The North has vast mountain ranges which dominate the landscape and are the source of many rivers. Fantastic trekking, waterfalls and natural beauty.
The Northeast combines features of the northern highlands with the Mekong River and appealing plateaus. Hom Mali Rice (Thai Jasmine Rice) is grown here and exported all over the world. Popular places along the Mekong River include Amphoe Chiang Khan, Tha Sadet Market, the Indochina Market and Sam Pan Bok Grand Canyon.
Central Thailand is a huge area of rice farming and agricultural plains. There are ancient historical temples to visit and plenty of local markets to explore. There are also Chao Phraya boat tours from Bangkok to Ayutthaya every day.
The South contains many beautiful beaches and islands in the Gulf of Thailand and the Andaman Sea. Well-known tourist destinations are Phuket Province, Koh Samui, Koh Phi Phi, Koh Lipe, and Koh Tao.
Eastern Thailand is half mountain, half ocean with amazing sights and stunning locations to visit.
The West is mountainous and characterised by national parks with woodlands and waterfalls. This is where you will find the Bridge over the River Kwai, Kanchanaburi War Cemetery and the World War II Museum and Art Gallery.
Bangkok is the vibrant capital and the most populous city of Thailand (formerly Siam). Despite chaotic traffic, the city is full of surprises. Just step away from the street noise and into the calm of one of the city’s 400 wats (temple-monasteries). Bangkok was at the heart of Siam’s modernization during the nineteenth century and took centre stage during Thailand’s political struggles in the twentieth century, as the country abolished absolute monarchy and underwent numerous coups and uprisings. Royal palaces, temples and museums are amongst the city’s major historical and cultural tourist attractions. The city is also famous for its dynamic nightlife.
Chiang Mai is Thailand’s gateway to the north. The city has 300 temples, including Wat Chiang Man which is home to the 1800-year-old Crystal Buddha, Wat Phra Singh built in the classic northern-Thai style and Wat Chedi Luang which has been partially ruined by earthquake, cannon fire and (sadly) recent restoration efforts.
Ten miles west of the city the golden pagoda of Wat Doi Suthep (above) stands atop Suthep Mountain. It is one of Chiang Mai’s most important landmarks and dates from 1383.
Krabi is a southern province on Thailand’s Andaman Sea with some fantastic islands and islets. The topmost destinations are Hat Noppharat Thara, Ao Nang, Railay and Ko Phi Phi National Park. The Lanta islands and Phi Phi islands appeal to adventurers, yachtsmen, scuba divers and day-trippers from Phuket. The Koh Lanta National Park, also in Krabi province, includes several coral-fringed islands with good diving sites. The national parks of Khao Phanom Bencha and Than Bokk-horani offer trekking, birdwatching and eco-tours with waterfalls to visit and caves to explore.
Khao Sok National Park in Southern Thailand is an amazing place. It is ideally positioned on the mainland between Phuket, Krabi, Khao Lak and Koh Samui.
Khao Sok is an ideal place for the more adventurous traveller, offering elephant trekking, walking trails, canoe trips and jeep safaris. One of the most interesting areas is the stunningly beautiful Cheow Larn Lake in the heart of the National Park with its floating raft houses where you can stay in a luxury tent.
Phuket is Thailand’s largest island and famed for its beaches. The island is connected to the mainland by two bridges. One of the most popular (and overcrowded) tourist areas on Phuket is Patong Beach. Most of Phuket’s nightlife and its cheap shopping is located in Patong, and the area has become increasingly developed. Other popular beaches are Karon, Kata, Kata Noi, Nai Harn and Rawai. North of Patong, the beaches at Kamala and Bang Tao are generally much less developed and sought out by those with a preference for more relaxed and less crowded atmosphere. Bon Island is just a short boat ride away. There are also several coral islands to the south of Phuket; the Similan Islands lie to the northwest, and Phi Phi Islands to the southeast.
The island of Samui, as it is referred to by locals, is located off the east coast of the Kra Isthmus in Thailand.
The beach at Chaweng, on the eastern side, is the most popular, with 5 kms of golden sand.
Lamai Beach in the southeast, Bophut Beach (Fisherman’s Village) in the northeast and Maenam Beach in the north all offer a range of accommodation from no star frills to swanky 5-star resorts.
In recent years the less-crowded western side of the island has seen the arrival of many top-end hotels and resorts.
Kanchanaburi is just two hours north of Bangkok where the Khwae Noi and Khwae Yai rivers converge. There is lots to do in the area from hiking through the rainforest, swimming at the Erawan waterfalls, white-water rafting, visiting temples, elephant trekking or taking a trip on the river. The Wat Tham Sua temple has the largest gold Buddha in Thailand.
Kanchanaburi is most famous for the construction of the Burma-Siam Death Railway line and the Bridge over the River Kwai (Khwae) in 1943.
The notorious Thailand-Burma railway, built by Commonwealth, Dutch and American prisoners of war during the Second World War was a Japanese project driven by the need for improved communications to support their large army in Burma. During its construction approximately 13,000 prisoners of war died and were buried alongside the railway. It is thought that a further 80,000 to 100,000 civilians also died in the course of the project, mainly forced labour brought from Malaya and the Dutch East Indies but also from Thailand and Burma (Myanmar).
Ayutthaya was founded around 1350 and rose to importance through trade with China, India, and the Malay Archipelago to become the largest city in the world by 1700 with a total of 1 million inhabitants (London is thought to have had a population under 600,000 at this time). The city was attacked by the Burmese in 1767 who burned the city to the ground and forced the inhabitants to abandon the city. The remains are an extensive archaeological site, characterized by reliquary towers (known as prang) and huge monasteries which give an idea of its past splendour. Ayutthaya was designated a World Heritage Site in 1991.
There are seven major hill tribes and three smaller minority groups in Thailand’s mountainous regions, each of which has a distinct language and which have largely preserved their traditional ways, making them fascinating for cultural study. Most of the hill tribes living in the remote upland areas practice subsistence farming although the growing of opium in the infamous “Golden Triangle” has largely been superceded through an initiative set up by King Bhumibol to switch to other crops.
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