Many people head straight to the South of Thailand and spend the rest of their stay enjoying all that this beautiful region has to offer. There are 14 provinces in all and each offers something different, to the highly popular and crowded areas in Phuket and Krabi to the much quieter, less visited areas of Songkla and Yala near the border with Malaysia.
Although areas of the west coast of Thailand were badly affected by the Indian Ocean tsunami of December 2004, all infrastructure has long since been repaired thanks to the hard work of local and international volunteers. Perhaps the most effected area was Koh Phi Phi, and people still wanting to make a contribution can do so through the Children of Phi Phi Island foundation www.childrenofphiphi.com.
Many people tend to avoid the very south of Thailand, scared off by the stories of bombing and murders. The trouble started in 2004, when a long resentment in the southern-most Muslim-majority provinces burst into violence in Narathiwat, Pattani and Yala provinces. However, this all took place well off the beaten tourist trail, and few visitors were affected.
The Songkla Province town of Hat Yai has also been hit by a series of related bombings, although none of the islands or the west coast beaches have been targeted.
In September 2006, three foreigners were killed in Hat Yai bomb blasts. Some rebel groups have threatened foreigners, but no westerners have been directly singled out for attacks and generally the south of Thailand is still a safe place to travel.
There are 19 provinces in Central Thailand, of which most are widely visited by tourists and international travelers. Perhaps the most well known province is Kanchanaburi, famous for the Bridge over the River Kwai, tiger temple and stunning natural scenery such as the Erawan National Park.
There are also several beautiful beaches in Central Thailand, and Hua Hin should not be missed, especially during the Jazz Festival, when thousands of people flock to the beaches to listen to some of the best jazz music from around the world.
Dotted around the region are some enchanting islands and especially worth visiting is the pleasant beach area of Cha-am, which is just a two hour bus journey from Bangkok. However, the island is very popular with Thai people and can become very crowded on the weekends and during major holidays.
whilst lovers of history will find their heart's desire amongst the interesting ruins of the Ayutthaya Historical Park and Nakhon Pathom, which is Thailand's oldest city and features the largest stupa in the world.
Generally speaking, travel within Central Thailand is undemanding as there is a good road and rail network. Catering to tourist tastes and taste buds, this is a good region in which to take it easy and acclimatize to Thailand.
This is also evident in the picturesque island of Penang, where each ethnic group has its own area situated alongside the other. Loud Bollywood music and the rich smells of curry drifts from shop fronts in the Indian section, while a few streets away the roads are strung with colourful Chinese lanterns and a number of large Chinese temples sit at the side of the street.
Northern Malaysia is a good place to fall in love with the culture and history of Malaysia before heading to other regions to discover its natural beauty. However, there are also a number of pretty beaches to soak up the sun in northern Malaysia such as the modest stretch of sand on Penang and the popular beach resort of Langkawi, which is referred to as the land where one’s dreams come true.
Most visitors to Labuan simply stake out a place on the sand and lay back to catch the sun’s rays. However, there are plenty of things to see and do for those who can be bothered to tear themselves away from the golden sand and cool, clear waters.
Labuan Bird Park is located towards the island’s northern tip. Here you will discover a colourful collection of our feathered friends as you wander through the tunnels that connect the large aviaries. Another popular attraction is the Labuan Marine Park, where visitors are encouraged to take aboat tour to see the picturesque deserted islands known as Pulau Kuraman, Pulau Rusukan Kecil and Pulau Rusukan Besar.
The Labuan Museum is a good place to find out about the island’s interesting history and culture. Full of artifacts and colourful displays, the museum attempts to bring Labuan’s history to life. A great way to explore Labuan is to hire a bicycle and simple cycle around, pausing to take in the spectacular views of the South China Sea.
Returning to the beach, Labuan is a great place for those who enjoy water sports. Diving is popular as there are a number of wreck sites to explore and some stunning coral. Many people come to Labuan to enjoy the world class deep sea fishing opportunities, while swimming and snorkelling are always rewarding.
Evenings are pleasant on Labuan. Stroll along the shore as the sun sets and enjoy fresh barbecued fish, perhaps washed down with a beer or two.
Getting to Labuan is relatively easy as there are regular ferries from Brunei, Kota Kinabalu, Limbang, Spitang and Lawas. There are also daily flights from the capital city of Kuala Lumpur, making this the perfect place to retreat from the hustle and bustle of the big city.
One of the most enchanting activities here involves wandering along the banks of the gently flowing Sarawak River. A large number of interesting buildings can be found close to the river, including historical houses, shops and temples, and one of the highlights here is the large and lovely Fort Margherita, which was constructed by Charles Brooke in 1879 as a tribute to his beloved wife Rani Margaret. A number of ferries also offer to take visitors across the river for a few Ringgit, and this is a great way to view the area.
Those who want to relax and unwind for a while can spend time wandering in the picturesque gardens of Kuchin, which can be found in abundance. Those who enjoy temple hopping will also be in their element here, and one of the most enchanting places of worship here is the Hong Saan Temple, while culture vultures will want to make sure that they check out the Sarawak Museum and Islamic Museum.
Stargazers can pay a visit to Kuchin’s Planetarium, which was the first ever to be built in Malaysia, while those who like to shop until they drop will want to check out the wide range of goodies that can be found at the weekend market, which is known locally as Pasar Minggu.
