Friendly and fun-loving, exotic and tropical, cultured and historic, Thailand radiates a golden hue from its glittering temples and tropical beaches to the ever-comforting Thai smile.
Fields & Forests
In between the cluttered cities and towns is the rural heartland, a mix of rice paddies, tropical forests and squat villages tied to the agricultural clock. In the north, the forests and fields bump up against toothy blue mountains decorated by silvery waterfalls. In the south, scraggly limestone cliffs poke out of the cultivated landscape like prehistoric skyscrapers. The usually arid northeast beams an emerald hue during the rainy season when tender green rice shoots carpet the landscape.
The celestial world is a close confidant in this Buddhist nation and religious devotion is colourful and ubiquitous. Gleaming temples and golden Buddhas frame both the rural and modern landscape. Ancient banyan trees are ceremoniously wrapped in sacred cloth to honour the resident spirits, fortune-bringing shrines decorate humble homes as well as monumental malls, while garland-festooned dashboards ward off traffic accidents. Visitors can join in on the conversation through meditation retreats in Chiang Mai, religious festivals in northeastern Thailand, underground cave shrines in Kanchanaburi and Phetchaburi and hilltop temples in northern Thailand.
A Bountiful Table
Adored around the world, Thai cuisine expresses fundamental aspects of Thai culture: it is generous, warm, refreshing and relaxed. Each Thai dish relies on fresh, local ingredients – pungent lemongrass, searing chillies and plump seafood. A varied national menu is built around the four fundamental flavours: spicy, sweet, salty and sour. Roving appetites go on eating tours of Bangkok noodle shacks, seafood pavilions in Phuket and Burmese market stalls in Mae Hong Son. Cooking classes reveal the simplicity behind the seemingly complicated dishes and mastering the market is an important survival skill.
Why I Love Thailand
By China Williams, Author
When I step off the plane after a gruelling trip across a continent and an ocean, I slip into my Thai 'skin' and the rhythms of the country: chit-chatting with locals, eating at roadside noodle joints, climbing aboard shared taxi pick-up trucks, wâi-ing at sacred temples, slipping off my shoes with ease and craving rice for breakfast. The beaches and the jungles are all fine, but I prefer the cities, where life spills out on to the street and the markets are packed with people and produce. Life is pleasant here and best of all, Thais shower my children with attention and affection.
Sand between Your Toes
With a long coastline (actually, two coastlines) and jungle-topped islands anchored in azure waters, Thailand is a tropical getaway for the hedonist and the hermit, the prince and the pauper. This paradise offers a varied menu: playing in the gentle surf of Ko Lipe, diving with whale sharks in Ko Tao, scaling the sea cliffs of Krabi, kiteboarding in Hua Hin, partying on Ko Phi Phi, recuperating at a health resort in Ko Samui and feasting on the beach wherever sand meets sea.
Once the domain of backpackers and sea gypsies, Lanta hasn't just gentrified, it's morphed almost completely from a luscious southern Thai backwater into a midrange getaway for French, German and Swedish package tourists who come for her divine beaches (though the northern coast is alarmingly eroded) and nearby dive spots, Hin Daeng, Hin Muang and Ko Ha.
Ko Phi-Phi Don
Oh, how beauty can be a burden. Like Marilyn Monroe, Phi-Phi Don’s stunning looks have become its own demise. Everyone wants a piece of her. Though not exactly Hollywood, this is Thailand’s Shangri-La: a hedonistic paradise where tourists cavort in azure seas and snap pictures of long-tails puttering between craggy cliffs.
The island of Phuket has long been misunderstood. Firstly, the ‘h’ is silent. Ahem. And secondly, Phuket doesn’t feel like an island at all. It’s so huge (the biggest in Thailand) that you rarely get the sense that you’re surrounded by water, which is probably the reason why Ko (meaning ‘island’) was dropped from its name.