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Thailand Attractions
Bangkok

Bangkok has dominated Thailand's urban hierarchy as well as its political, commercial and cultural life since the late 18th century. Although you can shop in air-conditioned comfort in its Western-style malls, the city is a long way from being tamed by commercial homogeneity.

Bangkok's history of haphazard planning means you'll have the best experiences in the most unlikely of places. Just when you start despairing at the predominance of concrete and cars, a wafting scent of incense leads you to a serene temple in an area you'd written off as soulless.


Ayuthaya Historical Park

A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Ayuthaya's historic temples are scattered throughout this once magnificent city and along the encircling rivers. Several of the more central ruins Wat Phra Si Sanphet, Wat Mongkhon Bophit, Wat Na Phra Meru, Wat Thammikarat, Wat Ratburana and Wat Phra Mahathat can be visited on foot.

You could add more temples and ruins to your itinerary by touring the city on a rented bicycle. An ideal transport combination for visitors who want to see everything would be to hire a bicycle for the central temples and charter a long-tail boat to take a tour of the outlying ruins along the river.


Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai has a striking mountain backdrop, over 300 temples and a quaint historical aura. It's also a modern, friendly, internationally-flavoured city with much to offer the visitor - food, accommodation and shopping are all top quality and cheap, and the nights are relatively cool.

Chiang Mai's plethora of temples will probably exhaust you before you exhaust them. For variety, try a wander round the night bazaar, acquaint yourself with local culture at the musuems, or practice your Buddhist calm under a palm tree in the city's gardens.


Koh Samui

This beautiful island off southeastern Thailand is covered with coconut plantations and circled by (call us clich?d but it's true) palm-fringed beaches. It was once an 'untouched' backpackers' mecca, but is now well on its way to becoming a fully-fledged tourist resort. Coconuts are still the mainstay of the local economy, however, and up to two million of them are shipped to Bangkok each month.

The most popular beaches are Hat Chaweng and Hat Lamai: both have good swimming and snorkelling but are getting a little crowded. For more peace and quiet, try Mae Nam, Bo Phut and Big Buddha on the northern coast. The main town on the island is Na Thon.

Most of the beaches have plenty of rustic, thatched-roofed bungalows, but accommodation can still be hard to secure in the high seasons between December and February and July and August. The best time to visit is during the hot and dry season between February and June. There are flights from Bangkok to the island's Don Sak Airport. Several ferry and jetboat companies operate from Surat Thani: express boats take two and a half hours and jet boats take one and a half hours. Local transport comprises songthaews (trucks with two rows of seats in the back), though several places hire motorcycles.

Ko Samui's northern neighbour, Ko Pha-Ngan, is more tranquil, and has equally good beaches and fine snorkelling. Its renowned beach parties at Hat Rin are still popular with backpackers, although sadly, the beach has deteriorated recently with overuse and poor environmental controls. The island is a half-hour boat ride from Ko Samui


Nakhon Pathom

Nakhon Pathom, 60km (37mi) west of Bangkok, is regarded as the oldest city in Thailand and is host to the 127m (417ft), orange-tiled Phra Pathom Chedi, the tallest Buddhist monument in the world. The original monument, now buried within the massive orange-glazed dome, was erected in the 6th century by Theravada Buddhists. The chedi has endured various incarnations at the hands of Khmer, Burmese and Chinese refurbishers. There is a floating market nearby at Khlong Damnoen Saduak.


Phuket

Dubbed 'Pearl of the South' by the tourist industry, Phuket is Thailand's largest, most populous and most visited island. A whirl of colour and cosmopolitanism, Thailand's only island province revolves around and thrives on tourism, but still retains a spark of the real Thailand.

There is a lot to do in Phuket, and consequently, a lot to spend your money on. There are also more tourists in Phuket than on any other Thai island. Most flock to the beaches on the southwestern side, which are loaded with amenities and entertainment options.


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