Malaysia has a tropical climate, with a hot summer and intense rainy season. With forest and mountain ranges running through the country from north to south, there are mangrove swamps and mudflats on the west coast, which separate into bays and inlets. There are a number of beautiful beaches on the west coast as well as dense forests to explore.
Malaysia’s modern history dates back to the 2nd century AD, when there were a collection of up to 30 separate Malay kingdoms. The Malay kingdoms gained power and riches as costal city ports, which were established in the 10th century. Originally Hindu or Buddhist states, Islamic found a place in Malaysia in the 14th century.
The Sultanate of Malacca was established at the start of the 15th century by prince Parameswara, from Palembang, who fled to the area from what is now known as Singapore. Prince Parameswara turned Malacca into an important trading port, putting Malaysia firmly on the map. However, Malacca was conquered by Portugal in 1511 and a Portuguese colony was established there.
In 1786 Britain established a colony in the Malay Peninsula, with the British East India Company leasing the island of Penang from the Sultan of Kedah. The Anglo-Dutch Treaty was signed in 1824, which divided the Malaya archipelago between Britain and the Netherlands.
Although there were Malaysian figureheads, the British mostly ruled Malaysia until the Japanese occupation during WWII. The Federation of Malaya was established in 1948, which reinstated the independence of the rulers of the Malay states under British protection.
From 1948 to 1960 the Communist Party of Malaya embarked on a guerrilla campaign known as the Malayan Emergency from 1948 to 1960 to force the British out of Malaya. Independence for the Federation within the Commonwealth was finally granted on 31 August 1957, and the Federation was renamed Malaysia in 1963.
At first there was much fighting with Indonesia over boundary lines, culmination in the racial riots of 1969. The New Economic Policy was established to restore peace to the country and since then Malaysia’s various ethnic groups have lived more or less in harmony.
These days Malaysia’s economic and social structures are good and the country’s affluence can be seen in modern structures such as Kuala Lumpur’s Petronas Twin Towers and the Sepang F1 Circuit.
With a tropical climate, Laos is a country of stunning natural beauty. The southern most part tends to be the hottest and here you will find a variety of pretty islands. The centre of Laos is covered with dense forests, while there are dramatic mountains to the north.
Laos’ past is somewhat turbulent and the country has suffered greatly from the effects of war and poverty. The people of Laos originated from Thailand and it can be observed that the culture of Laos has a lot in common with that of Thailand. It was also formerly a French-Indochinese state and you will still find French influences as well as traces of the Vietnamese and Khmer cultures.
After centuries of invasion from neighbouring countries, Laos took a severe beating during the French Indo-China war and again during World War II. Laos finally gained full independence from France under the reign of King Sisavang Vong in 1953, although peace still did not follow as the monarchy was opposed by the Laotian Patriotic Front. Years of warring followed, with the LPF forming an alliance with the group that would become the Viet Cong.
Finally, after years of instability cultural and bilateral trade agreements were signed with China in December 1987 and the political situation began to improve. Relations were improved with neighbouring countries and the west and the king retired in 1991, allowing a new constitution to form. Laos has been governed by the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party since 1975 and the political situation finally seems stable, allowing the country to rebuild and resettle.
Despite former hardship, the people of Laos are warm and welcoming and smiles are frequent and genuine. Today Laos is one of the world’s poorest countries, with agriculture the main form of economy. Laos’ main products are rice, pulses, fruit, sugar cane, tobacco and coffee, with coffee being the country’s largest export.
The official language of Laos is Lao, although a range of tribal languages as well as French, Vietnamese and English are also sometimes spoken. The majority of people are Buddhist, with a range of other religions such as animism, Confucianism and Christianity practiced by the tribes people.
Another way to reach the town is by boat from northern Lao areas such as Vientiane and Tha Khaek or from Pakse in the south. Travelling through Laos by boat can be very relaxing and a great way to see the countryside at a leisurely pace.
The name Savannakhet means ‘city of paradise’ in the Laos language and this is Laos’ second-largest city. This is a good place to pause for a while as the town has a lot to offer tourists and there are a good number of guesthouses, hotels and restaurants serving international food. You will also find plenty of Asian delights such as curries and spicy salads from Thailand and Vietnamese noodles.
Savannakhet’s close proximity to Thailand and Vietnam means that you will discover a number of different styles as you explore. Take a look around the city’s old Vietnamese temples, French colonial quarters and Buddhists temples. Among the most popular temples are Wat Inghang and Wat Xayaphoum, while the large Catholic church provides an interesting contrast.
If you are interested in the history of this unique area, take a day trip to Heuanehine or Stone House. This rocky house was designed by the Kham people and is thought by many to be one of the most important and interesting sites in the province. The house was built somewhere between 553 and 700 AD and contains a collection of Khmer artwork.er important site is the That Phon stupa, which was built around the same time as the Stone House. Unlike most of the religious shrines and temples in Laos, this stupa is Hindu in origin and dedicated to Phra Shiva and other Hindu deities.
Before you leave Savannakhet, drop by the Dinosaur Exhibition Hall in the town of Khanthabouly at the heart of the province. Here you will find a collection of dinosaur remains that were discovered by an intrepid French scientist in the 1930s. This is one of the few collections of dinosaur remains in Laos and they make an interesting break from exploring the country’s temples and jungles.
Luang Prabang Province is considered by many to be Laos’ cultural and heritage centre and here you will find a large collection of Buddhist monasteries, temples and monuments. The town itself is a UNESCO World Heritage site and offers some stunning examples of French architecture and traditional temple art.
