| Thailand Attractions
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 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.
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, 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.
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.