Ask anyone where the most beautiful beaches in the world are located and you are sure to hear Thailand mentioned at least once. With no shortage of stunning coastlines and secluded getaways , islands like Phuket, Koh Samui and Krabi have drawn millions of travelers to their lavish parties and celebrity lifestyle.
However, millennials’ travel motivations are far different than popular opinion might lead you to believe. According to an article recently published by Forbes , experiencing a new culture and sampling local cuisines were the two most motivating factors for millennials when determining where to travel. Not only that, but the vast majority of those asked noted that they travelled overseas at least once per year. And while millennials range quite widely in terms of disposable income, a recent survey conducted by Harris Poll revealed that 78% of this demographic valued experiences, specifically hands-on and interactive ones, over tactile things.
With this is mind, it is no surprise that Northern Thailand ticks all the right boxes as an ideal destination for young travelers. The main hub of course being Bangkok, travelers have a variety of flight options and schedules allowing convenient access to one of Asia’s most lively and intriguing cities. Home to some of the world’s top hotels ( The Peninsula , Mandarin Oriental , and Four Seasons ) visitors can easily spend days exploring the colorful markets and impressive temples that line the city’s canals. Not to be missed are the Temple of the Golden Buddha (Wat Traimit) and the Grand Palace, both housing large-scale Buddhas forged entirely out of precious stones or metals. If you are a bit more daring and looking to gain a genuine local perspective, simply hire a longtail boat on one of the Chao Phraya River’s khlongs ( “canals”) to explore the numerous floating markets selling everything from tropical fruit and vegetables to local dishes cooked right on the boats.
From Bangkok, an hour and fifteen minute flight can take you north to either Chiang Mai or Chiang Rai. The largest city in Northern Thailand, Chiang Mai is arguably the most culturally significant area in the country. Over 800 years old, the ancient city hosts over 300 Buddhist wats (or temples) which vary in size and architectural design yet never fail to impress. One of the most dramatic, Wat Phra That, lies just outside the walled city atop a nearby mountain.
While in the region, be sure not to skip out on a visit to some of the local artisans. Celebrated for their skill in metalworking and woodcarving, a souvenir from their workshops not only supports the local economy but provides a much more meaningful and remarkable memory than the drunken tattoos often sought after in the south. And instead of the thriving nightlife, the younger generation can enjoy a trip to the renowned night markets. The whirlwind sights, sounds, and smells will definitely overwhelm your senses in the most delightful way possible. If you are lucky enough to visit in December, you can also take in the Loi Krathong, or Lantern Festival, where thousands of paper lanterns are released into the night sky in hopes of bringing good luck to the upcoming year.
For those with the budget, the Dhara Dhevi Hotel Chiang Mai and Four Seasons Chiang Mai offer a chance to relax in an oasis of lily ponds and rice paddies. Both resorts are decorated in a traditional Thai style and offer tranquil spas (time to try that Thai massage!) as well as vibrant Thai cooking classes – an ideal way to relax after a couple days of exploring the area. Don’t worry if your wallet does not allow for this, though. Local inns and guest houses throughout Thailand can run as little as $3 per night with street food costing mere pennies – perfect for those on a student or recent grad’s budget.
One of the northern area's true hidden gems, though, is the tropical region that is Chiang Rai and the surrounding jungle. It is in this remote area that you can not only visit elephant sanctuaries but engage in one-one-one experiences with these majestic creatures. You may have always dreamed of riding an elephant, but here you can actually help to rehabilitate animals that were mistreated in previous tourist-industry jobs.
If you prefer instead some human contact, Chiang Rai is also home to a number of hill tribes, or non-Buddhist communities that reside in the mountains of Thailand. Each group has its own distinct language and culture having originated from various parts of Asia. Most are happy to welcome visitors into their village for the day as well as enlighten you on their heritage and ancestry.
If you intend to stay in the area for a while, the Four Seasons Tented Camp and the Anatara Golden Triable Elephant Camp are impressive options. Both are located near the Thai border, an area known as the Golden Triangle, giving their residents one-of-a-kind views of the Mekong River and on a clear day, neighboring Myanmar and Laos.