Surrounded by dense jungle and sparkling rivers, Luang Prabang Province is extremely beautiful. The earth is a rich brown colour and to the north rocky mountains make an impressive backdrop. Trekking is popular here and there are a good range of activities available such as rock climbing and boat trips.
Among the largest and most impressive of Luang Prabang’s temples are Wat Xieng Thong, Wat Visoun and Wat Ou Tay, while the 24-metre high stupa of That Chomsi is an impressive sight. For spectacular views over the city climb to the top of Phu Si, which is also one of the best places to watch the sun set over the city.
There are plenty to see and do around the province. 30 miles north of Luang Prabang city is the cave of Tham Ting, which is filled with large Buddha images and is a prominent place of worship for the local people. The cave is situated right on the river and combined with the two hour boat trip to get there this is a great way to spend a day.
Another good day trip destination pretty the Tad Sae waterfall and Kuang Si waterfall, while the National Museum is a good place to learn more about the local culture and history. Topped by an impressive golden-spired stupa, Luang Prabang’s former royal palace has been transformed into the Palace Museum, and here you will find an impressive collection of regal artefacts and royal portraits
There are a large number of cheap guesthouses available in Luang Prabang and plenty of restaurants serving international food. A great time to visit is during one of the country’s festivals, when the streets are filled with colourful and noisy processions.
Getting around Luang Prabang is easy and this is a great place to take it easy before venturing into the more remote areas of Laos.
Those who have a love for history and culture are sure to get a lot out of their visit to Angkor Borei, which was established more than 2,500 years ago. However, archaeological findings suggest that the town was established much earlier than this, as artefacts have been discovered here that date all the way back to the Neolithic period. To view these and a whole host of other interesting findings, visitors should check out the displays that can be found in the local museum.
Head 20 kilometres out of town and you will come to the hill of Phnom Da. Climb the hill of spectacular views of the area and to explore an 11th century brick temple commissioned by King Rudravarman as a tribute to the Hindu deity Shiva. Make sure you also check out the gently crumbling temple of Ashram Maha Rosei, which features unique decorations and intricate carvings.
A series of five manmade caves can be found around Phnom Da, which were originally created to serve as Buddhist shrines and were once the hideouts of the Viet Cong. One of the most striking and mysterious sites in this part of the world is the so-called floating bounder, which balances on three points so that seen from the right angle it appears to float in the air. This is also a good place to take in stunning views of the area all the way across the Vietnam.
An interesting way to get to Angkor Borei is by travelling by bus from Phnom Pehn to the city of Takeo and then taking a boat along the Prek Angkor River. The boat will stop for a while to allow enough time to explore Angkor Borei and then continue to Phnom Da.
Sometimes referred to as Kampuchea, Cambodia people are known as Khmer. Visitors witnessing the warm and generous nature of the Khmer people could hardly guess at the hardship they have undergone for the last 500 years or so. Angkor fell in 1431 and since that time Cambodia has been pillaged by a number of nations.
Consequently the people of Cambodia are very poor, with many living on less than US$1 per day. However, the situation is slowly improving and the many monuments that were decimated or lost are being rediscovered and restored, while the rise in tourism allows businesses to open all over the country and employment rates to improve.
Up until the start of the 15th century Cambodia was a prosperous nation, and examples of this can be seen in the magnificent temple complex of Angkor Wat. When the nation fell Cambodia was largely dominated and became under French political control. Prince Sihanouk declared Cambodia’s independence during WWII, but his hopes for the nation were soon crushed.
Prince Sihanouk’s reign was not appreciated by everybody as he was criticized for restricting education to the elite and his obsession for writing and starring in movies. Many of the educated elite were angry over the lack of descent jobs and bad economic system and sought a solution in politics, joining first the Indochinese Communist Party, and then the Khmer Rouge.
The dawning of Second Indochina War caused the US to take an interest and Sihanouk abdicated and supported the Khmer Rouge, with many people following his example. After a five year resistance the Khmer Rouge captured Phnom Penh in 1975 and forced the evacuation of all towns and cities, with those who refused to leave being killed instantly.
For three years the majority of people in Cambodia were put through unimaginable hardships, with more than one million and probably closer to three million (more than half the population) dying from torture or poor conditions. Everyone was forced to live in the countryside and work for the Khmer Rouge, with families being separated and everyone living in fear as the consequences for refusing were horrific punishments and death.
When the Vietnamese finally put an end to the Khmer Rouge’s reign of terror in 1978 there was no infrastructure left and the country had to be entirely rebuilt. There were elections sponsored by the UN in 1993 and since the end of the 20th century things have steadily improved. Leng Sary, Pol Pot's brother in law, is currently on trial for 'crimes against humanity'.
Surat Thani Province is home to several great tourist destinations, including Ko Samui, Ko Pha-ngan, Ko Tao and the stunningly beautiful Ang Thong Marine National Park.
Although to many people the town of Surat Thani is simply a stop off point on the way to one of the area's beautiful tourist destinations, the town and surrounding area actually has a lot to offer and is worth looking at more closely.
Worth exploring is the tiny village known as Chaiya. In the village you will find Wat Suan Mokkhaphalaram, which is a tranquil forest temple founded by Ajahn Buddhadasa Bhikku, who is perhaps Thailand's most famous monk. The temple holds monthly meditation retreats, and this is a perfect place to get in touch with your spiritual side and discover a sense of inner peace and harmony.
