Information on Thailand
Thailand has long been known as the 'land of smiles', due to the warm and welcoming nature of its people. It is the most-visited tourist destination in Southeast Asia, and is a particular favourite among Europeans.
The country's impressive scenery, hospitality, deep-rooted culture, ornate temples, colourful markets, exotic food and world-class beaches create an irresistible combination. Tourism is important to the Thai economy and it has well-developed structure that ensure the comfort of those who visit.
The kingdom's history is one of a series of dynasties reaching back nearly 1,000 years. Each succeeding era left a legacy of cultural and religious structures and artefacts. From the far north, and the Lanna Kingdom of the 14th century to the Ayuthaya period of the 18th and the height of the Siamese influence, the Thais have managed to dominate the region while remaining independent.
Bangkok, the Thai capital, boasts a number of impressive temples and cultural attractions that stand alongside - and are often dwarfed by - the city's skyscrapers. The capital's streets are notoriously congested as most visitors who spend a few days here quickly learn.
The Grand Palace, backpackers' Khao San Road, glitzy shopping malls, upscale restaurants and the city's food vendors, handicraft markets and nightlife - both naughty and not - will easily fill a few days' time. This is the kingdom's transport centre, and the new, world-class Suvarnabhumi International Airport is a major transportation hub for the region.
Phuket is known for luxury resorts, fabulous seascapes and unsurpassed beaches. Nearby Pha Nga Bay boasts its trademark karst formations that have featured in a number of Hollywood movies. Phi Phi Island, of The Beach fame, is also nearby as is Krabi, a popular, less pricey seaside resort about an hour away by boat. Krabi also is the site of numerous karst formations and home to Ao Nang and Railay beaches.
Samui Island is located across the peninsula from Phuket, in the Gulf of Thailand. It has been called the country's 'boutique island' and offers the visitor a wide range of accommodation options, lovely beaches and the atmosphere of a tropical island. Divers typically head a bit further north to Koh Tao, where there are excellent dive shops and the most accessible reefs around.
Pattaya, a coastal resort on the Gulf of Thailand to the southeast of Bangkok, has long been a centre for hedonistic pastimes filled with go-go bars and expatriates. It is trying to redefine itself as a family destination, with some success, as there are plenty of activities, in and out of the water, that have family appeal. Off the coast a bit further south is the relaxed island of Koh Samet, where visitors will find some of the country's finest white beaches, within a reasonable drive of Bangkok.
Thailand's north has a strikingly different character, including its vast, unspoilt mountain wilderness and communities that are home to colourful hill tribe minorities. Chiang Mai, the unofficial capital of the north, is an ancient city surrounded by a moat and remnants of a city wall. It is a handicraft shopper's haven and home to countless temples. It can be a relaxing place that provides an excellent base for treks around northern Thailand. The famed Golden Triangle is at the northernmost point of the country, on the banks of the Mekong River, where Thailand, Laos and Myanmar meet.