Once you experience Thailand’s Sabai Sabai (laid back, happy, no worries), attitude, you’ll find the pace of life might suit you more than you ever imagined possible. In fact, it’s the sleepy nature of much of the country that, (along with the white sands and turquoise sea of the beaches, ancient ruins and the ever-welcoming Thai smile), forms a large part of its allure. Convivial and cultured, sybaritic and sacred, with jungle-topped islands jutting out of azure waters, Thailand is a tropical getaway for the thrill-seeking adventurer, the nature-lover, the hedonist and the hermit. And with a long coastline - in actual fact, two coastlines - exploring the country by boat (preferably a slow one!) opens the door to a wealth of experiences: splashing in the warm surf of Ko Lipe, diving off Ko Tao, climbing the cliffs of Krabi, kitesurfing in Hua Hin, partying down on Ko Phi Phi, charging back up on Ko Samui and, wherever sand meets sea, turning every beach into a barbecue banquet. Inland, you’ll find the rural heartland, a mix of rice paddies, verdant forests and ancient villages where lives revolve around the agricultural clock. In the north, the forests and fields are set against a background of jagged, cloud-ringed mountains strewn with sparkling silver waterfalls. In the south, craggy limestone cliffs burst on to the skyline like ancient skyscrapers.
 

People

Within a population of 65 million people, Thailand hosts over 75 ethnic groups. As a result, the Thai people vary remarkably, with differences in culture and language between those of the north and northeast, known as the Lao and those of the south. The mountains of northern Thailand, for example, are home to a number of different hill peoples, including the Akha, the Hmong (also known as Miao), the Karen, and the Lua'. Many produce dry hill (or upland) rice, and some, such as the Hmong, produce opium. Farther south are populations of Mon people as well as groups of Khmer (Cambodian) and Vietnamese refugees whilst the southern peninsula is home to ethnic Malays, skilled gardeners, famous for their large and fertile fruit, coconut and rubber plantations.
However, despite the disparities, there’s one common theme binding the Thai together: The smile you’ll see on every face. Thailand is a a famously friendly and welcoming country and thanks to the renowned hospitality of the Thai people, it’s become known as ‘The Land of Smiles’.
 

Places

Thailand is a montage of vibrant modern cities, Buddhist temples tended by orange-robed monks, hill tribes selling traditional art and crafts, lushly-fertile landscapes sprinkled with traditional farming villages, ancient ruins and spectacular coastlines. Such an irresistible portrait explains why most visitors here wish they could stay forever. However, for those with time constraints, here are 4 of the best places to visit to take in Thailand’s cultural, historic and natural attractions.
  
Krung Thep Maha Nakhon (Bangkok)
Known to the locals as Krung Threp, (City of Angels), and by far the largest city in Thailand, Bangkok is a vibrant metropolis of high rise buildings, majestic palaces, ancient temples, neon nightclubs, bustling markets and streets lined with hawkers selling souvenirs and mouthwatering food (the corner at Sukhimvit Soi 38 Thong Lo has an amazing range of local food from around 5pm and until about 2am). And although the city could easily be described as a concrete jungle, there’s a natural beauty to be seen in its canals, greenery and fragrant, flowering plants. The famous tourist street, Khao San Road, is a good place to begin with its bargain shopping and nightlife. Also not to be missed is the Wat Phra Kaew temple, which contains the famous Emerald Buddha.
  
Thailand Islands
The islands off Thailand’s coastlines are renowned throughout the world for their breathtaking beaches, spectacular scenery and some, like Ko Pha Nang for their legendary Full Moon parties and general party atmosphere. There are three main sets of islands in Thailand; to the east of Bangkok there are Ko Samet and Ko Chang, in the Gulf lie Ko Samui, Ko Pha Ngan and Ko Tao, and in the Andaman, Phuket and Ko Phi Phi. Phuket is the country’s largest and most developed island, connected to the mainland by two bridges. Ko Phi Phi is famous for the movie “The Beach”, while Ko Tao is Thailand’s diving mecca. But there are so very many beautiful islands to take in that you’re guaranteed to be spoilt for choice.
   
Chiang Mai
Nestled among forested mountains, the former seat of the Lanna kingdom and the modern northern capital of Thailand, Chiang Mai is much older than it first appears. A thriving modern city has grown up around its ancient foundations and become popular as a base with both backpackers and tourists wishing to explore the fertile landscapes, hill tribes and outdoor adventures of the region. However, as a culturally and historically important city where traditional and modern Thai architecture and customs coexist, Chiang Mai itself is well worth a few days’ visit in its own right. The monasteries and temples still remain, centred on ancient brick chedi (stupas) in a range of shapes and styles, whilst a short ride by motorbike or chartered rót daang ('red truck') will deliver you to lush rainforest reserves, foaming waterfalls, peaceful forest wát, bubbling hot springs and tranquil country villages – as well as adventure camps, elephant sanctuaries and souvenir markets.
  
