Thailand - A Travel Guide with Links to other Pages about Thailand

The Flag of Thailand
The Flag of Thailand | Source

Introduction

The author of this page has visited the nation of Thailand on a number of occasions, not as a travel expert, but as a tourist, photographer and writer. During these visits many key attractions have been explored, and a photographic record maintained.

On this page I include a resume of the key facts about this country, I briefly relate its geography and its history, I mention some of the important tourist attractions, and I write about the Thai people and culture.

The page is first and foremost the Home Page to all my articles about Thailand, and therefore includes links to everything I have written. The articles include information about some of the major attractions, and some personal reflections on my many experiences in the country.

All photos have been taken by the author during his visits to the country.

N.B: Please note, all of my articles are best read on desktops and laptops

Exotic tropical beaches - the biggest attraction for most tourists
Exotic tropical beaches - the biggest attraction for most tourists | Source
The map of Thailand, its neighbouring nations and the coastline
The map of Thailand, its neighbouring nations and the coastline | Source
The topography of Thailand. Note the mountain ranges in the north, and the two great river basins of Central Thailand - the Chao Phraya and the Mekong
The topography of Thailand. Note the mountain ranges in the north, and the two great river basins of Central Thailand - the Chao Phraya and the Mekong | Source

The Geography and Climate of Thailand

The Kingdom of Thailand lies in the heart of the region of South-East Asia, known as Indochina, sharing borders with the nations of Burma, Laos, Cambodia and Malaysia.

The country, which covers an area of 513,000 sq km (198,000 sq miles), is comparable in size to Spain, larger than the State of California yet rather smaller than the State of Texas. The peninsula nature of South Thailand creates a very long coastline of more than 3,000 km (2,000 miles), and this has greatly benefited Thailand with advantages for international trade, as well as fisheries and tourism.

Much of the land in the north and the extreme west is above 500 metres in height. The highest mountain is Doi Inthanon at 2,565 meters (8,415 ft). A smaller range of high hills runs north-south through the centre of the country dividing the land into two great river basins - the Chao Phraya in the west, and the Mekong in the east. Most of the land in these river basins is much lower lying, and this land provide Thailand with its fertile agricultural plains. The peninsular south of Thailand is bounded on the western side by the Andaman Sea and on the eastern side by the Gulf of Thailand, and is a region of lush forest, beautiful limestone karst scenery and coral islands.

Just north of the equator but lying well within the Tropic of Cancer, and with temperatures varying between 19 and 38°C (66-100°F), Thailand's climate is generally hot and humid, but three seasons can be identified through most of the country - a 'hot' season from May to August, a 'rainy' season from September to October (in reality the weather is usually fine, but heavy monsoon rainstorms are quite common), and a 'cool' season from November to April (which is not much cooler, but it is much drier and this is therefore the most pleasant time to visit). Temperatures, in truth, show little seasonal variation in most regions of Thailand, but rainfall does.

Elephant trekking is popular in the southern islands and the northern hills
Elephant trekking is popular in the southern islands and the northern hills | Source

The Regions of Thailand

From the point of view of tourists, this country can be conveniently divided into four regions - the City of Bangkok, the northwest and the hill tribes, the Isaan region of the northeast and the beaches and islands to the south. The following sections contain brief descriptions of some of the major attractions, the geography and climate, the history and culture, which bring tourists to these parts of Thailand.

The ruined city of Ayutthaya
The ruined city of Ayutthaya | Source

Bangkok

The capital city of Thailand features prominently in my articles, because whatever part of Thailand the tourist intends to visit, Bangkok will usually be on the itinerary somewhere along the line, as the arrival point into the country or the departure point to the rest of the world. And the majority of visitors to Thailand will at least spend a day or two in Bangkok before they head off to other parts. And what a place to spend a couple of days! Noisy, overpopulated, traffic-jammed, exotic and vibrant - Bangkok is a city unlike any other, and I like it. Perhaps not a place to spend a month, but for a few days, there are the most intricately decorated of temples, there's street markets where the city really comes to life, and there's great shopping and entertainments to cater for all tastes. And not far from the city is the ancient ruined Capital of Ayutthaya, and the beach at Pattaya is a day trip away.

