Should I Travel to Northern or Southern Thailand?
Last Updated on November 30, 2021
Written by The Lost Passport
I see the question asked quite often on travel forums, should I travel to the north of the south of Thailand? It’s a tough decision to make because the two ends of the country are so completely different.
What I can tell you is that both end of the country are amazing. So, wherever you do choose to make your trip, you won’t be disappointed.
Here I will give you a high-level breakdown of the differences between the two. This is not a detailed guide to either region, but a comparative overview to help you decide which suits your trip better. We’ll consider a few keys facts like time of year and budget, then get into what type of experience you want to get out of your trip.
I’ve covered further details of each location in my huge Thailand travel guide.
Best time to travel
Before you travel anywhere in Thailand you should be aware of the weather. There are two distinct seasons, the wet season (July through to October) and the dry season (November through to June). Between wet and dry is the green season.
The rain is heavy almost everywhere in the wet season, however, there is considerably more rain in the south. In fact, the storms can be so heavy that the smaller islands effectively close. Many speed boat services to the islands also stop in the wet season so even transport can be tricky.
If you have to travel in the wet season, I’d suggest the north of Thailand. You are far better off doing the south of Thailand at least towards the green seasons.
The north of Thailand is the cheaper region to travel. That’s good news if you are on a tight budget. Everyone spends differently while traveling, so there isn’t an exact answer, but here’s a general breakdown to doing either region on a budget.
Northern Thailand – 25,000 THB per month. Accommodation is typically 300 THB per night for a basic single room. Meals are 30 THB per dish. Motorbike rental is about 300 THB per day. A large beer in a bar costs about 100 THB.
Southern Thailand – 40,000 THB per month. Accommodation is typically 600 THB per night for a basic bungalow. Meals are 100 THB per dish. Motorbike rental starts at 500 THB per day. A large beer in a bar costs about 150-200 THB.
All-in-all, the south of Thailand costs nearly double as much. The people there know it is a tourist hot spot and can charge for it. There’s a reason the southern Thai’s wear the most gold!
Of course the budget all changes if you want to go for a flashy resort, afford a scuba diving trip, or just have a few huge nights out at beach parties.
The most popular activities in northern Thailand are focused around the mountains. That means hiking in the jungle, swimming in waterfalls, and visiting the ethnic villages far off the beaten track. One of my personal highlights of northern Thailand is the Phu Kaeng Waterfall in the Doi Luang National Park. This waterfall ticks the boxes on both jungle trekking and waterfalls, and there are some small ethnic villages which you can visit along the way.
The south of Thailand offers almost the complete opposite. There are many popular and more secluded islands spread right across the Andaman Sea and the Gulf of Thailand. Popular activities include scuba diving or snorkelling, island hopping, beach parties, and of course lazing back on the sand getting an awesome tan. One of my favourite destinations where you can do all of these activities is Koh Lipe. This island is simply stunning!
The most popular destinations in the north of Thailand include Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, and Pai. You might think that both Chiangs are as similar as their names, but they’re totally different. One is a city, and one is a village. Then you’ve got Pai which is a whole different story.
Chiang Mai is regarded as the capital of northern Thailand. It is the second largest city in the country and kid of feels like a slower version of Bangkok. The inner city has lots of old temples within easy walking distance and is all surrounded by beautiful ancient brick wall.
Chiang Rai is located another three hours north and really feels a lot slower, more like a big village. The town is surrounded by mountain ranges to the east and the west where you can go hiking and visit many ethnic hill tribes.
Pai is a small backpacker village with a very laidback vibe. The saying we used to give Pai was go “go for two days, stay for two weeks.” It’s hard to explain, you’ll just need to go there and find out.
The south of Thailand has countless islands to visit. You will get a surprisingly different experience on each. A few of my favourite islands include Koh Lipe and Koh Phangan. In between the Andaman Sea and the Gulf of Thailand you’ll find Khao Sok.
Koh Lipe in the Andaman Sea is my favourite island in the south. The beaches are stunning, the coral reefs are amazing, and it’s not overcrowded, yet. However, when you want to truly escape it all just hop on a short boat ride across the water to Koh Adang. This island is totally undeveloped.
Khao Sok National Park mixes things up a bit. This is the adventure region of southern Thailand with jungle trekking, caving, and floating rafts located far from the main villages. Go and get lost in the jungle and be at one with nature for a few days.
Koh Phangan is the party island which every backpacker should visit at least once in their life. Pull an all-nighter at the Full Moon Party, wake up on the sand, then recover your sore head with a fresh coconut on the beach.
How to get there
There are two major airports in the north of Thailand; Chiang Mai international airport and Chiang Rai domestic airport. Both airports have daily flights from Bangkok and quite often cheaper than land transport. There is also a train line from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, however it does not continue to Chiang Rai. The Green Bus company runs multiple services per day between the two cities, so it’s still really easy to get around.
The south of Thailand has a few more major airports. Phuket and Hat Yai are both international airports, with multiple flights per day from Bangkok. Domestic airports at Satun and Koh Samui make getting to the islands quite easy. Of course if you’re on a budget you can also hop on the overnight bus from Bangkok to Surat Thani. Ferries and speed boats operate between most islands.
Finally, should you travel to Northern or Southern Thailand?
The right answer is…. Both! Whether you go to the north of the south of Thailand depends on when you go, what you want to experience, and how much you want to spend. There is no correct answer, every trip is unique.
If you go to the north of Thailand this time, then do the south next time!
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Josh Shephard spent a month on the Thai islands, lived in Chiang Rai for six months, then in Bangkok for another five years. He’s explored just about every part of Thailand and written all about it on his blog The Lost Passport. Be sure to follow him on social media for regular travel updates and insider tips: Facebook | Instagram | Twitter
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