Also situated in the village is the Chaiya National Museum, which is a good place to discover the area's interesting history. Another interesting place is the Folklore Museum, which is located around 300 meters from Chaiya, whilst Ban Phumriang is a small handicraft village, which can be found 6 kilometres east of Chaiya.
The stunning Khao Sok National Park features 646 square kilometres of thick rainforest and mountains. With its sparkling waterfalls, mysterious caves and cool lakes, this area has an ancient feel about it. Elephant trekking is a great way to explore, and you can spend the night on a floating lodge if you find yourself reluctant to leave and return to the 'real' world straight away.
When it comes to eating, just about anything is possible in this province of plenty. If you love oysters, pay a visit to the Oyster Farms, where you can buy large fresh oysters for a bargain price.
The Chak Phra Festival is an interesting event which takes place each year immediately after the end of the three month rain retreat in October. Although widely celebrated, Surat Thani's festivals are particularly vibrant and long anticipated. The festival features elaborately decorated floats, which are pulled across the town by the eager participants. At the same time, a float decorated
with colorful Thai design carries an auspicious Buddha image across the water. The festival also features an exciting boat race and traditional songs, dancing and games.
Songkhla has a lot to offer, whether you are interested in history and culture, appreciate stunning scenery or simply want to chill on the beach and swim in the sea. The town is endowed with ancient ruins, arts, and places of cultural importance. Songkhla is a melting pot of Thais, Chinese and Malays and charms visitors with its unique traditions, dialect, and folk entertainment.
To discover the area's history, the first stop should be The Songkhla National Museum, while the Phathammarong Museum is also a great source of local knowledge. The Bronze Mermaid Statue usually appears on postcards of Songkhla and represents the Hindu-Buddhist earth goddess Mae Thorani.
Songkhla is well known for its interesting architectural styles, which can best be seen in its temples and chedis. Some good examples are Wat Cha Thing Phra, Wat Pha Kho, Wat Chai Mongkhon and Wat Matchimawat. The city's black and white stupas - known as Chedi Ong Dam and Chedi Ong Khao - should not be missed and Sating Phra Ancient Community is well worth a visit.
Songkhla also contains some areas of stunning natural beauty. Top of the list are the Khao Nam Khang National Park with its jungle, caves and waterfalls and Khu Khut Waterfowl Park. As its name suggests, Namtok Boriphat Forestry Park features a large number of waterfalls and beautiful forest, while Wat Tham Khao Rup Chang is an interesting cave temple.
Songkhla is blessed with a large number of caves to explore and mountain tops offering spectacular views over the area. A good place to start is Khao Nam Khang Historic Tunnel, while other mountains include Khao Tang Kuan, Khao Kao Seng and Khao Noi.
There are some very pretty beaches to soak up the sun on including Hat Samila and Hat Sakom, while Hat Yai is the liveliest town and famous for fresh seafood and Muay
Thai boxing matches. Whilst in Hat Yai, pay a visit to Wat Hat Yai Nai, which features a 35 meter reclining Buddha known as Phra Phut Mahatamongkon and the very pretty and peaceful Hat Yai Municipal Park.
Amongst the area's small and somewhat secluded islands are Koh Maeo and Koh Nu (cat and mouse islands) and Koh Yo, which is a very pretty island famous for its cotton weaving community.
Of course, when it comes to eating, seafood dominates the menu. The best place to find a good selection of reasonably priced seafood is at the local night markets, where you can relax for a while at one of the small tables and watch the dramas of this charismatic area unfold around you.
One of the main attractions in this area is the Damnoen Saduak Floating Market. Visitors flock to this market to discover Thailand's unique traditional way of trading. Although today the market is dominated by souvenir stands, you can still take a boat trip through the market and barter for exotic fruit.
Ratchaburi Province contains some stunning natural caves for you to explore. Just 8 kilometres from the town you will find the famous Tham Ruesi Khao Ngu, whilst Tham Khao Bin is said to be the most beautiful. 30 kilometres west of the town you will find Tham Chomphon, whilst the mountain top of Khao Chong Phran offers spectacular views of the surrounding countryside.
There are many interesting temples in the area such as Wat Muang, Phra Si Rattana Mahathat, Wat Khongkharam and Wat Khanon, which contains an interesting collection of more than 300 traditional Nang Yai puppets.
The area is well known for its abundant history, and a good place to discover more about it is at the Ratchaburi National Museum, whilst the Bo Khlueng Hot Spring is a great place to soak away your aches and pains after a busy day of exploring.
History enthusiasts would do well to visit the Ban Khu Bua Ancient City, which displays many of the archaeological discoveries of the area. The Siam Cultural Park is also interesting as it contains fibre glass wax images of important people such as Mother Teresa, President Deng Xiaoping and Chairman Mao Tse-tung. This display has to be seen to be believed as it is certainly unique.
The province hosts some interesting fairs and festivals and it is worth trying to time your trip to coincide with one of them.
The Ratchaburi Tourism Fair is held annually during February-March in the grounds of the City Hall. Featured activities include demonstrations of famous handicrafts, such as jar making and "Sin Tin Chok" cloth weaving, folk art and cultural performances by local tribal groups.
The Sweet Grape and Damnoen Saduak Floating Market Week Fair happens around March-April each year to introduce agricultural produce to the market. This is a good opportunity for visitors to buy agricultural produce such as coconuts, pomelos grapes and lichis at discounted prices.
