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A land of contrasting personalities, from the jangly bustle of Bangkok to the secluded splendour of mountaintop monasteries, Thailand offers sights of incredible beauty, both natural and manmade. Exotic temples, soaring statuary, colourful cultural centres, cascading waterfalls, forested mountains and the famously friendly Thai people lure travellers from around the world to an unforgettable holiday experience.
Amid the noise and bustle of Bangkok are some lovely attractions, particularly in the old part of town near the river where many of the city’s significant palaces and temples are found. The magnificent Grand Palace is here, home to the supremely sacred Emerald Buddha and the most culturally significant of Thailand’s over 40,000 Buddhist temples. Somewhat quieter, the nearby temple of Wat Pho features one of the largest reclining Buddhas in the world, sprawling out 46 metres and covered in gold leaf. Ferry across the river to the much-photographed temple complex of Wat Arun, where the central spire soars over 70 metres, intricately decorated with coloured glass and Chinese porcelain. Before leaving Bangkok, browse the exquisite collections of Asian art at the National Museum, experience the unusual beauty of deadly reptiles at the Queen Saowapha Snake Farm, or marvel at magically illuminated historic sites on a Chao Praya River dinner cruise.
The often forgotten ruins of the central plains offer haunting glimpses into Thailand’s past. The ancient capital of Ayutthaya, brimming with Buddhist art and architecture, is a popular day-trip from Bangkok, while Lopburi lures visitors with classic Khmer temples and the exquisite French-influenced Royal Palace. Farther north, the ancient cities of Sukhothai and Si Satchanalai offer some of the most incredible ruins in the country.
Life in the rolling hills around northern central Thailand’s Chiang Mai rolls on at a gentle pace, awash in colourful markets, intriguing temples and friendly villages. Overlooking the spectacular eastern peaks of the Himalayas, the region boasts some of the most dramatic scenery in Thailand.
Historic temples and monuments impose themselves on the lush surrounding landscape. Ornamental lions guard the gates of Wat Phra That Hariphunchai, home to the largest bronze gong in the world. Chiang Mai is also the home of the serenely beautiful summer home of the royal family, Phuping Palace, where enchanting gardens are open to the public and the nearby village of Doi Pui Meo offers finely woven textiles and two intriguing hillside museums.
Experience the incredible wilderness parks of the north. Hike the forested slopes of Doi Suthep National Park to find the gold-sheathed spires and elaborate murals of Wat Phra That Doi Suthep and the secluded charms of temple Wat Pha Lat, enshrouded in forest. Doi Inthanon, the highest point in Thailand, is the crowning jewel of a national park of astonishing beauty with thick forests of ancient pines and oaks, rugged slopes overlooking twisting rivers, and some of the tallest falls in Thailand. Siribhum Falls plunges from a 1,650 foot cliff near the Inthanon Royal Research Centre’s incredible gardens of tropical plants, while stunning, remote Mae Ya Falls are well worth the 5 kilometre hike.
Isaan, the northeast region of Thailand, offers a glimpse of Thailand before tourism. While much of the coastal terrain is flat and relatively uninteresting, the mountain regions offer remote landscapes of unsurpassed beauty.
Haunting ancient ruins abound in these historic hills. Prasat Hin Khao Phanom Rung is a spectacular example of Khmer architecture where an imposing bridge and majestic staircases lead to a spectacular double-walled sanctuary and intricately carved throne room. The remote and eerily lovely ruins of Khao Phra Wihan stretch across a misty bluff high in the mountains with views stretching across the jungle and into Laos.
The national parks of Isaan are famed for their dramatic beauty, lost worlds of cascading waterfalls, towering cliffs and lush rainforests. Phu Kradueng is a steep mountain crowned by a pine-forested plateau stretching some 60 square kilometres, alive with an incredible variety of wild life including monkeys, goats, elephants, tigers and more than 170 species of birds. The four-hour hike to the mountain’s peak rewards trekkers with jaw-dropping views from over 1200 metres above sea level and splendid seasonal vistas of flowering grasses and red-and-white rhododendrons. Khao Yai National Park sprawls across some 2,000 square kilometres and four provinces, with hiking and bicycling paths winding through forested hills past towering cliffs and awe-inspiring waterfalls. Look out for wildlife including tigers, leopards, barking deer and wild elephants.
The time to visit this enchanting land is now, and numerous cheap flights to Thailand are often available to the savvy traveller. Come experience the otherworldly vistas, shimmering temples and friendly people of exotic Thailand.