What do you want most in a vacation? Sun and outdoor fun, beautiful beaches, giant parties, rich history and culture, modern sophisticated city life, five star hotel packages, or family entertainment? Thailand has it all! Thailand, the most popular tourist destination in all Southeast Asia, offers an unforgettable vacation in a land of amazing contrasts. Officially the "Kingdom of Thailand," this old/new country is a democracy ruled by a hereditary king. How can that be? Welcome to Thailand.
A large country in terms of land (it's 1600 km long), Thailand is home to 65 million people - twice the population of Canada! Thailand's citizens are ethnically diverse, yet share many traits that help tourists feel instantly at ease. The Thai are gracious, tolerant and hospitable. You'll see plenty of smiles. At the same time, they are polite and shy away from conflict. The best way to make friends and influence people in Thailand is to do as they do: be patient, relaxed and courteous.
The country is blessed with a tropical climate, warm and humid year round, and not one but two seacoasts. On the map, you will see that the southern part of Thailand is sandwiched between the Gulf of Thailand to the east, and the Andaman Sea to the west. What this all adds up to is beaches, loads and loads of beaches. The beach lifestyle is a big attraction for travelers. Beyond swimming and sunbathing, you have a huge selection of outdoor activities. Try scuba diving, snorkeling or surfing. Explore breathtaking limestone cliff formations by sea canoe ... or gear up and climb them.
For another side of Thailand's outdoor life, visit the famous beach parties, where thousands of people gather for a night of drinking, dancing and partying on the sands. The oldest and best know is at Pattaya, 2 hours south of Thailand;s capital, Bangkok, but there are plenty more, such as the monthly Full Moon Party at Koh Phangan beach, with a crowd of 10,000 tourists and locals.
If you can bring yourself to leave the amazing beaches, you'll find plenty of exotic sights to see. Thai architecture has its own distinctively different style. Some of the most renowned examples are the striking Grand Palace in Bangkok, a complex of lovely traditional style buildings, pavilions and gardens that was once the official residence of the monarchy, and the ancient stone ruins at Ayutthaya historical park. Another "don't miss" attraction is the open air night markets, selling crafts, clothing, art and all kinds of imported items; the largest is the Chiang Mai bazaar. Plan to pick up some souvenirs!
Dining out is another study in contrasts. You can grab a quick and inexpensive snack on the go from a street vendor, or enjoy a leisurely banquet at a 5 star hotel. The common denominator is that Thai food tends to be extremely spicy, which may come as a shock to Western palates. Be prepared. By the way, both the street food and the drinking water are generally quite hygienic and safe.
At the end of a very full and pleasurable day, you;ll want a place to rest your head. Once again, the options are many. For backpackers on a budget, guesthouses are the accommodation of choice. You can get a private room for the price of a bunk in a hostel. Families with children may want to go for an all-inclusive package at one of Thailand;s many 5-star hotels. The adventurous can choose to stay in more exotic surroundings - a tribal hut, a floating hotel or one of the popular beach bungalows.