It's worth putting up with the coronary-inducing traffic jams, pollution, annual
floods and sticky weather to experience one of Asia's most exciting cities.
Bangkok has dominated Thailand's urban hierarchy, as well as its political,
commercial and cultural life, since the late 18th century.
Bangkok proper seethes on the east side of the Chao Phraya River and can be
divided into two by the main north-south train line. Old Bangkok glitters in the
portion between the river and the railway and it is here that most of the older
temples and the original palace are located. The new Bangkok is east of the
railway, covering many times more area than the old city. It incorporates the
main commercial and tourist districts, which give way to a vast residential
For a city of this size, Bangkok is surprisingly full of quiet escapes. Just
step out of the street noise and into the calm of one of the city's 400 wats
(temple-monasteries) or take a river taxi on the Chao Phraya River. Must sees
include Wat Phra Kaew and the Grand Palace, Wat Pho and Wat Traimit. This latter
is the Temple of the Golden Buddha, home to the impressive 3m tall, 5 1/2-tonne
solid-gold Buddha image. Silk entrepreneur Jim Thompson's House manages to avoid
being a touristy nightmare by virtue of the singular vision which created this
haven of traditional Thai art and architecture. An expert American, Thompson was
a tireless curator and promoter of Thai culture until his mysterious
disappearance in 1967.
Other sights include the touristy Wat Sai floating market in Thonburi, a boat
trip through the city's extensive and pongy network of canals (klongs), the
Saovabha Institute Snake Farm and the renowned Oriental Hotel .
Entertainment ranges from classical dance and Thai boxing to the unfortunate
go-go bars of Patpong. For alternative night entertainment, check out the night
markets behind Ratchaprarop Rd in Pratunam. Bangkok is a great place to shop if
you don't overdose on T-shirts and fake designer clothing. It's worth stocking
up on cheap clothes for your trip or getting smarter clothes for your wardrobe
Khao San Rd in Banglamphu is the traditional budget-traveller centre, but the
Sukhumvit Road area has a better selection of mid-range hotels. Banglamphu and
neighboring Thewet are the best spots for budget eating. If you want to go for a
city stroll and experience day-to-day Bangkok, head for Chinatown and Pahurat,
the busy Chinese and Indian market districts.
As might be expected from one of Asia's major transport hubs, getting to and
from Bangkok is harder to avoid than to engineer. All Thailand's major train and
bus routes terminate here and this is a good spot to shop around for local and
international travel bargains. Getting around Bangkok is a lead-lined lung and
sooty-booger affair, with none of the desperately needed schemes to alleviate
traffic congestion breaking out of air-conditioned boardrooms. River or canal
journeys are infinitely preferable to road transport but increasingly, tarmac is
the only option.
Bangkok's bus system is fairly easy to navigate, but its efficiency is hampered
by the snail's pace of traffic (a zippy 13km/h average during commuter hours).
Taxis are mostly metered and not too expensive, tuk-tuks (three-wheeled power
saws gone beserk) are not much cheaper but have the perilous advantage of being
able to weave in and out of choked traffic. Train is the best city-airport
connection, taking only half an hour as against up to three hours by bus or
Pattaya is 147 kilometers southeast of Bangkok, a comfortable 2-hour drive along
Highway No. 3 via Bang Na, Bang Pakong, Chon Buri and Siracha. Airconditioned
and non-airconditioned coaches regularly leave Bangkok's Eastern Bus Terminal,
at the mouth of Soi Ekkamai (Soi 63) on Sukhumvit Road, throughout the day.
Pattaya is one of Asia's premier beach resorts and annually attracts millions of
pleasure-seekers from all over the world. Pattaya's sunny world is synonymous
with pleasant beaches, every conceivable water sport from windsurfing to scuba
diving, alluring offshore coral islands, excellent accommodation lining the
resort's palm-fringed, crescent bay, superb seafood, a colourful, relaxing
tropical ambiance and, after sunset, all the magic and enchantment of an almost
For families, sportsmen and independent travelers, Pattaya offers all the
ingredients for a truly memorable holiday.
