Highlights of Thailand
Thailand's capital city is a modern metropolis where ancient architecture and culture is set against a backdrop of frenzied activity and the pulsating buzz of an ever evolving Asian city. Known to the Thais as Krung Thep, or the city of angels, Bangkok was forever immortalised, if not for the wrong reasons, in Murray Head's 80s pop classic One Night in Bangkok. But the song does ring true in that the city has something to offer to everyone. The lively collection of noodle stalls, bustling flea markets, shimmering temples, designer shopping malls and energetic nightlife will ensure that no visitor to Bangkok is ever bored.
The surviving ruins of Ayutthaya are testament to the former glory of what was once the most magnificent city in the Orient. Ayutthaya was the capital of Thailand from 1350-1767 until the city was sacked and looted by Burmese invaders in the 18th century. During its 417 year history, it was the capital for 33 kings of five dynasties. Today the ancient monuments are scattered around a busy and provincial city.
Chiang Mai is Thailand's second largest city, known as the "rose of the north". Located in the mountainous north of the country, Chiang Mai and surrounding area are blessed with rich historical and cultural heritage, a pleasant year round climate and charming people in addition to exciting entertainment and shopping. Chiang Mai is also the gateway to the ancient Lanna kingdom and is a perfect base from which to explore northern Thailand and the ethnic minorities and hill tribes that still inhabit the area.
Chiang Rai is the northernmost province of Thailand and shares borders with Myanmar and Laos. The area where these three countries meet is known as the Golden Triangle, notorious for its opium trade in the past. Chiang Rai is well knows for its stunning mountain scenery and is home to several different hill tribes. The main hill tribe groups in this region are the Hmong, Karen, Lahu, Lisu, Akha and Mien. These ethnic minorities began to arrive in Thailand at the end of the 19th century and some groups may have been here much longer. Forced out of their native countries such as Myanmar, China and Tibet by civil war and political pressures, each hill tribe still has its own fascinating customs, culture, religion, clothing and language. The area surrounding Chiang Rai and the Golden Triangle evokes images of mist covered mountains and valleys that leave the first time visitor in awe.
Phuket is Thailand's largest island, nestled in the Andaman Sea off the west coast of the country. Famous for shimmering turquoise seas, uninhabited islands, sheer limestone outcrops and private coves covered with fine granules of white sand that lead to world class hotels and tropical spas, Phuket is the ultimate beach destination. The island is perfect for pure relaxation, luxurious spa therapy or water activities such as swimming, snorkelling, scuba diving and sailing. Phuket is also a conventient starting point for island hopping to the many nearby islands, as well as tours of Phang Nga Bay.
Koh Samui is Thailand's third largest island and lies just off the eastern coast of the country. The island was first settled because of its suitability for growing large amounts of coconuts that could be harvested and sent to Bangkok and around the world. Today Koh Samui, which is characterised by its beautiful, long white beaches, crystal clear waters and verdant hinterland, has developed into one of the most well known beach destinations in the world. This sleepy island has, however, retained much of its charm as an unspoilt island hideaway.
Krabi is characterised by the massive limestone karsts that rise into the sea forming islands. Not far from Phuket, Krabi is a coastal province that encompasses many beaches and islands including one of the most beautiful islands in Asia, Phi Phi, which was the location for the film The Beach. Krabi is the destination for those who want to indulge in swimming, scuba diving, island hopping, sun bathing, sea kayaking or rock climbing.