From the misty mountains and lush jungles in the north to the enchanting islands and powdery white beaches in the south, the Kingdom of Thailand is one of Asia’s most popular and beautiful countries. It is also a truly beguiling and multi-layered destination, because beyond the glittering surface of thriving cities, bustling markets and packed bars is a deeply spiritual country where devout Buddhism entwines itself throughout every aspect of life here, which offers visitors an intriguing insight in the very soul of the country.
An intoxicating blend of colours, sights, smells and sounds, Bangkok is a sprawling modern metropolis of luxury hotels, rich urban culture and glittering shopping malls juxtaposed with its ancient temples, beautiful Royal palace, old canals and traditional floating markets.
For a few, Bangkok is a large and chaotic capital city which is to be avoided if at all possible, yet for many, behind the 21st Century facade is a fascinating city with a rich cultural heritage just waiting to be explored. Wat Po is home to the famous 45m reclining Buddha and is also the original school of traditional Thai massage. A morning visit in time to experience the monks’ morning chanting ritual is a real highlight. The Temple of the Emerald Buddha or Wat Phra Kaew is an architectural wonder and next door is the spectacular Grand Palace, which was the former royal residence.
Other highlights include a long-tailed boat ride along the ‘klongs’ (canals) of Thonburi to get a flavour of local life; Wat Arun, once the grand royal temple to King Rama II; Pak Klong Taland Flower; the Thai silk heritage at Jim Thompson’s house; enjoy a tuk tuk ride through the busy streets; visit Chinatown and have a cup of Chinese tea with the locals at an old teashop before exploring the bustling Talad Kao market. For those with more time a visit to the ancient capital Ayutthaya is fascinating.
Bangkok is a truly global city that never sleeps and with its wonderful hotels, vibrant nightlife, buzzing streets and markets and exquisite cuisine, this is a city that will truly engage all of one’s senses.
Surrounded by a ring of mountains, Chiang Mai is the capital of the northern region and offers a fascinating blend of ornate architecture, rich culture and stunning scenery. An important Buddhist centre since the 14th Century and home to more than 300 temples, Chiang Mai is centred around the old moated and walled city and although increasingly dynamic and modern, it still enjoys a laid-back feel and charm.
The city is famed for its wonderful cuisine and also excellent shopping with many centres specializing in silverwork, pottery, woodcarving and weaving. The Night Bazaar, a series of covered markets, is well worth visiting for its bustling atmosphere and to see the variety of hand-made products on offer. For those looking to explore the surrounding hills, there is some wonderful trekking to see the isolated hilltribe villages, as well as elephant-back rides through the lush countryside and rafting down jungle rivers.
Chiang Rai and The Golden Triangle
Considered by many as a smaller and quieter version of Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai is both of these and retains the feel of a small provincial Thai capital. It is also the northernmost province of Thailand and is where Thailand, Myanmar and Laos meet.
This area, also known as the Golden Triangle was once home to the notorious and lucrative opium trade, but is now best known for being an area of beautiful, lush mountain scenery and home to a number of colourful ethnic hill tribes such as the long-necked Karen, the Hmong, Akha or Yao, all of whom have their own fascinating customs, culture, religion, clothing and language.
The rugged forest terrain is ideal for some excellent hiking and it is possible to visit the many charming tribal groups and their villages up in the hills. Other highlights include elephant-back riding, bamboo rafting, longtail boat rides down the Ruak river or even continue across the border into Laos with a fascinating 3 day / 2 night boat trip down the Mekong River to Luang Prabang.
Kanchanaburi is a little-known world of fertile sugar-cane plantations, lush paddy fields, waterfalls, beautiful mountain passes and a part of Thailand to the north west of Bangkok that is very undeveloped and rarely travelled to as you head up towards the Burmese border.
However the one area that is world-famous and its principal highlight is the Bridge over the River Kwai and Death Railway, which was designed by the occupying Japanese forces as a supply route to link Thailand and Burma and still to this day serves as a poignant reminder of the atrocities suffered here during World War II. There is a museum, which highlights the plight of the POW’s and there is a beautifully maintained and serene WWII cemetery. It is also possible to see the dramatic railway cutting known as Hell Fire Pass.
