Thailand is rightly one of the most popular long-haul travel destinations in the world. Fantastic beaches in the south and outdoor adventures in the north. Hardly any other country offers such a varied landscape, so many cultural highlights and such a choice of picture-postcard snowy white beaches. If you want to get to know the Kingdom of Thailand in all its splendour, you should allow time, lots of time. From the fascinating north, through the Northeast with its own special culture, to the lowlands of central Thailand and on down to the South, with its fiery food and countless idyllic beaches; there is something new to discover at every turn.
The kingdom offers something for everyone and an unforgettable holiday awaits you here. Everything that is important for planning, tips on the best travel time, the best diving spots, the most beautiful beaches and much more can be found here.
The south of Thailand is most well-known for its beautiful beaches but another dominant geological feature of Southern Thailand is its limestone mountains and karsts which are a perfect backdrop for breathtaking photos. While travelling through a landscape of rice paddies and orchards you can suddenly find yourself awed by the sight of magnificent karsts rising up hundreds of meters to form a backdrop of breathtaking contrast to the tranquil farmland. In addition to these rock formations, which could have sprung from an adventure book or a fairy tale, the region is also characterised by its numerous islands that lie just off the coast, both east and west. Many of them are small and quiet and can justifiably be called island paradises. Others, such as Phuket and Koh Samui, have been developed into sophisticated world-class resorts. On these islands and on the mainland are some of the finest beaches in the world: powdery white-sand beaches lapped by the warm turquoise waters of the Gulf of Thailand and the Andaman Sea.
Songkhla Lake, in fact a large lagoon complex, on the west coast of the peninsular, is another important attraction in these southern provinces which should not be missed. An additional fascinating aspect of the South, is the interplay of different cultural influences, with its sizeable Muslim population; in fact forming the majority in the four Southernmost provinces. This makes the region different from anywhere else in Thailand and, it should be noted, gives its cuisine an additional layer of richness.
In the North of Thailand a series of mountain ranges dominates the landscape. They rise in parallel to each other and are separated by the Wang, Ping, Nan and Yom Rivers. These mountain ranges were once characterized by their dense forest cover but logging over many decades has sadly reduced much of this cover, particularly the ancient teak forests. However, In the 1990s, the Thai government issued a comprehensive logging ban, covering all of the kingdom’s natural forests, to prevent further deforestation. This has helped enormously although illegal logging is still a problem in some areas.
When you travel to the north of Thailand, you are in a sense going back in time to the origins of Thailand because the first three precursor kingdoms, from which modern Thailand eventually grew, where established in the North: Sukhothai, Chiang Mai and Chiang Saen.
Chiang Mai, 700 kms from Bangkok, is now the country's second largest city, with a population of over a million in the metropolitan area. It is the cultural, economic and administrative heart of the north and an important communications hub: it should not be missed. Beyond the city, the mountains dominate, with Doi Inthanon, the country’s highest peak at over 2,500 metres, just over 100 kms away. The mountains offer wonderful opportunities for trekking, white-water and bamboo rafting and mountain biking. Another big attraction are the many ethnic-minority hill-tribe which have made their home in Northern Thailand. These include Karen, Hmong, Lisu, Akha, Lahu, Mien and Lawa. To spend time in their villages and learn about their history and way of life is a most rewarding experience.
If we look at the topography of Central Thailand, we find primarily a flat alluvial floodplain though which the waters of the North and northeast drain into the sea. Bangkok lies towards the bottom this floodplain, not far above the mouth of the mighty Chao Phraya River. With a population of over 10 million, Bangkok and its densely populated surrounding provinces make the Central Thailand the most populous and prosperous region in the country. It is also the most fertile, the Central Plain being the country’s rice bowl and the most important rice cultivating regions in the world. Apart from the many and varied attractions of Bangkok itself, there are many provinces in the Central Regions which hold their own unique appeal: Ayutthaya, the former capital of old Siam, and Kanchanaburi, with its important historical attractions and breathtaking scenery are two of the most significant.
Northeast Thailand, known locally as Isan, sits on the Plateau of Korat, around 200 m above sea level. The land here is much less fertile than the central region, being rather sandy; this, together with a less well-developed irrigation system, means that it is not such a productive rice-growing area. Rice cultivation is still important though, and It should be noted that the finest glutinous, or “sticky” rice, in the world is grown in Isan. Little of Isan is forested and some areas are prone to both floods and draughts and the region is something of backwater economically. It is nonetheless populous, with over 22 million people living here, a third of the country’s population, and it is culturally distinct. Traditional culture is more evident here, with upper Isan greatly influenced by Lao culture while in lower Isan, Khmer influence is strongly felt. It is a fascinating region for anybody tired of all the usual tourist haunts and their crowds. Relatively few foreign tourists visit Isan and so western influences are not so strongly felt. Nakhon Ratchasima is the main city and the gateway to Isan. It is conveniently located to one of the region’s main attractions: Khao Yai, the county’s premier national park. In upper Isan, Udon Thani is the main city and a good jumping off point for visiting Laos, just 60 kms way across the Mekong River.