Always Amazing Thailand
Thailand continues to fascinate and amaze all who visit the enchanting kingdom. Tradition and development stand shoulder to shoulder in Thailand as nowhere else in the world. Topographical variety and a wealth of natural resources, upmarket facilities and modern infrastructure, centuries-old tradition and culture lie side by side with no hint of incongruity in what can only be called amazing Thailand. As one of the world's leading tourism destinations, Thailand continues to amaze with its range of exciting activities, mixed with just the right tinge of the exotic. Whether it is for the family or the individual, the high-yield traveller or the backpacker, Thailand has enough to satisfy everyone.
Its beaches, especially those at the resorts of Cha'am and Hua Hin, are two of the country's oldest and most well-loved. The two coastal provinces have the additional attraction of being closely related to the royal family as Cha'am is the site of the former Summer Royal Palace; neighbouring Petchaburi also started out as the weekend retreat for the Royal family and other aristocrats. So if you want to live like a king for a day, pack the family and head for the gulf. Religion, which plays a significant role in the lives of the Thais, is apparent in the proliferation of temples, some of which bear architectural motifs from years past. National parks, pristine beaches and world class golf courses make Cha'am and Hua Hin the ideal oasis for the family. And don't forget the renowned Thai massage and natural healing treatments while you are there.
That Thailand has remained sovereign despite numerous attacks and having been surrounded at various times by colonies of the French, English, Spanish and Dutch, must be credited to the successive rulers throughout Thailand's history.
Sukhothai Dynasty (1253-1440)
The Sukhothai period is often seen as the golden age of Thai history even though it lasted a little less than two hundred years. A time of extraordinary cultural achievement, this period saw the flourishing of Thai art, sculpture and literature, as well as the introduction of the written script and the establishment of Brahminical doctrines of political organisation.
Ayutthaya Dynasty (1350-1767)
The Ayutthaya era established the absolute monarch whose position was enhanced by the trappings of God kings. This dynasty is remembered for having established the Thai civil service, and for carefully stipulating the amount of land each ranking official should have. The 16th century is also remembered for the first arrivals of the Europeans who were attracted to Thailand as it was the door to the China trade. 1767 saw the tragic destruction of four centuries of Thai civilisation by the Burmese when they razed the whole city down. Despite their overwhelming victory, they did not control Thailand for long, losing it to the Thais led by Phya Taksin, who was to establish the Thonburi era.
Thonburi Dynasty (1770-1782)
Wary of new Burmese attacks, the new capital was moved to Thonburi, which also facilitated foreign trade by sea. The rule of General Taksin was not an easy one and the lack of central authority soon led to the disintegration of the kingdom. He spent much of his reign consolidating the provinces.
Chakri Dynasty (1782-1932)
The Chakri Dynasty produced two remarkable kings who would be remembered for setting Thailand firmly on the road to modernity. King Mongkut was largely responsible for his treaties with foreigners, which allowed Thai trade with the West to expand. He also actively encouraged the learning of the English language in his court. King Chulalongkorn succeeded his father and fulfilled his plans to bring Thailand to the point of modernity. Modern schools were started, one of which was destined to become the well-known Chulalongkorn University. The Chakri era also saw the opening of the first railway and the improvement of the Thai currency through modern minting. Till today, he is remembered with affection, with many people paying homage to his statue at the Royal Plaza every 23 October.
The successors of the Chakri dynasty were largely ineffectual and the absolute monarchy was replaced by a democracy in 1932. with the king as constitutional monarch. "We will reign with dharma (righteousness), for the benefit and happiness of the Siamese people" was the coronation pledge of King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who took over the throne from 1946 and is to date the longest reigning monarch.