Golf: Bangphra, a 4-kilometre drive
from Km. 112 on Highway No. 3, and the Siam Country Club both offer challenging
18-hole courses within 30 minutes of Pattaya.
Horseback Riding: The Reo Park Ranch, 5 kilometers from Highway No. 3 along the
Siam Country Club road, offers daytime and enchanting moonlight trail rides on
thoroughbreds imported from Australia.
Motor / Motorcycle Racing: The 2.4 kilometer Pattaya Circuit, at Km. 14 on Route
36 to Rayong, regularly features exciting local and international races.
Tennis: Major hotels open their courts to non-guests. Some have resident local
professional who offer hourly instruction.
Pattaya Park: a water amusement park beside Chomthian Beach which features
colourful water slides and whirlpools, and where accommodation is available.
Pattaya Elephant Kraal: a daily afternoon show with broad popular appeal
features elephants bathing and exhibitions of obedience, strength and forestry
Nong Nooch Village: a 600-acre, artfully landscaped country features orchid
nurseries, an arts & crafts centre and a popular cultural show of folk dances,
traditional ceremonies and martial arts displays.
Thailand's second-largest city and the gateway to the country's north was
founded in 1296. You can still see the moat that encircled the original city,
and there are 300 wats, including Wat Chiang Man (home of the 1800-year-old
10-cm-high Crystal Buddha), Wat Phra Singh (built in the classic northern-Thai
style) and Wat Chedi Luang (partially ruined by earthquake, cannon fire and
recent restoration efforts). Doi Suthep, topped by one of Thailand's holiest
wats, rises 1676m to the west of the city providing a dramatic backdrop and,
should you venture up, fine views of the city.
Modern Chiang Mai is easily managed and very traveller-friendly. It's well known
for its restaurants and also has heaps of good guesthouses (although the hotel
'safes' are notoriously not). Compared to Bangkok, Chiang Mai's evenings are
cool and conducive to moseying around the central Night Bazaar. To get value
for money, bargain patiently but mercilessly; no less is expected of you. When
you're sick of honing your free-market warrior attitude, Chiang Mai is a good
base for mountain treks. Just about every guesthouse advertises treks to visit
the hill tribes who live in the surrounding area. You may want to think twice
about joining such an excursion if you have qualms about interrupting the
traditional patterns of life in hill-tribe areas. This part of Thailand is
considerably over-trekked and some hill-tribe villages have been turned into
little more than human zoos.
There are air links to Chiang Mai from eight Thai cities plus a handful of Asian
cities. Heaps of buses negotiate the 10 to 12-hour trip from Bangkok. Express
trains to Chiang Mai from Bangkok take between 12 and 13 hours.
Thailand's oldest beach resort, Hua Hin was established in 1920s and quickly
became popular with the country's social cognoscenti. The construction of a
single track railway line from Bangkok ensured its accessibility and popularity
with a wider section of the population.
But it was the resort's royal connection which has given Hua Hin a special
character of its very own.
In the early 20th century, King Rama VII built a summer place at the resort, and
shortly after, in 1928, King Rama VII built his Klai Kangwon (Far From Worries)
Palace which remains until this today as an official royal residence.
Hua Hin continued to develop in its own leisurely way, both as a genteel resort
with the added attraction of an 18-hole golf course, and as a fishing port,
built essentially on wooden piers. The colonial style Railway Hotel, built by
the State Railways of Thailand in 1923, set the mode and unique atmosphere which
was to characterize Hua Hin for the next several decades.
Many regular visitors built their own beachfront summer homes to the south along
the curving sandy bay, enjoying leisurely family weekends in a resort which had
maintained its unique identity.
Ideal as a family resort and a haven of gentled relaxation for the traveler who
enjoys a more traditional holidaying style, Hua Hin and its environs offer all
the expected seaside activities and lots more besides.
On the western side of the Gulf of Thailand, Hua Hin is a comfortable 3 hour
journey by road from Bangkok. The resort can of course, also be reached by
leisurely rail trip or by an even short shorter flight to Hua Hin airport.
