship and Daoism, are evident in their animistic religious beliefs. Kinship is mostly patrilineal, and polygamy is practised. The Mien place great emphasis on the peaceful resolution of conflict, which is apparent in their smooth relations with Thais in general. Traditionally, Mien women can be distinguished by their black jackets and trousers, red fur-like collars and large blue or black turbans.

Like the Karen, traditional Lahu mix animism with millennial myths, while a good proportion are also Christians. Besides the usual opium, corn and rice, Lahu have successfully cultivated chili peppers as cash crop. The traditional dress of the four groups ( Red Lahu, Black Lahu, Yellow Lahu and Lahu Sheleh, varies only slightly. The Lahu people are skilled makers or baskets and bags, and famous for their hunting prowess.The Lahu dialects are of the Tibeto – Burman group.

The Lisu are easily identify by their penchant for bright colours, they are good silversmiths who make jewelry to the Akha and Lahu. They are regarded by other tribe people as rather sharp business people. Animistic beliefs are combined with ancestor worship. Lisu are known to cite reasons for the pre- eminence of their family, clan or village, yet, unlike other tribes, they have an organization that extends across villages. Lisu are a sub-group of the Kachins, a large minority group in the far north of Burma. Kachin dialects are Tibeto – Burman.

The Akha are the hill – tribe people that most visitors want to see, drawn by the heavy ornate head-dresses worn by the women; silver disks festooned with old coins, beads and feathers. And alike other tribal women, who save they finery for ceremonies, Akha wear this even when working in the fields. Animistic beliefs are mixed with ancestor worship; Akha can recite their ancestry back 20 generations. They language is Tibeto – Burman.

The culture of Thailand’s hill tribes are very much in danger of extinction due to the shortage and loss of land, resettlement, lack of land rights and citizenship, illiteracy, and poor medical care. Official Thai hill -tribe policies have been shaped by the desire to discourage the slash – and -burn farming and the cultivation of opium. Some of the crop-substitution programmes sponsored by the Thai government, United Nations and foreign governments have been successful, and tribal people now market coffee, tea and fruit. But such projects have not penetrated to many distant villages.” *

* You could find this information and much more, reading: Insight Guides- Southeast Asia, by Discovery Channel

 

Doi Suthep (23)

Children wearing Akka traditional costumes. Chiang Mai. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

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Tai Dam woman in traditional ware. Loei province. Photo Credit: Margot Weinmann

 

Chiang Mai

South of Chiang Rai, lies Chiang Mai in a pleasant escape. Located in a broad valley divided by the picturesque Ping river, the city reigned for 7 centuries as the capital of the Lanna kingdom.In its splendid isolation, Chiang Mai developed a culture isolated from that of the Central Plain or the further South, with wooden temples of exquisite beauty , a host of unique crafts, including lacquerware, silver work, wood carvings, ceramics and umbrella making.

Visiting the old city of Chiang Mai, is a “must” for any visitor. Just walk through the gates of the ancient walls, and start walking in those streets, following the temples – walking tour is a feast for the  religious- architecture photograph lovers, feast that continues when going to Doi Suthep, outside the city.

 

Doi Suthep (11)

Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, Chiang Mai. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

Doi Suthep (60)

Main stupa in Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, Chiang may. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

gable board on main entrance of viharn at Wat Phan Tao-Chiangmai

Beautifully carved gable board on the main entrance of the vibran of Wat Phan Tao, Chiang Mai. Photo Credit: Margot Weinmann.

Wat Phra Sing (2)

Wat Phra Sing, Chiang Mai. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

Wat Phra Sing (15)

Wat Phra Sing, Chiang Mai. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

 

The road south from Chiang Mai is one of the most beautiful in northern Thailand, not only for the scenery, but because is a journey back in time, when visiting the ancient cities of the Harinpuchai Kingdom: Lamphun, Lampang.

 

Lamphun

Lamphun, built in the 6th century, a beautiful city that still retains its enchanting ambience, famous for housing Wat Pha That Hariphunchai, hand made cotton fabrics, including the famous Pha Mai Yok Dok , elaborately woven material used in the northern court, and also , Lamphun is the most famous producer of longans.

 

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Detail of the Mon Dvaravati style Mahabol pagoda at Wat Chama Devi, or Wat Ku kut, Lamphung. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

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Detail of an old pagoda located in Wat Phra That Hariphunchai, Lamphung. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

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Wat Harinpuhunchai, Lamphung. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

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The main stupa of Wat Harinphuchai appears behind other structures of the temple. Lamphung. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

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Buddha images in Wat Harinphuchai, Lamphung. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

 

Lampang

Going further south you will find Lampang, considered by some Thais as the last paradise in Thailand. Visitors can still find the horse-drawn carriages in regular use of transportation and they are one of the most memorable symbols of Lampang, as reflected in many traditional products.

Some versions attributes the horse-drawn carriage to the Portuguese, that brought them via Macau, although a more likely origin is Burma, because Lampang was an important center of timber industry in the early 20th century, and saw an influx of migrants from the then British controlled territories.

As faithful Buddhists, those immigrants built temples to make merit or just for asking protection while working in the forests. So, this is another feature that surprises about Lampang, the high number of Burmese-style temples , many of them very well maintained. Apart from the very well known Wat Si Chum, which is the biggest Burmese temple in Thailand, there are more temples very worth visiting, as Wat Si Rong Muang, Wat Pa Fang and Wat Phra Kaew Don Tao Suchadaram, among others.

For more historical information about Lamphun or Harinphunchai and Lampang, go to our section: Thai History.

 

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Horse carriages waiting for customers in Lampang streets. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

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Detail of the chedi at Wat lampang Luang. Lampang. Photo Credit: Margot Weinmann

lotus buds around chedi at wat lampang luang-Lampang

Lotus buds around the chedi at Wat Lampang Luang. Lampang. Photo Credit: Margot Weinmann.

wheel of law at wat lampang luang-Lampang

Wheel of law at Wat Lampang Luang. Lampang. Photo Credit: Margot Weinmann

Wat Phra Kaew Don Tao Sucha Daram - Lampang -4

We can see the Burmese heritage in this beautiful Burmese style temple. Wat Phra Kaew Don Tao, Lampang. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

Wat Pongsanuk, unique cruciform viharn Lampang 2

Main entrance of Wat Pongsanuk, Lampang. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

 

Note:

As we have said, the content of this page is the result of our research plus some comments of our own. We gathered and  put together interesting information that we thought it would be of help,that  we had found while reading the books listed below or visiting the websites which are also included in the list. So you could find all this information and more, reading:

  • Insight Guides- Southeast Asia, by Discovery Channel
  • This is Thailand, by John Hoskin, Gerald Cubitt
  • The Wonder of Koh Samui, Koh Phangan, Koh Tao and Ang Thong Maritime National Park, by Mark Standen

Or visiting these websites:  

 

We just hope that you had enjoyed reading this page, and that we had being of help. If you have some comment, please, lets know. In this way, we would be able to keep linking Pattaya together

 

 

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