Thailand is often referred to as a golden land, not because there is precious metal buried underground but because the country gives off a certain lustre, be it the fertile rice fields of the central plains, white sandy beaches or the warm hospitality of its citizenry.
Thailand's cool season runs from November until the end of February. With its low humidity, relatively low temperatures and clear skies, the cool season is the best time to visit, though regular days of high 20s and low 30s might leave you wondering just who came up with the term ‘cool’. It is also the peak tourist season, so expect lots of new friends at the more popular spots like the islands and major towns.
First introductions are made in Bangkok, a modern behemoth of screaming traffic, gleaming shopping centres and international sensibilities interwoven with devout Buddhism. Chiang Mai, the country's bohemian centre, is where the unique and precise elements of Thai culture become a classroom, for cooking courses and language lessons; while climbing into the mountain ranges around Mae Hong Son you'll find stupa-studded peaks and villages of post-Stone Age cultures.
Sliding down the coastal tail are the evergreen limestone islands of Ko Tao and Kho Phi Phi Don, filled with tall palms angling over pearlescent sand. Thailand's beaches are stunning, hedonistic and mythic among residents of northern latitudes.
People come here as miners: first perhaps for the uniquely Western concept of R&R. And while they toast themselves to a bronze hue on the sandy beaches, they find in the daily rhythm of Thailand a tranquillity that isn't confined to vacation time. The northeast is a region better suited for homestays and teaching gigs than quick souvenir snapshots: here, you can dive deep into the Thai psyche, emerging with a tolerance for searingly spicy food and a mastery of this strange tonal language. Welcome to a life-altering experience disguised as a holiday.
Mainland Thai culture is heavily influenced by Buddhism. However, unlike the Buddhist countries of East Asia, Thailand's Buddhists follow the Therevada school, which is arguably closer to its Indian roots and places a heavier emphasis on monasticism. Thai temples known as wats, resplendent with gold and easily identifiable with their ornate, multicolored, pointy roofs are ubiquitous and becoming an orange-robed monk for a short period, typically the three-month rainy season, is a common rite of passage for young Thai boys and men.
The tourism infrastructure is well developed in Southeast Asia and particularly Thailand, however this doesn’t mean that you have to fight the crowds to snap a picture and walk away. Thailand is a magical place where you can just as easily get off the beaten trail and find special places where you will be welcomed with a smile.
Thailand has become a huge holiday destination for Australians and Europeans as well as budget travelers looking to have some cheap fun in the islands. Bangkok offers some of the world’s best and lowest-priced dental work along with excellent shopping and the crazy buzz of a large Asian city.
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