Lapped by the waters of the Gulf of Thailand and the Indian Ocean, Thailand shares the Indochinese peninsula with neighbours Laos and Cambodia. The mountainous north is home to cultured Chiang Mai and laidback Chiang Rai. In the central plains are the fertile rice- and fruit-growing regions of Thailand's Rice Bowl with the flowing Chao Phraya River running south into the vibrant capital, Bangkok. To the south the country’s tail snakes towards Malaysia, where the tropical coastline includes Krabi’s limestone cliffs and marine parks and the east coast gems of Ko Samui, Ko Pha Ngan and Ko Tao.
Temples abound in this Buddhist kingdom, from the Grand Palace’s staggering complex and Wat Pho’s Reclining Buddha in Bangkok to northern Thailand’s Doi Suthep temple overlooking Chiang Mai. North of Bangkok is the World Heritage city and former capital Ayutthaya, crammed with temples and ruins. Sukhothai, Thailand’s first capital, is the setting for a spectactular temple complex. Thailand comes alive with celebrations Aa Songkran, Thai New Year in mid-April, and Loy Krathong in November.
Holidays in Thailand mean white-sand beaches, top diving and luxury spas. On the west coast, family-friendly Phuket island offers both bustle and tranquility while Ko Similian’s dive sites are world-renowned. Krabi’s limestone coastline is perfect for rock-climbing and sea kayaking. Eastwards, dive among Ko Tao’s coral or enjoy beach life on Ko Samui and Pha Ngan. Protected parks like Khao Sok National Park offer memorable marine and wildlife experiences. Or book a luxury spa like Kamalaya Koh Samui and indulge in a daily Thai massage.
Lemongrass, coriander, basil and coconut milk feature heavily in Thai curries, soups and rice dishes. In the gastronomic capital Bangkok, dine in the Shangri-La hotel’s riverview Salathip restaurant, snack at the 'F for Fun' Food Court at Siam Centre or enjoy steaming Pad Thai noodles from a night market stall. In northern Thailand, steamed glutinous rice is served with smaller curry dishes. Chiang Mai hosts cookery schools to teach the secrets of green and red curry recipes.
Night bazaars, flashy malls and street markets - Thailand is a magnet for shoppers. Bangkok’s Chatuchak Weekend Market is bursting with clothes and craftwork and you can pick up just about anything at the MBK and CentralWorld malls. In northern Thailand, find silk scarves, handcrafted toys and more at Chiang Mai’s night bazaar or spend your baht at the Sunday market. Best buys include Thai cushions, art and fabrics. Ask your Thailand hotel to recommend tailors for custom-made clothes.
Thailand is just the destination for night owls, with beach bars and island full moon parties, designer bars in Bangkok and Chiang Mai’s alternative scene. Skip the go-go bars in Bangkok’s Patpong and try the Bed Supper Club or the Skybar. Chiang Mai’s River Ping is lined with alfresco haunts like the Riverside Bar and Restaurant. For an unusual experience, book tickets to a Thai boxing match.