Once there by whatever means, -the visitor is ready to make the best of high
days and holidays with a difference. First opened in 1924, the 18-hole Royal Hua
Hin Golf Course is the oldest public course in the country, and today still
provides a challenging and entertainment test for local and visiting players.
Out of town, a short distance of Pran Buri is Khao Sam Roi Yot (mountain of 300
Peaks) National Park. Covering an area of over 90 square kilometers, the park
provides a sanctuary for numerous species of birds and a variety of animals.
Among them are mountain goats known as serow, porcupines and monkeys.
Kaeng Krachan Dam and National Park which extends to the Burmese border some 40
kilometers west of Petchburi, is Thailand's largest national park, covering an
area of almost 3000 sq km. The reservoir of the dam is dotted with wooded
islands with caves, rivers, grasslands, forest, mountains and waterfalls, all to
be found in the park itself.
A waterfall not to be missed is Pa La-u, a spectacular series of cascading falls
in a truly jungle setting. Trekking to the top of these beautiful falls is
possible but demands careful planning, an experienced guide, a few days to
spare, and not least, a great deal of energy. Karen villages are also to be seen
Visitors to any of the national parks areas should be aware of the presence of
large numbers of mosquitoes and are well advised to take the necessary
Luxuriantly verdant, Phuket is Thailand's largest island (approximately the size
of Singapore) and nestles against the Indian Ocean Coast some 870 kilometers
south of Phuket derives its wealth from tin and rubber, is blessed with teeming
marine life, and has enjoyed a rich and colourful history - the island's most
famous landmark is the memorial statue of the heroines Thao Thep Kasattri and
Thao Sisunthon who rallied islanders in 1785 to repel Burmese invaders.
Phuket is blessed with magnificent coves and bays, powdery, palm- fringed white
beaches, sparkling island-dotted seas, sincerely hospitable people, comfortable
accommodation, superb seafood, lushly forested mountains, lovely waterfalls and
parks, and delightful turn-of -the-century Indo / Portuguese and
Chinese-influenced architecture which create an enchanting ambiance perfectly
suited to total relaxation.
Indeed, Phuket is a major resort of international stature, possessing everything
necessary for a truly memorable holiday.
Phuket's glory is its magnificent coastline. Beaches range from gentle crescents
of white sand with calm waters to rocky headlands pounded by raging surf.
Secluded coves lie hidden among densely forested headlands tumbling around white
beaches. In several such places, visitors can feel years away from civilization.
Phuket's Indian Ocean coastline boasts the finest beaches while the eastern
coastline overlooks some 30 lesser islands occupying largely tranquil seas.
Islands vary greatly size, some are large enough to sustain fishing communities,
coconut plantations, deer and wild boar. Others are little larger than massive
rocks. Others again resemble fortresses, are riddled with caves containing the
birds' nests prized by gourmets.
Counterclockwise from Phuket's northern tip, the island's major beaches, temples
and botanical parks are as following:
The pine-lined Mai Khao Beach (34 kilometers
from town) is Phuket's longest beach, site between November and February each
year, where gigantic sea turtle struggle ashore to lay theirs eggs.
Nai Yang Beach , to the south (30
kilometers from town) forms part of National Park and is peaceful, excellent for
swimming and relaxation. Inland from Nai Yang Beach is Wat Phra Thong where a
famous partially-buried Buddha is enshrined. Further east, (20 kilometers from
town), the beautiful Ton Sai Waterfall Forest Park and Khao Phra Thaeo Wildlife
Park have innumerable birds, wild boars and monkeys to enliven botanical beauty
cooled by sonorous cascades.
Further south, Pansea Bay,
Surin Beach (24 kilometers from town),
Sing Cape and Kamala Beach unfold in rapid succession. A public 9-hole golf
course fronts Surin Beach where swimming is not recommended due to powerful surf
and a treacherous undertow. The northern end of Kamala Beach is suitable for
Patong Beach (20 kilometers from
town) is Phuket's most developed beach. Cabin and bungalow complexes, hotels,
bars, nightclubs, discotheques, shop and restaurants front the crescent bay.
