The jewel of the southeast Asian travel circuit, Thailand offers astonishing diversity and a truly fascinating and accessible culture that, along with the revered Thai hospitality, makes it an incredibly popular destination.
With an enticing mixture of established destinations such as Phuket and Hua Hin, and out-of-the-way palm-fringed islands, Thailand has a very exotic appeal. It caters for grungy backpacking types wanting to party into the wee hours through to those who prefer white tablecloth dining and clinking wine glasses. From staying on a converted rice barge, clambering into a jungle tree house or bedding down in a hill tribe village, the country offers a wealth of choice for all tastes and budgets.
For divers, snorkellers, and those who just like swanning around on white-powder sand there are postcard-perfect beaches, and the extraordinary metropolis of Bangkok in the south, while the north offers the sublime delights of culture-packed Chiang Mai with its temple-studded old town, and cooling forests and mountain retreats.
One of the best ways to access Thai culture is through a ‘Monk chat’ session in a local wat (temple) in Chiang Mai, where you get the opportunity to quiz the dignified saffron-robed monks about anything you like. And in the early morning, all over the country, the monks leave the sanctuary of their wats to receive alms from the people, be it in a dusty village or on crowded city streets. Buddhism is a way of life here and the Thais are also strong supporters of their monarchy.
And don’t forget the food! A culinary adventure awaits with tempting morsels on virtually every street corner, from traditional Royal-project run restaurants to delicious piping hot street food. Eating is as much a part of the culture here as anything else and definitely the key to local hearts. If you’re lucky enough to catch a local festival, it will probably be dominated by food.
The most welcoming of countries, despite being inundated with tourists and expats, it’s the gentle hospitality of local people that is the strongest memory of Thailand for many visitors. And what a wonderful memory it makes.