The Northwest and the Hilltribes

For those who wish for a more adventurous or cultural vacation in Thailand, the northwest of the country offers a very different experience. The northwest is home to the ancient kingdoms of Sukhothai and Lanna, and the modern city of Chiang Mai - by all accounts a much more relaxed, less hectic, more beautiful city than Bangkok. But the main appeal for the tourists who head to the forested mountains, the deep valleys and cooler climate of the northwest is culture. Here there is the opportunity to live as a guest of the hill tribes of the region - distinct, indigenous tribes who to a large extent have preserved their traditional lifestyles, their own local language, colourful dress and farming techniques. This is authentic Thailand, and a visit to these parts can be a rewarding experience for many. To date I have not visited the northwest (hence no photos), but perhaps in the future?

A giant Buddha statue which stands on a prominent hill in N.E Thailand
A giant Buddha statue which stands on a prominent hill in N.E Thailand | Source

The Northeast

The country between Bangkok and Laos to the north, and between Bangkok and Cambodia to the east, is the least touristy in the country. It is the most rural, and is generally speaking, the least affluent. Much of this land lies in a region known as 'Isaan', a culturally distinct area with its own dialect, cuisine and traditions. The main cities are Udon Thani and Khon Kaen. Not so many Western visitors travel to this area, unless they are backpackers who wish to see rural life in Thailand whilst passing through to Laos or Cambodia. But there are many little known sights, both ancient and modern, to attract in the region, and some of these are to be found in my pages, as I have been fortunate enough to spend a number of weeks in this part of the country as guest of a Thai family.

The beautiful Phi Phi Islands
The beautiful Phi Phi Islands | Source

The Islands to the South

The majority of tourists who come to Thailand flock to the south, to beach resorts such as Krabi and Khao Lak, and to the beautiful limestone karst islands. The most popular tourist destinations include the islands of Koh Samui and Phuket. And in the Andaman Sea there lies the famously exotic Phi Phi Islands as well as many others to choose from. Whatever your personal preference, there is an island or a resort for you - whether it be the family hotel and beach resort, the active water sports haven, the hippie mecca, or the peaceful and unspoilt natural paradise.

Long-tail boats on the Phi Phi Islands
Long-tail boats on the Phi Phi Islands | Source
Bang-Pa In - once the Summer Palace in the Kingdom of Ayutthaya
Bang-Pa In - once the Summer Palace in the Kingdom of Ayutthaya | Source

History of Thailand

The history of the Thai people before the 13th century is unfortunately not clear today. There were certainly Stone Age settlements in Thailand, whilst Bronze Age civilisation in Ban Chiang in northern Thailand has left many relics. But little else is known for certain. Over the next millennium, a series of migrations and invasions by various groups including southern Chinese and Burmese tribes took place, and during this period Indian settlers brought with them Hinduism and Buddhism.

Many rival tribes and local cultures competed for influence and regional supremacy, but gradually two great kingdoms would develop - Lanna in the north west, and Sukhothai, a little further south. Lanna was a powerful state for hundreds of years, but by the 13th century, Sukhothai had established a period of extensive dominance, and during this time the distinctive Thai alphabet was established, and Buddhism became the state religion. But the borders of both Lanna and Sukhothai were far from secure and they were prone to constant incursions from neighbouring states. Lanna gradually declined after long periods of internal and external conflict, while Sukhothai's dominance was short-lived. The remains of the capital of Sukhothai which date from 1238 AD can still be seen today, and are regarded as the ruins of the first major city in Thailand.

A powerful new kingdom was developing in the south, and this was soon to absorb Sukhothai into its boundaries. This kingdom was Ayutthaya, and its capital city was established in 1350. Ayutthaya soon spread its influence to incorporate much of modern day Thailand as well as parts of neighbouring Laos and Cambodia, and its emergence signalled the beginnings of a united Thailand, which survived largely without serious challenge for 400 years. During this time, Thailand prospered, and trade with the rest of the world including the great European powers began.

However, in 1767 the capital of Ayutthaya fell under the assault of Burmese forces, and was almost completely destroyed, and theThais had to regroup and start again under King Rama I, the first ruler of the Chakri dynasty which still prevails to this day. They built a brand new capital 80 kilometres south in a region called Thonburi on the west bank of the Chao Phraya River. Gradually this settlement developed across the river, and it was on the East bank that a great city later burgeoned to become modern day Bangkok.

