I LOVE GETTING OUT and scooting around Thai’s north on a scooter. There’s a great mix of plains, mountains, national parks, cities, towns and villages. The old capital of Lampang has a wealth of old temples with Mon and Siamese influence. From Mae Sai in the far north, along the Laos border are old cities and their temples.
Pulling up in random towns at random stalls and seeing what’s for lunch rarely disappoints.
Lanna, northern Thailand is generally mountainous. Great for hiking and motorcycling.
Lanna used to rule over parts of Laos and Burma, and here at Sop Ruak, the three countries meet at the infamous but epic let down, the Golden Triangle.
Besides its natural beauty, the area is culturally rich, with the shared heritage of the neighbours it once ruled.
Buddhist temples are old and varied, the work of craftsmen highly skilled.
"Hill tribe treks" from either Chiang Mai or Chiang Rai are still popular activities, but whether you see this stuff openly cultivated these days, I couldn't say.
While well and truly out of favour these days, elephant riding has always been part of the trek experience.
These days, no-elephant treks would be quite common. 2 to 4 days is the usual duration. Don't be expecting to discover lost tribes though.
Mae Sai is the most northern part of Thailand (left bank), where it is separated from Burma (right) by the Ruak river, 26km west of the Golden Triangle.
I haven't been back in almost 30 years, but it was a pleasant town, with plenty of border town hustle, scenic surrounds, and Akha folk posing for photos (for a fee).
Out towards Laos in Nan, hell awaits. Or at least, a Buddhist temple depicting awaiting hell awaits.
Phrae is another medium sized Lanna town, which sees few farang visitors. The town has several old houses converted to museums, and temples from the 1200s.
Wat Phra That Cho Hae, Wat Luang, and Wat Jom Sawan are some temples of interest. This is 18th century Wat Phra Non.
Fine, old, wooden temple decorations like this elephant motif, can be seen in Phrae's temples.
I've long forgotten which is which though!
All three are very different in style, with elements of Luang Prabang, Mon and Thai influence.
We stumbled across this high school parade in Phrae, an odd collection of traditional music and dance, marching bands, buddhism, and goth cos-play.
Traditional offerings of flowers mixed with.....
...more unconventional attire.
Rarely seen outside formal occasions, the "pa toong" is a graceful and elegant garment.
More elaborate traditional Thai dress, modeled by, I guess, the high school queen, atop a Toyota pickup.
I saw a larger parade in Mae Sot with a similar, and possibly more disturbing, variety.
It wouldn't be Thailand without carts on bikes congregating in the evening, to sate the hunger of folks perched on plastic chairs.
A lovely example of Lanna architecture. I may be mistaken (with another house) but this may have been pulled down in 2020. Shame.
Again, I could be wrong, but this ghoulish fellow is supporting the corner of Wat Jom Sawan. (Further research shows that I am wrong.)
A short hop south of Chiang Mai is probably the second most important Lanna city, Lampang.
Dozens of historical wats litter the city, part of the Mon Hariphunchai Kingdom from the 7th century, as well as the Khmer Empire. King Mengrai incorporated Haripunchai into Lanna in 1292.
The first Mon rulers of Lampang established Wat Phra Kaeo Don Tao, making it really old.
Having housed the Emerald Buddha from 1434 to 1468, this is one of Thailand's most important temples.
History aside, the Burmese/Mon influences are clear, and the temlple and grounds relaxing places to wander.
Thais are very sentimental about Lampang, which they call "mueang rot ma", "horse carriage city", conjuring up a past buried by the modern way.
Lampang declined in importance when the capital moved to Wiang Kam Kum (Chiang Mai), which itself was absorbed by the southern Thonburi kingdoms.
And if you get Buddha fatigue, the area has national parks, waterfalls, markets, mountain temples, and traditional handicrafts.
Quite close to Chiang Mai city, Chiang Dao is a mountain retreat with hiking and bird watching. This roadside kao kha mu (pork leg with rice) was as close as I have been - so far!
Northern Thailand is somewhere I will keep coming to as long as I can....which right now with Covid, I can not.