Thailand is a popular holiday destination in Southeast Asia, it has much to offer both for the adventurous traveler and for those who want to relax on the beach. There is beautiful nature, lots of culture, friendly people and good food. Many people travel through Thailand with a backpack on a limited budget. A classic trip starts in Bangkok, continues north to visit the city of Chiang Mai and finally heads to the south of the country to relax on the beach.
Thailand is a kingdom in Southeast Asia, the capital is Bangkok and the main city in the north is Chiang Mai. The current king (in 2016), King Rama IX Bhumibol Adulyadej, has been in power since 1946. Until 1939, Thailand was still called Siam.
During World War II, one day after the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, Japanese troops invaded Thailand. Many Thais were taken prisoner of war and forced to work, the bridge over the River Kwai is proof of this. In 1945 the Japanese surrendered and Thailand received American support. Democratic elections were held in 1946. In July of that year, the young King Ananda Mahidol was found dead in his palace, mysteriously murdered. He was succeeded by his younger brother, Bhumibol Adulyadej. The Vietnam War accelerated the westernization of Thailand and caused enormous growth in the economy. Thailand’s neighboring countries are Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Malaysia. The population is 90% Thai, the largest minority group are the Chinese, who have already mixed strongly with the Thai. Other ethnic minorities include the Akha, the Lisu, the Karen and the Hmong. 95% of the population is Buddhist, but there are also Muslims in the southern provinces.
Bangkok is the capital of Thailand, it is the largest city in the country with an area of 1568 km², the Thai name for the capital is Krung Thep. Bangkok is where most travelers will arrive, it is a must for anyone visiting Thailand, although not everyone will love the capital. Bangkok is dirty, busy and chaotic, traffic is a nightmare and there are several slums. But there are also beautiful temples to see, friendly people, lively markets and food stalls on every street corner. The Chatuchak market, also known as the weekend market, is the largest market in the world and is very popular with both Thais and tourists. There are skyscrapers and luxurious shopping centers, especially near Siam square. When it comes to accommodation, there is a choice in every price range, Khao San Road is known among backpackers and Soi Rambuttri is a little quieter. Bangkok has an extensive network of public transport, within the city you can take a taxi or tuk tuk anywhere, there is a good metro network and a skytrain. At Hua Lamphong station you take the train to your next destination and Bangkok has two international airports, Suvarnabhumi and Don Mueang.
Wat Phra Keaw Temples
The Chao Phraya River runs through the city and the historic heart of the city, Rattanakosin Island, is located east of the river. Here is a walled temple complex where one can find the royal palace and Wat Phra Keaw. The royal palace served as a royal residence from the end of the eighteenth century to the mid-twentieth century. Construction started under King Rama I in 1782. The current king no longer lives there, he now lives with his family in the modern Chitralada Palace in the Dusit district.
Wat Phra Keaw is the temple where one can see the emerald Buddha, it is the most important temple in Thailand. Besides the beautifully decorated buildings and pagodas, the ubusot is the most important part, here is the sixty-six centimeter high green Buddha, made of jade. This statue is the most important religious symbol of the country, it originally comes from India but was brought to Chiang Rai in Thailand in 1434. The statue then moved to Chiang Mai and later to Luang Prabang in Laos. It has been in its current location in Bangkok since 1784.
Another important temple in the capital is Wat Pho, which is the oldest and largest temple in the city with an area of 80,000 m². This temple has a reclining Buddha of 46 meters long covered with gold leaf and mother-of-pearl. This is also where traditional Thai massage originated and is still taught.
Wat Arun is located on the other side of the Chao Phraya River and is named after the god Aruna, the god of dawn. The temple consists of one large pagoda of seventy-nine meters high, built according to Khmer architecture, surrounded by four smaller pagodas decorated with porcelain.
Ayutthaya is a popular day trip from Bangkok, about an hour’s drive from the capital. This city was founded in 1350 by King U-Thong and was the capital of the country for a while. Ayutthaya suffered twenty-three attacks from the Burmese who finally succeeded in razing the city to the ground in 1767. Today it is a modern city, but its rich past can still be seen in the many temple ruins scattered in and around the city. In 1991, Ayutthaya was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, and in 2011 the city was hit by severe flooding.
430 kilometers north of Bangkok lies the city of Sukhothai, which is easily reached by bus from Bangkok or Chiang Mai. This was the first capital of Thailand, founded in the thirteenth century. Now the city consists of two parts, the modern part where accommodation and restaurants can be found and the old city twelve kilometers away. The old town consists of a park with beautiful temple ruins and Buddha statues that give an idea of the wealth of the city in its glory years. Sukhothai has been on the UNESCO World Heritage List since 1991, and bicycles can be rented to visit the historic park.
