Thailand is one of the world’s most amazing travel destinations. In Thailand you can laze on a secluded paradise beach, dive amongst coral gardens, hike in a rainforest, motorcycle on curvy mountain roads, bath with elephants, kayak in limestone sceneries, wonder ancient temples, pamper yourself in luxurious spas, shop till you drop, and sip sunset cocktails on a skyscraper’s open air rooftop bar.
Cross your heart; how many other countries can offer the same, and all the above in a two-week long holiday? And with a price that is hard to match?
On the first glance Thailand might seem to be surprisingly modern, but more you learn to know the country, the more exotic you find it.
That’s the enduring charm of Thailand: you will find a beautiful country full of amazing things to do with all the modern comforts, and yet so enticingly foreign and full of ancient traditions.
Thailand is not just beaches even if the coastal regions are the most visited parts of Thailand. You will also find serene rice fields, lush jungles and beautiful mountain sceneries.
From Siam to Modern Thailand
Thailand, formerly called Siam, became a constitutional monarchy in 1932 but has since had several periods of political unrest and some 20 military coups. After a bloodless military coup in May 2014 the country has been ruled by a military junta. General elections are scheduled to be held in 2017. The extent to which the country will then return to democratic governance remains to be seen.
In the recent decades Thailand has developed rapidly from a poor agricultural country to a more urbanized and industrialized state with a growing middle class, a more highly educated population, increasing industrialization and extensive tourism.
The differences in economic and living conditions between large cities and rural areas are huge, however. Half the Thai population still works in agriculture (rice, vegetables, fruit), 15 percent in industry (cars, cameras, computers, tourism) and 35 percent in the financial sector and other service industries such as tourism. Unemployment is virtually non-existent. Economic growth is strong.
Industry and services account for 90 percent of the Thai economy, agriculture accounts for only 10 percent. The country is dependent on exports, and is the world’s largest exporter of rice. Tourism is important but accounts directly for just 5 percent of the country’s economy.
Thailand’s Geography in a Nutshell
Thailand’s shape is usually likened to an elephant’s head with one ear up (the Northeast), and a trunk of a long, narrow isthmus reaching to the south, all the way to Malaysia.
Thailand’s surface is slightly larger than Spain, and the distance from north to south is about as wide as the distance from London to Gibraltar.
In the North, Thailand has high mountains (highest peak reaches 2565 m.) and fertile valleys. The South has rainforests, low mountains and tropical islands. Thailand‘s capital Bangkok is in the central part, surrounded by the fertile plain. To the northeast (Isan) is the barren plateau limited by the Mekong River to Laos.
Thailand has 65 million inhabitants, of which about 15 percent of Chinese origin. Nearly 20 percent of Thais live in the capital city of Bangkok (which in Thai is called Krungthep).
Central Thailand – Traveling to Thailand’s Heartland
Central region around Bangkok is the heartland of Thailand. Here you will find ruined cities of Ayutthaya and Sukhothai, and Kanchanaburi’s wilderness.
In Central Thailand you can have a very diverse holiday without venturing too far from the capital. Just two to three hours drive from Bangkok you have great beach destinations, cultural sights and even a wonderful jungle, Khao Yai National Park.
Read more: Bangkok and Beaches
Gulf of Thailand’s Calm Waters
Gulf of Thailand is pretty shallow and well protected sea, making the climate here more tamer than on the Andaman Sea. That makes the beach destinations on Gulf of Thailand especially good choices if you are traveling to Thailand on the rainy season.
Gulf of Thailand’s most popular destinations are Pattaya and Hua Hin close to Bangkok, but if you travel a bit further to the east, you will find beautiful and mellow islands of Ko Samet, Ko Chang, Ko Mak and Ko Kood.
If you travel to the west from Hua Hin you find Prachuap Khiri Khan and Ban Krut, both very quiet and pretty beach destinations outside of most travelers’ radar.
Ko Samui, Ko Phangan and Ko Tao are famous islands in the far southern Gulf of Thailand. If you get bored in one the islands, it is easy to hop on to the next island by frequent ferry service. All of the islands have their own character, and together they form an exciting trio for island hopping.
Andaman Sea and Thailand’s Most Beautiful Sceneries
The Andaman Sea coast and its islands have Thailand’s finest beaches and the most beautiful scenery. The whole area is like a nature’s art exhibition. Krabi is famed for its otherworldly limestone scenery, which is familiar from endless postcards, but even more impressive on the spot.
The most popular destination in the Andaman Sea is Phuket, which caters for a wide range of tourists from luxury travelers to families with its long and wide beaches and excellent array of hotels.
The most enticing travel destinations on the Andaman Sea are the small islands, however. On the Andaman Sea’s small paradise islands the sand is as white as snow and the sea sparkling turquoise. Ko Phi Phi is a popular party island, Ko Ngai a serene island perfect for couples, and Ko Lipe is becoming a new backpacker hot spot.
Northern Thailand – Mountains and Rice Fields
In Northern Thailand one finds a very different kind of country than the southern shores. In the North, the sea is just a distant memory: here the jungle-clad mountains and valleys with heavenly green rice fields dominate the scenery. Thailand’s highest mountain, Doi Inthanon, rises nearly 2,600 meters in height.
Chiang Mai, meaning “new city” in Thai, was the capital of the former Lanna kingdom. The city is located 700 kilometers north of Bangkok, and is the gateway to northern Thailand. Although the city has 700 000 inhabitants in its metropolitan area and is Thailand’s second largest, Chiang Mai doesn’t feel at all that big. Basically, Chiang Mai is still a small town close to the nature by heart, a tenth the size of Bangkok, and has only a few tall buildings.
The city has strategic significance, because several trade routes between Thailand, Myanmar, Laos and China intersect in Chiang Mai. Chiang Mai has excellent hiking trails, top-class hotels and restaurants and good shopping opportunities.
Most visitors arrive to Northern Thailand to make trips to the exotic villages of hill tribes, but the area also offers a great opportunity for road trips on a car or a motorcycle. Even the most distant roads are in pretty good condition making driving a pleasure.
Northeastern Thailand aka the Isaan
Northeastern Thailand also called the Isaan, is a good antidote to all those who claim that Thailand has become too touristy. Isaan comprises third of Thailand’s land area but sees just a handful of travelers.
Dry and hot Isaan lacks the beaches and world-class attractions that usually attract tourists. Instead, here you can experience genuine Southeast Asian country life; rice fields, intriguing festivals and beautiful national parks.