Thailand is lucky. It has the looks, the temperament and the attractions to capture the world's imagination for an exotic escape. It is mysterious and confounding but approachable and inviting. Hospitality is a genuine art, crafted by a culture that takes pride in putting people at ease.
The tranquil southern coastlines, with their picturesque interplay of sand and sea, massage away modern worries like only tropical isles can. Away from the islands and the exciting city of Bangkok are ancient kingdoms where surviving Buddha figures meditate serenely amongst the wreckage of war and gravity.
In the northeastern corner of the country, the landscape extends to the horizon in a chequerboard of rice fields. The Mekong River carves out a thoroughfare that is dotted with riverside towns mimicking its languid character.
Those who come to Thailand only for themselves leave with memories of gratitude and generosity imparted by their hosts.
Whether they're celebrating the new year or just the size of the moon, Thai festivals are some of the wildest and weirdest on the planet. Get in on the fun and get a warm Thai welcome at these top picks.
Thailand has testosterone-fuelled highs around every corner - from biking hairpin bends in swooping mountain ranges to ziplining through the jungle canopy. Dive in and find out how and where you can get your thrill-seeking fix.
Thailand has some of the most explosive, fresh and tasty cuisine in the world and food is a major reason people visit. Come on a top-to-bottom journey through this delicious culinary landscape.
Only got time for a quick Thailand 'pop-in'? Despair not - you can still pack in an exciting and full itinerary thanks to the affordability of domestic flights.
2 - 3 weeks
Join the classic beach-hunters' trail by leapfrogging across the peninsula and dipping your toes into both the Gulf of Thailand and the Andaman Sea (1400km round trip).
From cityscapes and ancient ruins to beaches and jungles, get a taste of all facets of Thailand on this month-long jaunt.
Got questions? We've got answers. Here, experts from Lonely Planet and Visa answer commonly asked questions about travelling to Thailand and managing your money while you're there. Have more questions? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Question: Will I be charged a fee for using my Visa card while overseas?
Answer: [Visa expert] Fees are dependent on your issuing bank and whether they will just charge you the foreign exchange conversion rate or include an additional service charge. Some banks charge an ATM access fee as well. For more details, contact your issuing bank.
Question: How much time do I need to see everything?
Answer: [Lonely Planet expert] If you only want to experience the must-see sights, four days in Bangkok is enough. The southern island of Phuket requires a week to truly unwind and enjoy the many activities, while a trip to the northern city of Chiang Mai will eat up at least three days of your trip.
Question: Do I need to let my bank know that I'm traveling before I depart? And who at the bank should I tell?
Answer: [Visa expert] Yes, it is good practice to let your bank know you will be travelling so they don't decline any of your legitimate transactions. Call your bank's credit card customer service centre - the number is usually on the back of your card.
Question: When is the best time of year to visit?
Answer: [Lonely Planet expert] Try to go between November and May, when the heat is tolerable and the rain minimal. Between June and October, expect thunderous downpours every few days. When outside any time of the year, a bottle of water, hat and sunscreen are wise accessories.
Question: What exchange rate will I receive when using my Visa card abroad?
Answer: [Visa expert] Exchange rates on Visa cards are competitive and may be better than rates available from other sources. You can research Visa's current exchange rate for your destination using the Visa exchange rate calculator. This will allow you to compare it to the exchange rates offered by foreign exchange bureaus. Do remember that there is always a charge for changing currency, no matter where you do it – at a bank, hotel, bureau, online or by buying travellers' cheques. Visa cards are no exception.
Question: What is the best way to access cash when I am abroad?
Answer: [Visa expert] With your Visa card you can access local currency from 1.8 million ATMs worldwide - just look for the Visa or PLUS sign. All ATM transactions require a PIN so make sure you know yours prior to leaving on your trip. Your PIN should be 4 digits as many international ATMs do not accept longer PINs. It's a good idea to contact your issuing bank before you leave and ask if your cards have daily cash withdrawal restrictions.
Question: What are the must-see destinations?
Answer: [Lonely Planet expert] Bangkok's Grand Palace is on every itinerary as its glittering, golden buildings are outstanding. Some of the finest beaches in the world can be found in Phuket and Krabi, while travellers seeking countryside and culture should head north to the historic former capital of Chiang Mai.
Question: How safe is Thailand? Is there anywhere I should stay away from?
Answer: [Lonely Planet expert] Thai people are incredibly welcoming and friendly, and meeting them is a highlight of any trip. However, in the southern-most provinces there has been significant separatist violence since 2004, and this area should be avoided. Political protests turned violent in Bangkok in 2010, but generally the city is as safe as any other major metropolis.
