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Thailand - A Visitors Guide

Thailand is a fascinating tourist destination with great food, culture, friendly people, great beaches, spectacular islands, Buddhist temples, a modern Capital city and a tropical climate.

There is almost everything a traveler seeks in an exotic experience with a safe, inexpensive activities and many modern amenities. Accommodations vary widely from beach front backpacker bungalows to some of the best luxury hotels in the world.

Grand Palace, Bangkok, Thailand

Thailand is made up of five geographic and cultural regions:
1. Northern Thailand - Chiang Mai, hill tribes, and the Golden Triangle.
2. The northeast region - Off the beaten track with exotic food and some magnificent Khmer ruins.
3. Central Thailand - Bangkok, lowlands and historic Thailand.
4. Eastern Thailand - Made up of beaches and islands within easy reach of Bangkok, like Pattaya, Ko Samet and Ko Chang.
5. Southern Thailand - Lush rainforest and where many of Thailand's famous beach resorts are. Located on both the Andaman Sea and the Gulf of Thailand, includes Phuket, Krabi, Ko Samui, and Ko Tao where many of the world/s best beaches are located.

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The three most popular Thailand destinations are Bangkok, Chiang Mai, and Phuket.
The capital city of Bangkok has pretty much everything you would want in a large city with a large variety of good restaurants, shopping , excellent and inexpensive public transport and home to the top Thai cultural and Buddhist temples. Bangkok offers good hotel value and is a good place to splurge on a recovery from a long flight.

Chiang Mai to the north is much more laid back. It has a growing arts community, is much cooler than Bangkok and Phuket, and is a good place to serve as a base for touring the northern areas of Thailand.

Phuket is where tourists go to relax and enjoy the beaches and islands.

When to go

The weather in Thailand is what you would expect from a tropical climate --- hot and humid with bating beaches at bath water temperatures. Thailand can be divided into three seasons: The hotter season, rainy season, and cooler season, though Thailand's geography allows visitors to find suitable weather somewhere in the country throughout the year.

The best time to visit most of Thailand is between November and March --- it has less rain and is cooler. This is also the time of the year for Thailand's major festivals, like Loi Krathong, an evening when Thais pay respect to the goddess of the waters by floating candlelit offerings on any and all waterways around the kingdom.

An alternate time to visit is in July and August. Although this is in the rainy season, it offers the benefit of fewer tourists, discounted room rates, cooler temperatures and a more lush and green landscape.

Things To Do

Bangkok is a not to miss destination and often the starting point of visitors itineraries. It is a modern city with a rich cultural heritage. Bangkok can soothe or ruffle, depending on your approach. Stay more than a night or two and the city's bewildering landscape of colors, architecture, and transport will begin to make sense.

A highlight of Bangkok is the Grand Palace with many decorated buildings and monuments. It is home to Wat Phra Kaew, the most sacred Buddhist temple in Thailand that houses the Emerald Buddha. Other cultural attractions include Wat Pho, Wat Arun and Jim Thompson's House. Time permitting, visit the Damnoen Saduak Floating Market located approximately 50 miles from Bangkok. By land transport you will pass by salt fields and rice paddies before arriving at a jetty where you will board a long tail boat taking you through villages on the way to the market. The market is made up of Thai style canoes laden with colorful fruits, vegetables, sweets and meats.

Isaan in the north-east region is a multicultural area where Laos, Cambodia and Thailand meet, and has a rich history. Isaan is mainly an agricultural region. Khmer architecture is mostly found in Isaan, with the historical remains of Phimai and Phanom Rung being the most significant. In the northern provinces live unique hill-tribe peoples, often visited as part of a trekking.

Chiang Mai in northern Thailand makes a good base for visiting the regions major attractions. Referred as the "Rose of the North" it is among Thailand's largest cities and has many of Bangkok's amenities including excellent food and accommodations. It is cooler than Bangkok, has a slower pace and cleaner air. Several hill tribes live in the area and trekkers can visit their villages, such as Doi Suthep Peak, a Meo Hill tribe that lives on a plateau above 300 feet. For those interested in recent history, Kanchanaburi has a lot of sights related to World War II. The Bridge over the River Kwai, popularized by the film of the same name, is the most famous one, but the museums in its vicinity are a lot more moving.
Take in an Elephant Safari in the Mae Rim Valley at the Chiang Dao Elephant Camp. Located in an unspoiled setting along a river, an elephant ride takes you into the jungle and across the river.

The Beaches and Islands of Southern Thailand (Phuket). Phuket is the jewel of the Andaman Sea. People visiting Phi Phi Island, ThailandPhuket for the first time will be impressed with the island's beauty and opulence of some of the hotels resorts and hotels. For the active traveller, there is is some great snorkeling and scuba either from off the island or within quick reach of many of the dive and snorkeling spots in the Andaman Sea.

Wildlife - Poisonous cobras can be found throughout Thailand, hiding in tall brush or along streams. You're unlikely to ever see one, as they shy away from humans, but they may bite if surprised or provoked. Monitor lizards are common in jungles, but despite their scary reptilian appearance they're harmless. Box Jellyfish have killed ocean swimmers, tourists and locals alike, many survive. All jellyfish stings are extremely painful. Immediate treatment is for cardiac arrest (CPR). 30 seconds of vinegar will keep tentacles from continuing to sting. To actively seek out wildlife, visit Khao Yai National Park, the first national park of Thailand. This is the best choice for seeing wildlife. While wild tigers and elephants are becoming increasingly rare, you be able to see a good variety wildlife such as macaques, gibbons, deer, and species of birds.