Not far from the provincial town of Kanchanaburi is Erawan National Park, which is renowned for not only its dramatic seven-tiered waterfall, but also its colourful birdlife, of which there are more than 300 resident species as well as elephants and numerous other wildlife species.
Beaches of Thailand (Hua Hin & Koh Kood)
Located on the north-western coast of the Gulf of Thailand, Hua Hin was once a simple fishing village, but when the royal family built a beach palace there in 1922, it became the place to be and be seen and slowly developed into Thailand’s original beach resort for locals and tourists alike. It has continued to develop and has some fantastic beaches, wonderful hotels and plenty to do in the area, as well as having the benefit of being just a few hour’s drive from Bangkok.
Koh Kood is a small unspoilt island on the north-eastern coast of the Gulf of Thailand, close to the Burmese border and is home to Soneva Kiri, one of the most exclusive of all Thailand’s stunning beach resorts.
Beaches of Thailand (Koh Samui & Koh Phangan)
Lying off Thailand’s east coast in the Gulf of Thailand, Koh Samui is Thailand’s third largest island and is the perfect beach retreat with world-class hotels, the freshest seafood and powder white beaches fringed with coconut palms and lapped by warm, aquamarine waters. Other activities include golf, horse-riding, canoeing, fishing, mountain biking, nature walks in the interior and visits to small, outlying islands. Koh Samui is the largest island in the archipelago, which consists of around 80 islands, but there are also a number of smaller islands nearby such as Koh Pha-Ngan and Koh Tao that also offer great beaches, a few nice hotels and some wonderful diving.
Beaches of Thailand (Phuket, Krabi, Khao Lak)
Home to some of Asia’s most beautiful beaches and Thailand’s largest island, Phuket is a dreamy destination offering the perfect blend of beautiful coastal scenery, luxurious hotels, wonderful restaurants, stunning beaches as well as the turquoise waters of the Andaman Sea, which are home to many colourful reefs and wonderful scuba diving. Head inland and you find a more relaxed world of coconut and rubber plantations as well as some primary tropical rainforest offering some great walking.
Krabi province comprises over 130 islands and is one of the most beautiful beach areas of Thailand. Known for its fabulous powder white beaches and spectacular limestone karsts, the scenery is straight from a picture perfect postcard. The most notable beaches are Phi Phi, most famous as the set for the movie The Beach, and Railay Beach for its rock climbing. Krabi is also home to the well-known primary rainforest Than Bokkharani National Park, just 30 minutes north of Krabi town.
Our preferred hotels in the Phuket area are:
Anantara Phuket Villas
Anantara Phuket Layan Resort & Spa
Mom Tri’s Villa Royale
Regent Phuket Cape Panwa
Sala Phuket Resort and Spa
Six Senses Yao Noi
The Sarojin (Khao Lak)
Wanakarn Beach Resort & Spa
The ancient Thai capital of Sukhothai, which means ‘Dawn of Happiness”, was founded in the 13th Century and became the kingdom’s first capital. Under the reign of eight Sukhothai kings, Thai arts and culture prospered during this golden age. Although this kingdom had a short life of around 150 years, Sukhothai was able to produce art which is considered as some of the most unique and beautiful Buddhist art in Asian history.
Located north of Bangkok, Sukhothai is now a delightful market town with a 45-square kilometre World Heritage-listed historical park with many ruins and temples that are fun to explore by bicycle. The key monuments to visit include Wat Mahathat with its royal temple and cemetery and Sra Si Wat with its two stupas, their graceful lines reflected in the water of the town’s biggest reservoir. Another highlight is to participate in an early morning alms offering to the Buddhist monks.
Historically, Thailand remains a true gem with a wealth of fascinating architecture in the form of its many beautiful temples and royal palaces. Culturally the country is incredibly diverse with a variety of distinct and colourful indigenous tribes people, whilst the many vibrant markets and world-famous cuisine add to its enduring appeal.
Full Thailand Itineraries with details coming soon. Call us on 01905 731373 for more detailed information.