During the 19th century, many neighbouring states were colonised by the great powers of Britain and France, but Thailand, as a result of careful diplomacy by its rulers, remained independent and the country began to prosper once more.

In 1932, the absolute monarchy which had ruled Thailand for so long came to an end with a bloodless coup by the military, but the King was very soon re-installed as a constitutional monarch. Throughout much of this history from about the 13th century, the name of 'Siam' was used for the region, gradually being adopted by both the indigenous people and by European traders as the official name of the country. But on 24th June 1939, the nation - the only one in south east Asia to remain forever free of European colonisation - officially changed its name to 'Thailand', which means 'Free Land'. Today Thailand remains proud of its claim never to have come under the control of a Western empire.

Thailand - the Buddhist Nation
Thailand - the Buddhist Nation | Source

The Economy

The economy is the second largest in S.E Asia, and Thailand's exports are of vital importance. Principal trade is in fish and agricultural foods - Thailand is one of the world's largest exporters of rice. Other major commodities include textiles and rubber, jewellery, computer goods and electrical appliances. This export market also means that despite its appeal as a vacation destination, Thailand relies on tourism for only 7% of its gross domestic product.

The Government

Thailand has been a constitutional hereditary monarchy since 1932. The present Head of State is King Rama IX, Bhumibol Adulyadej*. As a constitutional monarch he takes no direct role in the day to day politics of the country, but remains a much revered and loved figure across all political divides. Following the ending of absolute monarchy, a series of military dictatorships alternated with civilian prime ministers in the mid to late 20th century, but gradually the country has been stabilising into democracy. Democracy is still not entirely secure, and rifts between the two major parties and between the urban and rural populations have led to sporadic civil disturbances and army interventions. It should however, be made clear that these actions are usually very short-lived and localised - it seems the army has no wish to dominate political affairs, and when such incidents have occurred, power has been quickly returned to civilian authorities. Essentially the country is peaceful. Today there is an elected Prime Minister as the head of a government which consists of two Houses of Parliament - a Senate and a House of Representatives. The judiciary is independent of government.

* In 2016 the King, the longest reigning monarch in the world, died. Currently also, the country is once again under military rule, and yet remains essentially peaceful.

A traditional Thai dancer. Thais are rightly proud of their culture, though it is a culture derived from many regional influences over the centuries of settlement
A traditional Thai dancer. Thais are rightly proud of their culture, though it is a culture derived from many regional influences over the centuries of settlement | Source

The Thai People - Ethnicity and Religion

Approximately 65 million people live in Thailand, of which more than 80% can be described as ethnically Thai - the descendants of the peoples who have lived throughout the region or settled here over most of the past 2000 years. They broadly speak the same language, though there are regional dialects and significant differences in vocabulary, most notably in the Isaan region of North East Thailand.

Of the remaining 15-20% of the population, the majority are more recent Chinese arrivals, with smaller numbers of immigrants from other neighbouring countries, as well as Western settlers. Lastly there are the ethnically distinct hill tribes of the North West such as the Hmong and Karen - peoples who have never fully integrated into the Thai culture of the rest of the country.

95% of Thais belong to the Theravada School of the Buddhist faith, the expression of Buddhism most prevalent in Burma, Laos, Cambodia and Sri Lanka, and most closely allied to the Buddha's original teachings. Other schools of Buddhism - Mahayana, and its more diverse variations including Vajrayana and Zen Buddhism - are predominant in the far east, in China, Japan and Vietnam, and also in the Dalai Lama's Tibet. In practice, the differences between the schools are not huge, and perhaps most obvious to tourists is the colour of the robes of the monks - unlike the maroon robes so familiarly worn by the Dalai Lama, Thai monks wear saffron orange-yellow or ochre-brown.

The only other faith of significance in Thailand is Islam, which forms the majority religion in three extreme southern provinces. Sadly, as is so often the case in the world today, religious and cultural tensions have led to separatist movements here, and increasing incidents of violence. It should be stressed however, that these tensions rarely impinge upon the areas of the south which most tourists frequent.

Consultation with a Buddhist monk
Consultation with a Buddhist monk | Source
Source

The Thai People - Culture and Etiquette

A popular description for Thailand which the nation likes to encourage, is 'The Land of Smiles'. Although of course Thais can be as miserable as the rest of us, there is some small degree of truth to the nickname. Thai people tend to have a relatively peaceful contented way of viewing the world, and they tend not to be aggressive by nature. Customs and etiquette are observed but not usually fanatically so, as befits a pacific religion like Buddhism.

