Brynne in Pai, Northern Thailand
When you Google search “Thailand”, almost every picture that comes up on the first page is a shot of a gorgeous white-sanded island surrounded by turquoise waters that are dotted with colorful long-tail boats. The south of Thailand is beautiful indeed, but Northern Thailand is also a marvel in itself. Since it takes almost a full day of travelling to get from Chiang Mai to most islands in southern Thailand, I spent most of my weekends and off-days exploring what Northern Thailand has to offer. Here’s a list of some of my favorite places.
Well known for its laid back atmosphere, this sleepy town is a mecca for backpackers and Thai tourists. It is located in the mountains, so there are tons of beautiful sights to behold there, such as caves, waterfalls, canyons, and a river that meanders through the town. People of all walks of life travel to Pai, so it’s a great way to meet people from all over—Easterners and Westerners.
Once the capital of Siam (Thailand’s former name), this town is the home of some of the coolest ancient ruins I’ve ever seen. Although it attracts a lot of tourists, the overall atmosphere of the place is extremely calm and tranquil, which helped me reflect on the hundreds of years of history it holds. It was so hard for me to fathom that these crumbling ruins were once a thriving place of power.
3. The Golden Triangle
We went here on one of our academic excursions, and I must say that it was one of my favorite trips of the semester. The Golden Triangle is located in the northernmost province of Thailand, in Chiang Rai, and is where the borders of Myanmar (Burma), Thailand, and Laos all meet, only separated by the mighty Mekong River. There is so much history in this area, so it was really interesting to be able to actually see firsthand the things we learned in our classes.
4. Doi Inthanon National Park
There are many national parks throughout Thailand, but Doi Inthanon was definitely my favorite. Our TEAN Resident Director, P’Gai, took us out to lunch one day and then arranged a trek through the forest with a local Thai guide. There are several beautiful waterfalls in this park that cascade into gentle rivers and almost take your breath away. Along the trek you also pass through several gardens and farms as well as the infamous vivid green rice fields that Thailand is so well known for.
5. The White Temple
If you go to the Golden Triangle, you will more than likely see the White Temple in Chiang Rai. I’ve seen my fair share of temples throughout the past 5 months, but this was by far one of my favorites because of its uniqueness. Not only is it aesthetically stunning, but it puts an interesting, modern spin on ancient Buddhist beliefs. It was constructed by a contemporary artist that wanted to make old Buddhist beliefs and ideals more relatable to the modern generations, so there are crazy murals throughout the temple that feature pop-culture icons such as Freddy Kreuger, George W. Bush, Michael Jackson, famous superheroes, etc. The murals are there to show the omnipresence of impermanence and suffering.
6. Akha Hill Tribe Village
During our excursion to the Golden Triangle, we had the opportunity to visit an Akha ethnic minority village. Thailand has a large population of these minority groups, so it is an important part of the culture to see. These people are not ethnically Thai, so they have their own language, religions, traditions, clothing, and way of life. Walking through a home of any minority tribe undoubtedly causes you to gain more perspective on the world and those who live in it.
7. Wat Palad
Located on the same road as the more famous Wat Doi Suthep, this temple is overlooked by many people due to its semi-hidden location. You can get to it by car or motorbike, but my friends and I decided to rough it and trek through Doi Suthep National park to get there instead. It’s a rough hike, mainly because of the sweltering heat, but it is so worth the sweat! The trees in the woods are wrapped with strips of orange cloth from monks’ robes that help to guide the way. Once you reach the entrance, you are greeted by a rushing waterfall and a spectacular view that overlooks the entire city of Chiang Mai. This temple is quiet and serene, and almost feels like it is straight out of a fairytale.
8. Chiang Dao
A trip to Chiang Dao is the perfect weekend adventure. It is also located in the mountains, so there are plenty of opportunities for activities, including natural hot springs and caves. If you go in February, be sure to check out the Shambhala in Your Heart Music Festival. It’s a fantastic festival that brings people from all over together to share music, art, crafts, dancing, and yoga with each other. It is definitely something worth attending!
9. Mindful Farm
This is an interesting and fulfilling volunteer opportunity where you stay on a farm for however long you choose (most people do a week, we did 3 days), where you are taught how to plant and grow organic vegetables during the day and are guided through a meditation practice at night. It is an excellent place to learn about sustainable agriculture, and also a great place to learn about yourself and how your mind works through the practice of meditation.