Thailand: Land of the Free

March 18, 2017 Staff Writer

A hop, skip, and a jump away from the Philippines is the Kingdom of Thailand, a magnet for people who are looking for great food, a tropical climate, fascinating culture, awesome mountains, and enchanting beaches. While this may sound very much like what Guam offers, there’s more to be seen, tasted, and experienced in this Southeast Asian country that was the most visited place in the region in 2013, according to the World Tourism Organization.

Bordered to the north by Myanmar and Laos, to the east by Laos and Cambodia, to the south by the Gulf of Thailand and Malaysia, and to the west by the Andaman Sea and Myanmar’s southern extremity, Thailand was previously known by outsiders as Siam (from which the term “Siamese twins” originated, thanks to the most famous conjoined twins Chang and Eng Bunker who were born in Bangkok), which was its official name until June 1939 when it was changed to Thailand. 

Curiously, the country was renamed Siam from 1945 to 1949 before it reverted to Thailand. It also holds the distinction of being the only Southeast Asian nation to never have been colonized although it did lose a large territory east of the Mekong to the French.

Thailand is known foremost for its cuisine that makes much use of fresh herbs and spices, as well as for its Thai massage and its locally developed combat sport of Muay Thai. While most tourists flock to its famous capital and largest city of Bangkok, the beaches, islands, and forested mountains found in other parts of the country have started to attract visitors as well, as they offer adventure travel, trekking, diving, archeological sites, nightlife, museums, hill tribes, flora and bird life, Buddhist temples, and many World Heritage spots.

 

Here are some of the best things that await travelers to Thailand:

 

Grand Palace

Arguably Bangkok’s most famous destination, this is a series of gold-tipped buildings that are more than 200 years old. It has been the official residence of the kings of Siam since 1782. While there, don’t miss the Emerald Buddha and the nearby Wat Pho where you can find the largest reclining Buddha in Thailand. There’s also the Wat Arun, or the Temple of Dawn with its intriguing mosaic detailing.

 

Golden Triangle

It’s the point where two rivers—Mekong and Ruak—meet, as well as the three countries of Burma/Myanmar, Laos, and Thailand. Once an opium-growing area, it is now dotted with market stalls, and statues of Buddha and elephants. And indeed, there’s a Hall of Opium that shows the history and effects of the industry.

 

Elephant Nature Park

The park is where they rehabilitate rescue elephants, and where you can find Elephant Hills, a tented camp where you can interact with the pachyderms.

 

Lots of Islands

 

Hire a long-tail boat to discover beaches and islands. The famous limestone rocks at Phang Nga Bay are a photographer’s dream, while white-sand beaches and awesome snorkeling spots can be found on Ko Phi Phi Lee and Ko Phi Phi Don.

 

Floating Markets

You must have seen them on postcards, now’s the time to experience them first-hand, those wooden boats brimming with colorful goods and local produce. There are several floating markets in Thailand, but the most famous is Damnoen Saduak in Ratchaburi. Bangkok has one too, the Taling Chan weekend floating market.

 

Bridge on the River Kwai

Yes, it’s not just a classic movie, but is actually a relic from World War II found on Kanchanaburi province. It’s part of the infamous Death Railway built by the Empire of Japan in 1943 through forced labor to support its Burma campaign during the war.

 

National Parks and Ancient Ruins

These offer great hiking and biking trails, as well as historical spots that will delight most everyone. Some of the most popular are Doi Inthanon National Park where Thailand’s highest peak is located, Khao Yai National Park, which is one of Asia’s largest monsoon forests, Sai Yok National Park where several waterfalls, caves, and rare animals can be found. Twelfth-century ruins can be found at both Phimai and Phanom Rung historical parks.

 

And Of Course, Shopping!

Thailand may be the reason why the expression “Shop ‘til you drop!” was invented. At every turn, there is a street stall or a bustling market offering bargain-priced items, from food to clothes, local handicrafts, silk, pottery, and everything in between. Bangkok alone is home to several must-not-miss markets if you are on the lookout for great bargains, like Chatuchak (JJ Mall), Weekend Market, and Asiatique Night Market. Northern Thailand has Chiang Mai Night Bazaar and Wualai Walking Street Saturday Market. There’s also a popular night market in Korat and Khao Yao in Nahon Ratchasima.


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