For the traveller there are aspects of Thai culture and etiquette which should be observed out of respect for the people. Any guide book will list the do's and don'ts of how to conduct oneself as a tourist on holiday in Thailand. The following list is a simple basic guide:

The wai is, for me, one of the most enchanting aspects of Thai culture. It is the greeting in which hands are held together prayer-like in front of the body, and it is so much more graceful than a handshake. Thais will, of course happily accept a handshake from a foreigner, but a wai will be especially appreciated.

By tradition, the head - the top of the body - is considered sacred, and the feet - the lowest part of the body - are also considered the lowest in other respects. Therefore, one shouldn't really touch the head of a stranger, or sit with bare feet pointed towards another person. (Having said this, I haven't yet noticed any obvious distaste when Thais are confronted with such a sight).

Speaking of the feet, one custom which appears to be almost universally observed is the removal of shoes when entering private houses. It also tends to be observed by locals in hotel rooms. Most importantly, it is definitely required upon entering the most sacred of the temple buildings.

Religion is the institution on which Thai etiquette is most important. Monks, who are familiar figures on the streets in their orange robes, should be treated with some respect, and should not be touched by women - if a female wishes to offer gifts to a monk, the gift should placed in front, for the monk to pick up.

If respect for religion is an obvious requirement, the necessity of respecting a king may not be so obvious. Yet in Thailand, photos of the King are everywhere, and he is revered. Anyone showing gross disrespect may find themselves in trouble. And when the national anthem is played, for example in cinemas, the public stand.

One of the most famous of Thai traditions is the floating market - once the mainstay of trade on the canals, but now largely maintained as a tourist attraction
One of the most famous of Thai traditions is the floating market - once the mainstay of trade on the canals, but now largely maintained as a tourist attraction | Source
Long-tail boat in the Andaman Sea. This photo was taken in the Phi Phi Islands, where rock climbing, kayaking, snorkeling and diving, are all options to try
Long-tail boat in the Andaman Sea. This photo was taken in the Phi Phi Islands, where rock climbing, kayaking, snorkeling and diving, are all options to try | Source
Exotic hotel setting in Krabi. And if you don't want to swim in the pool, the Andaman Sea is just one mile away
Exotic hotel setting in Krabi. And if you don't want to swim in the pool, the Andaman Sea is just one mile away | Source

Tourism

No country in South Eastern Asia receives more tourists than Thailand, and with good reason. Great sandy beaches and coral islands, great historic and religious attractions, and distinctive modern culture, cuisine and night life, all mean that this country has plenty to offer. Coupled with this, Thailand is relatively safe and welcoming for the tourist with moderate attitudes and tolerance of foreign customs. Finally, the climate is tropical and the nature is exotic. Any time of the year can be a good time to visit, though the 'cool' season of December to February is the most popular and most expensive period of the year. Off peak is May to August when Thailand is quite humid.

The people who travel are of all kinds:

1) For those who want comfort and relaxation, Thailand boasts some of the finest of hotels including luxury spa resorts in the south, and five star properties in Bangkok.

2) For those who want sun, sea and sand, Thailand's huge coastline and many islands offers everything one could hope for.

3) For those who want Asia on a budget, Thailand has a magnetic draw for backpackers and carefree teenagers, and lots of cheap rooms in which to deposit their rucksacks!

4) For those who want exotic, lively and sometimes dubious night life, Bangkok has it all - enough said!

5) For those who want culture in the raw, trekking vacations, and living as guests of a hill tribe family, there are now options readily available to the more adventurous traveller.

'Land of Smiles'
'Land of Smiles' | Source

Thailand - a Country to Visit and Enjoy

Thailand means different things to different people. To some it means a lazy beach holiday on Phuket Island or snorkeling around the beautiful limestone islands of the south. To others it means cultural adventures and hill trekking among the tribes of the north west. And to yet others it means colourful temples, and exotic nightlife and world famous cuisine in bustling Bangkok. But to all who visit, Thailand should mean an enjoyable experience among friendly people - a richly memorable vacation. I hope that these pages of mine which are linked to here, help to provide a flavour of the country, the places to visit, and the experiences to enjoy. And above all, I hope that if you do choose to go there, you will enjoy your vacation to Thailand - the Land of Smiles.

