The islands off the coast of Thailand are famous throughout the world for their beautiful beaches, others for their gorgeous scenery and some even claim their fame for the party atmosphere. There are three main sets of islands in Thailand. To the east of Bangkok there are Ko Samet and Ko Chang, in the Gulf Ko Samui lie Ko Pha Ngan and Ko Tao, and in the Andaman Phuket and Ko Phi Phi. Phuket is the country’s largest and most developed island, connected to the mainland by two bridges. Ko Phi Phi is famous for the movie “The Beach”, while Ko Tao is Thailand’s diving mecca. But there are many, many more beautiful islands to choose from.
Located in western Thailand and admired for its beautiful scenery and accessibility to national parks and waterfalls, Kanchanaburi is best known for the Bridge over the River Kwai that is linked with the historic Death Railway to Burma in which thousands of Asian laborers and POWS died during its construction under Japanese occupation during WWII. Several museums and war cemeteries all present information about the city and its bridge during the 1940s Japan occupation. Outside of Kanchanaburi are several national parks, including Erawan and Srinakarind National Parks, which offer beautiful scenery, waterfalls and caves.
Thailand’s capital city and by far the largest city in the country, Bangkok, is a buzzing cosmopolis of high rise buildings, magnificent palaces, ancient temples, glittering nightclubs, bustling markets and streets lined with vendors hawking souvenirs and tantalizing foods. While the city is sometimes described as a concrete jungle jam-packed with noisy traffic and air pollution, Bangkok is not without its natural beauty that is seen in its remaining canals, green spaces and flowering tropical plants. The famous tourist street, Khao San Road, is a good place to begin with its cheap shopping, dining and nightlife. Also not to be missed is the sacred Wat Phra Kaew temple, which contains the Emerald Buddha.
Surrounded by the mountains of northern Thailand, Chiang Mai is a flourishing city often used as a base among both backpackers and tourists wishing to explore the lush landscapes, hill tribes and outdoor adventures of the region. Nevertheless, Chiang Mai itself is a large and culturally important city where historical and modern Thai architecture and traditions coexist. A walk around the historic center bestows views of old city walls and dozens of Buddhist temples. However, the most famous of these temples, Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep, lies outside Chiang Mai on a mountainside overlooking the city.
Founded in 1350, the city of Ayuthaya is located in the Chao Phraya River valley in Thailand. It sits on an island surrounded by three rivers connecting it to the Gulf of Siam. King U Thong proclaimed it the capital of his kingdom, the Ayuthaya Kingdom, better known as Siam. Once declared the most magnificent city on earth, Ayuthaya was an impressive site, with three palaces, more than 400 temples and a population that reached nearly 1,000,000. In 1767, the Burmese attacked and conquered Ayuthaya however and the capital was moved to Bangkok. The ruins of Ayuthaya are now a major attraction for those visiting Thailand. It is just 80 km (50 miles) north of Bangkok, and is easily reached by train, boat, bus or van.
Khao Sok Park
Considered by many to be one of Thailand’s most beautiful wildlife reserves, the Khao Sok National Park covers jungle forests, limestone karsts, rivers and lakes in the Surat Thani province of southern Thailand. The reserve is home to wildlife such as Asian elephants, barking deer, wild boar, bears, Malayan tapirs and various monkeys breeds like gibbons, pig-tailed macaques and langurs. There are several trails in the park from which visitors can choose to enjoy trekking through the jungle to spot wildlife, photograph beautiful waterfalls, swim in natural pools and admire stunning vistas from elevated viewpoints.
Just a short trip from Kanchanaburi, the Erawan Falls are the major attraction of the Erawan National Park in Western Thailand. The waterfall was named after the erawan, the three-headed white elephant of Hindu mythology. The seven-tiered falls are said to resemble the erawan. Macaques are common around the falls while occasionally water monitor lizards can also be seen. The park is open for visitors all year and generally very busy during the weekends.
Chatuchak Weekend Market
Known locally as JJ Market, Chatuchak Weekend Market in Bangkok is the largest of its kind in Thailand. Some even say it’s the largest weekend market in the world. With more than 8,000 stalls peddling wares ranging from antiques to clothes to furniture, the wildly popular market draws in more than 200,000 people on weekends and includes a wide array of tasty restaurants. Shoppers are also entertained by shows, including dancing and live music
The Grand Palace
As the official residence of the kings of Siam — and, later, Thailand — since 1782, the Grand Palace is perhaps the most famous attraction in the bustling city of Bangkok. Situated on the banks of the Chao Phraya River, the walled-in complex contains a compelling series of pavilions, halls, wats and other buildings interspersed with vast lawns, lavish gardens and stately courtyards. Of the many sights here, Wat Phra Kaew, or the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, is probably the most memorable.
Northern Hill Tribes
Northern Thailand is home to several interesting and colorful ethnic minorities, known as the hill tribes. Most of the hill tribes have migrated into the region during the past 100 years from the Asian interior and have largely preserved their traditional ways. It is possible to go on a trekking tour and visit one of the numerous villages where they are happy to receive tourists. Since most are rural and poor, any economically uplifting opportunities are welcomed.