North vs South: Where Should You Go for a Yoga Retreat in Thailand?
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You’ve decided to go to Thailand for a yoga retreat; great choice! You’re bound to live an unforgettable experience in one of the top destinations. There’s still one question you may still have, though – where in Thailand will I spend my vacation?
Will it be the mystic mountains and jungles of the north or the sunny beaches and islands in the south?
To help you make a decision, let’s first dive into the geography of Thailand. Its territory is divided into 6 main regions: Northern, Northeastern, Central, Eastern, Western and Southern Thailand. The capital, Bangkok, is located in Central Thailand, and if you’re flying from the US or Europe, it’s quite possible you’ll land there.
While there are some good retreats in Bangkok and its surroundings, the truth is most yogis flee from the big city to either the north or the south, where the vast majority of yoga retreats in Thailand are held.
But how to choose between the two? Rest assured that both Northern and Southern Thailand are amazing in their own right, and you can do no wrong picking one or the other. However, depending on your taste, here are some aspects you might want to consider before making a decision:
In general, the north feels quieter than the more crowded south. Here you’ll notice a more chilled-out atmosphere, people are friendlier on the street and there’s a more traditional ambiance.
The largest city in Northern Thailand is Chiang Mai. Founded in the late 1200s as part of the Lanna Kingdom, it has plenty of history and is considered the cultural capital of Thailand. With hundreds of temples, “Lanna style” architecture and good vibes everywhere you go, it has become a home to more alternative travelers, digital nomads and, of course, yoga retreats.
Chiang Rai and Pai are two other nice places to visit in the north. Chiang Rai is a laidback town surrounded by mountains and Pai is a small village that has become a favorite for backpackers. Both worth at least a day trip if you decide to head north.
The south, on the other hand, is a jaw-dropping tropical paradise. The beauty of its heavenly islands brings millions of tourists every year to visit some of the best beaches in the world. So, if sun, sand and sea are what you’re looking for, don’t think it twice and head south.
Koh Samui and Koh Phangan are two islands with so many yoga holidays that you could even do a “retreat crawl” hopping from one yoga center to the other. Phuket is another popular destination for yoga retreats. With over 30 beautiful beaches and dozens of luxurious resorts, it is ideal for a relaxing vacation where you’d have nothing to worry but enjoying yourself and doing yoga.
Read our comprehensive guide to yoga retreats in Thailand to get a better glimpse of why you should go to the Land of Smiles for a yoga holiday.
Keep in mind that the wet season goes from July through October. During this time, it might be better to head north since you wouldn’t be able to enjoy a sunny beach anyway. The dry season occurs from November through June and is a perfect time for a tour of the islands.
If you tend to struggle in hot weather, the hillsides in the north will suit you better. It is still hot but its high elevation brings cooler winters (at least compared to the south). The maximum average temperature in Chiang Mai is 36 °C (97 °F) in April, and the lowest is 14 °C (57 °F) in January.
The south is hot all throughout the year. For example, in Koh Samui, even in January the lowest temperature is 24 °C (97 °F), while the maximum doesn’t go lower than 29 °C (75 °F) all year long.
If you’re on a tight budget, Northern Thailand is definitely a better option for you. Everything, from accommodation to food to transportation, is way cheaper in the north. That said, if money isn’t a problem or if you’re looking for more comfort, then it’ll be easier to find a luxurious yoga retreat in Southern Thailand.
But don’t fret if you want to visit the south and don’t have too much cash to burn. Thailand is quite affordable anywhere you go. You can find a yoga holiday for as low as 42 USD per day in Koh Samui or 38 USD in Chiang Mai.
If you just want to focus on your yoga practice, the north definitely has fewer distractions that could disturb the serene atmosphere of your retreat. Nonetheless, it doesn’t mean you can’t complement it with some interesting activities like hiking in the forests and mountains or visiting a few of the majestic temples around the area.
Another popular activity in Northern Thailand is going to an elephant sanctuary. These places give you the opportunity to pet these gentle giants and take pictures. If you do decide to do this, just please be conscious and go to an ethical sanctuary where they take good care of them; also, never ride an elephant since it might hurt the animal.
The south is more active and there are plenty of nightlife options. In Koh Phangan, the world-famous full moon parties occur every month on the beach and have become a must-go for party lovers. Phuket has lots of bars and clubs to have a drink or go dancing, too.
If you don’t feel like partying during a yoga retreat, there are tons of options to explore nature. You could book a tour around the Phang Nga Bay and see the “James Bond Island” with your own eyes. Or, you could go snorkeling in Koh Lipe to see the astonishing coral reefs.
If you’re thinking about combining yoga with culinary activities, the north has more options in terms of cooking courses and classes. This region is known for its organic and permaculture farming initiatives. Vegetarian options and juice shops abound in Chiang Mai or Chiang Rai.
The north has the ‘Lanna flavors’ that no other place can replicate. Steamed sticky rice with red or green sauce is the base of their meals. The most popular northern dish might be som tum, which is basically green papaya salad. Don’t leave Thailand without giving it a try!
If you opt for Southern Thailand, you’ll be blessed with some delicious seafood. The dishes here tend to be a bit spicier than in the north and some of the most popular things you can have are tom som pla krabok (sweet and sour fish soup with ginger) and kaeng tai pla (a chili curry with fish and vegetables).
So, are you going north or south? Or, why not both?
Do you have the time and budget to visit both the north and south? Go for it! You could hop from one yoga retreat in Koh Samui to another in Chiang Mai and get to live out the full Thailand experience.
Don’t want to spend all your vacations on a yoga retreat? Go on a short yoga break in Thailand!