Hub of the North is Chiang Mai, nearly 700km north of Bangkok. This was the ancient Lanna capital, founded in the 13th century, and is today a burgeoning regional centre offering excellent accommodation and other modern facilities amid the well preserved attractions of a historic town. In the far north is Chinag Rai, set amid rugged hill country, famous Golden Triangle and ancient settlement Chiang Saen on the banks of the Mekong River. To the west is Mae Hong Son, an enchanting Shangri-La, and to the east is Nan, of great interest though rarely visited.
Hill tribes of the North
Not least of the North’s attractions are the various hill tribes who inhabit the jungle-covered mountain slopes. These are people of separate ethnic origin who cling to traditional tribal ways that are fast vanishing.
Opium cultivation in the area sensationally dubbed the ‘Golden Triangle’ has served to focus popular attention on the hill tribes. However, while some do grow poppies as a cash crop as well as use opium as a traditional cure-all medicine, many other has nothing to do with a drug trade.
An estimated 250,000 to 500,000 tribes people live in the North, split into seven major groups – Karen, Meo, Akha, Lahu, Lawa, Lisu and Yao. All retain distinct cultures, language and religious beliefs (mostly animistic), though their most obvious distinction is their dress. The women of each tribe – and to a far lesser degree the men – have their own traditional style of colorful, elaborate costume. Handicraft skills, notably in weaving, embroidery and making silver jewellery, are well developed.
Being semi-nomadic, the tribe’s people are poor and support themselves mostly by splash-and-burn agriculture. Even those who cultivate opium see little of the profits. In efforts to raise living standards and alleviate deep-rooted problems –dire poverty, drugs and environmentally destructive agricultural practices – a number of government and Royal project have been instigated in recent years. Most are aimed at education and cash-crop substitution programs, the later having a notable effect in reducing the extent of opium cultivation.
North Thailand holidays can be simply unforgettable, one of the most attractive areas in Thailand.
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An excursion to Lampang can also include a visit to the Young Elephant Training Centre, 25km west of town of Highway 11. This is the most authentic of several elephant camps giving shows of how young elephants are trained for work in the teak forests.
Weather and Climate
Lampang has a relatively dry climate relative to nearby provinces. “Winter” starts from the last rains, typically November, and lasts until March. Cold air masses from Siberia sometimes lead to nighttime temperatures below 10 degrees Celsius, although that is quite rare. Winter is characterized by dry, sunny, and quite pleasant days, and cool and occasionally foggy nights. In recent times, the blue winter sky is often marred by the practice of burning the fields after the harvest, as well as the smog generated by Mae Mo coal-fired power plants.Summer typically starts from March until June. The temperature could soar to 40 degrees Celsius in April. Late afternoon thunderstorms and hailstorms are frequent.Rainy season runs from June until November. Being in a relative rain shadow, Lampang receives less precipitation than neighboring provinces and rarely suffers from extensive flooding which has plagued Chiang Mai in recent years.ampang is famous for the production of ceramic goods and its mining operations. A great deal of ball clay, china stone, and lignite are extracted from the surrounding mountains.There are more than 200 ceramic factories in and around
Mueang Lampang district. Most of ceramic factories are small to medium size operations mainly producing novelties.
The town can easily be reached by Thai’s daily direct flight from Bangkok, or in a short hop from Chiang Mai. By road Mae Hong Son is 370 km (230 miles) from Chiang Mai and the drive (about 8-9hr) is a thrilling rollercoaster ride as the road winds its way up, down and around the mountains. The small town of Mae Sarian serves as halfway halt.
On Arrival, the immediate attraction of Mae Hong Son is a feeling of tranquility. A distinc character is preserved not only by old wooden house and ageing Burmese-style temples, but also by the people, mainly Shans and a scattering of Kare, Meo, Lisu and Lahu tribes people. To see the town at its liveliest, a visit to the morning market is a must. Here, between 06:00 and 08:00, hill tribe people mix with townsfolk and there is an untypical buzz of activity around colorful stalls loaded with fruit, vegetables, spices, meats, clothes and household goods.
Dominating the western edge of town is Doi Kong Mu, a 424m peak topped by Wat Phrathat Doi Kong Mu. The two chedis, erected in 1860 and 1874 respectively, and the several surrounding images are fascinating, but the real rewards is the magnificent bird’s eye view of the narrow fertile valley and encircling mountains. At the foot of Doi Kong Mu, Wat Phra Non houses a 12m long Burmese-style reclining Buddha image.
