Northern Thailand displays heavy influences from the neighboring cultures of Myanmar (Burma) and Yunnan (China). The kingdoms of Lanna and Sukhothai were the first historical Thai nations.
A series of Communist insurgencies and the effects from Myanmar's drug battles and civil wars has meant that recently a large portion of northern Thailand was off limits. However, these problems have now been mostly resolved, and safe, easy travel is possible throughout the north.
Although standard Thai language is widely understood, the people of Northern Thailand have their own Thai dialect called Kham Meaung. The hilltribes also have their own languages, and if you wish to make extensive contact with them it may be a good idea to employ a translator/guide.
The main airport in Northern Thailand is Chiang Mai, which serves both domestic and international flights. There are also small domestic airports at Chiang Rai, Mae Hong Son, Pai, Phitsanulok and Sukhothai.
Spicy and bitter, Northern Thai food is quite different to that eaten in the rest of the country. There are dozens of local specialties and this is a great place to sample the traditional food of the hill tribes as well. A regional specialty is thick, slightly spicy sausages stuffed with raw garlic, the pride of Chiang Mai Province.
Other dishes to look out for include:
kaeng hang le - Burmese-style pork curry
khanom jiin naam ngiew - rice noodles with pork ribs and thick sauce
khao soi - a Burmese curry noodle soup served with shallots, lime and pickles to add as required.