Windsurfing, snorkeling, sailing, sunbathing and swimming number among major
Karon (20 kilometers from town) and
Kata (17 kilometers from town) are
the next major beaches. Both are long, largely peaceful and eminently suitable
for swimming, windsurfing, sailing, snorkeling and sunbathing. Kata is partially
fronted by Club Mediterranean Complex. Nearing Phuket's southernmost point, the
white Nai Han Beach (18 kilometers from town) fronts a shallow lagoon between
steep headlands. Swimming, windsurfing, sailing, sunbathing and snorkeling are
The nearby Promthep Cape marks Phuket's
southernmost point is the perfect place from which to view spectacular sunsets.
To the east, the palm-fringed Rawai Beach
(17 kilometers from town) hosts Phuket's best known 'sea gypsies'. several
offshore islands have gleaming white beaches, and dazzling underwater scenery
that attracts dedicated fishermen and scuba-divers.
To the northeast, Chalong Bay (11 kilometers
from town) extends in a broad sweep and, a few kilometers inland, Wat Chalong
enshrines statues of Luang Pho Chaem and Luang Pho Chuang, Phuket's most revered
Finally, on the southernmost tip of Phanwa Cape
(10 kilometers from town) is a Marine Biological Research Centre and Phuket's
Aquarium which displays several hundred exotic, grotesque and flamboyantly
colourful marine species found mostly in Phuket's teeming waters.
This beautiful island off south-eastern Thailand is covered with coconut
plantations and circled by (call us clichéd but it's true) palm-fringed beaches.
It was once an 'untouched' backpackers' mecca, but is now well on its way to
becoming a fully-fledged tourist resort. Coconuts are still the mainstay of the
local economy, however, and up to two million of them are shipped to Bangkok
The most popular beaches are Hat Chaweng and Hat Lamai: both have good swimming
and snorkeling but are getting a little crowded. For more peace and quiet, try
Mae Nam, Bo Phut and Big Buddha on the northern coast. The main town on the
island is Na Thon.
Most of the beaches have plenty of rustic, thatched-roofed bungalows but
accommodation can still be hard to secure in the high seasons between December
and February and July and August. The best time to visit is during the hot and
dry season between February and June. There are flights from Bangkok to the
island's Don Sak Airport. Several ferry and jetboat companies operate from Surat
Thani: express boats take two and a half hours and jet boats take one and a half
hours. Local transport comprises songthaews (trucks with two rows of seats in
the back), though several places hire motorcycles.
Either on your outward or return journey, it is worthwhile to spend a little
time in Surat Thani, the mainland hopping-off point for Ko Samui. this bustling
fishing and shipbuilding centre is picturesquely located and has a distinct
charm. A casual stroll around town or a canal tour on the Tapi river are
rewarding for the glimpses they give of southern culture. Surat Thani is also a
famous for its oyster farms, harvesting a giant species of the mollusk.
More specifically for the serious sightseer, Chaiya , about a 45-minutes drive
north of the town, is a major historical site. Its importance stems from the
fact that some scholars contend that it was here that the ancient
Srivijayakingdom had its capital.
Whatever the merits of the claim and despite the fact that little remains to
attest to the glories of Srivijaya, Chaiya does boast some ancient temples of
note. Wat Phra Boromathat Chaiya, a highly revered temple, has a Chedi believed
to be more than 1,300 years old, while Wat Wiang, Wat Long and Wat Kaeo are also
A few kilometers west of Chaiya is Wat Suan Mok, "Monastery of Flowing Water"
which is a tranquil meditation centre for both Thais and foreigners set amid a
peaceful natural park.
The picturesque Khao Sok National Park , about 100 kilometers west of Surat
Thani, is another notable attraction. The are is rich in flora and fauna and
basic bungalow accommodation is available. Alternatively, there is a "tree-top"
guesthouse near by.
Ko Samui's northern neighbour, Ko Pha-Ngan , is more tranquil, and has equally
good beaches and fine snorkelling. Its renowned beach parties at Hat Rin are
popular with backpackers, though not with the local police. The island is a
half-hour boat ride from Ko Samui.
