Thailand’s “Rose of the North” is a cultural and natural wonderland with ethnic diversity, a multitude of attractions, and welcoming hospitality.
Chiang Mai literally means “new city” and has retained the name despite celebrating its 700th anniversary in 1996. King Meng Rai the Great founded the city as the capital of the Lanna Kingdom on Thursday, April 12 1296 around the same time as the establishment of the Sukhothai Kingdom. King Meng Rai even conferred with his friends, King Ramkhamhaeng of Sukhothai and King Ngam Muang of Phayao before choosing the site where the capital of the Lanna Kingdom was to be founded. Henceforth, Chiang Mai not only became the capital and cultural core of the Lanna Kingdom, it was also to be the center of Buddhism in northern Thailand, King Meng Rai himself a very religious leader who even founded many of the city’s temples that remain important to this day.
Chiang Mai is one of the few places in Thailand where it is possible to experience both historical and modern Thai culture coexisting side by side: the city features centuries-old chedis and temples next to modern convenience stores and boutique hotels. This dichotomy is best appreciated within the moat-encircled old city, which retains much of the fortified wall that once protected the city center as well as the four main gates that provided access to the former Lanna capital city.
Strangely, for many years tourists had mistaken Chiang Mai simply as the base from which they could plan trekking and rafting trips to hill tribe villages and explore other provinces. Once in Chiang Mai however, tourists are surprised by the fact that there are so many things to discover other than its beautiful and historic temples.
Intriguing diversity among ethnic tribes, a number of elephant camps, many cooking & massage schools, numerous outdoor activities, a variety of handicrafts workshops, various cultural performances, and breathtaking scenery make Chiang Mai one of Asia’s most attractive tourist destinations. The phrase “a day in Chiang Mai is enough to see things around town” was once a common expression. Today, two weeks in Chiang Mai may not be long enough for travelers to experience all that Chiang Mai has to offer.
The old city of Chiang Mai is a showcase of the north’s fascinating indigenous cultural identity that includes diverse dialects, a delectable cuisine, distinctive architecture, traditional values, lively festivals, numerous handicrafts workshops, northern style massage, and classical dances. Chiang Mai city features old-world beauty and charm as well as modern luxury and convenience.
In addition to centuries old temples and some outstanding shopping opportunities, Chiang Mai is also blessed with pristine natural resources including mountains, waterfalls, and rivers. The presence of numerous hill tribes that feature a wealth of unique cultures enhances Chiang Mai’s distinctive diversity. Hill tribe trekking, often combined with river rafting and elephant riding has always been one of Chiang Mai’s greatest tourist attractions. Nowadays there are innumerable activities and attractions both in the city and the surrounding province, including massage instruction and golf.
Moreover, visitors can visit workshops where they can learn about the production of silk or silver, and purchase memorable, hand crafted souvenirs. With such a diverse range of attractions and an equally grand selection of dining and accommodation options, Chiang Mai is a place where both backpackers and luxury tourists can enjoy the ultimate Thailand holiday.
The quieter neighbor of Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai is a land of outstanding natural beauty, where visitors looking to avoid the hordes can visit remote hill tribes, spot exotic wildlife, and check out the golden triangle, the former center of the world’s opium trade.
Chiang Rai has been inhabited since the 7th century, but it was not until 1262 that King Meng Rai established it as the first capital of the Lanna Kingdom. The capital was later relocated to Chiang Mai and since that time Chiang Rai has lived in the shadow of its neighboring province, though for tourists this is a good thing.
Today, Chiang Rai is a traveler’s paradise, endowed with abundant natural attractions and antiquities. Attractions range from ruins of ancient settlements and Buddhist shrines to magnificent mountain scenery and hill tribe villages. For those interested in the natural side of Chiang Rai, jungle trekking is a magical experience; explore the mountains of the north along various hiking trails, many of which access the villages of diverse hill tribes groups, many of whom maintain their traditional lifestyles.
Chiang Rai town, which tends to be a little more ‘laid back’ than its more popular neighbor, now competes with Chiang Mai as a tourist attraction and is fast becoming a popular escape for tourists wanting to leave their troubles behind.
