“Without new experiences, something inside of us sleeps. The sleeper must awaken.” ~ Frank Herbert
Few countries encompass the diversity Thailand does. From densely forested hill country in the north to the south’s stunning beaches, from booming Bangkok to quiet villages, it’s impossible to find just one place that contains everything Thailand has to offer.
Bangkok’s allure lies in its blend of tradition, multicultural energy and modernity. A defining feature of the city is the Chao Phraya River, and a boat tour early in the trip is a favorite way to get one’s bearings. The top historical site is the Grand Palace, once the residence of Siam’s royal family and home to the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. Also highly rated are the Royal Barge Museum and the Jim Thompson House. Open air, night and floating markets are a lively part of Bangkok life, and sampling the abundant street food is an inexpensive way to explore the multicultural influences of Thai cuisine. As the party capital of southeast Asia, Bangkok boasts enough luxury hotels, nightspots, malls and casinos to satisfy everyone.
Located in northwest Thailand, this rapidly modernising city offers a blend of historic culture and easy access to the surrounding countryside. Attractions in the city include an historic old town, Buddhist temples dating back more than 700 years, a vast night bazaar famous for handicrafts by local artisans, vibrant nightlife and cooking schools specialising in Thai cuisine. The area surrounding the city is hilly and densely forested. There are three national parks, the famous Doi Suthep mountain, an elephant park and several hill tribe villages. Tours to all of these depart from Chiang Mai and transportation choices include bus, elephant, or hiking.
Located 427 km North of Bangkok, Sukhothai contains some of the world’s most famous ruins. Temples, stupas, giant Buddhas, and a wall of sculpted elephants are among the highlights. Sukhothai is in a tranquil, yet beautiful part of Thailand, with lush countryside and numerous small lakes and ponds. There are two towns near the ruins. New Sukhothai, 12 km to the east, is a modern city whose hotels and restaurants make it a favourite with overnight visitors. Old Sukhothai, near the ruins, offers glimpses of traditional village life. In places like Old Sukhothai visitors often discover something unexpected, an abiding interest in the country and its culture. Some return for an extended stay while others defray costs by doing volunteer work, gaining a chance to see more of the country as well as adding a network of friends and co-workers.
Patong Beach at Phuket
The most popular beach on the holiday island of Phuket off the west coast of the southern peninsula, Patong symbolises the booming, tourist-friendly face of modern Thailand. The action is non-stop, with daytime beach and off-beach activities that include swimming, sunbathing, jet skiing, cable skiing, wake boarding, banana boat rides, paragliding, shopping, cooking classes and more. By night there’s an endless choice of restaurants bars, and clubs. Despite the party atmosphere, thronging crowds and urban landscape, Patong remains exceptionally beautiful, with a long, inward curving beach, white sand, warm waters and sweeping ocean views. The beach itself is free of shops and has recovered well from the 2004 tsunami.
Once unknown to all but divers and wandering backpackers, Koh Tao has held on to its low-key past while adding luxury resorts for those who want more. With calm, crystal waters, abundant aquatic life and healthy coral reefs, this remains a prime locale for beginning divers as well as those more with experience. Dive schools are abundant and it’s the world’s second most popular place to go for open water diving certification, Ao Tanote Bay is paradise for snorkellers, offering colourful displays of coral formations and a huge variety of tropical fish in relatively shallow waters. Those who opt for luxury can choose among any number of resorts, enjoy gourmet meals with a focus on local seafood and fruit, and be pampered in grand style. Backpackers will still find inexpensive accommodations and a verdant inland ripe for hiking. Koh Tao also has a yoga and wellness center and, true to its quirky past, a school that gives flying trapeze lessons.
Thailand’s combination of natural beauty, ancient past and vibrant people has made it one of the world’s top-rated destinations, drawing 20 million visitors each year.
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