The Rice Fields of North Thailand

Table of Contents

Rice of Thailand: introduction

During your visit to Thailand, you will eat a lot of rice. You will also see many rice fields in North Thailand. The country has a strong tradition of rice production. Rice is the main dietary staple of the country. The Thai people in general eat two different varieties of rice: the standard white rice and “sticky” rice. Sticky or glutinous rice is the main variety that people in the Northeast of the country eat. Sticky rice is also very popular in North Thailand.

This kind the Thai people also use for delicacies and desserts throughout the country. In short: rice is the most important part of every meal for Thai people.

Thailand has the fifth-largest amount of land under rice cultivation in the world. At least half of the cultivated land in the country is devoted to rice. It used to be the world largest exporter of the grain but India has taken the top spot several years ago. Vietnam has now even taken second place, pushing Thailand to third.

Wet rice fields with trees
Baan Thi rice fields

The history and importance of rice

Asian rice is known as oryza sativa. Rice is the grain of this grass species that is of such importance globally. Oryza means rice, sativa means cultivated. It was first domesticated in the basin of the Yangtze River in China between 13500 and 8200 years ago. That is the consensus of scientists, based on archaeological and linguistic evidence. The earliest evidence of rice cultivation in Thailand comes from the Ban Chiang archaeological site in the northeast of the country. Scientists have dated this back to 1500-2000 BC.

How important is rice for Thailand: it uses over half of the arable land and labor force in Thailand. In 2020 there were eight million farm households in the country, of which four million cultivate the precious grain. Rice is also one of the main sources of nutrition for the majority of  the Thai people: each person consumes about 115 kg rice per year. You have now enough general information about the importance of rice for this country. It also plays an important part in our tours: we will not only serve rice during the meals on our tours but there is much more to enjoy.

Rice terrace view from homestay in Karen Village
Huay Khao Lip Homestay view

Fantastic rice fields in North Thailand

During your visit of North Thailand you will mostly observe seasonal wet rice agriculture. Seeds are sown in small seedbeds before the rainy season starts. When enough rain has fallen to flood the paddy fields people transplant the seedling (young rice plants) one by one to the prepared fields. This usually takes place in May or June. After this the plants mature while the rain keeps falling.

Towards the end of the rainy season the fields will get drier and drier. After the last rains have fallen the plants have matured, turned from green to yellow and are ready to get harvested. During this time you will people standing in the field to harvest the rice plants by hand. After this the grain has to be separated from the plant, which is called treshing. This happens by hand but there are also treshing machines.

After the harvest the field is left to dry. Before the next rainy season the rice fields are burned to dispose of the left over straw. This causes widespread air pollution in the North of Thailand, usually between mid-March and mid-April. In unusual long dry seasons this pollution can be a problem for a more extended period.

People harvesting rice
Harvest at Mae Chaem, Chiang Mai province

Rice fields and rice on our tours

Rice is such an important, interesting and healthy part of life in North Thailand to which we pay a lot of attention on our tours. The best time to see rice fields is May until September. The fields are then a beautiful green. In some parts of the north there is irrigation which allows growing rice outside of the season. If possible we will try to show you the beauty of rice fields.

There are mostly lowland paddy fields but there are also irrigated rice terraces such as the terraces of the Karen community Huay Khao Lip and the Lawa village Baan Dong.

Rice terraces with forest and village rice fields north thailand
Ban Dong rice terraces, Mae Hong Son province

Experiences with rice

Our guides will explain about rice, stop at rice fields for photo stops and show you the different varieties of rice. In the Palong village Mae Chon you can try out our own rice pounder. If we are in the planting season we will give you the opportunity to join the local people in the paddy field and help out. If we are in the harvesting season we will invite you to help the local people to  harvest the rice. During our cooking courses in villages, rice is of course an important dish. We will let you taste the sticky variety if available.

Local people with wooden pounder
Traditional rice pounder in Palong village
Students planting rice fields North Thailand
Student planting rice
Palm trees rice fields and mountains
View on Doi Luang Chiang Dao with extensive rice fields