Chiang Rai, the former capital of the great Lanna Kingdom, is a fascinating province filled with cultural and natural wonders, including the Golden Triangle where Thailand, Laos, and Burma come together; an area that was once the hub of opium production, a trade that had much influence on cultural practices and lifestyles. Chiang Rai had stayed off the tourist radar for many years, its people enjoying very leisurely development and mostly traditional, rural lifestyles. Until this day, entire clans live together in bamboo houses and each village has its own individual character.
Recently tourism has boomed in Chiang Rai, where visitors have come to explore the pristine natural beauty of the countryside and immerse themselves in the indigenous culture, including those of a variety of different hill tribe communities. Fortunately for tourists, Chiang Rai is also a center for community development projects, helping rural villagers develop their attractions without adversely affecting their natural and cultural assets.
As the political, economic, cultural, culinary, and spiritual capital of Thailand, Bangkok features both old-world charm and modern convenience, at times served up in an apparently chaotic manner, but always with a gracious smile.Invariably, every Thailand holiday includes a visit to the kingdom’s capital city, Bangkok, or Krung Thep, “the city of angels” as it is known to its inhabitants. Many tourists who travel to Bangkok are immediately overwhelmed by the sheer size of the city and the vast number of attractions Bangkok has to offer. Indeed there is a wide variety of Bangkok sightseeing opportunities spanning more than two centuries of rapid development following the city’s founding in 1782 by King Rama I, the first king of the present Chakri dynasty.
Since that auspicious date, Bangkok has swelled to a cosmopolitan, 21st century city of more than ten million inhabitants. While the immensity of the city and its bustling streets can be intimidating at first, those who spend some time in Bangkok are quickly enamored by the myriad of attractions Bangkok contains, from exotic temples, which underscore Thailand’s strong Buddhist history, to modern shopping malls, which make shopping an integral part of any Bangkok holiday.
Bangkok features attractions guaranteed to please visitors either simply passing through the city or spending their entire Thailand holiday in Bangkok. Nearly every Bangkok holiday includes a visit to Thailand’s Grand Palace, arguably the premier Bangkok sightseeing attraction. Situated in the heart of Bangkok’s Rattanakosin Island, the gleaming spires of the Grand Palace are conveniently located nearby Bangkok’s most spectacular temples, including the Temple of the Emerald Buddha (Wat Phra Kaeo), the Temple of Dawn (Wat Arun), and Wat Pho, which features an enormous reclining Buddha and was home of the first Thai massage school in the kingdom.
These iconic destinations are top attractions to all visitors who travel to Bangkok looking to appreciate Thailand’s unique cultural traditions. In fact, there are more than 400 functioning Buddhist temples throughout the city and it’s not uncommon when you travel in Bangkok to spot saffron robed monks collecting morning alms or traveling throughout out the city, including along the Chao Phraya, the “River of Kings”, which passes alongside the Temple of the Dawn. The winding Chao Phraya is connected by numerous canals from which Bangkok has earned its nickname the “Venice of the East”; when you travel around Bangkok, a cruise on the Chao Phraya, a visit to a floating market, or an exploration of the cities “back alley” canals (khlongs) are themselves unique Bangkok attractions.
Other historical and cultural Bangkok sightseeing ‘must sees’ include the National Museum, Vimanmek Mansion, and Suan Pakkad Palace, all of which either house fine art or are national treasures in their own right. Beyond Bangkok’s historical district, there are plenty of other attractions that make a Bangkok holiday both enjoyable and memorable. The downtown districts along Silom and Sukhumvit Roads have a convenient electric rail system, including an elevated sky-train and underground subway, that have made travel in Bangkok both easy and enjoyable.
Connecting hotels directly to shopping malls and traditional markets, such as Mah Boon Krong Center and Chatuchak (JJ) weekend market, the MRT and BTS systems have literally elevated Bangkok shopping to world-class status. Of course, no Thailand holiday is complete without experiencing Thailand’s vibrant nightlife. Whether, the purpose of your Thailand holiday is to immerse yourself in Thailand’s unique culture or simply to splurge in Bangkok shopping malls, when you travel to Bangkok you are guaranteed a fascinating experience of both old-world charm and modern convenience and luxury.
