Thailand's Cities - Pui and Chiang Rai
Many people think of Thailand as a destination for a beach holiday, but Thailand's many towns and cities hold a wealth of culture and history to be explored. The urban areas range from the very hectic and Westernised capital, to cosy traveller havens like Pai. Smaller towns which are less used to Westerners (farang) can be a good opportunity to see 'real' Thailand and how Thais live. Most visitors to Thailand will fly into Bangkok, the capital city placed more or less in the centre of Thailand. If you have time, it is worth spending a few days here before travelling onto your next destination. There are some very impressive wats (Buddhist temples, see thailand religion for more information), river trips along the river and canals, the famous floating markets nearby, Thai boxing matches at the stadiums, clubs and bars, as well as noisy tuk-tuks and pollution. Most routes going from one side of the country to another on public transport go via Bangkok.
Chiang Mai in the north is smaller and more atmospheric than Bangkok. It is popular with travellers and there is quite a good backpacker scene. It is well-positioned to be a good jumping-off point to explore the rest of the north and many tourists begin their travels round north Thailand at Chiang Mai. Being smaller than Bangkok, it is lot easier to get around on foot or by bicycle to see Chiang Mai's many wats and monuments. It is possible to organise treks from Chiang Mai to see North Thailand's famous hill tribes although it is preferable to do it from smaller towns or villages which are nearer to the hill villages. Chiang Mai is a good place to do cookery, yoga or massage courses.
Pai (pronounced 'bye'), in the mountains, is popular with travellers. People go to chill out, visit the hot springs and waterfalls and enjoy the scenery. There is a small, Muslim, Chinese population amongst the Thais and several long-term farang. There a few bars, some with live music. Another interesting town for tourists to visit is the nearby Mae Hong Son. It is possible to go rafting and trekking from here. Another tourist attraction is the long-neck village nearby with refugees where the women wear metal coils around their necks which make them look unnaturally long.
Chiang Rai in the north of Thailand is good base from which to visit the villages around the border with Myanmar and the Golden Triangle. It is possible to cross the border to visit Myanmar. The Golden Triangle is the area around the border with Thailand, Laos and Myanmar where opium smugglers would jump across the border to escape from the police. Opium growing in these hills has been cracked down on now by Thai law enforcement.