Thai children
Thai children | Source

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I'd Love to Hear Your Comments. Thanks, Alun 14 comments

Greensleeves Hubs profile image

Greensleeves Hubs 3 years ago from Essex, UK Author

Express10; Thanks so much. I very much appreciate your comments about both the text and the photos. It was a pleasure to introduce this country to readers and to hopefully encourage a few to visit and enjoy its varied attractions. Cheers Alun.


Express10 profile image

Express10 3 years ago from East Coast

This is a very informative and useful hub. I am happy that you mentioned the off peak seasons in addition to the culture and etiquette. The photos are also beautiful, I really like the one of Bang-Pa In and the boat in the Andaman Sea. It is also good to know that tourism only makes up a small portion of GDP.


Greensleeves Hubs profile image

Greensleeves Hubs 4 years ago from Essex, UK Author

Thanks Jools99; so pleased you liked the hub and my photos. Bangkok certainly is a city of extremes, and most tourists don't spend more than a few days in the capital, though there is a lot to see, both in the city and in the surrounding area. I like Bangkok, because the negatives (noise, traffic jams etc) for me are outweighed by the positives (attractions, colour, culture etc). But it makes a good contrast for tourists to combine two or three days in Bangkok with a week or two in one of the more peaceful parts of the country. Alun.


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Greensleeves Hubs 4 years ago from Essex, UK Author

mary615; my thanks for your nice comment and for the shares! I'm grateful. I wasn't aware of that in the Southern States. In Thailand it is certainly standard, even when there are no carpets on the floor, and in hotels the maids will take their shoes off when they enter a room to clean it. Alun.


Jools99 profile image

Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK

Wonderful hub, loved all of your photos and there is so much information here. I have never visited Thailand because the thought of staying in Bangkok always put me off, this hub has given me a new perspective.


mary615 profile image

mary615 4 years ago from Florida

Thailand is a country that I knew very little about, but thanks to your informational Hub, I feel like I certainly have learned more.

We have a custom in the South (U.S.) that we remove our shoes before entering a house, too.

You did a fine job on this Hub. I voted it UP, and till share.


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Greensleeves Hubs 4 years ago from Essex, UK Author

Thanks AliciaC. I very much appreciate your visit and really nice comment. It's a pleasure to write about Thailand, and hopefully introduce a few more people to its potential as a tourist destination. Alun.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 4 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

Thank you for all the wonderful and detailed information, Alun! Reading your hub was a lovely way to learn about Thailand.


Greensleeves Hubs profile image

Greensleeves Hubs 4 years ago from Essex, UK Author

Thank you so much Rema. It is gratifying to read your words. Thailand is certainly special to me, and I've been there six times. But I've been lucky enough in the past decade to visit many countries around the world (including India for a week), and I've not been disappointed by any. Each has its own beauty and attractions, which have made the visit an enriching experience.

Thanks so much for sharing. Alun.


remaniki profile image

remaniki 4 years ago from Chennai, India

Hi Alun,

In addition to the detailed description about the history, geography and the culture of this beautiful country, you have created an interest in me to find out more about other countries of the world that are beautiful in their own ways. Thank you very much for this wonderful knowledge. Voted up and sharing all over.

Cheers, Rema.


Greensleeves Hubs profile image

Greensleeves Hubs 4 years ago from Essex, UK Author

Pavlo; Thank you very much. I've always enjoyed my visits to Thailand, and photographing the country. So pleased you like the photos, and thanks for the votes! Alun.


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Greensleeves Hubs 4 years ago from Essex, UK Author

carol7777; I very much appreciate your visit and comment. Thanks loads. Thailand is a lovely country to visit, so I hope you get the opportunity one day. My gratitude for the votes too. Alun.


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Pavlo Badovskyy 4 years ago from Kyiv, Ukraine

Wonderful hub! Pictures are amazing! Voted up!


carol7777 profile image

carol7777 4 years ago from Arizona

I knew little about Thailand..and Now I know a lot. What a great hub and filled with so much information. I love the photos. Great job in sharing all about this wonderful place. I would love to visit. Voting UP+++

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