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Go Beyond Bangkok To See The Real Thailand

Go Beyond Bangkok To See The Real Thailand

Paul Myers

September 22nd, 2013


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Sixteen million or 73 percent of the expected 22 million people who visit Thailand this year will spend more than one night in Bangkok.

The Thai capital – now the most visited city in the world ahead of London, New York and Paris according to the 2013 MasterCard Global Cities Destination Index – may have the X factor for nightlife, shopping, culture and value for money.

But just as New York City isn’t necessarily representative of America and what you see in Beijing or Tokyo doesn’t tell you everything about China or Japan, neither is Bangkok the only destination worth visiting in Thailand.

Unlike many famous international cities, there is a plethora of attractions within a two or three-hour drive of Bangkok, making it logical – and simple – to venture beyond the bustling metropolis. Indeed, Bangkok is so different to Thailand’s tourism hotspots of Phuket, Hua Hin, Koh Samui, Pattaya and Chiang Mai and its historically important cities of Ayyuthaya, Sukhothai and Kanchanaburi, it could well be in another country.

Thailand’s famous islands of Phuket and Koh Samui and seaside villages of Hua Hin and Krabi are among the most idyllic tropical coastal locations in Asia.
Here you experience ambience, peace and relative isolation that seem light years away from the intensity of the Thai capital, with accommodation options ranging from exclusive five-star resorts to low-cost basic beachside huts and cottages. Diving, snorkeling, sailing and just plain lazing about are de rigeur, with food and cultural attractions to match.

Phuket, Thailand’s largest island, has been a tourism magnet for more than 25 years. Although severely affected by the 2004 tsunami that swamped its western shore, the island and tourism economy has bounded back, with more than 7.5 million visitors now travelling to the island each year.

Although the tourism centre of Patong is often busy with people and tuk-tuks, it’s easy to find seclusion on this large, mountainous island. The favoured western shore facing the Andaman Sea has spectacular sunsets and many beautiful bays and inlets for water activities.

Krabi has Thailand’s oldest known continual human habitation, dating more than 25,000 years. Its beaches are regarded as among Thailand’s best.

Koh Samui, the country’s second largest island after Phuket, is located off the east coast of the Kra Isthmus (the opposite side to Phuket) and is more laid back than its more famous sibling. This is no more apparent than its quaint open island-style airport terminal that welcomes more than 600,000 visitors a year. Formerly a source of coconuts and rubber, tourism is now by far Koh Samui’s major focus.

Hua Hin, 200km south of Bangkok, has become a popular “escape” city from the capital. In fact, the Thai Royal family started this trend in 1926 when King Prajadhipok (Rama V11) established a holiday retreat there. Ever since, the town has had a special place among Thai people and, more recently, among foreigners, many of who spend the whole northern hemisphere winter there.

The town’s quaint narrow streets have a huge and enticing selection of shops and restaurants, while the city beach is one of the best in Thailand.
Hua Hin’s near northern neighbour, the town of Cha-am, has also become a tourism hotspot with resorts and hotels springing up along its beachfront.

If nightlife, 24-hour action, food and golf are on your agenda, Pattaya is the place to head. Just 90 minutes’ drive from Suvarnabhumi International airport and two hours from the city itself, Pattaya is a throbbing metropolis that attracts hedonists, party-goers and golf nuts from all over the world.

The city’s famous Walking Street is just one of many “must-see” highlights, while more than 20 golf courses in close proximity to the city ensure golfers have more choices of top courses to play than anywhere else in the kingdom.

Ayyuthaya, an hour’s drive of Bangkok, is one of the most culturally important cities in Thailand, and is sometimes known as the “Venice of the East”.
Founded in 1350 by King U Thong who proclaimed it capital of his kingdom, Ayutthaya became the second Siamese capital after Sukhothai, further north. Remnants of ancient towers and monasteries provide an indication of its past splendour.
Now a UNESCO World Heritage site, Ayyuthaya was one of the world’s largest cities in the early 18th century, with more than a million inhabitants. In 1767, it was destroyed by the Burmese army, causing the collapse of the Kingdom of Siam. An historical park contains the ruins of the former city.

Kanchanaburi, 130km north-west of Bangkok, is a special place for many foreign visitors to Thailand. In 1942 during World War 11, the town came under Japanese control and earned infamy as the starting point of the Burma Railway, a 424km stretch of line built through the mountains that claimed the lives of 80,000 to 100,000 Asian forced labourers and Allied prisoners-of-war.

The tragedy of the period was immortalised in the 1957 movie, Bridge on the River Kwai, which won seven Academy Awards. The real bridge is located in Kanchanburi and is a popular tourist attraction. There are two museums and a memorial in town and the city is also home to the Kanchanaburi War Cemetery where almost 7000 Allied and Dutch soldiers are buried.

Chiangmai or “new city”, located 700km north of Bangkok, is the largest and most culturally significant city in northern Thailand. It became the capital of Chiangmai province when founded by King Mangrai in 1296.

Situated on the banks of the Ping River with parts of a 700-year-old city wall still intact, it has become a popular starting point for visitors to the so-called Golden Triangle where the borders of Thailand, Laos and Burma meet.
Chiangmai, among Trip Advsior’s 25 Best destinations in the World, has a huge range of temples, craft shops, restaurants, markets and other attractions to keep visitors entranced for several days.

An hour’s drive further north, Chiangrai is the northern-most city in Thailand. It was established as a capital in 1262, before being supplanted by Chiangmai. It was later conquered by Burma and remained under its control until 1786, finally becoming a province of Thailand in 1933.

In 1432, the Phra Kaeo, or Emerald Buddha, was discovered in Chiangrai after an earthquake. Today, Chiangrai serves as an entry point for adventures in northern Thailand, including visiting hill tribes that still live and dress as they have for hundreds of years.

Just two hours north-east of Bangkok by road, Khao Yai is the site of Thailand’s first national park. Now the second largest national park in Thailand and, with the surrounding Dong Phaya Yen mountains, a UNESCO World Heritage site, Khao Yai’s mountain scenery, peace and isolation is a welcome respite from the city, especially for visitors seeking a non-coastal environment.

So by all means make a beeline for Bangkok and experience the wonderful shopping, entertainment, history and culture the capital offers, but take time also to venture afield and experience the real Thailand that may not be so apparent in the confines of a 10-million plus metropolis.

Some recommended places to stay outside Bangkok:
Hua Hin/Cha’am
Hilton Hua Hin Resort and Spa
Veranda Resort & Spa
Banyan – The Resort
The Chedi Chiangmai
Veranda Resort & Spa

Hilton Pattaya

Hilton Phuket Arcadia Resort & Spa

In Bangkok:
Millennium Hilton Bangkok Hotel
Royal Orchid Sheraton Hotel & Towers
The St Regis, Bangkok

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