Thailand is a mainstay on any backpackers travel itinerary. From trekking the mountainous north, to the concrete jungle of Bangkok in the center, to the picturesque islands in the south, Thailand really has it all. But how much do you really know about the country? We have put together a quick overview of the different regions of the country to see what makes Thailand… Thailand.
Thailand covers an area of over 510,000 km2, bordering Myanmar and Laos in the north and reaching all the way down to Malaysia in the South. This vast area has lead to Thailand’s regions developing their own distinct culture, whether due to the geography of the area or the mixture of ethnicities. Understandably, this also has impacted on many aspects of daily life for the people, such as the language they speak and the food they eat.
There are a number of ways to split up Thailand, though one of the most popular ways is to split it into 4 different regions - north, south, central and north east - which generally have their own culture and history.
The central region is the most populated in the country, encompassing the capital of Thailand, Bangkok. Dominated by the metropolis of Bangkok, the region is the heart of the country for administrative and political purposes. As with any big city, Bangkok has a colorful population of natives, expats and workers from other regions of Thailand mingling together.
Outside of Bangkok are some other beautiful sights as well as some key cultural locations. Nakhon Pathom for example is one of Thailands oldest cities, and is home to a giant stupa. Ayutthaya is also located in this region, and is distinguished as the former capital of the kingdom. The ruins of the historic city are now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The north-eastern region, known as Isan, is characterised by a unique culture very close to that of Laos. The region is home to 4 major cities: Udon Thani, Khon Kaen, Ubon Ratchathani and Nakhon Ratchasima (also known as Korat) with 40% of the population of Isan living within their surrounding provinces. While the culture of the region is rich, unfortunately it is the poorest financially. As such, many younger people leave for the riches of the capital in search of a better life.
As a largely agricultural region, the cuisine often consists of freshly grown local ingredients. Som Tam originates from this region, showcasing their affinity for spicy foods. Sticky rice is the preferred side dish for meals rather than the standard rice, a characteristic shared with their Laos neighbors.
The northern region of Thailand has a landscape defined by mountain ranges and valleys. The largest cities include Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai, both of which have proven popular among tourists. The slower paced lifestyle, cooler temperatures and greenery continues to draw in people from around the world. The cooler temperatures during the winter months are also a refreshing change from the likes of the capital.
Cuisine in the north is characterized by seasonal, less spicy dishes, with a preference for pork and fresh vegetables. Deep fried foods are also very popular. They share many similar elements in their cuisine with Isan, preferring sticky rice over regular rice. Likewise, many aspects of Burmese cuisine are also shared between the countries due to their close proximity and shared culture. Khao Soi is perhaps the best known northern Thai specialty.
To the south of the country, Thailand connects with the Malay peninsula, which has greatly affected the culture of the region. Being predominantly muslim, southern Thailand enjoys close cultural ties with neighbouring Malaysia. This can be seen in the local cuisine which consists of spicy curries such as Khua Kling, and seafood dishes.
To the north of this southern region are some of the most popular Thai island resorts in the country. Both the Koh Samui island chain and Phuket are located around this area, benefiting from the warm temperatures and pleasant waters of the Gulf of Thailand and Andaman Sea respectively. As tourism hotspots, these islands have built a reputation as party hotspots. The likes of the full moon party on Koh Phangan are renowned worldwide and so have drawn in many younger people.
This is just a quick insight into the different regions of the country, highlighting some unique aspects of their regional identity. There is a lot more that can be said about Thailand and its beautiful landscape, people and culture. With every region boasting their own identity, there is something new to see, eat and experience wherever you decide to visit.
If you are interested in learning Thai ready for your cross-country trek, use the Ling app to help you get started.