Thailand has long been regarded as a land where ancient customs lend a mythic quality to every aspect of life. Ornate temples entangled with tropical vegetation preside over ancient villages, stretches of sea are dotted with hand-crafted kayaks steepled with fishing poles and hung with netting, and some of the world’s best loved and most well-known beaches can be found here, enclosed by towering cliffs and wind-sculpted gorges that have provided the backdrop to several popular films and books, most famously Alex Garland’s ‘The Beach’. It’s also the place where backpackers come, from gap year students armed with face paint ready for the legendary Full Moon parties to spiritualists seeking refuge in the boho-chic alleys of Chiang Mai or the remoter islands.
The main hotspots are the islands, with their white sand beaches, clear waters and laid-back beach hut lifestyle, and the mountain villages and larger cities to the north of the country. The islands can be reached from Bangkok, itself a bustling hive of noise, traffic and an underlying religious tone that thrums through the narrow streets. Whilst the tourists tend to gravitate around the Khao San Road, there’s plenty else to see in the city. For a unique perspective, opt for a river cruise down the Chao Phraya river and admire the city’s skyline from the water, then stop off and wander through Chinatown to find a restaurant or street stall from which to sample the local food – a unique blend of salt, spice and heat, with plenty of fresh ingredients, using ancient cooking techniques. Try one of the popular seafood-based dishes. More than simply a thoroughfare, the water here is very much part of city life. Not only in Bangkok and on the islands but elsewhere. In the Ratchaburi province, for instance, the famous floating markets can be found drifting along the length of the river: the most famous of these are the Damnoen Saduak markets.
But predominantly, and consistently, Thailand is visited as an island holiday destination. Warm even in its ‘cool’ season, the island beaches continue to be counted among the most popular winter sun getaways. From iconic Koh Samui to funky Phuket, travellers from all over the world are drawn to the image of Thailand as popularised in film and TV. And whilst these may be on your ‘must see’ list, there are still relatively undiscovered islands where one can enjoy the beautiful views without the disturbance of hundreds of camera-bearing tourists. Phang Nga bay, accessible from Phuket, is home not only to some of the most stunning beaches but also to some breath-takingly beautiful hongs – lagoons. These can only be accessed by boat and kayak tours are available. On the mainland, Krabi is another popular beach spot, whilst Phi Phi island (perfect for snorkelling) draws sun-seekers to the south. For a more remote experience, try the smaller islands towards the Cambodian and Burmese borders. Try a fishing trip with one of the local boats to make your time on the beach that extra bit special.
From the wildlife-rich north-eastern region of Isaan to the sandy islands off the limestone coast, from Buddhist worship to all-night laser parties, the mix of hedonism and spiritualism is everywhere overwhelming and yet somehow harmonious and in keeping with the reputation Thailand has built itself; as a mysteriously rich and enriching country, a land of myth, legend and above all, supreme beauty.
Area: 513,115 sq km (196,512 sq miles)
Capital city: Bangkok (9.4 million)
People (main ethnicity): Thai, Chinese, and Malay
Languages: Thai, Yawi (far South)
Religion(s): Buddhist (94%), Muslim (5%), Other (inc. Christian, and Hindu 1%)
Last Edit by HTexpert on 22/11/2011 EDIT NOW >>