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THAILAND

Thailand is a country in Southeast Asia with coasts on the Andaman Sea and the Gulf of Thailand. It borders Myanmar (Burma) to the northwest, Laos to the northeast, Cambodia to the southeast and Malaysia to the south. With great food, a tropical climate, fascinating culture, majestic mountains and great beaches, Thailand is a magnet for travellers the world over.

Bangkok is at the start of many visitors' itineraries and while a modern city, it has a rich cultural heritage. Most visitors at least take in the Grand Palace, a collection of highly decorated buildings and monuments. It is home to Wat Phra Kaew, the most sacred Buddhist temple in Thailand that houses the Emerald Buddha. Other cultural attractions include Wat Pho, Wat Arun and Jim Thompson's House but these are just a fraction of possible sites you could visit. The former capitals of Siam, Ayutthaya and Sukhothai, make excellent stops for those interested in Thai history. The latter could be combined with a visit to Si Satchanalai and Kamphaeng Phet, all of which are UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Khmer architecture is mostly found in Isaan, with the historical remains of Phimai and Phanom Rung being the most significant. For those interested in recent history, Kanchanaburi has a lot of sights related to World War II. The Bridge over the River Kwai, popularised by the film of the same name, is the most famous one but the museums in its vicinity are a lot more moving.

Thailand's beaches and islands attract millions of visitors each year from all over the globe. Hua Hin is Thailand's oldest beach resort, discovered in the 1920s as an ideal getaway from Bangkok. While Pattaya, Phuket and Ko Samui were only discovered in the 1970s, these are now by far the most developed beach resorts. The Chumphon Archipelago has a great selection of islands from touristic to unspoilt. Using Chumphon as a gateway, the islands of Ko Tao, Ko Nang Yuan, Ko Phangan and Ko Samui can be reached by high speed catamaran. The archipelago also includes two marine national parks, Mu Ko National Park and Ang Thong National Marine Park.

Krabi Province has some beautiful spots including Ao Nang, Rai Leh and the long golden beaches of Ko Lanta. Ko Phi Phi, renowned as a true paradise island, has been undergoing massive development since the release of the film The Beach in 2000. Ko Pha Ngan gives the best of both worlds with well-developed beaches and empty ones a short ride away.

Ko Chang is a bit like Ko Samui used to be, it has a backpacker vibe, but is fairly laid-back and there is accommodation in all price ranges. If you're looking for unspoiled beaches, Ko Kut is very thinly populated but also difficult to explore. Ko Samet is the closest island beach to Bangkok but its northern beaches are quite developed and hotels are full on weekends and public holidays.

A Thai speciality are the night markets found in almost every town, the largest and best-known of which are in Bangkok and the Night Bazaar in Chiang Mai. Here, a variety of vendors from designers to handicraft sellers have stalls selling goods which cannot normally be found in malls and day markets. Not to be left out is what is often touted as the world's biggest weekend bazaar, The Chatuchak Weekend Market or known to locals simply as "JJ" Market. Chatuchak sells a myriad of products ranging from clothes to antiques. If you prefer a luxurious shopping experience, you should go visit the Siam Paragon.

Thai cuisine is characterized by balance and strong flavors, especially lime juice, lemongrass and fresh coriander, the combination of which gives Thai food its distinctive taste. In addition, Thai food has a deserved reputation for being spicy. The line between soups and curries is a little fuzzy and many dishes the Thais call curries would be soups to an Indian. Tom yam goong is the quintessential Thai dish, a spicy, sour soup with prawns, lemongrass and galangal.

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