Waterfalls. Waterfalls can be found all over Thailand. The Heo Suwat Waterfall in Khao Yai National Park and the 7-tiered Erawan Falls in Kanchanaburi are among the most visited, but the Thee Lor Sue Waterfall in Umphang and the 11-tiered Pa La-u Falls in Kaeng Krachan National Park are equally exciting. Also the the gravity-defying limestone formations of the Phang Nga Bay shouldn't be missed by anyone who stays in the region.

The Traditional Thai massage. The Thai massage has a history of more than 2,500 years. Practitioners of Thai massage operate on the belief that many invisible lines of energy run through the body. The masseur uses his or her hands, elbows, feet, heels and knees to exert pressure on these lines, releasing blockages that may exist, allowing a free flow of energy through the body. Many Thais believe that these massages are beneficial for ailing diseases and general well-being. You're supposed to feel both relaxed and energized after a session. Although spas weren't introduced here until the early 1990s, Thailand has quickly become one of the highest ranking spa destinations in the world. By world standards, the cost of a massage in Thailand is very inexpensive, with options for every budget, varying from extravagant wellness centres in the five star hotels to the ubiquitous little massage shops found on many street corners.

Water Sports. Ko Tao is becoming one of Asia's great Scuba diving centres, while the Ang Thong National Marine Park near Ko Samui and the Similan Islands are also popular. Ko Lipe is an unspoiled small island with great reefs and and beautiful beaches. Snorkeling can be done at pretty much at every beach, but coral reefs of the Similan Islands stand out as particularly worthwhile. Phang Nga Bay's awesome limestone formations are usually seen with boat tours, but if you go sea-canoeing, you can get into areas unexplored by the tourist masses. The limestone cliffs of Rai Leh are arguably among the best in the world for rock-climbing.

Food

The food alone is really reason enough for a trip to Thailand. Thai cuisine is characterized by balance and strong flavors, especially lime juice, lemon grass and fresh coriander, the combination of which gives Thai food its distinctive taste. Thai food is also know for being spicy, with hot little torpedo-shaped chillies called phrik khii nuu included in many Thai dishes. Thais are well aware that these can be more than Westerners can handle and will often ask if you like it hot or mild. Curries, fruit shakes, stir fries, fresh fish are widely available in the best hotels and from the less expensive, usually safe stalls and tiny sidewalk restaurants.

Customs

Monks - Buddhist monks are meant to avoid the temptation of women, and in particular they do not touch women or take things from women. Women should make every effort to make way for monks on the street and give them room so they do not have to make contact with you. Women should avoid offering anything to a monk with their hands. Objects or donations should be placed in front of a monk so he can pick it up, or place it on a special cloth he carries with him.

Dress - Personal appearance is very important in Thailand and is regarded as a measure of respect to other people. Thais respond more positively to well-dressed Westerners.

Touching - The head is considered the holiest part of the body, and the foot the dirtiest part. Never touch or pat a Thai on the head, including children. If you accidentally touch or bump someone's head, apologize immediately or you'll be perceived as very rude

Tipping - Tipping is not generally expected in Thailand. The exception is loose change from a large restaurant bill. For good service, it's customary to round up your restaurant bill. It is not customary to leave behind the change if it is less than 10Baht. At many hotel restaurants or other upmarket eateries, a 10% service charge will be added to your bill. When this is the case, tipping is not expected.

Elephants - Elephants are a large part of Thailand's tourist business, and the smuggling and mistreatment of elephants for tourist attractions is a widespread practice. Be aware that elephants are often separated from their mothers at a young age to be cruelly trained under captivity for the rest of their lives. If you intend to go on an elephant ride, purchase an elephant painting or "use" elephants for other activities please take their mistreatment into account. There are a few ethical animal tourism operators in Thailand such as Elephant Nature Park , Maetang Elephant Park, and the Chiang Dao Elephant Camp in Chiang Mai.

Water -Tap water is usually not drinkable in Thailand outside of Bangkok. In many places in Bangkok however, particularly in new buildings, drinking tap water is perfectly safe. However, if you don't want to chance it, bottled water is a safe option.

Where To Stay

Mandarin Oriental
Bangkok, Thailand
Elegant, Colonial-style Hotel dates from 1876, traditional guest amenities, spa and sports center; on the banks of the Chao Phraya River.

The Peninsula Bangkok
Bangkok, Thailand
Located on the riverside it has panoramic views from every room and adding a distinctive architectural statement to the Bangkok skyline. The Peninsula Bangkok offers commanding city views, luxurious comfort, sophisticated facilities, extraordinary dining options'

Secret Garden
Chiang Mai, Thailand
A bungalow resort, guesthouse located at the fringe of Borsang village. It is rural and there is no hint of the city that is only a 20 minute drive away. Access is easy and very cheap (by local Minibus 25 cents).

Rimping Village
Chiang Mai, Thailand
Located in the city centre, close to the historic attractions, near the famous Night Bazaar and the charming Watgate community by the Ping River. Enjoy an atmosphere of relaxation that is part of the Northern tradition. A cool, refreshing swimming pool is placed below a huge banyan tree so that guests can absorb the mood of nature.

The Baray Villa
Phuket, Thailand
A romantic resort with your own jacuzzi, private pool, beautiful grounds, swim up bar accessed only by those in the Baray section of the resort.

The Shore at Katathani
Phuket, Thailand
A luxury beachfront pool villa resort on Kata Noi Beach in Phuket. This adult only resort is romantic and private --- a natural fusion of indoor and outdoor living.


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