Thailand's capital city is a modern metropolis where ancient architecture and culture is set against a backdrop of frenzied activity and the pulsating buzz of an ever evolving Asian city.
Known to the Thais as Krung Thep, or the city of angels, Bangkok was forever immortalised, if not for the wrong reasons, in Murray Head’s 80s pop classic One Night in Bangkok. But the song does ring true in that the city has something to offer to everyone. The lively collection of noodle stalls, bustling flea markets, shimmering temples, designer shopping malls and energetic nightlife will ensure that no visitor to Bangkok is ever bored.
The surviving ruins of Ayutthaya are testament to the former glory of what was once the most magnificent city in the Orient. Ayutthaya was the capital of Thailand from 1350-1767 until the city was sacked and looted by Burmese invaders in the 18th century. During its 417 year history, it was the capital for 33 kings of five dynasties. Today the ancient monuments are scattered around a busy and provincial city.
Chiang Mai is Thailand's second largest city, known as the "rose of the north”. Located in the mountainous north of the country, Chiang Mai and surrounding area are blessed with rich historical and cultural heritage, a pleasant year round climate and charming people in addition to exciting entertainment and shopping. Chiang Mai is also the gateway to the ancient Lanna kingdom and is a perfect base from which to explore northern Thailand and the ethnic minorities and hill tribes that still inhabit the area.
Chiang Rai is the northernmost province of Thailand and shares borders with Myanmar and Laos. The area where these three countries meet is known as the Golden Triangle, notorious for its opium trade in the past. Chiang Rai is well knows for its stunning mountain scenery and is home to several different hill tribes. The main hill tribe groups in this region are the Hmong, Karen, Lahu, Lisu, Akha and Mien. These ethnic minorities began to arrive in Thailand at the end of the 19th century and some groups may have been here much longer. Forced out of their native countries such as Myanmar, China and Tibet by civil war and political pressures, each hill tribe still has its own fascinating customs, culture, religion, clothing and language. The area surrounding Chiang Rai and the Golden Triangle evokes images of mist covered mountains and valleys that leave the first time visitor in awe.
Phuket is Thailand's largest island, nestled in the Andaman Sea off the west coast of the country. Famous for shimmering turquoise seas, uninhabited islands, sheer limestone outcrops and private coves covered with fine granules of white sand that lead to world class hotels and tropical spas, Phuket is the ultimate beach destination. The island is perfect for pure relaxation, luxurious spa therapy or water activities such as swimming, snorkelling, scuba diving and sailing. Phuket is also a conventient starting point for island hopping to the many nearby islands, as well as tours of Phang Nga Bay.
Koh Samui is Thailand's third largest island and lies just off the eastern coast of the country. The island was first settled because of its suitability for growing large amounts of coconuts that could be harvested and sent to Bangkok and around the world. Today Koh Samui, which is characterised by its beautiful, long white beaches, crystal clear waters and verdant hinterland, has developed into one of the most well known beach destinations in the world. This sleepy island has, however, retained much of its charm as an unspoilt island hideaway.
Krabi is characterised by the massive limestone karsts that rise into the sea forming islands. Not far from Phuket, Krabi is a coastal province that encompasses many beaches and islands including one of the most beautiful islands in Asia, Phi Phi, which was the location for the film The Beach. Krabi is the destination for those who want to indulge in swimming, scuba diving, island hopping, sun bathing, sea kayaking or rock climbing.
Located in the heart of mainland Southeast Asia, Cambodia is a country rich in cultural heritage which conjures images of a glorious, mysterious and more recently tragic past. Many events have shaped Cambodia’s history, from the glory of the Khmer empire through the 9th to 13th centuries which stretched over most of Southeast Asia, to the intolerable cruelties of the Khmer Rouge in the1970s which resulted in the near loss of all Khmer culture.
Today, Cambodia retains much of its beauty and grandeur with close ties to its turbulent past. A stroll through the suburbs of Phnom Penh will find beautiful wide boulevards, colonial architecture and a bustling riverfront that made it the Paris of the east before 1970, while a visit to the infamous S21 and Choeung Ek killing fields are harrowing reminders of the horrors the Cambodians faced. The temples of Angkor, declared a World Heritage site in 1992, remain a symbol of Khmer glory. From the magnificent Angkor Wat, the most famous example of Khmer architecture, to nearby Ta Prohm where centuries of neglect have resulted in the jungle burying the temple, the ruined capital still remains an inspiring scene that will set hearts racing.
A destination like no other, from unspoilt beaches and strings of pristine islands, to colourful pagodas, forgotten temples, remote hill tribes and a vibrant capital, Cambodia is a place to relax while absorbing local culture, sights and sounds.
Following its descent into communism in 1975, Laos has emerged as one of the most unspoilt and unassuming destinations in Asia. Laos is the least developed of the former French colonies in Indochina and as a result is as naturally breathtaking today as it was in centuries past. Laos offers spectacular scenery, idyllic colonial era towns, historical temples, warm and welcoming people, great shopping and charming dining. This is a country rich in history and culture, with many elements of Lao culture predating Buddhism. A destination unlike any other, this small, landlocked nation offers an unmatched glimpse of the Southeast Asia of old.
The country’s capital Vientiane is a relaxed mixture of Lao, Thai, Vietnamese, French and Soviet influences. The city’s brightly adorned temples, that sit on tranquil tree lined avenues neighbouring French colonial houses, lend an ageless allure to a city that has been described as the largest village in Asia. Vientiane’s serene Buddhist monasteries and monuments such as Pha That Luang, the national symbol for Laos, are a must see for anyone who visits this sleepy capital city.
The jewel in the crown of Laos, the former royal capital Luang Prabang is today a UNESCO World Heritage city dotted with glittering golden temple spires, colourful markets and colonial era buildings. From its narrow peninsula at the confluence of the Mekong and Mae Kok rivers one can travel up river to explore the sacred Pak Ou Buddha caves or the various local weaving and whiskey villages that line the banks of the Mekong.
Although many Westerners still imagine Vietnam through the lens of war, it is in reality a country filled with captivating natural beauty and tranquil village life. Over two decades have passed since Vietnam was officially united, and in that time it has done a remarkable job of healing its wounds. Today, this gracious and graceful country is an outstanding travel destination.
Hanoi was founded in 1010 and many ancient architectural features are still preserved, particularly in the fascinating warren of streets know as the Old Quarter. Popular sights include Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, the One-Pillar Pagoda, Ngoc Son Temple and the Temple of Literature. Hanoi is the starting point for trips to Halong Bay, a World Heritage listed archipelago.
The ancient town of Hoi An was one of the major trading centres of Southeast Asia in the 16th century, and was declared a World Cultural Heritage Site in 1999. Hoi An has a distinctive Chinese atmosphere with narrow streets and colourful houses decorated with lacquer panels engraved with Chinese characters.
Founded as a royal city in 1687, the original citadel city of Phu Xuan was built on the site of present day Hue, the gateway to the treasures of Vietnam’s royal past. UNESCO has labelled Hue “a beautiful architectural poem”.
Formerly known as Saigon, today Ho Chi Minh City is the bustling and vibrating economic centre of the south, and the commercial centre of the country. One of the liveliest cities in Southeast Asia, the energetic pace here is unlike any other city in Vietnam. Further afield are the Cu Chi tunnels, a network of 200 kilometres of underground tunnels used by the Viet Cong during the war.