Descending from China in grand, graceful arcs, the upper Mekong unfurls in a tranquil, lulling sheen. Only battlement ruins to the south betray the region’s heritage, a blood-soaked clash of empires, contested by Thai, Burmese, Laotian and Khmer armies for centuries. Fortresses and royal cities are now all but swallowed by jungle and farmland.
The once-remote at the northern tip of Thailand is now a haven for peaceful contemplation in dozens of temples and shrines, from gilded palaces to secret grottoes, where you can meditate to the sound of water dripping on limestone or the chattering of monkeys. One mountain outcropping has become a favorite for passing elephants, who gaze over the mists to Myanmar and Laos beyond.