Chiang Mai is the main city in the north of Thailand, it is the capital of the province of the same name. The city is approximately 700 kilometers from Bangkok and can be reached by bus or train and has an international airport. In 1557 the city was attacked by the Burmese, after which it remained under Burmese rule for more than 200 years. In 1775, the Thais took back control of the city and large stone walls were built around the city. Today we can see the remains of these walls and their entrance gates around what is now known as the old city. Tha Phae gate is the most famous gate and the area around it is very popular with travelers. The Ping River flows through Chiang Mai and there is a mix of modern architecture and traditional Thai buildings. There are hotels and guesthouses for every budget, countless restaurants that serve traditional food from northern Thailand, such as khao soi, as well as an extensive range of international dishes. The entertainment areas are near the Night Bazaar, Nimmanhaemin Road and near Chiang Mai University. Every evening there are numerous food stalls at Chiang Mai gate with Thai dishes for a small price.
Wat Chedi Luang Sights
Chiang Mai has many temples, the most important in the old city are Wat Chedi Luang, Wat Phra Sing and Wat Chiang Man. A short drive outside the city you can visit Doi Suthep, a temple on a hill with a beautiful view over the city. A drive to Wat Umong is also worthwhile, this temple has underground tunnels. Besides temples, there are also numerous museums in the city, such as the Chiang Mai National Museum. Huay Tung Tao Lake is a popular weekend destination for Thais, you can eat and drink something at the edge of the lake and cool off in the water. Other popular day trips are to Chiang Mai Zoo, Night Safari, Tiger Kingdom and one of the many elephant camps, although animal welfare is not seen as a priority at these places and each traveler must decide for themselves whether they want to visit such a place. Chiang Mai is a good base for trekking in the jungle and trips are offered everywhere to one of the many mountain villages or to the Doi Inthanon national park. Here you will find the highest mountain in Thailand with a height of 2565 meters.
Other popular activities include taking a Thai cooking class or attending a Muay Thai fight. If you want to go shopping or buy a souvenir, there is plenty of choice in Chiang Mai. Every evening there is a Night Bazaar with souvenirs, clothing, food, wood carvings and artists who will draw your portrait. On Sunday evenings there is the Sunday Walking Street, which runs from Tha Pae Gate via Ratchadamnoen Road and Phra Singh Road. There are souvenirs and handmade items for sale over more than a kilometer. There are live performances and the temples serve as a food court. There is also a Saturday evening version of this walking street, in Wua Lai Road, but this is less popular. There are some modern shopping centers in Chiang Mai, such as Central Airport Plaza, Central Festival and Kad Suan Kaew.
Wat Rong Khun
The city of Chiang Rai is located 200 kilometers from Chiang Mai and 62 kilometers from the border with Myanmar. There are several hotels and guesthouses in the city, some beautiful temples and every evening there is a night market. You can make several fun day trips from Chiang Rai, for example to Wat Rong Khun or the white temple. This temple was created by the artist Chalermchai Kositpipat and is covered with white plaster to represent Buddha’s purity and the pieces of glass on the walls represent Buddha’s wisdom. This temple is very unique and impressive, it was damaged during the earthquake in 2014 but has been fully restored. Another trip you can make from Chiang Rai is to the Doi Tung mountain range. You can rent a moped in Chiang Rai and explore it yourself. Many people ride a moped on the Chiang Rai Loop, a journey of several days through beautiful nature. You then drive from Chiang Rai via Mae Salong and Mai Sai to Chiang Saen. This is the place also called the Golden Triangle, where Thailand, Laos and Myanmar meet. There is little to see at this spot on the Mekong River, but you can visit the opium museum to learn how this region was once the center of opium cultivation and there are two temples on top of a hill that are worth seeing. Via Chiang Khong you can then drive further to Phu Chee Fah, a nature reserve where you can see a sea of clouds on top of the mountains at sunrise. You can spend the night there and drive to the top early the next morning, then return to Chiang Rai.
Traditionally a trip to Thailand ends with a stay in the south, there are plenty of islands and seaside resorts to choose from. Pay attention to the season because when it is rainy season on the east coast, it is dry on the west coast. On the west coast of the mainland, Krabi is a popular destination, especially for those who enjoy rock climbing. Islands on the west coast are Koh Lanta, Phuket, Koh Phi Phi and Koh Lipe. Koh Lanta and Phuket are popular with families, people who love luxury and backpackers, Koh Phi Phi is mainly aimed at the budget traveler. The tsunami of 2004 had a major impact on Phuket and Koh Phi Phi, but in the meantime there is little sign of it. Koh Lipe has many luxury resorts and is a good place for diving and snorkeling. The eastern coast is known for the islands of Koh Samui, Koh Phangan and Koh Tao. Koh Phangan is known for its Full Moon Party and if you want to dive, you should go to Koh Tao. Some islands are also easily accessible from Bangkok, such as Koh Chang and Koh Kood.
- A journey through Cambodia
- A journey through Laos
- Backpacking in Southeast Asia
- Apply for a visa for Thailand in Vientiane, Laos
- A journey through Malaysia