Thailand is an attractive destination for travellers. The people are friendly, the cost of staying there is low and the food is delicious. Long ago, Thailand was called Siam, and it has largely been a peaceful kingdom despite some ancient skirmishes with their Burmese enemies. Its capital, Bangkok, is a pulsating centre of old and new traditions and this is where virtually all tourists land.
Once called the Venice of the East, the Thai capital is criss-crossed with waterways, called ‘khlongs.’ However, there is no actual similarity to that Italian city. The Chao Phraya River is the aquatic artery that runs through the city and it’s filled with river taxis carrying visitors and locals to different jetties positioned up and down the river’s edge. Along the quieter canals branching off the river you can see teak houses supported on stilts. This is a great way to see some of Bangkok’s biggest sites. It’s more relaxing too, since the traffic in the city moves slower than a snail’s crawl.
The Grand Palace Complex, which used to be the administrative seat of the government, was built in 1782. Today, it’s the spiritual heart of Thailand. The Temple of the Emerald Buddha is located in the outer court. The Buddha image was carved from a single block of jade. The inner court was where the King’s royal consorts and daughters lived. The Royal Family doesn’t live there, but it’s completely off limits to the public. A dress code applies to all who choose to enter the palace grounds. That means no sandals, bare shoulders or see through clothes.
For a seedy glimpse of Bangkok, head to Patpong. Various go-go bars and pole dancing establishments have probably etched a very different impression of Thailand, and Bangkok in particular, in the minds of tourists. It’s raunchy, tacky and the epicenter of sin, but it does have its redeeming features. Indeed, three of the area’s best places to mingle with locals and foreigners alike are Lucifer’s, Radio City and Muzzik Cafe. Patpong has some great food, too. Try some French cuisine at Le Bouchon or head into Mizu’s Kitchen with its signature Sarika steak.
Near the Burmese border, Kanchanaburi boasts some of the greenest places in Thailand and it’s only 150 kilometres away from Bangkok. The River Kwai is a tributary of the Mekong and the lifeblood of this province. World War II history buffs will have plenty to explore, because there was lots of activity here in 1942 and ’43. The Bridge on the River Kwai was built by POWs of many nationalities, as was the Death Railway. The war cemetery in the centre of town is the final resting place of thousands of POWs who died under Japanese captivity.
Erawan Falls is generally regarded as one of the most impressive natural sights in the country. The national park of the same name is where visitors might catch a glimpse of an elephant, or, if they venture deep into the bush, a snake.
Located 700 kilometres north of Bangkok, Chiang Mai is cooler, laid back and much quieter than its larger, southern cousin. However, many visitors and residents would find few reasons to complain. Chiang Mai hosts the Loi Kratong festival every year, held during the twelfth month of the traditional lunar calendar. On a Western calendar, this would be in November. During the festivities, thousands of people assemble floating banana leaf containers decorated with flowers and candles on the city’s waterways to worship the Goddess of Water. With lots of attractions to keep visitors busy, Chiang Mai is no longer a place to make a quick stop for just a couple of days before heading off into the mountains further north. Those days are long gone.