Cha'am and Hua Hin - Gentle people in the land of plenty
On the opposite side of the Gulf of Thailand are several popular beach resorts within easy reach of the capital city of Bangkok. Cha'am is the most beautiful beach on the western side of gulf, with the Phra Ratchaniwet Marukkhathaiyawan beachside wooden palace being the most well-known structure as it was the summer palace of King Rama VI in the 1920s. Best of all, it is only a comfortable 173 kilometres from Bangkok. Explore the picturesque cave at Khao Luang or the Kaeng Krachan National Park, the largest national park in Thailand. It extends towards the Burmese border to the west and is a nature lover's delight with its hills, mountains and waterways. The awesome Kaeng Krachan Dam is a 58-metre high and 760-metre long structure which dominates the scenic reservoir.
Hua Hin is another popular destination for the family as there is a whole host of activities - swimming, water sports like sailing and windsurfing, and tennis and golf opportunities. Golf enthusiasts can dream about their hole-in-one when they tee off at any one of the many golf courses there. Fancy a date with Jack Nicklaus, Max Wexler, Robert Mcfarland or Robert Packard? Pack your bags and head to Hua Hin, just 198 kilometres from Bangkok. When the sun sets, Hua Hin town becomes a hub of bustling activity with the night bazaar hawking everything from food to seashells, gift items and other paraphernalia. Yes, the sun may set, but it doesn't set on Cha'am or Hua Hin.
If the children are hankering for a longer stay in Thailand, why not head towards Prachuap Khiri Khan 90 kilometres south of Hua Hin? Here, expect to find an attractive waterfront town with panoramic harbour and mountain views. Khao Chong Krajok, meaning mirror mountain, earned its name from a hole in its side which seems to reflect the sky. The more adventurous may wish to trek up the mountain - but keep a lookout for the monkeys which may be a little too mischievous sometimes. Aqua-lovers can hire boats from Ko Singto, just off Suan Son, for diving or fishing trips, or visit Wana Kon, a long casuarina-lined beach with clear and shallow waters. Huai Yang Waterfall National Park and Thap Sakae make for good photographs with their vibrant colours. If you like to go back in time, then Petchauri is a must. It is a quaint if somewhat haphazardly laid-out town which still retains much of its rustic flavour. Rivers and waterways run through the area. Visitors usually want to see Wat Mahathat, an ancient wat of Mahayanist inspiration. But it is the sister wat in Nakhorn Si Thammarat which is worth a stop. The distinctive white rounded spire (prang) can be seen from a distance and this temple bustles with activity, especially on religious festivals. The culture buff will enjoy Wat Yai Suwannaram for its curious murals in a windowless chapel associated with Phra Jao Seua, the "tiger king". E-Ko Mountain, to the north of Khao Yoi district, has an important chedi worth visiting, as is Wat Kamphaeng Laeng, a complex of temples which has survived the ravages of time. On the east side of the city is the major landmark of Khao Wang. It is the site of King Mongkut's palace and a hilltop settlement collectively known as Phra Nakhon Khiri (Holy City Hill). For those who prefer to walk, a cobbled path leads up the hill - but be warned, the walk is difficult, though somewhat interesting. Or you can take the cable car to enjoy the vista which spans the city, the surrounding river and rice fields and even the border with Burma to the west.
Who can forget the absolutely delicious seafood in Thailand? Because of the country's long coastal areas, the seafood industry is a thriving one, and what better place to enjoy it than beside the sea? The resorts along the coast offer very fresh seafood - crabs, lobsters, king prawns, fish and different kinds of shellfish, all at only a fraction of the price you would have to pay at home, wherever home may be!
Traditional Healing Treatments
Thailand has a long history of healing treatments - from the ubiquitous Thai massage (nuat phaen boran) to the use of local blends made from secret potions and recipes from days of yore. Traditional healing has always sought to treat the body, mind and soul, and the Thais are better known than some - for natural therapies and meditation. In fact, this unique form of body manipulation is attracting tourists from far and wide who come to Thailand to seek this dedicated treatment.
The Amazing Northeast Sukhothai - the Dawn of Happiness.
