Differences Between Northern and Southern Thailand

There are major differences between northern and southern Thailand — almost like two different countries. Despite the fact that most tourists travel to southern Thailand, it’s said that Chiang Mai in the north is Thailand’s most beautiful city. So, what are the differences?

The food

The food in northern Thailand is different from the south that we as foreigners are most familiar with. In the north of Thailand, the traditional food is milder, salty and sour, but rarely sweet. Some famous dishes in northern are Nam Prik Ong / Nam Prik Noom, Northern-style curries and Sai ua sausage (also known as ‘Chiang Mai Sausage’). This tasty, spiced pork sausage is found everywhere in northern Thailand. Food in the old days was traditionally eaten at a small table called khantoke.

Northern Thai food on a khantoke table.

In the south of Thailand, the food is known for being very spicy, salty and sour. Spicy coconut curry and sour curry are eaten every day. Southerners eat more fish and seafood because they reside close to the sea. Some famous dishes in the south are Gaeng som pla (sour curry) and Nam Ya Kati (rice noodles and curry with coconut milk). In southern Thailand, Jasmine rice (Hom Mali rice) is eaten every day. In my opinion, this is the best rice in the world.

Dinner with my family-in-law on the beach, the Southern-style, with the best Jasmine rice you can imagine. The curry is so damn spicy I can hardly eat it. Luckily, they always make a dish not-so-spicy for me.

Nature & Climate

In the north of Thailand, the land is mostly jungle-covered mountains and valleys. Northern Thailand has the highest peaks of the country (highest point is 2,565 m or 8,415 ft) and is the home of the hill tribes including the Hmong, Yao, Lisu and Tai Yai. The climate is typical of tropical mountains with wet and dry seasons. Winter temperatures can be cool with frosts occurring most years at higher elevations, but no snow even on the highest peaks.

Beautiful Chiang Mai, northern Thailand. 

Southern Thailand is located on the Malay peninsula with the Andaman Sea to the West and the Gulf of Thailand to the East. The region has lots of spectacular scenery including the world’s famous white sandy beaches and beautiful islands. Also, the underwater world offers a stunning landscape. The climate seasons of southern Thailand are less distinct than the seasons in the rest of Thailand. In general, there is a dry season and a rainy season.

My wife at a beautiful island in southern Thailand.

People & Language

Northern Thai, Lanna, or Kham Mueang, is the language of the Khon Mueang people of Lanna, Thailand. It is a Tai language, closely related to Thai and Lao. Northern Thai has approximately six million speakers, most of whom live in Thailand, with a few thousand in northwestern Laos.

Southern Thai, also known as Pak Tai is a Southwestern Tai language spoken in southern Thailand as well as by small communities in the northernmost Malaysian states. My wife’s from Krabi and speaks Chaiya dialect – same dialect as in Phuket.

Southern Thais tend to have a darker skin and look more Malaysian, while people in Northern Thailand tend to look a bit more Chinese.

A girl from Chiang Mai, northern Thailand, wearing traditional clothes.

A young girl at a funeral in my wife’s hometown in southern Thailand.

4 thoughts on “Differences Between Northern and Southern Thailand

  1. Victoria Hobbs July 25, 2016 / 8:38 pm

    Thank you for the info! ☺

    • Anders July 25, 2016 / 9:39 pm

      My pleasure 🙂

  2. Craig July 16, 2017 / 1:21 pm

    I’m planning a trip to Thailand, hopefully spend 3 month there but I’m just Unsure If to go to north or south.. I’ve read pros and cons of both and I’m swayin more towards the southern coast though.. a suppose it all depends on what your after, I want adventure, sun, sea, exploring ect.. beer and woman also ?.. this is my first trip away, let’s just say at 35 I’m having a mid life crisis and want to see the world before I get any more Greys.. any info would be great cheers

    • Anders July 16, 2017 / 1:44 pm

      Hello, Craig.

      If you’re planning on staying there for 3 months you have plenty of time visiting both north and south – which you really should do. North is way cheaper than south, but to me, it sounds like you’re gonna love south 🙂

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