The Khao Ho or 'Ang Mi Thong' Festival is a Su Khwan blessing ceremony for happiness and longevity in life, held around the ninth lunar month. Karen people believe that the ninth lunar month is a bad time of the year, when ghosts and evil spirits hunt and eat the "Khwan" 'spirit' of people. During the festivals many traditional methods are practiced to ward off the evil spirits. The elders of each family tie red threads on the children's wrists and give a blessing for good luck.
There is a lot in Nakhon Nayak for lovers of nature to see and explore. The northern part of the province is situated amongst the colossal Dong Phaya Yen mountain range, and most of that area is covered by the lush green jungle of the spectacularly beautiful Khao Yai National Park.
In the central part of the province you will find the flowing waters of the Nakhon Nayok River. There are many opportunities to hire various kinds of boats around the area as this river is perfect for kayaking and canoeing. You can take out kayaks and canoes for the entire day and use your craft to explore the narrow tributaries at Khlong Wang Takhrai, which lead through a vast coffee plantation.
A short bus ride away from town is the Wang Takhrai Botanical Garden and the popular Wang Takhrai waterfall. There are also many other waterfalls to discover in the province such as Nam Tok Nang Rong, the nine-tiered Sarika waterfall and also the stunning Lan Rak waterfall. Another beautiful waterfall is Nam Tok Heo Narok, where the water cascades from a 200 metre cliff.
For those interested in the rich history of the area, a visit to the Dong Lakhon Ancient City should be high on the agenda. Located 9 kilometres south of the town, this is an ancient town of the Dvaravati period (about 6th-13th centuries). Don't forget to pay a visit to the local museum to discover more about the area's interesting past and to see well labelled displays of ancient Buddha images.
Worth looking out for are the long awaited Nakhon Nayok Canoe Races, which commence at the Wang Takhrai Canal Bridge in Tambon Sarika and end in the Nakhon Nayok River near the provincial capital, a distance of 5 kilometres. The races take place at various times throughout the year and tourists are welcome to join in the fun and try to beat the local contestants.
If you are interested in the cheeky monkeys, who scamper around stealing food from tourists and causing general mischief, particularly good spots to see them are around the Khmer temple, Prang Sam Yot, and Sarn Phra Karn. All these temples are also interesting in their own right, as are Wat Phra Si Ratana Mahathat and the former royal palace of Phra Narai Ratchaiwet, which also houses the Lopburi Museum, a great place to cool down and learn more about the local history.
The people of Lopburi take good care of the city's monkeys as they believe them to be descendants of the monkey lord Hanuman. According to the holy book the Ramayana, Hanuman was a great hero who rescued Sita from her imprisonment in Sri Lanka and built Lopburi as his kingdom.
To the north of Lopburi, the famous and beautiful Saplangka Wildlife Sanctuary provides the perfect day trip for nature lovers. Also worth visiting is the nearby European Palace of Chao Phraya Wichayan, which has many interesting design and style features and some beautiful gardens in which to relax for a while.
Steeped in interesting history, Lopburi is full of temple ruins, which mainly date from the Ayutthaya period. Particularly of note are Wat Nakhon Kosa, Wat San Paolo, Wat Sao Thong and Wat Indra.
A great time to visit Lopburi is during the Monkey festival at the end of November, when the furry inhabitants are treated to a huge feast at the expense of their human neighbours, who take good care of them throughout the year.
Also look out for the King Narai Festival, which occurs in the middle of February and lasts for three days. The festival is marked which displays of local food and textiles, singing and the much anticipated traditional lakhon ling drama which, believe it or not, is performed by monkeys!
There are two main towns in Kanchanaburi Province that are popular with visitors; Kanchanaburi city, which is the capital of Kanchanaburi Province, and the picturesque border town of Sangkhlaburi.
Located on the banks of the Kwae Noi, or River Kwai as it is popularly know to travelers, Kanchanaburi city is the home of the famous Bridge on the River Kwai, which is visited each year by thousands of tourists from every country.
Surrounded by beautiful mountains, lush paddy fields and farms, there is no limit to what can be seen and done in this interesting region. A great way to view the countryside is to ride the Death Railway to Nam Tok. Once there, make sure you visit the Sai Yok National Park with its two Sai Yok waterfalls, the perfect way to cool down on a hot sunny day. Whilst in Sai Yok, check out the Mueang Sing historical park, where you will discover the ruins of a Khmer town and temple.
The spectacular seven-tiered Erawan waterfall, situated in the Erawan National Park must not be missed, and climbing the 1,500 feet to the very top offers incredible views out over the top of the jungle. It is easy to combine a visit to Erawan National Park with a trip to the nearby tiger temple of Wat Pha Luang Ta Bua, where many tame tigers reside and roam freely under the watchful eye of the gentle monks who also live there.
Of course, Kanchanaburi is famous for its World War II POW camps, and visits to the JEATH War Museum and the Thailand-Burma Railway Museum are good places to find out the facts behind this sad period of history, whilst people can pay their respects at the Kanchanaburi War Cemeteries.
There is plenty for the adventurous to do and activities such as trekking, cave exploration, elephant riding and canoeing are all popular. Kanchanaburi's roads are good and clearly sign posted, so a good way to spend a day or two is to hire a bicycle or a motorbike and drive off into the countryside.
