The Differences Between Northern & Southern Thailand
To say that Thailand, also affectionately known as the Land of Smiles, is a popular destination for tourists and expats alike, is an understatement.
In simple terms, Thailand provides everything people look for when travelling: hot weather, beaches and idyllic islands in the south, or bustling cities in the north for those seeking excitement over relaxation.
Claire Jenns from the UK went to work in Thailand and spent time living in the south for nine years and the north for two. She become very well versed in the entirely different destinations, lifestyles and cultural norms these places provide.
Here Claire shares her experience of both regions which will help if you are keen to travel, live or work in the land of smiles.
The North of Thailand
The North of Thailand is incredible with so many temples, cultural sights and places to visit.
I lived in a city called Chiang Mai, the largest city in the north, which is perfect if you are looking for a city atmosphere but not one as intense as the country’s capital Bangkok.
Chiang Mai is a very relaxed and safe city to visit with lots of temples, shops and attractions. For international tourists one of the main attractions of visting Chiang Mai is that some of the best elephant sanctuaries in Thailand are located nearby. If you are interested in volunteering in Thailand and help wildlife then you can find lots of options in the north of the country.
The northern region of Thailand is also lot more mountainous than the South, so great for those who enjoy hiking. The mountains extend through Laos, Burma and China, linking to the Himalayas. The region’s fascinating tribal history is evident in these areas.
In comparison to the south there is a focus on history and culture, with more museums and galleries accessible for visitors (my particular favourite being the 3D Art in Paradise Museum in Chiang Mai). The foreigners that visit the north are generally less interested in partying and prefer a more refined experience true to traditional Thai culture.
Cities in the north do encounter periods of high air pollution during the dry season between February and April, where areas of forest are cleared by agricultural corporations. Travellers with respiratory problems will need to take this into consideration when planning their journey.
The north of Thailand generally offers much better value for money than the South. Hotels in places like Chiang Mai are more like hostels, with less five star options than the South. Renting appartments and houses tends to be cheaper in the North too, and there is more of a suburban feel than the southern gated communities.
These are some of the best places to check out in northern Thailand:
- Chiang Mai
- Chiang Rai
- Doi Inthanon National Park
- Mae Hong Son
- Mae Sai
The South of Thailand
Southern Thailand is famous for it's islands, beautiful white sandy beaches and parties.
Most people fall in love with southern Thailand and this region is perfect for people who want to relax in the sun surrounded by coral reefs and palm trees.
The south is popular with backpackers, although this region has become more gentrified and touristy over the past decade. There are lots of amazing Thailand tours available where you can go island hopping and there is also a focus on water sports which will appeal to the more adventurous travellers. Almost every accessible beach hosts rentable jet skis, boats and lilos. Activities such as these are where travel insurance can come in very useful!
If you aren’t keen on heavy drinking and beach parties, you’ll have a lot of areas to avoid certain areas including Pattaya and Phuket which host year-round parties. Or if you are seeking to party, be sure to plan your trip in time with the epic full moon party in Ko Pha-ngan.
My experience of the south was living on an island called Koh Samui, the second-largest island in the country, for just under a decade. In comparison to the north, there is a far more isolated feel, as the island didn’t even have roads until the 1970s. However, this has changed over time with the increase of tourism which has brought changes to the region’s culture and environment.
New hotels are now opening in the south which are usually luxurious and upmarket, with many beachfront five star private villas available. Renting houses can be very expensive, with many private housing developments being built in the past decade across the region. Even bungalows that were once cheap now carry hefty price tags.
Be sure to add these places to your southern Thailand itinerary:
- Ko Phi Phi
- Similan Islands
- Ko Lipe
- Phang Nga Bay
- Ko Tao
- Khao Sok National Park
- Ko Pha Ngan
- Mu Ko Ang Thong
If you can, aim to include both the North and South in your Thailand itinerary so you can see the differences for yourself.
Some things are the same in both regions, such as the abundance of motorbikes, excellent cheap food, stray dogs roaming the streets and beautiful temples.
In spite of these similarities, the north and south both offer vastly different experiences and lifestyles, and it is important to do thorough research before venturing out to travel or settle down in either.
Before departing buy travel insurance and check our websites and sources such as the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s Travel Aware advice pages which offer practical travel tips and advice and also you can get important information about living and working abroad.
By Claire Jenns