Regions - Faces of Thailand...
From the borders of Burma and Laos in the north, Cambodia to the east, and Malaysia in the south, the Kingdom of Thailand is stunning. From impressive jungle covered mountains in the north, to gorgeous beaches and tropical islands in the south, with national parks, wildlife and ancient cities in-between, the country offers a huge diversity from region to region. Not just in the landscape but also in the people, food, traditions and festivals.
Divided into five regions, this section provides information to explore this ever changing and fascinating country.
North - Mountains, Culture and Adventure
Breathtaking views over jungle covered hills bathed in morning mist, plunging valleys, and a different cultural personality characterise Thailand' s northern region.
Much the area has now been designated national park with a logging ban and wildlife sanctuaries to preserve the rich variety of wildlife including elephants, tigers and exotic birds. A place for adventure, there are excellent opportunities for hiking, elephant trekking, river rafting, mountain-biking or simply sightseeing. The north also holds a key position in Thai history. In Chiang Mai, the old city walls together with 13th century temples and sculptures, still remain, a legacy of its former glory as capital of the Lanna Thai kingdom.
The northern hills which stretch beyond Thailand to Burma in the West and Laos in the east, form no boundaries for the ethnic hilltribes who live in small villages scattered across the ridges and valleys, adding to the rich culture of the region.
In the far north Chiang Rai makes a good base for trekking and visiting hilltribe villages around this area. The local culture - a unique blend of hilltribe, Lanna Thai, Burmese and Lao, influences is reflected in the handicrafts, music, costumes and art styles of the region. Excellent craftsmanship has made the area famous for locally crafted silver, painted umbrellas and handmade paper. Specialist artisans villages can be found just outside Chiang Mai.
Mae Hon Son - Sheltered by high mountains with a cool climate almost year round, this northern provincial capital was once a sleepy "frontier' town until a few years ago. Now, with good roads, the town is on the tourist trail, attracted by the views, morning mists and the town's former "wild west" reputation. Mae Hon Son now has luxury hotels and excellent roads making it part of the tourist excursion trail. But don't be put off, the scenery is worth it.
Driving south about 5-6 hours from Chiang Mai, the ancient city of Sukhothai is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Thailand's first capital has extensive ruins and is now a fascinating historical park. Sukothai's golden era - the 13th-14th century, produced art and architecture considered among the best of the period.
North East - Tradition and History
Known as Isan, this huge region covers about one-third of the entire country. A large plateau, the region has some of the oldest remains in Thailand with fossils and artifacts indicating an ancient Bronze Age civilisation dating back 4,000-7,000 years ago.
Bordered by Laos and Cambodia, the north east strongly reflects Khymer and Lao influences seen in the well preserved "Angkor Wat" style temples and sculptures, ancient traditions and dialect throughout the area. Although the second most densely populated after the Central region, there are large tracts of national park and wildlife sanctuaries. The best known is Khao Yai, Thailand's first national park. Popular with local and overseas visitors, the park offers basic accommodation and trekking as well as some eco-adventure activities.
The north-east is generally viewed as a very traditional part of Thailand with old customs still continuing in fairs and festivals found nowhere else in the country. These include the colourful Bun Bang Fai (rocket festival) at Yasothon, and the Wax Castle Festival. In Surin, home of the traditional elephant trainers - the annual elephant round-up is now becoming a major tourist attraction.
Korat (Nakorn Ratchisima) is a good base to explore the many Khmer ruins, temples and historical sites found around this area. Close by is Phimai, famous for its annual Boat Racing Festival, which takes place during Loy Kratong Festival (November) and draws thousands of tourists both from Korat and neighboring provinces.
The north east is also the gateway to Laos. Nong Khai, a busy bustling town lies close to the Mekhong river which separates Thailand and Laos. The opening of the Friendship Bridge has enabled tourists to visit both Esan and Laos.
Region - Thailand's rice bowl
Thailand's rice bowl for centuries, the central region is well known for its tourist attractions which focus on the natural landscape, ancient historic remains and of course, the capital city of Bangkok.Reaching to the western hills which border Burma, the region includes Kanchanburi Originally famous for the W.W.II "Death Railway" and POW camp, the area is now fostering eco-tourism with rafting and canoeing along the lesser known Kwai Noi river. Also worth a visit and an integral part of Thailand's history, is the historical park of Ayutthaya - a once thriving city which held power for 417 years and traded with the French, Dutch, English and Chinese before it was destroyed in 1767 by the Burmese.