One of the hottest beach-resort destinations in Thailand, Pattaya may not be idyllic but it certainly makes up for it with a wide variety of activities, accommodation and nightlife venues.Pattaya is a popular beach resort on the Gulf of Thailand just 150 km. southeast of Bangkok – a mere two-hour drive. Pattaya’s pulsating nightlife is well known, but local authorities have, in recent years, improved the quality of the beaches and reinvented the resort as a more family-friendly destination. Today, hundreds of thousands of visitors are drawn each year to Pattaya to windsurf, water ski, swim, sunbathe, snorkel, sail, or take trips to nearby islands. Other activities include Bungee jumping, cycling, skydiving, go-Karting, Muay Thai (Thai boxing), and Paintball.
Golfers, both novice and expert, are well catered to as well, with a wide selection of golf courses around Pattaya. Another major draw for visitors to Pattaya is the wide selection of restaurants serving some of Thailand’s freshest seafood. Due to the high number of expatriate foreigners in Pattaya there is also an excellent selection of authentic foreign eateries serving French, Italian, Swiss, German, Hungarian, Scandinavian, English, Indian, Arabic, Japanese, and Chinese cuisine. Drawing such a large number of diverse visitors from across the world, it’s no surprise that Pattaya also boasts an incredible choice of accommodation. Those on a tight budget and those with money to spend are equally able to find rooms to suit their needs.
Visitors can always find some peaceful beach time at nearby Jomtien beach, just 3 kilometers south.Just over one hour from Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport, Pattaya is a lively beach town that draws visitors from around the world. With activities that include a wide array of water sports, golf, shopping, cabaret shows, an elephant village, and fascinating museums, it’s impossible not to have an action-packed Pattaya holiday. Unless of course it’s relaxation you crave, in which case there are beach chairs and umbrellas lining the Pattaya shore, where wandering vendors will cater to your every need: from barbequed shrimp to a foot massage. Pattaya is certainly a Thai beach resort that meets the needs of any visitor on any budget.
Hua Hin, one of Thailand’s premier beach resort towns on the Gulf of Thailand, is less than 200 km south of Bangkok, making it one of the most popular weekend getaway destinations for city residents. A resort equally popular with young couples and families, tourists and Thais, Hua Hin is also the location of the King of Thailand’s summer palace, Klai Kang Won, “Far from Worries.” Hua Hin features a beautiful, powdery sand beach, numerous seaside seafood restaurants, a lively night market, numerous beach activities, and some great inland activities, not least of which is golfing at some of Thailand’s most renowned courses. Just down the coast at Takiab Bay visitors can take seaside horseback rides and visit a hilltop Buddhist temple with a spectacular view.
Accommodation along the beach and on the streets leading away from the sea range from simple guesthouses to luxury resorts, and includes some of the finest spa-retreats in the world. Hua Hin is accessible via train, bus, or car and the seaside community of 60,000 residents is a fine example of warm and welcoming Thai hospitality.The seaside town of Hua Hin, meaning “Stone Head”, was named after the rocks at the north end of the powdery sand beach. Hua Hin became Thailand’s first beach resort after a train line was laid in the 1920’s to provide access from Bangkok and King Rama VII established his summer retreat in the area.
With a 5 kilometer-long beach that features numerous activities, the laid back and hospitable town of Hua Hin continues to draw both tourists and Thais. In addition to beach fun and games, outstanding seafood restaurants, and a vibrant night market, Hua Hin is well known for having some of the finest golf courses in Thailand, as well as some of the most renowned resorts and destination spas in the world.
Ko Samui is the premier island destination in the Gulf of Thailand. Samui is easily accessible, features beautiful beaches and a variety of activities, and caters to visitors on any budget.Ko Samui, Thailand’s second most popular island destination, is located in the Gulf of Thailand roughly 700 km. south of Bangkok and 80 km. from Thailand’s southern coast. Samui is the third largest island in Thailand and the largest in an archipelago of more than 80 islands that includes the Ang Thong National Marine Park, a kayaking paradise and day trip from Ko Samui. While Samui is small enough to be circumnavigated in just a couple of hours by motorbike or car, the island features such a variety of beaches and activities that it would be impossible to experience everything in a single visit.
