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With towering skyscrapers pressed up against Chinese shop-houses and brand-new Mercedes squeezing past vendors with pushcarts, this is a city of sharp contrasts. Culture fiends will delight in the dazzling Royal Palace and the city’s countless pagodas, while shoppers could spend weeks sifting through Bangkok’s malls and open-air markets. Entertainment ranges from highbrow (classical Thai music concerts) to low end (go go bars) with everything in between. Dining options are equally varied. Whether you’re eating French cuisine in a plush hotel restaurant or sampling fried crickets on the side of the road, prepare to have all of your senses engaged. This is the place to eat, drink and be merry.
Set at the confluence of the Lopburi, Prasak and Chao Phraya Rivers, the beautiful city of Ayutthaya was the capital of what was then known as Siam from the 14th to 18th centuries. At its height, Ayutthaya was surrounded by a 12-kilometre-long wall which was five meters thick and six meters high and boasted 99 gates, brick and clay roads and canals to transport water into the city. This World Heritage Historical Site was one of the most important trading centers in the region, hosting guests from Portugal, France, Holland and England. In size and wealth, it rivaled most European capitals of the time. Portions of this grandiose past can be re-experienced through its ruins which are mostly gigantic Buddhist temples built in different styles during the long history. But for the relics and records from this period, the Burmese obliterated almost everything in 1767 -- even melting Buddha images down for their gold. Some outstanding temples worth seeing are Wat Chaiwattanaram, an excellent example of Khmer architecture in the Ayuthaya period; Wat Na Phra Meru, the only original surviving temple; and Wat Yai with big reclining Buddha.
Getting here: Located 86km north of Bangkok, it is a 1- 1 ½ hour drive or a 4 hour boat cruise to Ayutthaya.
The ancient Thai capital of Sukhothai, a name meaning “dawn of happiness”, was founded in the 13th century and became the kingdom's first capital. Under the reign of eight Sukhothai kings, Thai arts and culture prospered during this “golden age” period. Although this kingdom had a short life for just around 150 years, Sukhothai was able to produce art which is considered as one of the most unique and beautiful Buddhist art in Asian history. Set in a 45-square kilometer World Heritage-listed historical park, the ruins are spread out and easily explored by bicycle. The key monuments to visit include Wat Mahathat with its royal temple and cemetery and Sra Si Wat with its two stupas, their graceful lines reflected in the water of the towns’s biggest reservoir.
Getting here: There are daily flights from Bangkok and Chiangmai.
The northern capital, Chiang Mai is a dynamic and modern city which has successfully managed to combine its rich history and traditions with its increasingly modern side. Surrounded by a ring of mountains, Chiang Mai offers both fascinating architecture and stunning surroundings. An important Buddhist centre since the 14th century, Chiang Mai is home to more than 300 temples. Many visitors come here to attend meditation retreats, massage classes or yoga lessons. However, for active travelers, the main interest in Chiang Mai is exploring the hilltribe villages. Visitors can trek on foot through the lush countryside, raft down jungle rivers, and meet the residents of isolated ethnic minority villages. Those interested in handicrafts will enjoy visiting centers specializing in silverwork, woodcarving, pottery making and weaving. The Night Bazaar, a series of covered markets, is worth visiting for the bustling atmosphere and to see the variety of hand made products.
Getting here: There are daily flights from Bangkok and direct international flights from Yangon, Luang Prabang, Singapore, Kunming and Tokyo.
Considered by many as a smaller and quieter version of Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai is both of these, retaining the feel of a small provincial Thai capital without the number of tourists you may see in other provincial centers. Chiang Rai, is a good base to explore the hilltribe villages near the Golden Triangle, the remote area where Myanmar, Thailand and Laos meet. The ethnic villages of the Karen (long neck), Akha and Yao are some of the popular hilltribe groups to visit. Every house in each village sells hand-made products, particularly textile weaving, since tourism has replaced agriculture as their main source of income.
Getting here: There are daily flights from Bangkok. From Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai is 180 km and takes 4 hours by road.
Lying off Thailand's east coast in the Gulf of Thailand, Koh Samui offers everything you could want in a beach retreat: white sand beaches, coconut palms, fresh seafood and clear water. With an area of 247 square kilometres, Koh Samui is the largest island in an archipelago of around 80 islands. The nearby Koh Pha-Ngan and Koh Tao also offer many beach resorts and great diving. Like Phuket, Koh Samui attracts many visitors yet has plenty of out of the way places for those wishing to get away from it all.
Getting here: There are daily flights from Bangkok to Koh Samui.
Located off Thailand's west coast in the Andaman Sea, Phuket is the largest island in Thailand with an area of 810 square kilometers. The coastal scenery is magnificent, with tropical rainforests, steep limestone cliffs, rocky beaches and picture-postcard beaches of soft golden sand. Inland lie coconut, pineapple, cashew nut and rubber plantations. Clear water and colorful coral reefs make this area the most popular spot to dive in Thailand.
Getting here: There are daily flights from Bangkok to Phuket. There are also several direct flights from international destinations e.g., Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Hong Kong, and Sydney.
Krabi province, comprised of 130 islands, has grown hugely popular as a resort destination in recent years for its white-sand beaches and spectacular limestone karsts creating postcard perfect scenery. The most notable beaches are Phi Phi, most famous as the set for the movie the Beach, and Railay Beach for its rock climbing. Krabi is also home to the well-known primary rainforest Than Bokkharani National Park, just 30 minutes north of Krabi town,
Getting here: There are daily flights from Bangkok to Krabi. From Phuket it is 185 km and takes 4 hours by road.