It's worth trying to time your trip to coincide with the River Khwae Bridge week, which is celebrated around November with sound and light shows at the Death Railway Bridge.
Formerly known as Phra Nakhon Si Ayutthaya, the city was founded by King U-Thong in 1350 and kept its status as the nation's capital until it was sacked by the Burmese in 1767. Ayutthaya was once one of the richest cities in Asia by the 1600s, as its vast array of temples still testifies.
Most visitors come to explore The Ayutthaya historical park, which contains most of the magnificent ruins of the ancient city and was declared a UNESCO World heritage site in 1981. Over 400 hundred temples were originally built in Ayutthaya, and the fact that they were built by various rules means that they comprise an interesting range of designs and styles.
Many of the temples from Ayutthaya's glory period still exist today, although in various states of preservation. Wat Mahathat is by far Ayutthaya's most photographed temple, made famous by the head of a large Buddha statue which has become entangled in the roots of a giant banyan tree.
Other temples of note include Wat Lokayasutharam (also known as the temple of the Reclining Buddha), Wat Chaiwatthanaram, Wat Mongkhon Bophit and Wat Naphrameru.
Ayutthaya's temples cover an area of several kilometres, and many people choose to explore the area by hiring a bicycle or a tuk-tuk for the day. You can learn more about Ayutthaya's rich and interesting history at the Chantharakasem National Museum.
But there is much more to Ayutthaya than simply temples. The Ayutthaya Elephant Camp provides visitors with the perfect opportunity to find out more about these mighty beasts and rides can be arranged around the scenic area.
The nearby town of Bang Pa In, with its glorious Summer Palace provides an excellent site for a day trip. Another great day trip is the Bang Sai Royal Arts and Crafts Center, which aims is to train people with poor backgrounds and to try provide them with the skills to earn a descent income. The arts and crafts here are of a very high quality and make excellent souvenirs.
A great place to get an idea of the natural beauty of this province is to visit the Khao Laem Sing Forest Park, whilst Khao Khitchakut National Park contains a breathtaking waterfall and is a good place to spot wild elephants. Another great reserve is the Namtok Phliu National Park which, as its name suggests, contains a large number of enchanting waterfalls to splash about in.
If you are interested in water sports, Khlong Pong Nam Ron is a great place to go white water rafting, the best time being between July and January. Another breathtaking experience is the view from the top of Khao Phloi Waen, which means Sapphire-Ring Mountain in the Thai language. The mountain is an impressive 150 metres high and has a Sri-Lankan style chedi on the top. Many visitors to Chanthaburi Province go there in order to pay their respects at Wat Khao Sukim, which has a famous meditation centre. Other interesting temples in the area include Wat Phlup, Wat Hai Lom and the very pretty Wat Mangkon Buppharam, which has been built in the Chinese style.
The Chanthaburi Cultural Centre is a great place to go to get an idea of the area's diverse history and culture. The ancient city of Khai Noen Wong also makes an interesting day trip and you can combine your visit with a trip to the Underwater Archaeological Office, which is a kind of maritime museum.
The province is home to some extremely pretty beaches and the quiet, shaded beach of Hat Ao Yang is great for relaxing on, while the larger stretch of sand at Hat Laem Sing is also a good place to hang out.
There are plenty other interesting attractions in and around Chanthaburi. The Chamsom Crocodile Farm and Zoo offers visitors the opportunity to see different crocodile species and a range of other animals. Another good way to see Thailand's wildlife is to pay a visit to Oasis Sea World, while the King Taksin Park is a great place for a picnic.
When it comes to food, there is plenty to be found, especially if you enjoy fresh seafood. A good place to find a cheap meal is at the local night market, and there are plenty of restaurants around catering to every taste and budget.
Chanthaburi Province is well known for some special festivals, and a good time to visit is during the Gem Festival, which takes place in early December and features jewellery shows and a gem design competition Another interesting festival is the annual fruit festival in the first week of June.
The city, which sits on the northern bank of the Mun River, was originally founded in the late 18th century by Lao immigrants and still retains many aspects of Lao style and culture. For an insight into the rich and interesting history of this area, pay a visit to the Ubon National Museum.
Ubon Ratchathani is best loved for its stunning national parks. No visit is complete without seeing the spectacular Phu Chong Na Yoi National Park, which covers an area of 687 square kilometers, featuring stunning views from the cliffs at Pha Pheung and the huge Bak Tew Yai Waterfall.
Another area of great beauty is the Kaeng Tana National Park and don't miss the Pha Taem National Park with its pre-historic cliff paintings showing scenes of fishing, rice farming, figures of people and animals.
There are many beautiful waterfalls in the area, and it is possible to swim in the clear waters of most. Some of the best include Nam Tok Saeng Chan, Nam Tok Thung Na Muang and the magnificent Nam Tok Soi Sawan.
It goes without saying that there are many interesting temples to explore, embodying design features of both Lao and Thai temple art. Look out for Wat Tung Si Muang, Wat Supattanaram, the rectangular chedi of Wat Phra That Nong Bua, Wat Si Ubon Rattanaram and many others.
Koh Hat Wat Tai is a small island in the Mae Nam Mun which is great for swimming and sunbathing. Another attraction in the area are the Warin Chamrap District Temples. These are two temples where people from all over the world gather to study meditation. Wat Nong Pa Phung is reserved for Thai people, while Wat Pa Nanachat is for non-Thais.
