Ancient ruins, mountains and countryside
Northern Thailand refers to the mountainous north of the country, a whole world away from the golden beaches and blue seas of the south. The area roughly corresponds to the mountainous area bordering Myanmar and Laos, however in this article I have gone as far south as Sukhothai, which is about 4/5 hours north of Bangkok.
The north of Thailand is one of my favourite parts of the world. The amazing history of Sukhothai is complemented by the cosmopolitan twin cities of Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai, the former being one of the highlights of my visit.
Sukhothai is famed for its historical park that has literally hundreds of statues of Buddha and ancient temples that are best explored by cycling. It was about an hour into the long journey north from Sukhothai that I began to feel a difference in the climate and landscape. The humidity and flat terrain of the south was slowly replaced by a crisp air and mountainous landscape. The road was bounded by greenery on all sides and the hectic pace of Bangkok tranformed into a slow crawl.
Up until the early 1900's the Lanna area of the north was relatively independent and the natives are still fiercely proud of their local traditions and customs. I was lucky enough to visit Lampang, a city the northerners refer to as the 'last true paradise' of Thailand. Staying in a village about an hour outside the city was one of my favourite experiences and I spent my time there visiting local cottage industries as well as a school.
Further north is Chiang Mai, a city becoming increasingly popular with tourists. The night market in Chiang Mai is incredible and the nightlife in general is very lively. The area has a significant Burmese influence, not just due to its proximity to the country but also having lived under Burmese rule. The city is the capital of the north, built in a valley, surrounded by mountains and is a great starting point for treks further north to the hill tribes. It's also a great place to spend a few days (or weeks) exploring the many temples, restaurants or getting lost in the streets.
Travel advice for Sikhs
This is one part of the world where being a Sikh really does mean being treated like royalty. Sikh's have long hair, Buddha had long hair - the connection is almost instantaneous and simple. Everywhere I went people were friendly and inquisitive.
A great experience was visiting a local school where the local kids seemed to take to me very quickly and its something that I wont forget anytime soon. In England, I'm an average guy, but over there they seemed to think I had serious muscles, almost everyone of them tried to squeeze my arms at one point. Good little ego stroke.
Another great memory was visiting a temple just outside of Lampang and another in Chiang Mai. In both cases I met with Buddhist monks, both times they asked about my appearance. It reinforced that in many parts of the world that I visit, I am one of the very few Sikhs that local people will ever meet so its important to carry myself in a manner worthy of my people.
There is a small Sikh community in Chiang Mai. I visited a prominent local Sikh who owns a suit tailoring store, Fashion Kings. Reviews on Trip Advisor speak for themselves, but I wasnt going to visit the store, I wanted to visit a fellow Sikh. His eyes lit up on seeing me and he invited me for a seat. For over an hour we spoke about the local Sikh community, as well as the divergence of Maryada (his family left Panjab shortly after the British arrived in 1849). I learned some amazing things about Sikh history, the Sikhs in Thailand and also about success in business. No matter where Sikh's go, it seems success always follows.
Feeling insignificant in front the towering presence of Buddha, Sukhothai
Ancient Hindu and Buddhist temples, Sukhothai
Ceramics factory, Sukhothai
Elephant sanctuary, Lampang
Village music, Lampang
Blessings from a Buddhist monk
Welcome to the countryside
Local primary school
My accommodation, some sheets on the floor, inside a small shed
Cycling through the countryside outside of Lampang
Nightmarket, Chiang Mai
A local village temple, Chiang Mai
Village streets an hours cycle from the city, Chiang Mai
Rehabilitation at a local hospital, Chiang Mai
Northern Thai's are fiercely protective of their local culture, Chiang Mai
A cycle through Chiang Mai
Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep, Chiang Mai
British Sikh, born in the Midlands, based in London, travelling the world seeing new cultures.