Just the mention of Thailand invokes several images of beautiful tropical beaches, elephant treks and sleazy bars with gyrating go-go dancers. Thailand borders Laos, Burma and Cambodia and Malaysia, making the perfect place to start or end an overland journey across South East Asia.
Around 94 per cent of Thais are Buddhist and the country is governed by a constitutional monarchy. Thai people are very proud of the country and their king. Showing any kind of disrespect to the king is a serious offense in Thailand and has landed a few people including a couple of foreigners in jail.
Thailand has experienced a large spurt of growth in the last decade, particularly in the tourism and manufacturing sectors. While many Thais have become rich from the growth, many people, particularly in the rural areas are still very poor.
The capital city of the country is Bangkok, but other cities including Ayuthaya and Sukhothai have previously been capitals of the kingdom. Thailand is one of the few countries in South East Asia that was never colonized, something which the Thai people are very proud of.
Thailand has struggled to create a stable democracy. Political violence, corruption and vote buying are common in Thailand. In 2006 the military overthrew the government of Thaksin Shinawatra. In 2008 the People's Alliance for Democracy, took over Bangkok's international and domestic airports, halting all incoming and outgoing flights. The airport demonstration brought the country's tourism and business travel industry to a stand still.
The traditional greeting of Thais is the "wai". It is done by pressing the hands together with the fingertips pointing up and the head slightly bowed. It is done as a sign of respect.
Thailand is a fantastic place for a holiday. The white sand beaches and beautiful turquoise waters are some of the best in Asia. There is a wide range of accommodation available to suit all budgets, from five star resorts to bamboo shacks on the beach. Thai food is healthy and delicious and known for being very spicy.
Travelers tend to love or hate the capital city of Thailand, Bangkok. "One night in Bangkok and the world's your oyster. The bars are temples but the pearls ain't free," so the song "One night in Bangok" goes. Even if you are heading to the beach, you should at least experience a night out in Bangkok.
Bangkok's shopping malls are some of the best in Asia. The traffic can be horrendous, but the SkyTrain, an above ground mono-rail, makes it easy to get around. A visit to 'The Grand Palace' is a must. The Q Bar and Bed Supper Club are two of many bars worth checking out in the evening.
There are many different places to visit in Thailand depending on the type of holiday you want. Tourists head to the north of the country to see the old capitals of Ayuthaya and Sukothai. Thailand's second largest city Chiang Mai has many beautiful temples and is a little less congested than Bangkok.
The south of Thailand is famed for its post card beautiful tropical islands. Phuket is the largest island and is Thailand's most popular beach resort. While the main tourist areas in Phuket are very crowded, it is still possible to find some quiet beaches on the island. Koh Samui is also very popular. Koh Phangan is popular with young people, especially with its infamous 'Full Moon Party'.
Thailand is a beautiful country and the people are very friendly and it is often referred to as the 'Land of Smiles'. Unfortunately it does have a bit of dark side and while it is generally safe for travelers, you do need to take a little bit of care, especially if it is your first time in Asia.