|The Golden Triangle is, term wise, one of the most evocative places in the world, but for the "wrong" reasons. But fortunately, gone are the days of the drug lords (thanks mostly to the Thai Royal Family, who have sponsored the cash fruit crop agriculture that have replaced the poppies). However, this area is even more spectacular then its former lucid association. The Golden Triangle is an area of outstanding natural people, and extremely friendly people.|
Watching the clumps of mist peel off the Laotian Hills to float gently along the mighty Mekong as small clouds is reward enough for the journey. But then there are also bargain markets, such as Sop Ruak. Where a suitcase full of cheap Shitake mushrooms from China, and silk from Burma would probably pay for your air fare in with the savings you made. Also, the chance to sit alongside the greatest river in SE Asia with a bowl of 25 baht serpent head soup, watching the various nationalities of boats come hither and dither. And with hoteliers such as Le Meridien and Imperial with superb offerings in this area, there is no need to take the rustic beauty of these parts back to your hotel room!
This, amongst areas such as Tha Ton, is where you can find some of the better / genuine hill tribe tour guides (unfortunately, most tour guides in towns such as Chiang Mai are far from good for either the customer or the hill tribes). If you are thinking of going on a hill tribe tour / trek, there are not many better then Lisu Lodge (50km north of Chiang Mai) and Track of the Tiger (in Tha Ton which has a 3 hour river boat service to Chiang Rai). Although many of the guest houses / lodges around the remote north offer equally good, if less publicized, tour guides as well.
|Chiang Mai is the northern capital, and deservedly so. With undoubtedly the best night market in Thailand (bountiful bargain shops, street processions, eating court with dance performances and many food stalls), plus dome very fine restaurants (especially around and overlooking the river). Chiang Mai is a colorful and relaxed town, best appreciated by foot (good walking guide here). For an online map, try this one. But to get a real guide, with virtually every restaurant, shop and points of interest, you will need to buy yourself a copy of Nancy Chandler's guide to / map of Chiang Mai. A great all rounder site for Chiang Mai (hotels, tours, information and crafts) is Chiang Mai Online.|
Chiang Rai is another provincial capital much visited by tourists. But many consider to be a poor option to Chiang Mai and mostly frequented by backpackers and hill tribe tour seekers. It certainly is no match for Chiang Mai food wise. Although, it does have a couple of luxury hotel options, including the Dusit Island, with commanding views over the Kok River. A useful map of Chiang Rai can be found here and a good guide to the town's attractions here. In between Chiang Mai and Rai, is the wonderful Elephant Nature Park - a rare facility in Thailand given to elephant rehabilitation, rather then exploitation.
Mae Hong Son (City of Three Mists) has some of the finest natural scenery in northern Thailand. Also excellent Burmese handicraft shops (look for the flexible, to the touch, horse hair based fine lacquer ware) and even better hill tribe tours. This relatively undeveloped tourist area is very relaxed. Mae Hong Son area guide. One of the nicer hotel in this area is, without a doubt, the Soppong River Inn.
Other worthwhile tourism areas in the north are Lampang, with its laid back, more traditional feel many say is reminiscent of Chiang Mai before its tourist boom (teak houses, forest market, horses & carts plus Northern Thailand's grandest temple in the shape of Wat Phra Tat Lampang Luang). Utradit, boasting Thailand's largest teak tree, teak houses, renowned hand woven textiles and multilevel waterfall. Phrae, with more teak houses per population than any other town in Thailand. Plus its famous indigo cotton farmers shirts and lumber industry. Nan (good site here), once the stronghold of insurgents. Now a peaceful back water with beautiful villages devoid of industry. A good site operated by Thai Students has much information on these towns / areas, and can be found here.
If you would like to see these spectacular towns and villages from the air, why not try the Chiang Mai Flying Club! And why not drop in on the Chiang Mai Crafts Company.
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