Question: Can I use my Visa credit, debit or prepaid card in Thailand?
Answer: [Visa expert] Yes. Most tourist areas are well populated with ATMs that accept internationally issued Visa cards - just look for the Visa logo. Similarly, all retailers who accept Visa will clearly display the Visa logo in their stores.
Question: If the shopkeeper offers to charge me in my home currency instead of the local currency, is that a good idea?
Answer: [Visa expert] When you travel internationally, some merchants may offer you the option to convert your purchases into your home currency at the register. This is called Dynamic Currency Conversion (DCC) and means the merchant - not Visa or your issuing bank - is converting the currency. While you may appreciate the convenience of knowing the exact price in your home currency at the point-of-sale, you should be aware that the merchant may charge you for this service. Visa requires that you be given a choice to either accept or decline DCC. In addition, Visa requires merchants offering this service to inform cardholders of the exchange rate including any applicable commissions or fees being charged. Only agree to this do this if you think you are getting a good deal.
Question: What do I do if I lose my card?
Answer: [Visa expert] Call your bank immediately to cancel your card. In an emergency, you can get a temporary card replacement or cash disbursement in 24-48 hours with the help of Visa's Global Customer Assistance Service (GCAS).
Question: How safe is the food?
Answer: [Lonely Planet expert] Some Thai dishes, notably salads and soups, can be tongue-burningly fierce, but a lot of the food is relatively plain and uses few or no chillies. If you don't want spicy food, say 'mai phet' when ordering. Avoid crushed ice and don't drink tap water.
Home-grown talent and overseas indies arrive on the silver screens. If you haven't heard, Bangkok is fast becoming a Bollywood and Hong Kong movie hybrid. http://www.bangkokfilm.org/
This agricultural celebration (called têt·sà·gahn mái dòrk mái Ъrà·dàp) is held over a three-day period and includes displays of flower arrangements, cultural performances and beauty pageants. The festival highlight is the parade that starts at Saphan Nawarat, travelling down Th Tha Phae and then all the way to Suan Buak Hat.
One of three holy days marking important moments of Buddha's life, Makha Bucha, on the full moon of the third lunar month, commemorates Buddha preaching to 1250 enlightened monks who came to hear him 'without prior summons'. A public holiday, it's mainly a day for temple visits.
12th - 14th April
Thailand's famous water fight marks the Thai New Year. The traditional religious activities are held in the morning and involve showing respect to elders and sacred temple images by sprinkling water on them. Afterwards Thais in Chiang Mai and Bangkok load up their water guns and head out to the streets for battle.
This royal ceremony employs astrology and ancient Brahman rituals to kick-off the riceplanting season. Sacred oxen are hitched to a wooden plough and part the ground of Sanam Luang in Bangkok. The ritual was revived in the 1960s by the king, and Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn has assumed the ceremony's helm.
This Buddhist holy day, commemorating a Buddhist legend in which a host of spirits appeared to greet the Buddha-tobe, is given a Carnival makeover at the Phi Ta Khon Festival in Dan Sai village. Revellers disguise themselves in garish 'spirit' costumes and parade through the village streets wielding wooden phalluses and downing rice whisky.
The full moon of the eighth lunar month commemorates Buddha's first sermon during Asalha Bucha. During Khao Phansaa (Buddhist Lent), worshippers make offerings of candles other necessities to the temples and attend ordinations.
The Queen's Birthday is a public holiday and national mother's day. In Bangkok, the day is marked with cultural displays at Sanam Luang as well as festive lights lining the royal avenue of Th Ratchadamnoen Klang.
Cities such as Bangkok, Trang and Krabi are festooned with yellow banners heralding vegetarian vendors during this nine-day holiday from meat in adherence with Chinese Buddhist beliefs of mind and body purification. In Phuket the festival gets extreme, with entranced marchers turning themselves into human shish kebabs.
The end of the Buddhist lent (three lunar months after Khao Phansaa) is marked by the gà·tĭn ceremony, in which new robes are given to the monks by merit-makers. The peculiar natural phenomenon known as the 'naga fireballs' coincides with Ork Phansaa.
One of Thailand's most beloved festivals, Loi Krathong thanks the river goddess for providing life to the fields and forests and asks for forgiveness for the polluting ways of humans. Small origami-like vessels made from banana leaves, decorated with flowers, and with incense, candles and coins placed in them are sent adrift in the country's waterways.
This public holiday hosts parades and merit-making events; it is also recognised as national father's day. Th Ratchadamnoen Klang in Bangkok is decorated with lights and regalia. Everyone wears yellow shirts, the colour associated with the king's birthday. Phuket also holds the Kings Cup Regatta during the first week of the month in honour of the monarch.