Phra Nakhon Si Ayutthaya (Ayuthaya)
Founded in 1350, the visually rich and architecturally astounding city of Ayuthaya is located in the Chao Phraya River valley. Set on an island surrounded by three rivers connecting it to the Gulf of Siam. King U Thong proclaimed it the capital of his kingdom, the Ayuthaya Kingdom, better known as Siam. Once declared the most magnificent city in the world, with its more than four hundred gilded temples and three treasure-laden palaces visibly glittering from miles away, Ayuthaya was an impressive site, with a population that reached nearly 1,000,000. In 1767, however, the Burmese attacked and conquered Ayuthaya and the capital was moved to Bangkok. The ruins of Ayuthaya are now a major attraction for those travelling around Thailand. It’s just 80 km (50 miles) north of Bangkok, and is easily reached by train, boat or bus. Most people go there as a day trip, visiting just the major attractions. However, a two day visit offers a far more rewarding experience, and also lets you admire the ruins lit up at night.
  

Pleasures

Putting aside its legendarily racy nightlife, there are many other pleasures to be enjoyed in Thailand. An obvious one is the cuisine. After all, Thailand’s food needs little introduction -from Manchester to Melbourne , its profusion of exotic flavours and fragrances make it among the most well-loved of international cuisines. And as a walk through any Thai city will unfailingly remind you, the combination of flavours and fragrances in Thai food are seemingly as inexhaustible as they are irresistible. Whether it’s Tom Yung Goon (spicy shrimp soup) with its signature aroma of lemongrass, chilli, galangal, lime leaves, shallots, lime juice and fish sauce, the fiery yet smooth kick of Gaeng Daeng (red curry) or the ubiquitous Pad Thai (stir fried noodles) where half the fun (and flavour) lies in then using a quartet of accompanying condiments - fish sauce, sugar, chilli powder and finely ground peanuts, harmony between ingredients and tastes is the guiding principle behind each Thai food dish. And just as with eating, there’s never a dull moment shopping in Thailand - whilst it’s full of of Western-type shopping mega-malls, it’s also full of markets. Perhaps the most captivating of these are the floating markets, which can be found throughout the country. Some of the best are Damnoen Saduak, in Ratchaburi, and the Taling Chan Weekend Floating Market in Bangkok. You’ll find rickety boats piled high with colourful goods and even more colourful food. When going to the market (and certain shops) don’t forget you can barter down an item for any amount up to 40 - 50% and the owner will thoroughly enjoy the process.
 

DO

Be respectful of the King. His Majesty Bhumibol Adulyadej (Rama IX).and the Royal family of Thailand are highly revered and being seen to disrespect them can result in a hefty fine and even prison sentence.
Take off your shoes when you enter a house or a temple.
Watch out for scams and rip offs. Be aware of common scams like the “Grand Palace is closed today’ scam (never buy ’special deal’ gemstones), the ‘Go Go bar rip off’ (always ask the price of a drink) and the ‘Wrong Change’ scam (make sure you check your change immediately)
Make sure that you have a visa if you need one.
Buy beer at 7-11. Buying beer at Thailand’s ubiquitous 7-11s and drinking it outside will save you quite a bit on your bar tab.  A beer in 7-11 is about 35 THB, while the same beer will cost 100-170 THB in a restaurant or bar.
Lower your body slightly when passing between or in front of people.
 

DON’T

Cross your legs when you’re in the presence of a monk. This applies whether you’re sitting on the floor or in a chair.
Ever touch a Thai person on the top of the head, unless you know them very well. The act is highly offensive.
Raise your voice or lose your temper; try and be jai yen. (Thai people have a philosophy of keeping their cool and not losing their temper; jai yen “cool heart”.)
Take Buddha images out of the country. Technically, it’s against the law to take or send Buddha images out of the country unless special permission has been granted.
Touch a Thai woman without consent. Despite the image portrayed bars and clubs, most Thai women are modest and conservative. Overstay your visa. You could be confined in prison until you can secure your flight outside Thailand or you can provide money in payment for an overstay fine.
  

Best time to go

Although the climate varies throughout Thailand, you can visit all year round. The best time to travel is during the cool and dry season between November and early April. In the south, the climate differs between the eastern and western coasts. The west coast is more favourable during the winter months, when diving and snorkelling will be at its best. The weather on the east coast is good for most of the year, with the lowest rainfall in January and February and the highest in November.
 

Best way to go

With its two dazzling coastlines, you really can’t do better than travel to and/or explore Thailand than by boat (preferably a slow one, of course!). Dock at Bangkok Port and spend a couple of days discovering the sprawling city where grand palaces, tuk tuks and street vendors crowd the streets. Then maybe a spot of island hopping? Try visiting the white sands and swaying palms of Ko Lanta or the secluded snorkelling island of Ko Raya, then cruising on for a kitesurfing session in Ko Samui. Or perhaps you’d prefer to make your way overland to whichever destination you choose - your boat can pick you up anywhere along the coasts and drop you off wherever you decide, all you need to do is pick your personal itinerary. You can also pick your perfect boat from a timeless wooden sailing yacht, an elegant catamaran, a magnificent schooner or any of the beautifully equipped vessels.
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Thailand