Thailand has been dubbed the ‘Land of Smiles’ thanks to the lovely locals that welcome you to their homeland with a warm beaming grin. From the moment you arrive, you’ll join them in flashing your pearly whites – with incredible cuisine, amazing scenery, intriguing history and unique experiences aplenty, there’s a lot to smile about as you explore Thailand. Here are some things you won’t want to miss.
On arrival, the capital of Bangkok may seem like a cacophony of tuk tuks, car horns, and hawkers. However, you’ll find beauty in the chaos if you surrender to it. Soak up the invigorating energy that flows from the markets and along the canals that wind their way through the city. There are also plenty of incredible temples and monuments to admire around Bangkok, including the gleaming Golden Buddha, Wat Pho and the Grand Palace, just to name a few.
As you head to the northern cities of Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai, things slow down a little. While you’ll still get the city-like buzz of street stalls and markets, you’ll find things are a little more laid back. While both cities boast plenty of sights of their own (think beautiful temples and pagodas), they are also the gateway to the regions that surround them. From Chiang Mai you can hike through the jungle to visit the hilltribe villages of the north or take a trip to meet the gentle giants residing in the Elephant Nature Park nearby. From Thailand’s northernmost city of Chiang Rai, you can explore the Golden Triangle, where the borders of Northern Thailand, Laos and Myanmar meet.
The Historic Sites
Thailand has a rich history, and vestiges of this past are found across the country. The Sukhothai Historic Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that lies 400kms (248mi) north of Bangkok. Surrounded by lush gardens and tranquil lakes, it is home to the ruins of 21 historic sites that you can discover with a local guide on foot, or cycle around exploring at your leisure.
Also making the UNESCO World Heritage list is the historic city of Ayutthaya just 80kms (49mi) north of Bangkok. Once the Siamese capital, Ayutthaya is home to palaces, temples and monuments that show off its former greatness, contrasted by rows of headless Buddhas sacked by the Burmese in the 18th century. Another place that bears the scars of dark times in Thailand is Kanchanaburi, best known for the Bridge on the River Kwai. This crossing is connected to the ‘Death Railway’, the construction of which saw Asian labourers and Prisoners of War perish. You can find tributes to the victims in local museums and war cemeteries during your time in Kanchanaburi.
The islands of Thailand offer everything from relaxation, to adventure and nightlife – not to mention soft white sand and scenery to impress. Snorkel the coral reefs of Koh Tao, meet the local fishermen on the little island of Koh Pitak, shop the market stalls of Koh Samui, and dance all night at a full moon party on Koh Pha Ngan.
On the west coast, enjoy Krabi with a coconut in hand, take a stroll along Koh Phi Phi, or soak up the bustling atmosphere of Phuket. Relax in a hammock swinging over the soft white sand of one of the many beaches, or swap land for water and snorkel, dive and kayak to your heart’s content. You can choose your balance on Thailand’s stunning islands – dreamy!
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