Just north of Bangkok, the old network of canals and waterways still remains, although Bangkok's urban sprawl and encroachment is beginning to erode the old lifestyle. Day trips to the floating markets outside the capital, Ayutthaya and Kanchanaburi can all be arranged through local travel agents in the city.
Hua Hin, a sleepy seaside town, offers quiet beaches and lots of local colour. Probably the oldest beach resort in the country it's still popular as a weekend retreat with local Thais. The construction of a railway station here in the reign of King Rama VI (1910-1925) and a summer palace of King Rama VII in 1926, transformed this quiet fishing village into a resort town for Thai high society. Cha Am, another small resort just 20 minutes drive away is now replacing Hua Hin as the destination for the upper echelons. Good seafood restaurants and some excellent hotels including the Dusit Resort and Polo Club and the Sofitel Central Hua Hin. Formerly the Railway Hotel, the Sofitel was built in 1923 and still retains some of the elegance of the past.
Thailand's eastern region with its coastline following the Gulf of Thailand and close proximity to Bangkok, has been Bangkok's traditional holiday getaway for many years. Just a a couple of hours from the capital city is Pattaya - Thailand's first international tourist resort. Famous for its hedonistic night life, Pattaya also offers good beaches, offshore islands, diving, deep sea fishing, yachting, windsurfing, and other sports in addition to other tourist attractions like a Crocodile Farm and Elephant Village. South of Pattaya are more beaches, notably Jomtien and offshore islands with good coral reefs - for snorkelling, diving or exploring in glass bottomed boats.
Further east around the coast, the region is less developed. Ko Samet island, the centre of one marine national park, has been a favourite with young Thai's and international travellers for several years. Still unspoilt, it has resorts, restaurants and entertainment, but no roads. Further away is Ko Chang, the second largest island after Phuket, and neigbouring islands like Ko Kood . Recently promoted by the Tourist Authority of Thailand, there are now more ferries, better infrastructure and more upmarket hotels. The area is quietly being upgraded to accommodate activities include diving, fishing and elephant trekking. If you want a bit more sophistication, but still enjoy the freedom of large uncrowded beaches, try the deluxe resorts along the Far East coast.
South - Beaches, Islands.....Paradise
Southern Thailand offers beautiful beaches, tropical islands and some breathtaking scenery. The long narrow strip of land known as the Kra Isthmus, provides an extensive coastline with tropical islands and perfect beaches on both sides. The interior between the coasts is thickly forested with much of it designated National Park.
During the last 20 years tourism has opened up much of the south with new roads, better ferries and frequent direct airlinks to islands like Phuket and Ko Samui. Most of the development has concentrated on these islands with international hotels and investment creating a range of excellent accommodation and facilities.
The Andaman Sea - on the west coast, is home to Phuket, Phi Phi island, the Similan Islands (one of the world's top 10 dive sites) and stunning Krabi province. The whole area is one of spectacular beauty - islands, beaches, tropical forest and crystal clear water. Great beaches and good for island hopping. Snorkelling and diving plus eco-tours in the interior of the forest are all on offer here.
Several marine national parks cover the Andaman sea and are home to islands like Ko Lanta and the Racha Islands. The area also includes Phang Nga Bay, just north of Phuket Island, with its strange and unusual seascape of evocative limestone formations. In the interior of Phang Nga province bordering the coast, the national parks surrounding Khao Lak provide a wealth of soft adventure options. Khaolak's long sandy coastline is being developed for tourism with brand new accommodation and facilities offering great value.
On the opposite east coast in the Gulf of Thailand, lies Ko Samui Island and the Ang Thong Marine National Park. Hundreds of small unspoilt islands with duvet soft beaches - good coral diving and islands made famous by full moon parties and laid back lifestyle. Faster and safer ferries are making more islands like Ko Tao, and Ko Phangan once part of the backpacker's trail, also accessible.
Further south, Trang province, agriculturally rich, is also well endowed with islands and inland forest to be explored. In the far south, the islands bordering Malaysia like Tarutao - and Ko Muk are still undeveloped although it's likely that development will take place within the next few years.
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