Northern Thailand offers as big a retail buffet as any shopping junkie could want. Stepping into the huge, bustling night markets here is a world away from The Dubai Mall – except you’re sure to spend much time people-watching and you’re also likely to get hopelessly lost. Sharpen your haggling skills at the many shops and bazaars scattered around and leave with everything from gems and herbal teas to silk, beautiful handicrafts, and soaps of every imaginable fragrance (think peanut butter and vinegar).
Time-travel far, far back and escape the maze of traffic, noise and people by soaking up the north’s rich heritage. Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai are teeming with temples – if you can visit just one, make it the stunning White Temple, which looks like it’s straight out of Game of Thrones. Then head to one of the mountain villages to meet the ethnic tribes; their simple way of life is sure to make you feel as if life’s been put on pause. Stop at the Golden Triangle next to stand on the threshold of three countries, view the giant buddha statue and speed on a long-tail boat along the Mekong and Ruak rivers.
No other cuisine delivers that big-hitting combination of sweet, spicy, tangy and bitter better than Thai, and the north of the country has a plethora of options. Where do we begin? Street stalls attached to bicycles or carts? Open-air markets? Riverside eateries? High-end restaurants? Floating cafés? Whatever your budget, you’ll never go hungry here. Tuck into sweet sticky rice topped with custard, eggs in shot glasses, or meat cooked in blood – and that’s just for breakfast. Then make like the backpackers and try all manner of munchies – including fried bugs – at the open-air markets and street stalls. Risk-averse? Head to one of the various high-end restaurants and try some of the area’s fragrant classics, from the special north-style sausages to steaming bowls of soupy, meaty, noodley nourishment, and, if you don’t mind the spice-induced sweats, whole fish in fiery curry paste stewed in banana leaves.
Nature lovers and thrill-seekers, rejoice. The north offers some unique experiences with far greater choice than the other parts of Thailand. From exploring the jungle canopy on a heart-stopping, zipwire trek through the treetops into the hilly wilderness, or a cruise along the Mekong river, to interactions with the revered elephants in sustainable sanctuaries, rock climbing, white-water rafting, waterfall abseiling and biking through rainforests – you can do it all here.
There’s no shortage of style and opulence in the north. For some pampering and excellent service check into the Anantara Chiang Mai Resort and Spa, located along the banks of the dreamy Mae Ping river and just a stone’s throw away from the night market. Take advantage of some first-class amenities while here, with exotic rituals at the spa, afternoon tea at the striking 90-year-old British consulate-house-turned restaurant, Muay Thai boxing classes, cooking lessons and sunset river cruises. Or wrap yourself up in a fluffy robe and relax on your private balcony daybed, then soak up the sun by the massive 34m pool that runs along the length of the hotel. Whatever you choose to do, it’s all sure to be time well spent.