The silk weaving village of Wat Nong Bua is located 18 kilometers from the city and makes a great day trip, while many people travel to ride the Kaeng Saphue rapids or take a boat trip on the turbulent white waters.
Ubon has a large night market, which is a great place to get a cheap meal and buy some local produce.
If you are in the area during the festival of awk hansaa in July, make sure you stay for the Candle Festival, when processions of wax religious images are carried through the city on floats.
The province features stunning scenery consisting of forests, national parks, and many small towns located on the banks of the Mekong River. There are two main points of interest for visitors to Nong Khai Province; the city of Nong Khai and the quiet yet charming dusty town of Beung Kan.
Nong Khai is the capital of the Nong Khai Province and offers a wide range of things to see and do. Indeed, many people visit the city only intending to stay a day or two and end up staying for several weeks.
The main attraction of Nong Khai city is the Sala Kaew Ku Sculpture Park, which is full of massive sculptures from Buddhist and Hindu ideologies. Here you will find incredible images such as seven-headed Naga snakes and a wide range of human-animal hybrids.
Visitors should make a point of seeing Wat Pho Chai, which contains the magnificent Laos-style Luang Phra Sai. Other temples of interest include Wat Noen Phra Nao, Wat Lam Duan and Wat Tung Sawang.
During the dry season, the spire of Phra That Nong Khai appears above the waters of the Mekong River. Also appearing in the dry season is the beach of Hat Jommani, which is a good place to soak up the sun.
Nature lovers should pay a visit to the extremely beautiful Phu Wua Wildlife Reserve, while the Nong Khai Museum is a great source of local history and culture.
Nong Khai is a province that loves to party, and there are many colourful festivals to see and enjoy. Late May brings the Rocket Festival, while the full moon in October brings the Rowing Festival. This festival is famous as this is the time when fireballs mysteriously shoot from the Mekong River. The fireballs are widely believed to be breathed by a sea monster living in the river - dispute it at your peril!
Another festival worth looking out for is Anou Savari, which occurs on March 5th and is the city's biggest street fair.
Located on the northeastern railway line and with a regional airport; Buriram Airport, Buriram is easily assessable. Buriram Province is steeped in history and the beautiful backdrop makes this a good place in which to chill out for a few days and to get to know Thailand.
The Phanom Rung Historical Park, 40 kilometres south of Buriram town is situated on the summit of an erupted volcano and has spectacular views of the surrounding paddy fields. This thousand-year-old site contains one of the most important Khmer sites outside Cambodia, the magnificent Phanom Rung temple, which is also the largest Khmer monument in Thailand.
The Khmer temple at nearby Prasat Meung Tam is also well worth a visit, and there are dozens of other interesting Khmer ruins in the area such as Kuti Reusi Nong Bua Rai, Kuti Reusi Khok Meuang and Prasat Khao Praibat.
Bird enthusiasts should check out the Buriram Bird Park, and the ancient kilns at Tao Sawai ancient kilns offer an insight into the craft of pottery.
The Lower Isan Cultural Centre is a good place to visit to learn more about the rich and interesting history and people of this unique area, and the beautiful Khao Kradong Forest Park, with its enormous Buddha image crowning a hill offers spectacular views over the lush green countryside.
Buriram Province is some what cooler than most of Thailand and a great way to explore the region and pass a few days is to hire a bicycle and explore.
Most visitors are draw to Phimai by the Phimai Historical Park, which contains a large number of temples and ruins to explore including the beautiful Khmer temple of Prasat Phimai. Don't forget to check out to informative Phimai National Museum in order to learn more about the temples and to discover some rare temple artefacts.
Nearby, the brick chedi of Meru Boromathat and the Pratu Chai - victory gate - are just waiting to be discovered, whilst on an island in the middle of a large reservoir the Sai Ngam (Beautiful Banyan) draws Buddhists from all over the world. You can take a rowing boat out onto the reservoir for a closer look at the sacred tree. Whilst there, don't forget to pay a visit to the interesting Tha Nang Sa Phom - which is an ancient and intricately decorated landing platform.
Nakhon Ratchasima Province is famous for its unique and beautiful pottery, and a good place to see it is at the Dan Kwian pottery village, where you can still see craftsmen creating the Thai ceramics.
Another famous skill from the north of Thailand is silk weaving, and visitors can go to the Pak Thong Chai silk weaving village, which is very close to Phimai. Here, the weaving looms are still being put to good use today, creating beautifully shimmering Thai silk, which is then dyed in a dazzling array of colours and made into a wide range of products for people to buy as souvenirs.
In November, Phimai celebrates with the Phimai Festival. This is a good opportunity to experience the traditional folk songs, dancing and theatre of the region as well as sample the many delicious dishes and sweets.
The people of Nan were originally from Laos, and the area is full of rich history, culture and interesting architecture. To discover more about the area, a good place to start is the Nan National Museum, whilst the many temples display both Thai and Laos temple art. Temples not to miss include Wat Phrathat Beng Sakat, Wat Phra That Chae Haeng, Wat Nong Daeng, at Chang Kham and the spectacular Wat Phaya Wat.
A good way to get an idea of the area's beauty is to visit one of the enormous and lush national parks. There are plenty of stunningly beautiful parks to choose from, including the Khun Nan National Park, Nanthaburi National Park, Tham Pha Tup Forest Park and the incredible Doi Phu Kha National Park, which contains caves, waterfalls, remote villages and picturesque forest walks.
