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THAILAND

thailand

The jewel of the southeast Asian travel circuit, Thailand offers astonishing diversity and a truly fascinating and accessible culture that, along with the revered Thai hospitality, makes it an incredibly popular destination.

With an enticing mixture of established destinations such as Phuket and Hua Hin, and out-of-the-way palm-fringed islands, Thailand has a very exotic appeal. It caters for grungy backpacking types wanting to party into the wee hours through to those who prefer white tablecloth dining and clinking wine glasses. From staying on a converted rice barge, clambering into a jungle tree house or bedding down in a hill tribe village, the country offers a wealth of choice for all tastes and budgets.

For divers, snorkellers, and those who just like swanning around on white-powder sand there are postcard-perfect beaches, and the extraordinary metropolis of Bangkok in the south, while the north offers the sublime delights of culture-packed Chiang Mai with its temple-studded old town, and cooling forests and mountain retreats.

One of the best ways to access Thai culture is through a 'Monk chat' session in a local wat (temple) in Chiang Mai, where you get the opportunity to quiz the dignified saffron-robed monks about anything you like. And in the early morning, all over the country, the monks leave the sanctuary of their wats to receive alms from the people, be it in a dusty village or on crowded city streets. Buddhism is a way of life here and the Thais are also strong supporters of their monarchy.

And don't forget the food! A culinary adventure awaits with tempting morsels on virtually every street corner, from traditional Royal-project run restaurants to delicious piping hot street food. Eating is as much a part of the culture here as anything else and definitely the key to local hearts. If you're lucky enough to catch a local festival, it will probably be dominated by food.

Things to see and do:

  • Northern Insight Meditation Centre - Thailand is a serene and thought-provoking place to do some meditation. This centre offers an intensive month-long course and there are strict rules to be observed. The beautiful leafy setting in Chiang Mai is ideal, but there are similar places all over the country; make enquiries at local temples.
  • Chiang Dao - Thailand's highest limestone mountain can be found here amidst a jungle oasis with an excellent selection of local accommodation. A mystical warren of caves extending some 14km (8.7 miles) can be explored, and riding a bicycle is a relaxing way to explore the area around Chiang Dao.
  • Chiang Mai -The temple-studded old city of Chiang Mai with its leafy residential sois, towering city gates and crumbling walls is a highlight of the north. Exploration is best by bicycle with traffic surprisingly subdued in the city walls and there are plenty of places to stop for refreshment when escaping the heat of the day.
  • Doi Inthanon - Escape to the cooling heights of Thailand's highest peak, where jungle walks, bird watching and simply shaking the heat of the simmering plains from your back awaits. There are good roads in the park making it easy to get around and waterfalls to splash about in.
  • Elephant Nature Park - Visiting an elephant sanctuary can be a wonderful experience especially if you stick to those, like this nature park, which genuinely care for the animals instead of just making them do ridiculous antics. Visitors can help wash and care for the elephants here and no riding is allowed.
  • Wat Phra That Doi Suthep - One of northern Thailand's most sacred temples, Wat Suthep is perched high in the mountains overlooking the steamy metropolis of Chiang Mai below. As well as offering astounding views the temple, established in the 14th century, has a wonderful collection on Lanna Art and architecture.
  • Bridge Over The River Kwai - Internationally famous due to the 1957 film The Bridge Over the River Kwai, it was constructed as part of the Japanese Siam-Burma 'Death' Railway during World War II. An estimated 16,000 Allied prisoners of war died, forced to endure back-breaking work under terrible conditions to complete the railway, and large numbers of troops perished during bombing raids on the iron structure by the Allies in 1945.
  • Damnoen Saduak Floating Market - Located 80km (50 miles) southwest of Bangkok, Damnoen Saduak Floating Market is a daily riot of colour and noise. Farmers and smallholders from the surrounding hills turn up each morning to sell and exchange fruit and vegetables from their heavily-laden barges, as they sail up and down the canals amongst the orchards and vineyards. Trading starts early, at around 0600 and lasts only until 1100, with the main clients being other farmers and the residents of the stilt-houses that line the canals. Visitors can also take boat trips to see the way of life in the many villages up river.
  • Grand Palace, Bangkok - Marvel at Bangkok's glittering Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaeo - a temple complex housing the Emerald Buddha. Upriver are the Royal Barges ornate barges used for special processions on the Chao Phraya river.
  • Learn traditional massage - Learn traditional massage and the healing properties of herbal medicine at ancient Wat Pho ‘Temple of the Reclining Buddha’. Tourists must be in polite dress, shorts are not permitted.
  • Phang Nga Bay - Phang Nga Bay is one of the world's great scenic wonders. It covers an area of 400 sq km (154 sq miles) and consists of verdant limestone islands, some of which reach 300m (984ft) high. The area is famous for its caves and aquatic grottoes. Apart from the occasional village, few of the islands are densely populated. The most famous of the islands in the bay are Ko Ping Kan (more commonly known as James Bond Island) and Koh Pannyi. The former featured in the James Bond movie 'The Man with the Golden Gun', whilst the latter, which literally means 'Sea Gypsy Island', is a village built out over the water on stilts, guarded by a giant rock monolith. The area suffered badly during the Boxing Day tsunami in 2004, but has recovered well.
  • Take a meditation class - Cast off all cares through traditional meditation. Thailand has dozens of temples and meditation centres specialising in vipassana (insight) meditation. Attend a class for just one day or a retreat lasting several weeks.  Get to know northern Thailand better, particularly the remote provinces of Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai and Mae Hong Son by trekking, riding an elephant or rafting through this spectacular region.
  • Thai cooking - Try Thai cooking at one of many cookery schools. Learn how to blend the many herbs and spices that provide the unique flavours of Thai food.
  • Thai kick-boxing match - Take in a muay thai (Thai kick-boxing) match; this traditional sport can be seen every day of the year at the major stadiums in both Bangkok and the provinces. Thai boxing matches are preceded by elaborate ceremonies and accompanied by lively music.

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Highlight Trip

SITRK04 : Bangkok and River Kwai Break

SITRK04 : Bangkok and River Kwai Break

CODE: SITRK04 l LENGTH : 4 DAYS /3 NIGHTS PROFILE :  BANGKOK l KANNCHANBURI Day 1 : Bangkok Bangkok is, without a doubt, one of the most exciting cities in Asia. Begin your exploration of this fascinating city, visiting the Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew, home to the Emerald Buddha. In the...

SITJA03 : Kao Yai Jungle Adventure

SITJA03 : Kao Yai Jungle Adventure

CODE : SITJA03 l LENGTH : 3 DAYS/2 NIGHTS PROFILE : BANGKOK Day 1 : Bangkok to Kao Yai National Park Leave Bangkok by road and head towards Khao Yai National Park. Designated as Thailand’s first national park, Khao Yai offers the best chance to spot a wild elephant in the entire country. Arrive just...

SITBK03 : Bangkok City Break

SITBK03 : Bangkok City Break

CODE : SITBK03 l LENGTH : 3 DAYS/2 NIGHTS PROFILE :  BANGKOK Day 1 : BANGKOK Today you will begin with a visit to the Grand Palace, continue to the magnificent 46m long reclining Buddha, situated in Bangkok’s oldest and largest temple, Wat Pho, then boat for a trip down the Chao Phraya River and...