Thailand’s capital is one of ASEAN’s most exciting cities, offering a wealth of experiences in history, culture, gastronomy and entertainment. A cruise on the Chao Phraya River is a good introduction to the history of the capital, passing the old European quarter on Charoen Krung, the majestic temple of Wat Arun, the historical district of Thonburi to finally reach the iconic Grand Palace where Thai kings have shaped the destiny of the country for the past 200 years. Next to the historical districts – mostly concentrated in the areas of Phra Nakhon, Dusit and Yaowarat (Chinatown) – the modern city is bustling with life. Around Sukhumvit and Silom Roads are all the luxury hotels, shopping malls, restaurants and nightlife you could want. Because Bangkok is as lively at night as it is during the day, there is always something to discover. Evenings offer a paradise of delicious street food, high-end restaurants, night markets, concerts, shows, bars and nightclubs. This is truly a 24-hour non-stop metropolis!
The gracious art of living practiced by the Lanna people has turned Chiang Mai into an attractive tourist destination. The ancient northern capital has managed to successfully preserve its heritage and has hundreds of temples (the most famous being Wat Pra Singh, Wat Chedi Luang and Wat Doi Suthep). While wandering in the streets of the historical towns, visitors will suddenly discover old teak mansions which are true architectural jewels. Along the Ping River, old districts have recently turned into design centres with some of Thailand’s most famous lifestyle brands having their headquarters and flagship stores there as they seek inspiration from traditional Chiang Mai handicrafts. A vibrant night life is centred on the city’s night market and in the numerous welcoming pubs. It is also easy to escape the urban jungle for a trek of discovery into the beautiful gardens and verdant jungle spread across the mountains surrounding the city.
Chiang Rai’s white pagoda at Wat Rong Khun is certainly the most iconic attraction in the city today but travellers should not forget to take in the old town with its wooden houses dominated the stupas of centuries-old pagodas. Chiang Rai is all about the pleasures of discovering the simple lifestyle of the people of the northern. The city’s surroundings offer spectacular landscapes ranging from the gardens of the Mae Fah Luang Foundation and the mountainous villages of the Mon tribe to the ancient temples that dot the banks of the Mekong River such as that at Chiang Saen.
Current residence of Thai King Bumibhol, Hua Hin is a charming seaside resort city, which managed to retain the charm of its old town and a nostalgic feeling. To best appreciate it, visitors should arrive by train. Hua Hin is indeed considered having Thailand’s most beautiful rail pavilion. Then taking a tea in grand style in the old Railways Hotel –today Centara owned, a magnificent neo-classical structure symbolizing the opulence of a 100-year old grand hotel. Hua Hin offers not only magnificent golf courses, pristine beach areas but also many historical sightseeings with two Royal Palaces offering a curious blend of Thai and European architecture. In nearby Petchaburi, the Phra Nakhon Kiri historical park is worth visiting with its palace on a hill dominating the entire Gulf of Thailand.
Entertainment is the word that probably describes Pattaya best. The seaside resort is a 24-hour destination offering attractions to any traveller. From theme parks to a panoramic views from the Pattaya Park Tower with its revolving restaurant, from all kind of water sports to just relaxing on one of Pattaya’s beaches, there is no way to become bored in this dynamic city. Recently, Pattaya has shaken its previously sleazy image, providing options for families and upper class travellers. There are new theme resorts such as the Centara Grand Mirage Beach Resort, the Hard Rock Hotel Pattaya and the minimalist Cape Dara Resort. Next to its traditional night bazaar, elegant malls have also turned the city into an attractive shopping destination. And finally, Pattaya has a hidden side to discover in the scores of islands off its coast, many of which are little gems for diving and snorkelling.
Phuket is famed for its beautiful beaches, its luxurious and elegant resorts and its night life. But contrary to many other resort destinations in Thailand, the island also has a very rich and colourful history. For centuries it was an active trading port and centre for tin mining, attracting Europeans, Chinese and Malay traders to its shores. The old town, with its beautiful mansions and historical shop houses, has been turned into an attractive destination in its own right, filled with boutique stores, trendy cafes and museums. In addition, an annual festival celebrates the history of the old town. Superb shopping facilities, a great choice of hotels, Thailand’s most beautiful marinas, and a host of top restaurants make Phuket a perfect getaway for a high quality holiday.
With its myriad of luxury boutique hotels, spas and a vibrant night life, Samui has turned into a favourite among tourists looking for a beach holiday. The relatively compact scale of the island makes it a perfect destination for families and for those simply looking to relax. From Samui it is easy to take a ferry to explore the mainland coast, especially the historical cities of Surat Thani and particularly Nakhon Si Thammarat, one of Thailand’s oldest urban centres.