Bordering the town’s small but extremely picturesque lake are Wat Chong Kam and Wat Chong Klang. Both temples display typical Burmese-style architecture, and Wat Chong Klang is notable for its collection of Burmese wooden dolls, the tallest about 1m high, representing figures from one of the traditional stories about the Buddha’s previous lives.
Wat Hua Wieng, near the market, looks even more dilapidated than usual for the typically tottering woo-and-corrugated-iron architecture of Mae Hong Son’s Burmese-style temples, but it does enshrine a fine brass seated Buddha, a copy of a statue in Mandalay.
Attractions beyond Mae Hong Son are numerous. Besides the overall spectacular mountain scenery, natural sights within easy distance of town include Tham Pla (Fish Cave), Pha Sua waterfall and Tham Lod cave, a splendid cavern with a stream running through it. There are also numerous hill tribe villages. Trekking and excursions by jeep, elephant and river transport are organized by tour agents (concentrated on Khunlum Praphat Road) and resort hotels.
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On the west side of town is Wat Ku Kut (also known as Wat Chama Devi), an important temple for its two ancient chedis, dating probably from the early 13th century and regarded as the only surviving examples of Dvaravati architecture. Freight Shipping . The taller of the two, Suwan Chang Kot, is in the form of a stepped pyramid 21m high and 15.4m wide, while the smaller Ratana Chedi is 11.5m high and octagonal in shape.
Chiang Rai City is 200 kilometres northeast of Chiang Mai City, 62 kilometres south of Mae Sai and the Burmese border; 60 kilometres southwest of the town of Chiang Saen on the Mae Kong across from Laos; and 90 kilometres north of Payao town.
The Mae Kok River runs along Chiang Rai’s north side, flowing from west out of Burma at Taton town – to east and thereby merging with the Mekong River.
Wat Khra Kaew, on Trairat Road, had late Lanna period chapel and a few fine bronze images, though it is mostly famous for its restored chedi which, according to legend, was where Bangkoks famous statue of the Emerald Buddha was discovered in 1436.
Wat Phra Sign, on nearly Singhakai Road, used to enshrine the important image of Phra Buddha Si Hing; the original has now been moved to Chiang Mai and a copy sits in its place.
Wat Ngam Muang, sited on a small hill west of Wat Phra Kaew and reached by a short flight of naga-flanked steps, has an ancient brick chedi which is a reliquary for the remains of King Mengrai. It was first erected in 1318, though the structure seen today is of later construction.
Wat Doi Tung, on a hill north of Wat Ngam Muang, comprises a viharn and a Burmese-style chedi. The location commands views of the Kok River and tradition has that King Mengrai first surveyed the site of the city here.
For a glimpse of Chiang Rais traditional character, the morning market near Wat Mung Muang should not be missed; catch it at its liveliest before 07:00.
Excursions from Chiang Rai
* Doi Mae Salong and Doi Tung: Two high forested peaks of great natural beauty, located 30km and 40km north of Chiang Rai, respectively. Roads wind upwards through the corrugated slopes dotted with hill tribe villages to the summits of both mountains, affording breathtaking views east to the Mekong and Laos, and west to the hills of Burma. Topping Doi Mae Salong, the wilder of the two peaks, is a village inhabited by former members of the Kuomintang army and their descendant.. Doi Tung is by contrast tamer and has been extensively developed. At the summit, however, is the lovely little temple of Wat Phra Thai Doi Tung, with twin chedis erected to enshrine relics of the Buddha in 911. It is an especially sacred spot not only for Thais but also for Laotians and Shans from Burma.
* Chiang Saen: A Charming little market town on the banks of the Mekong northeast of Chiang Rai, Chiang Saen is the site of an ancient and once powerful settlement, as witnessed by number of historical monuments, most notably the splendid chedi of Wat Pa Sak, built in 1295, and the ruins of Wat Phra That Chom Kitti. Together with a handful of other ruins, these afford ample sightseeing possibilities. Nor should the small but worthwhile museum be overlooked.
* Golden Triangle: A few kilometers upstream from Chiang Saen is the confluence of the Mekong and Ruak rivers, forming the boarder between Thailand, Burma and Laos, the spot known as the Golden Triangle. This famous juncture is best viewed by climbing up the small hill to Wat Phra That Phu Khao. . Unfortunately, the era is cluttered with hotels, guesthouses and down-market souvenir stalls, effectively destroying any intriguing atmosphere. The name Golden Triangle also refers to a vastly greater area of these three countries which produces two-thirds of the worlds opium output around 2400 tones annually. Although the signposted Golden Triangle near Chiang Saen on the banks of the Mekong lies in the hear of opium country, it suffers gross tourism development here, instead of mule trains and drug traffickers, are tour busses and souvenir touts.