If you want a glimpse of Thailand's glorious past, Sukhothai is a place you have to visit because it was the capital of the first Thai kingdom. The Sukhothai period (1253-1440) marks the beginning of the Thais as a distinct people under the rule of King Ramkhamhaeng and is seen as the Golden Age of Thai history. Sukhothai means the dawn of happiness". The essence of Sukhothai is in the old city which is 12 kilometres from the new town. You pass through Kamphaeng-hak (Broken Wall) Gate and into the old great kingdom. The remains of the large walls show that the capital was protected by three rows of ramparts and two moats which enclosed the inner city. Cars are not permitted within these ancient city ruins which stretch far and wide. There are 193 historic sites with one-third within the walls. Cycling is a pleasant way to get around.
Moats, canals and ponds landscape the ruins. A good introduction to the historic city and Sukhothai style is the National Museum where you'll find the evolution of the Thai alphabet, artifacts and a stunning bronze image of the walking Buddha which is regarded as the finest sculptural innovation of the period. Wat Mahathat was the royal temple and contains some 200 structures. Its main chedi shows a lotus bud motif and the base has a frieze bearing 111 Buddhas. Simply magnificent. The diversity of the ruins reveal that Sukhothai was host to a variety of cultures from China, Ceylon, Borneo, Burma and Cambodia. Wat Si Chum has one of the largest Buddha images in Thailand. The image, called Phra Achana or The Venerable is 11 metres tall. There is a lot more to this World Heritage Site of Sukhothai. Take time to explore its ancient wonders for a glimpse into Thailand's past kingdoms.
Ayutthaya - Ancient Cosmopolitan City
Ayutthaya is unforgettable. The ancient city holds many glorious attractions connected with Thai royalty, past and present. It is an enchanting panorama of 14th century buildings, magnificent courtyards, lakes,gardens and glistening temples.
Ayutthaya is significant in Thailand's history. It was the capital from 1350 to 1767 and in its heyday was one of the largest cities in the world. This lavish city even had diplomatic ties with Louis XIV of France. Keep this in mind when admiring the sights. There are so many ancient sites to see, so many special moments to experience. Temples or wats evoke magical thoughts. Wat Phra Si San Phet is a royal temple and was the inspiration for the Emerald Buddha Chapel in Bangkok. The entire complex is dominated by three towering Ayutthaya-style chedis and there are ruins of mighty halls which were used for state ceremonies and lavish events. The adjacent Phra Mongkhon Bophit Chapel enshrines the massive bronze Buddha. Just outside the city is Bang Pa-In Summer Palace. This royal riverside retreat saw many kings adding touches to it throughout its history so that it is a collection of various architectural styles from Thai, Chinese and European. Beautiful structures continue with the Aisawanthipphaya-at Pavilion which sits elegantly in the middle of an ornamental lake. Still and opulent with its mirror refection off the waters, this landmark is an example of classic Thai-style architecture. You can't resist taking a photograph of this beauty. You can also take a boat along the Chao Phraya river from Bangkok to Ayutthaya. The two-hour ride unfolds interesting river life and you can imagine travelling the way royalty do to their retreats. Ayutthaya is not to be missed. The sprawling Northeast plateau, also known as I-San, is a world unto itself with all the attributes of the complete tourist destination. It is the gateway to Indochina, bordered on the north and east by the Mekong River and Laos, and to the south largely by Cambodia. With its distinctive topography of forested mountains, national parks, waterfalls, rivers and rolling farmland, I-San is becoming better known to nature lovers and adventure seekers. Side by side with these natural endowments are priceless archaeological excavations and shrines bearing testament to the ancient culture of its people. Ban Chiang is where the world's oldest The lovely setting of the provincial capital is enhanced by the beauty of the jungle-covered mountains lying beyond the Laotian town of Thakaek. Bronze Age civilisation flourished about 5,600 years ago and the venerable prasat hit or stone castle temples are a legacy of I-San's former importance to the Angkor-centred Khmer empire. This is also the place to share in numerous festivals and other events. Not only that. I-San's colourful inhabitants are renowned for their hospitality and generosity. They speak their own melodious dialects, have a delicious highly spiced cuisine, and a vibrant folk culture.
