Sunday, 9 June 2013

Thailand - Land of smiles

Thailand is one of the most beautiful, charming and diverse countries you can visit. It's also one of Asia's best-value holiday destinations, says Mark Haughton of Wanstead travel agent Escape Worldwide.

Thailand's diversity makes it a fascinating place to visit, where you can take in ancient temples and modern cities, deserted beaches and non-stop nightlife, stunning countryside and plenty more – all in one trip. Holidays to Thailand are very flexible, so it's not just a two-weeks-on-the-beach kind of place, you can do as much – or as little – as you wish.

Most visitors start their Thai adventure in Bangkok, the capital and by far the largest city, with the best flight connections from the UK. It's a hectic place with lots to experience – there's everything from ancient temples and grand palaces to vibrant markets and lively bars, and while it's a full-on city that's not to everyone's taste, it's an easy place to fall in love with. It also offers some of the best-value, high-quality hotels of any city in the world, so you can start your holiday to Thailand with a spot of luxury without breaking the bank. A few days in Bangkok will give a good overview of the city, but trying to do things too quickly can be draining.

Reclining Buddha, Wat Po in Bangkok, Thailand

If you find Bangkok to be too chaotic, head north to Chiang Mai, Thailand's second city, or to the hills and mountains around the border of Burma and Laos – the fabled Golden Triangle region. Chiang Mai has some of the best markets in Thailand, it's a great location for cookery courses and is also home to some of its most beautiful temples – climb the 309 steps to Wat Suthep, the city's most important temple and one that seems to be made out of pure gold. Further north from Chiang Mai the Golden Triangle marks the area where Thailand meets Burma and Laos, with stunning scenery along the banks of the Mekong. This is a great area for getting off the beaten track, visiting local hill tribes and seeing another side of this diverse country.

Thailand is renowned for its beaches, and no trip to the Land of Smiles would be complete without a relaxing stay on a stunning stretch of sand. All of Thailand's beach resorts are quite different, which adds to the diversity and charm of the country. Head to Pattaya, Chaweng or Patong if you want plenty of nightlife, or to one of the islands, such as Koh Samet or Koh Lanta, if you're in search of total relaxation. The traditional resorts of Hua Hin and Khao Lak offer a less commercialised alternative to the larger resorts and are great locations for sampling some traditional Thai cuisine. Phuket is the largest and most visited resort, but even on this one island you have everything from late-night clubs to deserted beaches.

The food in Thailand is one of the best parts of a trip there – mouth-watering seafood, fiery curries and sublime fresh fruit are some of the highlights. Keep an eye out for seasonal fruit, such as rambutan and mangosteen, the biggest prawns you're likely to come across and a use of chilli that will make your eyes water just thinking about it.

Escape Worldwide - Home of Long Haul Holidays