However, this was not always the case. Until the late 20th century, Samui was home to a small community engaged primarily in fishing and harvesting coconuts. There were not even any roads on the island until the early 1970’s. However, once foreign visitors discovered this island gem, lush with tropical forest, fringed with palm tree lined stretches of golden sand, and surrounded by pellucid, aquamarine water, development quickly followed. Today the beaches of Chaweng and Lamai are bustling beach towns with fabulous beach resorts, internationally acclaimed restaurants, and world-class nightclubs.
Activities around Ko Samui include cooking courses, yoga instruction, Muay Thai training, scuba diving, and even golf. While there are a few quieter beaches that are ideal for relaxation, particularly those that feature some of the finest 5-star resorts in the world, and some that exude old world charm, such as Bo Phut, which features converted, old Chinese shop houses, Samui is a lively, exciting place than it was a few decades ago. Ko Samui has developed into its own style of island paradise, retaining much of its natural beauty while offering nearly every imaginable activity or service for the ultimate beach holiday.
Krabi, a province on southern Thailand’s Andaman coast, is an almost otherworldly region of labyrinthine archipelagos, where islands seem to erupt vertically out of the sea and secluded beaches are only accessible by colorfully adorned long tail boats. Krabi’s myriad of bays and coves have sheltered pirates, merchants, and sea gypsies for thousands of years and archaeological evidence indicates that Krabi was originally inhabited as early as 25,000 – 35,000 years ago! With attractions including hot springs, a wildlife sanctuary, sea caves, flourishing coral reefs and exotic marine life, limestone cliffs that draw rock climbing enthusiasts from around the world, and national parks that include the island paradises of Koh Phi Phi and Koh Lanta, one could easily spend weeks in Krabi and leave yearning for more.If that wasn’t enough, Krabi features some of the most photogenic sunsets in Thailand, often accompanied by spectacular displays of cloud to cloud lightning, that are best enjoyed from a beachside bar or restaurant.
Meanwhile, with all the tourists spread out among various beaches and islands, life goes on in Krabi Town, the somewhat sleepy provincial capital. Surprisingly few tourists spend time in the charming riverside town, whose hilly streets feature a number of cozy cafes and inexpensive and authentic Thai cuisine is served at an outdoor, riverside evening market. “Town” to most visitors is Ao Nang, a seaside strip of guesthouses, hotels, bars, restaurants, and souvenir shops that continues to grow as tourist arrivals increase, now spreading north into Noppharat Thara, whose quiet, shady beach is part of the national park that includes the Phi Phi Islands. Ao Nang is the major launching point for boat trips to nearby islands and the isolated beaches of Phra Nang Cape, where the famous former hippie enclave of Railey Beach is located.
Krabi Province, which lies along the coast of the Andaman sea in Southern Thailand, is a top tourist destination as a result of its plentiful natural attractions including, white sandy beaches, crystal clear water, extensive coral reefs, numerous caves and waterfalls, and over 130 islands, including Koh Lanta and the jewels of the Andaman coast, the six islands of Mu Koh Phi Phi National Park. While not the top destination in and of itself, Krabi Town is a charming provincial capital located along the banks of a river that leads to the nearby Andaman Sea. Consequently, Krabi is an important port city for both local fisherman as well as boats ferrying visitors to the nearby attractions, including Koh Phi Phi, Koh Lanta, and Railey Beach, one of the premier rock climbing destinations in the world.
What comes into the mind of travellers when we talk about sea, sun and sand? Phuket must definitely be one of the answers. A number of exciting activities can be found on this island. In the early days of regional maritime trade, the cape of Phuket was locally referred to as Jung Ceylon, while locals called it Thalang, which evolved to be the name of the main town to the north of the island. As the perfect stopover sheltering traders from monsoons, Jung Ceylon welcomed merchants from India, Persia, Arabia, Burma, China, and also Siam. During the 16th century, the island was a popular trading port for tin.
In 1785, Thalang town was surrounded by Burmese troops who invaded the coastal area. It was under the leadership of Chan, the widow of the governor, and her sister, Muk, who united the local residents and successfully fought and drove the invaders out of Phuket. It took over 30 days for the defending troops of Phuket, under the command of Chan and Muk, to claim their victory. As a result of such heroic deeds, noble titles were granted to Chan and Muk as Thao Thep Kasattri and Thao Sri Soonthorn, respectively. They are still highly respected by Phuket residents even today.