Nakhon Ratchasima (Khorat)
Nakhon Ratchasima or Khorat is renowned for Khmer ruins and other antiquities. The Northeastern plateau is dotted with many temples of varying sizes believed to be about 1,000 years old, of which the most spectacular is in the provincial capital of Phimai. The latter has an 11th century prasat hin temple, one of the loveliest examples of classical Khmer architecture found outside Cambodia.
Nakhon Phanom, once the centre of the ancient Sri Kotrabun Kingdom, has many ancient religious monuments, of which Phra That Phanom is the most revered northeast shrine, the spire of which dates from the 9th century. The lovely setting of the provincial capital is enhanced by the beauty of the jungle-covered mountains lying beyond the Laotian town of Thakaek. Over the centuries, the Akha and other ethnic groups migrated across the Mekong river, influencing the local dialect, customs and cuisine of Nakhon Phanom. The waterfalls of Tad Kham and Tad Poh waterfalls in Amphoe Ban Phaeng and the Phu Kratae golf course make the area a favourite among travellers, as are the many places to view the lovely scenery along the Mekong river and just bask in the simplicity of rural life. Nakhon Phanom has many festivals and celebrations that beckon travellers looking for something unique. One of these celebrations, Ok Phansa, at the end of Buddhist Lent, takes place on the full moon night of the 11th lunar month. Local teams compete for several days in boat races. Adding to that is the parade of traditional dancers and musicians and elaborate beeswax creations in the form of miniature Buddhist temples. The illuminated boats procession, unique to Nakhon Phanom, ensures a spectacular finish to the Ok Phansa Festival. Like most places in Thailand, Nakhon Phanom also offers a variety of high quality handicrafts such as hand woven cloth, baskets and musical instruments. Tourist facilities including comfortable hotels, restaurants and evening entertainment are available. The area is laced with 12 hiking trails ranging from one and a half to eight kms and has 10 rapids and waterfalls.
Khao Yai National Park
The protected nature park and reserve - Thailand's oldest - just northeast of Saraburi and some 200 kms from Bangkok straddles four provinces at an average elevation of 800 metres. The park has one of Thailand's last remaining tracts of intact moist evergreen forest. It's ideal for nature trippers for within its rainforests and high grasslands are numerous species of protected wildlife like deer, bears, tigers, elephants, giant hornbills and silver pheasants. The area is laced with 12 hiking trails ranging from one and a half to eight kms and has 10 rapids and waterfalls. Other activities at the park: Nong Pakchee wildlife watch tower; bat cave which is home to hundreds of thousands of bats that stream out at dusk, animal watching with spotlight. Overnight camping is permitted but there is no accommodation within the park in keeping with the ban on all developments to preserve the national park, Thailand's oldest.
But there are several places for accommodation nearby, especially at PakChong in Nakhon Ratchasima, ranging from guesthouses to four star resorts. Juldis Khao Yai Resort with its mineral water pool, tennis court and golf course is ideal for families. Another property, B.B. Resort Khao Yai, has two swimming pools, snooker room, convention rooms, putting green and three karaoke rooms.
Loei province's Phu Kra Dung National Park, a beautiful forested plateau where night time temperatures sometimes drop to near freezing point as well as the Kaeng Khut Khu rapids at Chiang Khan. Udon Thani's Ban Chiang village and museum housing priceless Bronze Age jewellery and pottery excavated from local burial mounds. The oldest Bronze Age civilisation flourished in Ban Chiang about 5,600 years ago. Udon Ratchathani introduces the annual Buddhist Rains Retreat with a lovely Candle Festival, and the prehistoric rock painting at Pha Taem in Khong Chiam district near the Mekong River. Surin has an annual Elephant Round-Up each November. Buri Ram's Prasat Hin Phanom Rung, a lovely hilltop Khmer sanctuary once connected by road with Angkor.
