Explore the old with the new
Discover the fascinating culture behind the country best known for its tropical islands and energetic capital
Thailand’s islands and beaches are the classic image of paradise, but they’re only part of what makes a Thailand holiday so unforgettable. Delve a little deeper into Thai culture and you’ll be richly rewarded.
Thailand’s varied landscapes have lots to offer in natural and manmade beauty. You can explore the hustle and bustle of Bangkok by tuk tuk one day and breathe in the earthy smells of the jungle the next. Walk across the historic Bridge over the River Kwai, and come face to face with time-honoured traditions as you meet the people of Thailand’s remote hill tribes.
While Chiang Rai city is worthy of a visit in its own right, most travellers come here as a starting point for more adventurous journeys into the realms of the hill tribes who've made the misty mountains of the Golden Triangle region their home. For a more sedate mode of exploration, Chiang Rai is also the place to board a slow boat to take you into Laos by means of the revered Mekong River.
Once the capital of the Lanna Thai kingdom, Chiang Mai's past is still evident from the moated walls of its Old City. Over 300 temples are waiting to be explored in this captivating town, which seamlessly blends old with new in a rather more subtle way than Bangkok. Limitless culinary experiences await foodies, while craft shops sell delightful souvenirs. As the gateway to the glorious landscapes and untouched villages of the country's beautiful northwest hills, Chiang Mai makes the perfect base for the curious traveller.
For those who like their archaeology on a grand scale, Sukhothai doesn't disappoint. The Sukhothai Historical Park houses 193 UNESCO-protected ruins of what was Thailand's first capital city. Thought of as the place where Thai culture first started, Sukhothai means "Dawn of Happiness". Hire a bike so that you can get round as much of the park as possible.
Destroyed by the Burmese in 1767, an ancient centre of the Thai civilisation now lies in enigmatic ruins surrounded by the modern city of Ayuthaya. Wandering around what remains today, one can only imagine the grandeur of this once-great city, which was a centre of arts and culture from as far afield as Europe. Bringing you back into the modern world, don't leave Ayuthaya without calling in at the nearby Lampang elephant hospital.
Modern-day Thailand is unashamedly on show in the country's fast-paced capital city. Wander between the skyscrapers to visit the sumptuous Grand Palace and experience a moment of calm in one of Bangkok's many temples. There's much to be said for spending some time exploring its countless restaurants and shopping malls, but you'll want to leave plenty of time for journeying into its backstreets and seeing what treasures you stumble across.
If you ever saw the Alec Guinness film 'Bridge on the River Kwai', you'll want to pay a visit to jungle-covered Kanchanaburi to experience the real thing, which still stands to this day as a reminder of the area's Japanese occupation during the Second World War. The names of the prisoners of war who built the bridge and the infamous Death Railway now adorn the town's war memorial, but the area's turbulent history is now behind it thanks to the enduring popularity of its natural beauty.
Untouched beaches, banana and pineapple plantations, spectacular waterfalls, pink dolphins: there are so many reasons to visit the rural town of Khanom that it deserves to be better known. You'll be glad it isn't, though, as it's a peaceful escape from the crowds who flock to the more famous Thai islands.
Phuket's more low-key cousin is the equally celebrated Koh Samui, a gorgeous island off Thailand's east coast where the height of the palm trees dictate how high developers can build their resorts. The lack of high-rise hotels means that Koh Samui has retained its tropical island atmosphere to a greater extent than Phuket, making it a relaxed base from which to explore neighbouring islands and the enchanting Angthong National Marine Park.
Board a ferry out to this island escape and you'll witness the way of life of Southern Thailand's Muslims. Koh Klang, near Krabi, is blissfully car-free, leaving you easily able to explore the rice paddies, mangroves and pristine beaches that make this an ideal island for travellers who want a quieter experience of paradise.
Thailand's biggest island is also its most developed, so you're in for an altogether more lively experience if you make Phuket your island of choice. While its dramatic cliffs, beautiful beaches and forest-clad mountains make its natural beauty justly famous, it's also a place where there's a seemingly limitless array of activities and nightlife on offer. It's particularly strong on watersports, so try it if you're in search of adventure.
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Enjoy local hospitality at a homestay in Ayutthaya
Experience real life in Thailand by staying in the home of welcoming locals and enjoying authentic Thai home cooking at its finest.
Discover local crafts near Sukhothai
Admire the array of colours on show at a community-run textiles project, and unleash your creative side by trying your hand at ceramic painting and cotton weaving at a class near Sukhothai.
Discover the best of Thai street food on a foodie walking tour, and get to know the mouthwatering flavours of Thailand’s regional cuisine by learning the secrets of Thai cooking at a class in Chiang Mai, Sukhothai or Bangkok.
Stay in a tented camp on the banks of the River Kwai
Plunge yourself into rural Thailand in a comfortable camp in the jungle, right next to the river made famous by the Second World War bridge.
Get amongst the action in buzzing Bangkok
Discover the different sides to bustling Bangkok with a walking tour that introduces you to the many treasures between the skyscrapers, from the majesty of the Grand Palace to its smaller temples and shrines.
Elephant Hills in Khao Sok National Park
Witness elephant conservation at work and spend a unique night in a luxury floating tent at the rainforest camp of Elephant Hills in Khao Sok National Park.
Pink dolphins in Khanom
A local long-tail boat takes you gliding across the waters of Khanom, where you might be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of the endangered pink dolphin, a rare and striking albino breed.
Get hands-on on Koh Klang Island
Throw yourself into local life on picturesque Koh Klang Island, where friendly locals show you how to take part in community arts and crafts such as batik painting.
Visit Mae Klang Luang Ecotourism Community
At this community-based project, get a taste of traditional rural life in Thailand by experiencing what it’s like to work in the famous terraced rice fields.
A luxe stay on a pristine beach
No Thailand holiday would be complete without indulging in a stay at a luxury beach resort, such as the peaceful Aava Resort and Spa on Nadan Beach.
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