Bordered by Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Malaysia, and lapped by the Gulf of Thailand and the Andaman Sea, Thailand has long been enticing visitors. The country’s attractions are endless, with miles of sandy beaches, national parks, pristine dive sites and fascinating cultural centres. Absorb yourself in the way of life and meet the Thai people who are only to happy to introduce you to their unique country.
Fondly known as “the land of smiles”, Thailand is commonly associated with gorgeous golden sand, palm-lined beaches, warm aquamarine waters, glorious temples and verdant jungle-clad mountains. With sixteen million foreigners flying into the country each year, Thailand is the primary travel hub of Southeast Asia, offering a diverse range attractions and activities to suit all tastes and budgets. Whether exploring the teeming metropolis of Bangkok, relaxing on the tropical beaches of the southern islands, scuba diving in the underwater wonderland off the coast of Koh Tao, jungle trekking in the North, or discovering the ancient cities of Chiang Mai, Thailand is filled with attractions to satisfy any interest.
The cosmopolitan Thai capital is a whirlwind of skyscrapers and ancient buildings. Ko Rattanakosin, an island on the chao Phraya river, is home to three of the most famous temples: Wat Arun, Wat Phra Kaew and Wat Pho. The latter’s incongruous in-house massage school offers superb Thai massages. Next to Wat Pho is the Royal Palace, whose sprawling grounds could easily take a day to visit. Wrap up the day with a spot of shopping in the Pratunam area and end with a sundowner at one of Bangkok’s rooftop sky bars; Vertigo, on the 61st floor of the Banyan Tree hotel, has seriously jaw-dropping views.
An hour’s flight from Bangkok is Chiang Mai, in the country’s northern mountains. It’s worth spending two days here — there may not be a beach, but this riverside city is a tranquil escape from the capital. Wat Phra Singh — a typical Lanna (a Style of temple from Northern Thailand) – is the main sight. its Lion Buddha one of the country’s iconic religious images. In the evening, go to the Night Bazaar, a legacy of the old trade route between China and Burma.
Make the next day all about the animals — specifically, the elephants that Chiang Mai is famous for. Over 50 of the gentle giants live at the Thai Elephant Conservation Centre. Come evening, try the Night Safari tram ride through the jungle of Doi Suthep Pui National Park.
It’s time for the beach — Phuket is Thailand’s largest island. Stay away from Patong, the busiest and sleaziest enclave. Instead, pick a hotel on the west coast, where the beaches are best for sunbathing and swimming. Nai Thon, Bang Tao and Surin are all peaceful villages, with small restaurants and street food stalls mere feet from the sand. Spend a day exploring the southern tip — Rawai is an authentic fishing village, with restaurants serving freshly caught fish on the water’s edge. Leave a day free to visit Phang Nga Bay, where island-like blocks of limestone karst jut out of the turquoise bay.
• Grand Palace & Wat Phra Kaew (Temple of the Emerald Buddha), Bangkok
• Floating Market (Damnoen Saduak), Ratchaburi
• Chatuchak Weekend Market, Bangkok
• Klong (canal) tour in Bangkok by longtail boat
• National Museum, Bangkok
• Ayutthaya, ancient capital
• Traditional Thai dance shows
• Elephant conservation camps
• Beaches and islands
With excellent internal flight connections, Thailand is a breeze to get around. Starting in Bangkok, a second visit can take in Chiang Rai, a northern city nous for its distinctly spicy cuisine. he Black House (actually a collection of around 40 houses), Wat Phra Kaew temple and the Hilltribe Museum are among the top sights. Spend the rest of the trip island-hopping: Koh Samui, Koh Phan Ngan and the Angthong archipelago are easily combinable on the east coast.