From island paradise to ancient culture, Thailand has everything
Thailand may be best known for its tropical island paradises, but there’s a lot more culture to this diverse country than you might expect.
Thailand’s natural beauty is well-known: sitting in warm azure waters, its pristine tropical islands are the classic image of paradise. But there’s a lot more to Thai culture than that, as you’ll discover when you explore its fascinating ancient ruins and start to learn the secrets of its crafts and cuisine.
Perhaps the most rewarding aspect of a Thailand vacation is meeting the locals, whether it’s a fleeting meeting with a Bangkok tuk tuk driver or a warm welcome in a Thai homestay. Wherever you go, friendly people are eager to show off the natural and cultural beauty of their country - and you’ll soon see why.
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With Chiang Rai as your base, venture into the famously beautiful Golden Triangle. Trek into the misty mountains to encounter the hill tribes who call them home, or enjoy a leisurely boat journey on the mighty Mekong River into Laos.
Chiang Mai is another city where you feel the presence of history in amongst the modern buildings. At its heart are the moated Old City walls, while more than 300 temples are scattered across the town, a reminder of the important role religion still plays in the lives of the locals in this former capital of the Lanna Thai kingdom. Shop for souvenirs in charming craft shops and taste the flavors of Thailand in its numerous restaurants. Chiang Mai also provides a gateway to the northwest hills, where you'll find unspoilt villages dotted across the beautiful landscape.
With a name meaning "Dawn of Happiness", Sukhothai is considered the place where Thai culture was born. These days, the Sukhothai Historical Park is a sprawling site of archaeological ruins protected by UNESCO. The best way to see as many of the 193 ruins as you can is to hop on a bike.
The tantalizing ruins of an ancient center of civilization make a trip to Ayuthaya well worth your while. Once an important artistic and cultural center, with influences from as far away as the Middle East and Europe, they owe their present state to invasion by the Burmese in 1767. Also worthy of a visit is the nearby Lampang Elephant Hospital.
Beneath Bangkok's soaring skyscrapers lies an array of cultural gems that showcases the stark contrast between ancient and modern in Thailand's action-packed capital. You can indulge in all the trappings of the present-day - think massive shopping malls and classy restaurants - or you can experience the slower pace of life in the quieter backstreets and tranquil temples. Don't leave without a visit to the opulent Grand Palace.
For an insight into Thailand's experience of the Second World War, visit Kanchanaburi to see the Bridge on the River Kwai - the very same one featured in the Alec Guinness film of the same name. Built by prisoners of war along with the notorious Death Railway, the bridge is a powerful reminder of this troubled period in world history - and so is the memorial that now bears the names of those who built it. These days, the scene is peaceful, with impressive jungle-covered mountains the backdrop to riverside hotels.
This small town is inhabited mainly by fishermen and farmers, and it's surprisingly unspoilt considering its many attractions, which include beautiful waterfalls and the endangered pink dolphin. The landscape is characterized by plantations of pineapple and banana plants, while the pristine beaches around the edge offer a quieter taste of island paradise.
Almost as famous as Phuket, but thankfully a bit less developed, Koh Samui has a more laidback atmosphere that retains more of a tropical island vibe. Developers aren't allowed to build higher than the palm trees, so Koh Samui feels more authentic than its brasher neighbor. From here, you can enjoy adventures in the beautiful Angthong National Marine Park and visit some of the area's other islands.
Only accessible by boat, and with no cars, Koh Klang offers a peaceful retreat away from the crowds of the more well-known islands. Get away from it all by exploring Koh Klang's immaculate beaches, rice paddies and mangroves. Southern Thailand's Muslim culture is preserved here, giving you an interesting insight into the presence of another religion in Thailand.
Phuket may be Thailand's best known and most highly developed resort island, but it's not without its fair share of gorgeous scenery. While lively nightlife and exhilarating watersports are abundant down on the beaches, there's still plenty of unspoilt forested mountain scenery when you want to escape the crowds for an adventure into the jungle.
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Enjoy local hospitality at a homestay in Ayutthaya
Experience real life in Thailand by staying in the home of welcoming locals and enjoying authentic Thai home cooking at its finest.
Discover local crafts near Sukhothai
Admire the array of colours on show at a community-run textiles project, and unleash your creative side by trying your hand at ceramic painting and cotton weaving at a class near Sukhothai.
Discover the best of Thai street food on a foodie walking tour, and get to know the mouthwatering flavours of Thailand’s regional cuisine by learning the secrets of Thai cooking at a class in Chiang Mai, Sukhothai or Bangkok.
Stay in a tented camp on the banks of the River Kwai
Plunge yourself into rural Thailand in a comfortable camp in the jungle, right next to the river made famous by the Second World War bridge.
Get amongst the action in buzzing Bangkok
Discover the different sides to bustling Bangkok with a walking tour that introduces you to the many treasures between the skyscrapers, from the majesty of the Grand Palace to its smaller temples and shrines.
Elephant Hills in Khao Sok National Park
Witness elephant conservation at work and spend a unique night in a luxury floating tent at the rainforest camp of Elephant Hills in Khao Sok National Park.
Pink dolphins in Khanom
A local long-tail boat takes you gliding across the waters of Khanom, where you might be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of the endangered pink dolphin, a rare and striking albino breed.
Get hands-on on Koh Klang Island
Throw yourself into local life on picturesque Koh Klang Island, where friendly locals show you how to take part in community arts and crafts such as batik painting.
Visit Mae Klang Luang Ecotourism Community
At this community-based project, get a taste of traditional rural life in Thailand by experiencing what it’s like to work in the famous terraced rice fields.
A luxe stay on a pristine beach
No Thailand holiday would be complete without indulging in a stay at a luxury beach resort, such as the peaceful Aava Resort and Spa on Nadan Beach.
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