When the city was in a peaceful state, the development of mining was so unprecedented. Chinese businessmen and miners later migrated to Phuket and soon enjoy thriving wealth. The island’s long history has shaped the Phuket of the present with its diverse ethnic groups, culture, architectural influence, and fine cuisine. These attributes have made Phuket a complete tourist destination that offers a lot more beyond its natural heritage of sea, sand, forest, and world-renowned diving sites. Sino-Portuguese architecture casts its spell delighting travellers to the city, while Phuket style of hospitality has never failed to impress visitors from all walks of life.
Getting to Know:
1. Phuket is located approximately 862 kilometres south of Bangkok.
2. There are only two seasons in a year the green season (May to October) and the hot season (November to April).
3. Phuket is divided into 3 administrative districts: namely, Amphoe Muang, Amphoe Thalang and Amphoe Kathu.
Songkhla is both one of Thailand’s most important port cities and a coastal province known for its ethnic diversity and its unique traditions, dialect, and folk entertainment.An outpost of the Srivijaya Empire from Sumatra (c. 7th century C.E.), Songkhla served as a port and a coastal trading post where Indian, Persian and Arabian merchants came to exchange their products. The city was named “Sing Lha” after the 2 lion-shape islands at the mouth of the city’s lake. At present, these 2 islands are called Koh Noo (Rat Island) and Koh Maew (Cat Island).
An undeniably historic town endowed with ancient ruins and places of cultural importance, Songkhla is a melting pot of Thais, Chinese and Malays, and charms visitors with its unique traditions, dialect, and folk entertainment. These characteristics are reflections of the province’s rich cultural heritage, which has been preserved and passed down from generation to generation.Hat Yai, a district of Songkhla, is perhaps better known than the provincial capital itself. Hat Yai serves as a southern hub of communication, trading and transportation as well as a gateway to Malaysia and Singapore.
In light of this, Hat Yai has gained importance as the driving force of economic growth in the southern region. Over the last few decades, Songkhla has been rapidly developed and is currently a unique attraction worth visiting. Blessed with natural resources, such as fine beaches, enchanting waterfalls, and a tranquil lake, the province has an abundance of tourist attractions and an amazing number of seaside resort towns.
Moreover, the old section of Songkhla still maintains its unique identity of ancient and historical flavors through local architecture and cuisine.While Songkhla is noted as a fishing community set in a peaceful atmosphere, Hat Yai, on the other hand, serves as the transportation and communications hub of the south with links to various destinations in the neighboring provinces and Malaysia.
Hat Yai (frequently spelled Had Yai) is the largest city in southern Thailand, located near the border of Malaysia and populated by nearly 800,000 Thais. Hat Yai is located in Songkhla Province and, while not the provincial capital, is home to The Prince of Songkhla University, making it Southern Thailand’s educational center as well as the south’s heart of transportation, commerce, and tourism.Among other things, Hat Yai is renowned for its outstanding seafood, which is served in various styles thanks to Hat Yai’s diverse population of Chinese, Malays, and Thais.
Hat Yai also features a multitude of markets, both local and international in style, and has a festive nightlife, including pubs and discos that are particularly popular with tourists from neighboring Malaysia. While there have been occasional violent attacks from regional terror groups, Hat Yai is a relatively safe city to visit, particularly if one avoids the most crowded tourist venues and enjoys the local flavor of the city and the culture of its diverse inhabitants.
The populous city of Hat Yai, the largest in Songkhla Province, is Southern Thailand’s commercial, shopping, and entertainment center. Hat Yai is located roughly 950 km (600 miles) from Bangkok and just 30 km (18.5 miles) from the Malaysian border. Consequently it is a popular destination for visitors from Malaysia, who enjoy dining on seafood and experiencing Hat Yai’s lively nightlife. Regional attractions include Songkhla Lake (the largest in Thailand), an enormous reclining Buddha that visitors can walk inside, the Bhasawang Big Splash (a 15 meter long water slide), and the region’s most popular spectator sport, bullfighting.