I noticed common dilemma among travelers which come to Thailand for short period of time. North vs South Thailand? Over 1600 km is quite a long and time-consuming distance and you don’t want to spend half of your trip in the buses, do you? On the other hand those two parts are totally different from each other so what should you do, if you have to choose?
North vs South Thailand
Where should you head having short vacations in Thailand? Undoubtedly, having 2 weeks or more you are more likely going to have a glimpse of both. However, it is not going to be so relaxed time, since you won’t spend much time in one place. If you are kind of person who really has to cover all the highlights of the country do so! Run, make photos, fly, learn, enjoy!
If you prefer settle in some places for a couple of days and not be too much in rush, I would rather suggest you to choose between South or North. Likewise, if your vacations are shorter than 2 weeks I advise you to don’t try to rush to see both sides of Thailand. In this case, it is better that you enjoy your time and have some rest then make tracks. Thailand is the most touristic destination in the world. If you go there once, you will more likely come back, as I did! No worries then if you have to choose, you can see more another time!
I have spent 2 months in Thailand so trust me I can give you good advice of what you should do having short vacations. First of all, I cannot say which one is better to visit South or North because it only depends of your preferences of what kind of places you enjoy more. I will show you now highlights of both which will help you to decide and choose the best option for yourself.
First, let’s start from the middle – Bangkok!
Bangkok is a capital city where most of the travelers start their adventure in Thailand. It has the biggest international airport so most probably you will land there! Bangkok is very well situated to get all kinds of transport you like: plane, train or bus. I assume you will need 2-4 days to stay in the city to enjoy the ambient and start to feel Thai culture. Bangkok has the most precious monuments in the country such as Golden Palace and dozens of beautiful temples. Eating your first Thai soup on the street market you will have to decide either you travel South or North of the country.
The good news about choosing between South or North is that people in Thailand are extremely warmhearted and smiling everywhere! The food as well is good elsewhere (slightly different though) so whatever sites you will decide to see I bet you will enjoy your trip anyway! I would suggest you make decision North vs South of Thailand leaning on your preferences.
North – history, mountains, heritage, national parks, ruins
If you are more interested in culture and mountains you should head North! On the way you will find astonishing National Park Khao Yai. Nature there is just overwhelming! In the same time, it’s the biggest and the oldest national park of the country. If you have planned to visit any national park during your trip, I think Khao Yai should be the one.
Heading farther, great stops are the most important ruins in Thailand. First, city of Ayutthaya – former capital of Siam. Impressive ruins of temples will let you see how powerful and rich was the kingdom before attack of the Burmese. The most famous monument is Buddha head nestled in tree roots which you can see almost on every postcard from Thailand.
Second, city of Sukhothai which was first capital of Siam, before Ayutthaya. It’s a large area where you can just rent a motorbike or bicycle and roam around ancient ruins. Temples belong to UNESCO World Heritage Historical Park. Sukhothai (Rising of Happiness) flourished from the mid-13th century to the late 14th century. The remains of the kingdom, today known as old city, feature around 45 sq km of amazing ruins considered to be the most classic Thai style.
You will see lots of temples in Thailand, sometimes feeling “Oh no, again temple” or say with irony: “Oh Buddha, I haven’t seen you for a while” since you see them everywhere. In spite of all, I want to mention temple in Phitsanulok as one of the most beautiful in Thailand. The reason for that is Buddha image representation which is very unique.
Northern Thailand is mountains area famous for jungle trekking, elephant sanctuaries, meditation centers and many other activities. Going there you have a big choice of places to see, things to do and, as you can see you need time to explore it. Generally speaking, North of Thailand is more calm, you will find there beautiful nature and landscapes. The biggest city and base for travelers is Chiang Mai. In fact, it’s second biggest city of the country and doesn’t fit to the quiet ambient of the North. However, it’s just few minutes bike ride to be out of the hustle and enjoy the mountains.
Popular destination for backpackers is Pai – small town west from Chiang Mai. This little hippie village surround great waterfalls, hot springs and canyons. Lots of places to enjoy! Nearby, I can recommend Buddhist monastery where I was attending meditation retreat, if you are interested.
The very North of Thailand is Chiang Rai with the White Temple, famous piece of art. Yeah I know what you are thinking: If I have seen thousands of temples and Buddhas going all the way to the North, why would I want to see that? Believe me, it is worth to travel there. It has a charm outside and crazy designs inside. More you can find in my article fully devoted for White Temple. Moreover, surprising were also Blue Temple and Black Temple in the same region. Of course, those are not historical temples but art made to attract tourists. Still, I hardly recommend seeing them! Chiang Rai is also known for national parks with huge waterfalls. If you have more time, don’t hesitate to rent a bike and have relaxing tour around.
At last, I want to mention Golden Triangle – land which is on the border of 3 countries: Thailand, Laos and Myanmar. Calm banks of Mekong river together with uniqueness of the place made me really happy discovering this site during one day trip!
South – paradise islands and beaches
If you are that kind of person which has been working hard for the whole year and just dream about chilling and frying ass on the beach – go South! However, it is not only that! I don’t like to spend much time on the beach I prefer more active holidays. In the same time, I am glad I had enough time and didn’t have to make a decision North vs Sound Thailand and went both. For that reason I had the chance to see those paradise beaches and views like from Tourist Agency catalogs.
South of Thailand is definitely more touristic. Lots of people come for their dream vacations. The most popular are Phuket and Krabi, so if you don’t like crowdy beaches you should rather choose another beaches. If you want to hide on the paradise island – this is a perfect place to be! South has hundreds of them, among which the most famous is Koh Phi Phi. When you will be bored with the beach you can find some awesome National Parks with hot springs and deep your ass in natural spa.