5 noticeable differences between north and south Thailand every traveler should know..
Can’t decide between the bamboo bars of Pai and the sunny southern beaches you’ve been gawping at in LBW’s brochures? Curious what you’re going to miss out on if you spend your whole Thai adventure wallowing time away with the expats and Chang drinkers of Chiang Mai?
Fancy venturing from the kohs of the south this year but don’t know what to expect as the Shan Hills take over? Check out this list of five main differences between the northern and southern reaches of the Land of Smiles. (Oh, and if you still can’t decide between the two: we go everywhere on our six week Treasures of Thailand blowout!)
Starting us off is one of the more practical concerns for travellers looking to tour the Land of Smiles: the weather. In fact, Thailand is typically split half and half along the latitude line of Bangkok. North of the capital gets a three season rotation, going from the cool and dry high season days between lateSeptember to February, through the sultry and humid climes of March and May, and finally to the wet season monsoon rains between June and September. The south might seem a little easier to keep track of thanks to the oscillation of just the wet and dry seasons. However, the arrival of the rains depends entirely on which coast you’re lazing and partying on. April onwards is pouring on the Andaman, while September onwards isn’t so paradisiacal in the gulf!
People say the street food of the Land of Smiles is one of its major draws. But there’s street food and there’s street food in Thailand, divided neatly between the mouthwatering north and the equally mouthwatering south. In fact, the difference in culinary traditions here is largely due to climate, with cities and islands closer to Malaysia benefitting more from the fruits of the tropics. That means you can expect coconut doused masaman and sour green curries down south, not to mention oodles and oodles of small fiery chilies. The north, meanwhile, throws out delights like the Lanna staples of sticky rice, stewed pork curry courtesy of the Shan peoples, and salty sai ua sausages with a side of ginger. Mmmm.
Something of an obvious addition to this list, but certainly one of the more noticeable differences between north and south Thailand, is the scenery. Take yourself from the rugged, salts prayed cliffs of the Andaman coast, or the sun splashed tropical islands of the
Thai Gulf, and head north into the hills of Kanchanaburi province, where the Erawan falls carve their way through the borderlands with Myanmar. From there it’s onto the deeper north: the rolling savannah between the capital and ancient Sukhothai; the evergreen forests of Mae Tuen and Tak Province; the rugged dry hills of Mae Hong Son and the ThaiHighlands. Don’t worry – it’s all downright beautiful!
The Thai people are a hugely diverse lot. Anyone who’s been on a cultural excursion through the hill towns and Karen villages around Chiang Mai or Pai in the north is sure to remember the distinctive culture, traditions and look of the people there. Well, take a hop, skip and lengthy overnight train to the southern reaches of the country, and the people are different again. You might notice the darker skin tones, the more Malay features of the face, and the change of dialect in the south. That said, Thailand ain’t called the Land of Smiles for nothing: the people are indelibly happy, welcoming and fun – no matter where you intend to travel!
Let’s shed the garb of responsible traveler for a moment and talk about that side to Thailand that many a backpacker pines for long after they’ve left: the partying side. There’s no question that Thailand is home to some of the best parties on the planet – the country is famed far and wide for the backpacker blowouts extraordinaire of Bangkok’s Khao san Road for example. But what are the differences between the nights of the north and the shindigs of the south? Well, quite a lot actually. On the islands of the Thai Gulf, the parties have a 90s rave edge to them, with neon paint and chart music thumping to the early hours on the sands (we’re thinking Koh Phi Phi and Full Moon famous Phangan here). In the north, it’s Rasta Buddhist bars and bamboo shacks in the forest that take center stage; buckets replaced by ice cold Changes and sunset cocktails.
"Rich is a traveler, writer and filmmaker who's always after somewhere new to go. He's been hopping around the globe since 2011, from Poland to Paris, Mumbai to Ho Chi Minh. He runs several travel sites of his own, from Ski Eastern to Live Krakow to Crabs Move Sideways. When he's not planning his next trip, he's usually listening to 50s jazz, surfing in Wales, skiing in the Alps, or just swigging (too much) great craft beer."
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