BangkokAn exciting brew of traffic and temples, luxury hotels and labyrinth-like streets, the “City of Angels,” is a hectic heaven. Cutting through the heart of the city, the magnificent Chao Phraya River, “the River of Kings” provides easy access to Bangkok’s numerous Buddhist temples and the Grand Palace, as well offering insight into Thai life. Chatting women wash laundry at the water's edge while boisterous children bathe in the shallows. Treat your eyes to a parade of colorful canoes laden with everything from juicy mangoes to jolly-faced souvenirs at the Damnoen Saduak Floating Market, or paddle up to one of the floating markets and order a bowl of steaming noodles. Alternately for an unforgettable experience by rail embark the Eastern & Oriental Express bound for Chiang Mai or Singapore.
Chiang MaiIt would be difficult to find a city that reflects more of Thailand’s diverse cultural heritage and modern aspirations than Chiang Mai. Tour buses crowd Burmese-style wats ablaze with the color of saffron and humming with the chanting of monks, and narrow streets lined with ornately carved teak houses lie in the shadow of contemporary skyscrapers. Chiang Mai is the gateway city to Thailand’s lush north and its rustic hill tribe villages. Dating back 700 years, the focal point is “Old City,” the walled and moated remains of an imposing fortress. Surrounding this historic site is a blossoming city containing all the characteristics of a modern town. Original gates have been lovingly restored and the chanting of monks drifts softly through the narrow streets from three of the area’s most revered temples. Travel by tuk-tuk (motorized three-wheeler) to the Night Bazaar where local tribes-people sell handicrafts alongside merchants hawking jade jewelry, hammered silver plates, and reams of silk. This is the place to pet an elephant as you enjoy off-road driving on the back of a gentle giant, or take to a bamboo raft for a watery fun-filled afternoon.
Chiang RaiIn northern Thailand, bordering Burma to the north and Laos to the east, mountainous Chiang Rai province lies an average of 1900 feet above sea level. The northern most part of the province is an area well known for its surrealistic mountain sceneries and picture perfect sea of cloud and mist. In this fairytale setting live some of Thailand's oldest civilizations – the colorful hill tribes, each with unique culture, distinctive customs and mystic charm. This region also falls into an area known as the Golden Triangle, where the borders of Thailand, Laos and Myanmar converge. Relentless efforts of the Thai Royal family have transformed the agricultural landscape to one of coffee, tea, fruits and highland crops in neat terraced fields. Today, locals selling produce from their farms mingle with western tourists in streets lined with hotels, spas and quaint shops.
Koh SamuiKnown as the “alternative Thai island” to its more famous sibling Phuket, Koh Samui is an idyllic island paradise. Surrounded by palm-fringed beaches and blanketed with coconut plantations, this one-time backpackers’ nirvana is increasingly popular with a broader range of visitors seeking tranquility. Snorkel off Ko Tao Island and experience languid island life, or marvel at monkeys shaking off ripe coconuts and collecting them for their trainers.
KrabiKrabi's original identity as a small fishing and trading port can still be glimpsed by taking a stroll through the center of the old town. Here, hawkers and fishermen wheel and deal their daily wares over heated games of checkers. Today, though the province has grown into a world renowned resort destination, the local folk have lost none of their rustic charm, and are always ready to welcome visitors to the laid-back lifestyle of their home.
PhuketAlthough Phuket’s name is derived from the Malaysian word “Bukit,” meaning “mountain,” it is the island’s sheltered coves and long stretches of pristine beach that draw most visitors to its shores. The warm waters of the Andaman Sea beckon a plethora of water sports ranging from snorkeling to windsurfing, and yield the best seafood in Thailand. If you can tear yourself away from that perfect spot on the beach, go on a safari and explore Phuket’s lush jungles.