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Whether dozing on beaches or sipping tea in Buddhist temples, kicking your flippers through coral reefs or trekking through vegetation-packed jungles, feasting at food markets or getting swept up in the heady revelry of Bangkok’s hip rooftop bars; Thailand offers untold delights for travellers of all dispositions.
Cross-country flights extend to most parts of the country and domestic journeys are generally affordable. For land-based travels, buses are usually most convenient, with trains providing a slower alternative. In most cities and resorts, taxis, Tuk-tuks and traffic-dodging motorbike taxis supplement local bus services.
Thailand’s menu of offerings is extremely vast and diverse. Most travellers touch down in Bangkok, where they can pick and choose between a wealth of modern and ancient attractions. Wander the atmospheric alleyways of Chinatown, shop at the enormous Chatuchak Market and marvel at the gleaming Wat Phra Kaew temple. Further south is the city of Hat Yai, known for its superb shopping and nightlife.
If you want to avoid the relentless buzz of the capital, head north for Chiang Rai instead. The riverside city and the surrounding province with which it shares its name are much more laid-back. Waterfalls and all-but-deserted trails await at the nearby Doi Luang National Park.
The happening university town of Khon Kaen, in the country’s northeast, is another popular urban hub. The headline attraction here is the nine-story stupa at Wat Nog Wang temple, but there are also fantastic markets and the pleasant Bueng Kaen Nakhon lake.
For sun and sand escapes, the options are plentiful. Phuket offers swanky beach resorts, fabulous nightlife and national parks. The island of Samui, meanwhile, has the kind of photogenic good looks that are used to market Thailand as a travel destination abroad.
Provincial capital Krabi, which spreads along the bank of the Krabi estuary, makes a brilliant base, with the beaches of Ao Nang and the dramatic virgin rainforest of Khao Phanom Bencha National Park just a short trip away.
Despite being Southeast Asia’s most explored tourist destination, Thailand still has the capacity to surprise. In Phuket, for instance, most travellers come to get their fill of beachside bliss. Those who take time to explore Phuket Town, however, will find cutting-edge modern art galleries and cool cafés that wouldn’t look out of place in London or New York. In Bangkok, the Bang Nam Pheung floating market offers real insight into Thai life. This spot is much more popular with Bangkokians than it is with camera-toting tourists so you can witness more shopping, selling and genuine local interaction.
Eating a proper pad Thai or green curry for the first time on home turf is something of a revelation. The food here is much more carefully balanced and ultimately satisfying than most imitations found abroad. The other great thing about Thai food is the sheer variety. Each region is proud of its own style and specialties. Try Som tam (spicy green papaya salad) in the northeast and Burmese-influenced curries such as the Gaeng hang lay (pork curry) in the north. Fiery tom yam (hot-and-sour prawn soup) has its origins in central Thailand, while the southern regions tend to make use of the abundant coconuts to make creamy dishes such as Massaman.