By: Isaac Olson
Thailand continues to be a prime destination and the gateway for travelers wanting to experience Southeast Asia. How is it that this country has continued to attract visitors despite its on-again off-again political struggles and notoriety as a wild red light pleasure destination.
For most the answer is simple, the laid back attitude and constant smiles of the Thai people transcend the occasional bad press. Add to this one of the best infrastructures in Southeast Asia, a well developed tourism industry, services attainable by any budget, and it’s no surprise that people keep flocking to the land of smiles and elephants.
Who Visits Thailand?
Thailand was once only a destination for backpackers, but the country now attracts plenty of high end tourists. The backpacker vibe has cooled in some places, but plenty of destinations and activities cater to these lovers of everything cheap and adventurous, whether they be the budget kind or trendy flashpackers. Not only do singles enjoy Thailand but families come to take advantage of the many child friendly activities. Thailand also hosts some of the best luxury hotels and spas in the world that often come at bargain rates. This interesting fusion of luxury and budget allows Thailand to satisfy any visitor.
Thailand Layout & Landscape
Thailand is larger than most people realize and has a variety of landscapes. World class beaches and islands with stunning karst mountains stretch along the narrow southern part of the country. But in the far north jungles and mountains dominate. The climate is hot and humid but in some mountainous areas it can get a bit chilly.
Thailand has four main regions: Central, Southern, Northern, and Northeastern:
This part of the country is dominated by the bustling mega city, Bangkok, where most people first arrive in Thailand. The city has everything from historic temples and palaces to nonstop nightlife. The traffic and street food will thrill and possibly frighten visitors. Fortunately, the city hosts vast green parks, an exciting river front, and some of the finest dining and hotels in Asia. The shopping, whether it be in street markets or mega malls, is world class.
There’s more to Central Thailand than Bangkok, since it’s home to several popular beach destinations such as Ko Samet, Ko Chang, and Pattaya. On top of this, one can have a jungle experience in places like Kanchanaburi. World class ruins can also be found at Thailand’s ancient capital, Ayutthaya.
The narrow southern part of Thailand, with the famous islands of Phuket and Ko Samui, is the most visited. Tourism in the Gulf of Thailand is dominated by the island chain of Ko Samui, Ko Phangan, and Ko Tao. The luxury traveler beat thrives in Ko Samui. Ko Phangan is most popular amongst young backpackers due its legendary full moon party, and Ko Tao is a hit with divers.
The Andaman Sea is a great place to do island hopping. Visitors usually start in Phuket, which is Thailand’s largest island and richest province. Ko Phi Phi is another hot destination. Some of these island getaways offer traditional life such as Ko Yao Noi, while others are relatively quiet like Ko Phayam. The most picturesque beaches, such as Railay, can be found close to the city of Krabi, along with rock climbing adventures.
The unofficial capital of the north is Chiang Mai, which was formerly the seat of the Lanna Kingdom before it became part of Thailand. The city appears calm and laid back compared to Bangkok and offers a ton of activities for visitors at bargain rates.
For lovers of history or just beautiful ancient ruins, Sukothai is the destination of choice. More adventurous spirits will head up to Chiang Rai and onto the Golden Triangle along the banks of the Mekong River to places such as Chiang Saen. The mountainous and remote province of Mae Hong Son is an ecotourism destination where visitors can meet hill tribe people. Popular among backpackers is a visit to the hippy town of Pai.
Commonly called Isan, this part of Thailand remains the most traditional. For people who crave an authentic cultural experience, this is the area to visit. Tourism is less developed which comes as a relief to many travelers, but transportation is still a breeze. Activities are usually more low key with time being spent drinking beer or Thai whisky by riversides and chatting and laughing with locals.
Outside of the main cities of Udon Thani and Ubon Ratchathani, the real beauty of rural Isan can be appreciated. Kao Yai National Park, located just two and a half hours from Bangkok is an attractive destination. Surin is famous for its green environment and love of elephants. Popular among Thais is the outdoorsy mountainous destination of Loei. Towns and villages along the Mekong River are also a fine way to enjoy the Northeast.
Why think twice? Grab up that ticket to Thailand and enjoy the infinite variety the country has to offer!