Bangkok - Amazing City
Hop on the Sky Train
Mention Bangkok's traffic snarls to the locals, and they proudly suggest you commute with the new Sky Train. The elevated train has been running since December last year. The Bangkok Transit System (BTS) operates two lines, the Sukhumvit Line and the Silom Line with a total distance of about 23.5 kms. The Sukhumvit Line starts from the East of Bangkok at Sukhumvit Soi 81, ending of the Mor Chit Bus Terminal in the North. It passes along Sukhumvit Road, Ploenchit Road, Rama 1 Road, Phya Thai Road, Victory Monument and Phaholyothin Road. It covers about 17 km and 17 stations including one common interchange station, the Central Station on Thanon Rama I. The Silom Line starts at the foot of King Taksin Bridge (or Sathorn Bridge) on the Bangkok side and ends East of Banthat Thong Road near the National Stadium. From King Taksin Bridge, it proceeds North to Sathon Road, Naradhiwas Rajanagarinda Road, turns East to join Silom Road, running along Ratchadamri Road and Rama I. This line is about 6.5 km serving seven stations including the interchange station at the Central Station. For tourists, it is very easy to find accommodation along the sky train network as it spans all major tourist areas like Sukhumvit, Ratchaprasong, Silom, Ratchathevi, Chao Phraya River and Victory Monument. Food in a flash. The sky train takes you to exotic meals at one of the five star riverside hotels. You can either choose to dine or lunch out at one of several restaurants at the Shangri-La Hotel, located near the Tak Sin Station. Or you can journey across the river to enjoy your meals at one of the newest hotels in town, The Peninsula Bangkok. For shoppers, the rail offers tremendous opportunities. Every train stop opens to a myriad of shopping experiences. For instance, Silom (Sala Daeng Station), Sukhumvit (Ploen Chit, Nana, Asoke and Prom Pong Stations), Siam - Siam Discovery Center, Maboonkrong Centre and World Trade Centre (Siam Station), And Weekend Markets (Morchit Station).
Food, Amazing Food
Bangkok is food paradise. You're spoilt for choice with the vast variety of food and dining settings. Aside from Thai cuisine, food runs the gamut from all over the world. In Bangkok, indulge in the magic of Thai food. The ingredients are fresh and it is an adventure just savouring the different nuances of flavours. You taste kaffir lime leaf, nam pla (fish sauce), kha (galangal) and of course chilli. Rice is eaten with almost every meal. Coconut milk is a main ingredient of Thai cuisine, and all kinds of curries are mixed with coconut milk. It is also used in Thai deserts. Thai food differs from region to region. Steamed plain, fragrant rice is most popular in the Central and South, while sticky rice is eaten in the North and Northeast.
Where to Eat Thai and Chinese dishes are very easy to find in Thailand from lavish five star restaurants to street side push cart stalls. Of course, it is much more of a challenge to eat out at the street stall, where the food is mostly tasty and cheap. And you get to mingle with the locals. Sukhumvit: Anything you feel like eating, you can find here. Starting from Sukhumvit Soi 4 or Soi Nana, you will find Pakistani and Middle Eastern restaurants, which fill the little lanes with the aroma of Mediterranean spices. Just a bit further up the road, Indian cuisine awaits in restaurants which specialise both northern and southern Indian cuisine. Silom: A major business area in the day, and a food paradise at night. There are hawker stalls and leading restaurants with Thai classical performances. Seafood stalls represent the majority of the roadside stalls, particularly at the Saladaeng Intersection. The Convent Road offers anything from Indonesian food to an Irish tavern. Thaniya Road, close to the famous red-light street, Patpong, offers a crush of Japanese restaurants. Siam Square: This famous shopping area, especially for teenagers, is jammed with medium to peak priced restaurants as well as international fast food. However, inexpensive American, European, Italian, Mexican and Chinese food can be found here. For hawker lovers, there are plenty of food stalls selling meatballs, grilled squid and fried bananas along the walkways. Yaowarat: Looking for authentic Chinese food? This Chinatown street offers the best Chinese food in town, both in expensive restaurants at cheap hawker stalls. Noodles, seafood and dim-sum and dumplings are the main menus for lunch. Hundreds of hawkers fill the whole street at night. Seafood and Sukiyaki stalls line the pavement, while the nutritious birds nest soup is always popular wit and visitors alike. Boiled rice, or Khao Tom, With various kinds of side dishes is a delight every night. Phahurat: Near Chinatown nestles a Thai-Indian community. Phahurat is known as Little India. Only a short walk away from Yaowarat, you will encounter a world of authentic Indian food, especially northern Indian cuisine. There are a number of Indian restaurants plus some interesting alternative ones serving Punjabi and Pakistani food. Bang Lamphu: Famous spot for foreign backpackers particularly Khao San Street. Cheap accommodation and budgeted meals are the order of the day. Guesthouses on Khao San Road have open air cafes serving all kinds of food like Thai, Chinese, Indian, Jewish and Muslim. It's city that never sleep and you can't help but get caught up in the electric buzz all around.
