It’s a question as old as time. What’s the difference between Northern and Southern Thailand? Is there even a difference? The short answer: yes. The long answer: Take a seat and read on.

Thailand is a vast and varied country, with everything from food and language to culture and landscapes that change dramatically depending on where you visit. If you can, it’s best to try and visit a variety of spots to understand the differences and take it in as a whole.

While there are plenty of favorites on the backpacker trail like Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Koh Phangan, and Phuket, most people don’t really know why they choose these places or what the differences are before they arrive.

It’s clear that Southern Thailand is home to spectacular beaches, while Bangkok and the Northern regions are famous for some awesome temples – but what else differs?

Read on to discover the differences between Northern and Southern Thailand.

The Climate

Although Thailand boasts fantastic weather year-round, there are some differences in climate between the North and the South that you should be aware of.

The majority of the country features a cool, dry season (by Western standards) from November to February. While this is probably the best time to visit the South-Western islands, some of the more northerly regions (especially those at altitude) will be a lot cooler.

From March to May the whole country warms up, and some places receive unbearable heat – especially the cities.

Even within the South, there is a considerable difference with climate. The South-Western region (Phuket, Railay, Krabi) receive the worst of the wet season between April and November. Meanwhile, the South-Eastern islands (Koh Phangan, Koh Tao, Koh Samui) receive rain between October and December.

Choose your destinations wisely depending on the time of year so you can make the most of each location.

The Landscape

The landscape is one of the things that differs most between the North and the South of Thailand. The North is characterized by mountains and valleys; meanwhile, the South boasts stunning beaches and turquoise seas. These differences allow you to enjoy different activities. From hiking, rafting and visiting hill tribes in the North, to sunbathing, scuba diving and partying in the South you’ll always have something to do.

The Food

While you’ll always be able to get a Pad Thai wherever you go in Thailand, there are stark differences between the other traditional dishes. This is partly due to the resources available and the influences of traditional culture and historical immigration.

Generally speaking, the dishes in the North (known as Lanna or Isaan) tend to be salty and sour in taste with great depth of flavor. They are usually served with sticky rice (breakfast, lunch, and dinner!) and can be jazzed up with spicy green or red chili sauce. Although you won’t find much seafood here – due to the huge distance from the coast – you can try traditional meats like the spicy Sai ua sausage found in Chiang Mai.

The South of Thailand, especially the islands, focus on fresh seafood with sweet, sour and spicy flavors. Most of these dishes are served with jasmine rice instead of sticky rice – a sure-fire way to know if you’re eating Southern Thai food. Many of the dishes and drinks also are fruity thanks to the abundance of delicious, fresh, tropical produce. The desserts and cakes here also are a must-try!

The Language

Luckily for most backpackers and tourists, the majority of people in Thailand speak English. However, if you really want to get into it, you’ll realize there are major differences in language between the North and the South of Thailand.

Lanna, or Kham Mueang, is the language spoken by the majority of Khon Mueang people in Northern Thailand and some parts of Laos. Whereas Pak Tai is a Southern language that spreads into some of the northernmost communities in Thailand.

Most people choose to visit both the North and South, and this is a great idea to see the similarities and differences between these two regions.