Besides its famous beaches Thailand is also a fascinating culture destination. Thailand has a long and splendid history full of legendary kings and queens from Sukhothai and Ayutthaya kingdoms, which both lie in atmospheric ruins. Both ruined cities are great places to relive the time of the Thai legends.
Thailand’s modern day culture is no less fascinating. Just scrap a bit of Thailand’s seemingly modern surface, and you will find a country full of intriguing customs and traditions. Magical amulets? Almost everybody has them. Spirits and ghosts? All around. Monks with supernatural powers? You got them. Magic is part of everyday life in Thailand.
Bangkok – Top Destination to Experience Thai Culture
Thai capital Bangkok is the number one destination for anyone interested in Thai culture. Bangkok’s top attractions include a fairy-tale like temple of Emerald Buddha, and the National Museum, one of South-East Asia’s top museums.
Bangkok also has its share of strange sights, where you can see Thai culture in its most magical form.
Food is of course a big part of any culture, and Bangkok is a great place to eat your way through the whole of Asia: beside Thai food you will find authentic Vietnamese, Chinese, Korean and Japanese restaurants in Bangkok.
The Legends of Ayutthaya
Ayutthaya was the capital of Thai kingdom of Siam before the capital was moved to Bangkok and the name of the land changed to Thailand. Ayutthayan kingdom flourished for 400 years, until its archenemies the Burmese finally burned the whole city to the ground in 1767. Atmospheric ruins are the only thing left behind.
Ayutthayan legends are among the most loved in Thailand, and an endless source for Thai movies, which blend seamlessly history and sword wielding fantasy.
Ayutthaya is only two hours away from Bangkok, and can easily be visited on a day-trip, although the beautiful ruins are best enjoyed in the afternoon and early morning light, so if you have time, stay overnight.
Sukhothai – The Mythical Cradle of Thai Culture
Another fascinating ruined city is Sukhothai, which is considered by Thais as their semi-mythical ancestral home. It is said that Thais first gained their independence and their culture started to flourish during the time of Sukhothai.
Actually very little historical facts are known about Sukhothai, but the beautiful ruins, surrounded by peaceful countryside, make a delightful place to visit some 400 kilometers north of Bangkok, about halfway to Chiang Mai.
Thailand’s Cultural Heartland
The inland provinces of Northern Thailand, and the Northeast known as Isaan, are great places to experience the real Thai culture much more so than the beach destinations in the south. In fact, the fishing communities in Thailand’s South have traditionally been dominated by Islamic Malay culture.
The main city in the north, Chiang Mai, is known as the cultural capital of Thailand. In Chiang Mai you will find a lot of temples and handicraft centers, where traditional crafts such as woodcarving and paper-umbrella making are still being preserved.
A less known but all the more intriguing culture destination in the north is Nan, whose temples host the most beautiful temple murals in the country.
Isaan in turn is the least visited area of Thailand. You will find some great Khmer-era temples, similar to Cambodia’s Angkor ruins, and a lot of interesting festivals, especially in the early summer.
Hua Hin, Thailand’s Historic Beach Destination
If you want to combine beaches and some cultural sights, Hua Hin is your best bet. In the early 20th century Thailand’s king built his summer palace next to Hua Hin, and the once sleepy fishing village developed to a Royal beach destination as Thai nobles followed suit with their own teakwood villas in the area.
As a traveler you can enjoy Hua Hin’s historical heritage by staying at Thailand’s first beach hotel, completed in 1923, the beautiful Centara Grand Beach Resort.
In Hua Hin, a culture holiday can be combined with a suitably pampering of almost royal style, since Hua Hin has developed into Thailand’s leading spa town. Most mind-boggling spas such as The Barai are fine design destinations in their own right.
Phuket’s Cultural Delights
Along with Hua Hin, Phuket is another beach destination where you can experience local culture. The island’s capital Phuket Town has the best-preserved old town in Thailand. Many of the beautiful, century-old Sino-Portuguese shop-houses have been turned into cozy cafés, restaurants and art galleries.
If you visit Phuket on October, you can experience the extravagant Vegetarian Festival, when followers of the Chinese god of vegetarianism go into deep trance, and pierce their bodies with swords, needles and all other kind of sharp objects.