The 16th-18th century temple ruins at Ayuthaya, 86km north of Bangkok, date from
the most flourishing period of Thai history. Ayuthaya was the Thai capital from
1350, and 33 kings of various Siamese dynasties reigned here until the city was
conquered by the Burmese in 1767. The old capital was, by all accounts, a
splendid city which was courted by Dutch, Portuguese, French, English, Chinese
and Japanese merchants. By the end of the 17th century, Ayuthaya's population
had reached one million and virtually all visiting foreigners claimed it to be
the most illustrious city they had ever seen.
Ayuthaya's scattered temples and ruins have been declared a World Heritage Site.
The forbidding list includes the 14th century Wat Phra Si Sanphet, the largest
in Ayuthaya in its time, which once contained a 16m standing Buddha that was
covered in 250 kg of gold. Unfortunately the Burmese conquerors felt obliged to
melt it down. The 16th-century, fortress-like Wat Phra Meru escaped destruction
in 1767 and boasts an impressive carved wooden ceiling, a splendid Ayuthaya-era
6m high crowned sitting Buddha, and a 1300-year-old green-stone Buddha from
Ceylon, posed European-style in a chair.
Wat Phra Chao Phanan Choeng was built in the early 14th century, possibly by
Khmers, before Ayuthaya became the Siamese capital. It contains a highly revered
19m Buddha image from which the wat derives its name. A restored Elephant Kraal
brings relief for those tired of temple-trudging. The huge wooden stockade,
built from teak logs planted in the ground at 45 degree angles, was once used
during the annual round-up of wild elephants. The king had a special raised
pavilion built so that he could watch the thrilling event.
There are frequent buses to Ayuthaya from Bangkok's northern terminal during the
day. They take around two hours. Trains are slightly faster and leave frequently
from Bangkok's Hualamphong railway station.
Although Sukhothai was Thailand's fist capital, it only lasted a little over 100
years from its foundation in 1257 before being superseded by Ayuthaya in 1379.
But if its period of glory was short, its achievements in art, literature,
language and law, apart from the more visible evidence of great buildings, was
enormous. In general, the ruins visible today at Sukhothai and other cities of
the kingdom, like Kamphaeng Phet and Si Satchanalai, are more appealing than
Ayuthaya because they are less urbanised and further off the beaten track.
Orientation & Information
Old Sukhothai, known as Meuang Kao, is spread over quite an area. New Sukhothai
is 12km from the old town and has a good market, but otherwise it's an
uninteresting place. Sukhothai is 55km east of the Bangkok to Chiang Mai road
from Tak. A map, available at the old town entrance, is essential for exploring
the scattered ruins. The ruins are divided into five zones and there is a 20B
admission free into each zone. Bicycles can be hired to get around.
Ramkhamhaeng National Museum
This museum provides an introduction to Sukhothai history and culture, and is a
good place to begin your explorations. They also sell printed guides to the
ruins here. It's open daily from 9 am to 4 pm and admission is 20B.
This vast assemblage, the largest in the city, once contained 198 chedis, as
well as various chapels and sanctuaries. Some of the original Buddha images
remain, including a big one among the broken columns. A large, ornamented pond
gives fine reflections.
Wat Si Chum
A massive seated Buddha figure is tightly squeezed into this open, walled
building. A narrow tunnel inside the wall leads to views over the Buddha's
shoulders and on to the top. Candle-clutching kids used to guide you up and
point out the 'Buddha foot' on the way, but the tunnel has been closed to
visitors in recent years.
The Wat Si Sawai has three prang and a moat and was originally intended as a
Hindu temple. It's just south of Wat Mahathat.
Wat Sa Si is a classically simple Sukhothai-style wat set on an island.
Wat Trapang Thong, next to the museum, is reached by the foot-bridge crossing
the large, lotus-filled pond which surrounds it. It is still in use.
Somewhat isolated to the north of the city, Wat Phra Pai Luang is similar in
style to Wat Si Sawai.
Wat Chang Lom is to the east; the chedi is surrounded by 36 elephants.
Wat Saphan Hin is a couple of kilometers west of the old city walls on a
hillside and features a large Buddha looking back to Sukhothai.