Sa-wa-dee-kaa! Thanks for joining us on this TukTuk Through Thailand as we begin in the Northern Region, which I feel to be one of the most underrated regions in the kingdom!
It’s easy to conjure visions of beaches and palm trees when you imagine Thailand, and these are key features of some incredible Thai hot spots. When it comes to teaching in Thailand, however, you’ll likely be placed in the less touristy areas. I had to pleasure of being placed in a small town in the Northern Region, and I’m here to sing my praises for this beautiful corner of the country! We’ll highlight some of the best cities in the North that you’ve probably never heard of, showcasing the beauty and culture that can be found in every province in the Land of Smiles!
We’ll start with the obvious: the second biggest city in Thailand is charming and vibrant, with no shortage of attractions for tourists and expats alike. Getting a placement in Chiang Mai as a first-time ESL teacher is very unlikely, which is why teaching in the North is a great way to enjoy Chiang Mai without the higher cost of living. When you teach in Northern Thailand, you’ll be just a few hours from Chiang Mai by bus, making it a great weekend trip!
Chiang Rai is not far from Chiang Mai, and offers a lot of the luxuries of bigger cities but on a smaller scale. You’ll also be near attractions like the White Temple and the Blue Temple, which allow for incredible photo ops! You can also hike up to Phu Chi Fa cliff, which offers a spectacular panoramic view of the Thai highlands. Other notable activities include the night bazaar and the Golden Triangle, where Thailand, Laos, and Myanmar borders meet.
Mae Hong Son
In Mae Hong Son, you can explore the mountainous province home to the culturally unique hill tribes, such as the Shan and Hmong people. Many enjoy riding the popular Mae Hong Son Loop on a motorbike, but you’ll get to indulge in the views from a car too! Make sure to bring some Dramamine, though, because the loop is notorious for carsickness when winding up more than 1800 bends. I recommend a jacket as well, as it does get quite chilly the higher up you go. While you’re in the area, spend a night or two in the charming and quirky hippie town of Pai! With hot springs, waterfalls, and lush mountain views, Mae Hong Son is well worth the trip out of the major tourist hubs.
Just about an hour from Chiang Mai is Lampang, rich in teak architecture and Burmese-inspired temples. A little-known gem in Lampang is the Louis Leonowens House, where the son of Anna Leonowens (of Anna and the King of Siam) started a lucrative teak business. Louis grew up with King Chulalongkorn as his mother was the English tutor to the royal court, and Louis spoke fluent Thai! While you’re in Lampang, visit the “temple in the sky,” Wat Chaloem Phra Kiat. There’s also a wonderful walking street market if you’re in Lampang on the weekend. It’s open from 5:30 to 9:30 PM.
I had the pleasure of spending a year in Tak for my teaching placement. Though I initially didn’t see much online on my Google search, I learned quickly that I lucked out with an incredible placement town. Tak is home to the second biggest Loy Krathong festival in Thailand and offers a taste of the slow Thai lifestyle. The Ping River that runs through the town offers incredible sunset views with the mountains in the background. You can visit Taksin Maharat National Park right outside of the town where you can camp in the misty mountains and hike to see an unbelievably large krabak tree!
The first capital of Thailand, Sukhothai is home to the Historical Park where you can see the remnants of the ancient city. These incredible stone features are a treat to see during the day, but they really sparkle when lit up at night for the Loy Krathong Festival held here every year. You can rent a bike or scooter and spend the day getting lost in the park before heading to the weekend market in the evening for shopping and dinner! Don’t miss the Sukhothai noodles – a local specialty.
A great place to stop when breaking up the bus ride between Bangkok and Chiang Mai, Kamphaeng Phet is a hidden gem with little to no foreigners. You’ll enjoy an incredibly low cost of living, and life along the Ping River here as well! Similar to Sukhothai, there are UNESCO World Heritage Sites at the Historical Park here. I also had probably the best burger of my whole time in Thailand here, as beef burgers are hard to come by!
Where’s our next stop?
Next week, you can catch us highlighting the Central Region of Thailand! Heading down toward Bangkok we’ll stop by waterfalls, a historical bridge, the largest city in Thailand, and finally hit some beaches! Stay tuned for the next installment. In the meantime, check out our program page to begin planning your own Teach in Thailand adventure!