Amazing Bangkok Nightlife
While daylight reveals vibrant, colourful scenes, Bangkok's nightlife offers a whole new experience. It's a city that never sleeps and you can't help but get caught up in the electric buzz all around.
Royal City Avenue or RCA is probably the most famous of night hangouts. Snazzy pubs open up along the street, where the young let loose. But if you think you prefer more mature company, head for the Premier on Rama IX Road, Renoir at Sukhumvit Soi 33, Brown Sugar in Soi Sarasin, or Round Midnight in Soi Lang Suan. Like Jazz? Go straight to Saxophone at the Victory Monument, Bobby's Arm in Patpong, Witch's Tavern in Sukhumvit 55 and Blue Moon at Gaysorn Plaza. The sounds of talented musicians enliven the night sky. Most first class hotels in Bangkok offer nice spots to drink and listen to music.
Want to dance? Crazy about the beat? There is Peppermint Bistro in Patpong, Rome Club at Patpong III, and several discotheques around Ratchadapisek Road like Capital City. Or you can go to Bubbles at the Dusit Thani Hotels, The Party House at Rama IX Road and Taurus at Sukhumvit Soi 22. All night pubs, clubs and discotheques are open until 0200 hours only, as ordered by the Thai government.
Amazing Shopping Get ready for the Grand Sale
The Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) launched the Thailand Grand Sale in 1998, which has since become an annual event. There are two grand sales in a year. The first is from June 1 to 30, where department stores throughout Thailand offer a mid-year sale. The second grand sale is from November 15 to December 15, the end of the year sale. Start saving. There is an increasing number of department stores and shops participating in this national event. Last year, several jewellery stores have joined in. Complementing the TAT's plan to build Thailand's image as a shopping paradise, the Revenue Department has launched a VAT Refund to tourists, who spend 2,000 baht and more. Apart from the conventional department stores, street shops also join in this event. The TAT has designated the areas of Siam Square, World Trade Centre, Pratunam, Rajadamri Road and Sukhumvit Road as "Shopping Street". Remember that when you take the taxi. Shopping in Bangkok is an adventure. Bargaining is obligatory and the fun part of shopping in this city. If you are a good shopper, you will get the best deal in handicrafts, textiles, gems, jewellery, art and antiques, all at amazing prices.
Siam Square: This area is jammed with shops selling clothes, shoes, and accessories. Most shoppers here are teenagers looking for inexpensive trendy fashion. Start off at Maboonkrong Centre where shops meander along several small alleys. Expensive designer labels can also be found at this spot. World Trade Centre: This place houses two department stores - Zen and Isetan - a number of small shops for all kinds of things like clothes, baby products, gifts, and jewellery. There are restaurants, cinemas, ice skating rink and the famous Thailand Duty Free Shop. The latter requires you to have an air ticket with a fixed departure date for buying the duty free goods. Rajadamri Road: If you love buying local handicraft head for a mall called Narayana Phand, operated under Thai government supervision. You can window shop or buy selections of handicraft from all over Thailand. Open daily from 10.00-20.00 hours; products available include Thai silk, ceramics, wood carvings, lacquer ware, bronze objects and Khon masks. All products are sold at set prices. Pratunam: Located at the intersection of Phetchaburi and Thanon Ratchadamri. Locals especially from up country come here to buy products in bulk for retail back home. This is where you can find the tallest hotel in Asia, Baiyoke II Tower. Dizzying heights. Dizzying shopping delights.