Many visitors travel to the Mae Charim National Park in order to go white water rafting. This exciting adventure sport is also available through Nam Wa Rafting. The 'Earth Pillars' at Sin Thao are very popular and the Ban Pak Nai Fisherman Village offers an insight into a traditional and relaxed way of life.
Another popular activity is trekking, and it is easy to arrange a three day trek into the mountains, stopping overnight at one of the many small villages or at specially constructed cabins beside a flowing waterfall.
40 kilometres to the north of the town is the pretty little village of Ban Nong Bua. The village is home to the Thai Lu people, who are noted for producing traditional patterned tribal fabric. Ban Bo Suak Kiln Site and Glazed Ceramics is another interesting village, where you can see traditional pottery skills still being employed, and you can dine in one of the converted wooden rafts in the sleepy village Ban Pak Nai, located about 96 kilometres from the town of Nan.
There are many interesting festivals that are enthusiastically celebrated in Nan. The Hok Peng Waisa Mahathat Chae Haen Fair takes place on the full moon night of the 6th northern lunar month or the 4th central lunar month (around the end of February-March). During
this festival, sky rockets are fired as an offering to the Buddha. Another long awaited celebration is the Nan Boat Races. This tradition began in 1936, when boat racing was organized during the community's robe presentation to the monks after the end of the Buddhist Lent. Nowadays, it takes place around mid-October each year. At the opening of the races food offerings are presented to the priests by drawing lots at Wat Chang Kham Worawihan. After this there is much celebrating and the much loved boat racing, where teams of oarsmen race along the Mae Nam Nan in long, beautifully decorated dragon prow boats.
Lamphun is an area of great natural beauty. Particularly picturesque is the Mae Ping National Park, with its lush forests and the Ping River running through it. The park is also home to the seven-tiered Namtok Ko Luang and a limestone cave full of stalactites and stalagmites.
Another area of intense natural beauty is the Doi Khun Tan National Park, with its pretty orchids and lilies as well as impressive bamboo and pine forests. Namtok Tat Moei is an imposing waterfall in this park and an interesting feature is that it can be reached directly by train from Chiang Mai.
Lamphun is blessed with a large number of sites of highly respected historical and cultural importance. Wat Phra That Hariphunchai was built during the reign of King Arthitayarat, a descendant of Queen Chamthewi, around 800 years ago. Principal features of this temple include the 46-metre tall golden chedi and the Khmer-style Buddha statue. Other interesting temples in this area include Wat Phra Yuen, Wat Mahawan, Wat Chamthewi and the highly revered Wat Phra Phutthabat Tak Pha, where according to legend the Lord Buddha once stayed, leaving a likeness of monk's saffron robe and his footprint imprinted in the stone ground.
The impressive Hariphunchai National Museum is a good place to discover the area's rich and interesting history. The museum features displays of prehistoric human skeletons and objects of arts from the Dvaravati, Hariphunchai, Lanna and Rattanakosin periods. There also some interesting displays of temple art, which has been carefully collected and displayed over a period of several years.
Another way to get an idea of the area's history and culture is by visiting Ban Hong, which is the site of a warm and welcoming 1,400-year-old community dating back to the Hariphunchai Kingdom.
If you are interested in handicrafts, the cotton weaving village of Pasong makes a good day trip. Whilst there, pay a visit to Wat Chang Khao No and the bustling market places, where you can buy a wide range of cotton products.
There are a large number of interesting celebrations in Lamphun Province. Particularly vibrant is the Lam Yai Festival, which takes place in the second week of August. Also known as the Longan Fair, the objective is to promote the area's sweet and succulent the fruit. The festival features a parade of floats made from longan fruit and the Miss Lam Yai contest.
Another popular event is the Song Nam Phra That Hariphunchai which is held to celebrate the province's principal religious site and takes place in May.
Today, most visitors come to see the spectacular Sukhothai Historical Park, which is full of interesting temples including Wat Si Chum, Wat Saphan Hin, Wat Si Sawai and Wat Trapang Thong. There are twenty six temples in all and Wat Mahathat is the largest, although all are worth a visit. Both the excellent Ramkhamhaeng National Museum and Sangkhalok Museum are good places to get to grips with Sukhothai's intriguing history. Exploring the temples in the sunshine can be hot and sticky, but the sunset bicycle tours, which run daily, can be a good way to see the sights whilst beating the heat.
But Sukhothai isn't all about temples and history. In fact, there are plenty of other dimensions to this province which cause travellers to extend their stay and visit time and again. If you are suffering from the relentless sun, you can cool down and enjoy a quick dip in the swimming pool at Suan Nam Premsuk, or get fit at the nightly aerobics classes opposite Wat Rachthani.
The night stalls opposite the Poo restaurant are a great, cheap place to sample the local cuisine, whilst indulging in a drink and a spot of people watching. Simply buy a food voucher and make your selection.
The Si Satchanalai-Chaliang Historical Park, 50 kilometres to the north, makes a great day trip and highlights include Wat Chang Lom, Wat Khao Phanom Phloeng, Wat Chedi Jet Thaew and Wat Nang Phaya. While you are there, stop in at the informative Sawanworanayok Museum and if you are interested in the ancient art of pottery don't miss Swankhalok Kilns, where you can learn all about the skill and how it has developed over the ages.
Another great day trip is Ban Hat Siaw, where you can bargain hunt amongst the colourful collection of textiles.