Thailand Travel Guide, Thailand Tourism, Thailand Vacation, Thailand trip, Thailand holidays
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The jewel of the Southeast Asian travel circuit, Thailand offers astonishing diversity and a truly fascinating and accessible culture that, along with the revered Thai hospitality, makes it an incredibly popular destination.
With an enticing mixture of established destinations such as Phuket and Hua Hin, and out-of-the-way palm-fringed islands, Thailand has a very exotic appeal. It caters for grungy backpacking types wanting to party into the wee hours through to those who prefer white tablecloth dining and clinking wine glasses. From staying on a converted rice barge, clambering into a jungle tree house or bedding down in a hill tribe village, the country offers a wealth of choice for all tastes and budgets.
For divers, snorkelers, and those who just like swanning around on white-powder sand there are postcard-perfect beaches, and the extraordinary metropolis of Bangkok in the south, while the north offers the sublime delights of culture-packed Chiang Mai with its temple-studded old town, and cooling forests and mountain retreats.
One of the best ways to access Thai culture is through a 'Monk chat' session in a local wat (temple) in Chiang Mai, where you get the opportunity to quiz the dignified saffron-robed monks about anything you like. And in the early morning, all over the country, the monks leave the sanctuary of their wats to receive alms from the people, be it in a dusty village or on crowded city streets. Buddhism is a way of life here and the Thais are also strong supporters of their monarchy.
And don't forget the food! A culinary adventure awaits with tempting morsels on virtually every street corner, from traditional Royal-project run restaurants to delicious piping hot street food. Eating is as much a part of the culture here as anything else and definitely the key to local hearts. If you're lucky enough to catch a local festival, it will probably be dominated by food.
The most welcoming of countries, despite being inundated with tourists and expats, it's the gentle hospitality of local people that is the strongest memory of Thailand for many visitors. And what a wonderful memory it makes.
Things to see and do
Northern Insight Meditation Centre
Thailand is a serene and thought-provoking place to do some meditation. This centre offers an intensive month-long course and there are strict rules to be observed. The beautiful leafy setting in Chiang Mai is ideal, but there are similar places all over the country; make enquiries at local temples.
Thailand's highest limestone mountain can be found here amidst a jungle oasis with an excellent selection of local accommodation. A mystical warren of caves extending some 14km (8.7 miles) can be explored, and riding a bicycle is a relaxing way to explore the area around Chiang Dao.
Chiang Mai - Old City
The temple-studded old city of Chiang Mai with its leafy residential sois, towering city gates and crumbling walls is a highlight of the north. Exploration is best by bicycle with traffic surprisingly subdued in the city walls and there are plenty of places to stop for refreshment when escaping the heat of the day.
Escape to the cooling heights of Thailand's highest peak, where jungle walks, bird watching and simply shaking the heat of the simmering plains from your back awaits. There are good roads in the park making it easy to get around and waterfalls to splash about in.
Elephant Nature Park
Visiting an elephant sanctuary can be a wonderful experience especially if you stick to those, like this nature park, which genuinely care for the animals instead of just making them do ridiculous antics. Visitors can help wash and care for the elephants here and no riding is allowed.
JEATH War Museum
The moving JEATH War Museum (JEATH representing the first letter of Japan, England, America, Australia, Thailand and Holland, the countries who lost soldiers in the region) is located in the provincial capital, Kanchanaburi and features photographs and various other memorabilia from World War II.
Wat Phra That Doi Suthep
One of northern Thailand's most sacred temples, Wat Suthep is perched high in the mountains overlooking the steamy metropolis of Chiang Mai below. As well as offering astounding views the temple, established in the 14th century, has a wonderful collection on Lanna Art and architecture.
Bangkok's Siam Ocean World
Dive with the sharks in the aquarium at Bangkok's Siam Ocean World (www.siamoceanworld.co.th), and live to tell the tale. There's a daily feeding of sharks and penguins and the deep reef zone is a fascinating glimpse into a magical underwater world.
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