From Bangkok to the ancient capitals of the Kingdom of Siam, from the rice fields and teak forests of the north, to the islands of the south, we love the city, the countryside, and the sea.
In Bangkok, on Rattanakosin Island, the Grand Palace, built in 1782, was home to Thai kings until 1925. Today it still draws crowds of visitors who recognise it as the jewel of the city, with its gilding, enamelled glass mosaic columns, Emerald Buddha in its royal chapel, and slender stupas pointing to the sky. At Wat Po, in the city's largest temple, the Temple of the Reclining Buddha impresses with its sheer size – 150ft long, 50ft tall. Climb into a tuk-tuk, head north to Chinatown and attend a ceremony at the Wat Suthat temple, away from the crowds rushing to the Grand Palace. Beneath a monumental bronze Buddha, a monk leads the prayers and the faithful offer incense. A little farther away, in the courtyard lined by 156 statues of sitting Buddha, two young novices take a nap in the shade of a Chinese pagoda.
At dusk, leave for the Wat Arun, which symbolises Mount Meru, on the right bank of the river. Early, the following day, embark on the 'river of kings', the Chao Praya, for a journey back in time: from Bangkok, reach Ayuthaya in three hours by boat. Houses on stilts line the banks, their balconies bursting with orchids. Water hyacinths unfurl on the river, children swim and laugh. Ayuthaya was the Thai capital from 1350 until it was sacked by the Burmese in 1767. There, cycle among the temples and stupas, while pilgrims pray, holding lotus flowers in their clasped hands.
A Very Local Trip
The next day, travel by road to Sukhothai, the first capital of the Kingdom of Siam, until its sacking in 1350. The large wooden palace that was the home of kings has disappeared, but Buddha statues remain - sitting, walking, or lying: the various positions of the Buddha tell us about his life, from meditation under the banyan tree to nirvana. Protected by its 'mondop' (pillared hall), the beautiful Buddha of Wat Si Chum sits in a lotus position. A little farther north, on the banks of the Yom River, the enchanting Si Satchanalai, from the same era as Sukhothai, is set in the jungle, with stone Buddhas draped in saffron, walls surrounded by roots and ponds blooming with water lilies. And when cycling in the late afternoon, spot the 39 elephants adorning Wat Chang Lom's stupa.
Arrive in Chiang Mai, the northern rose, a small provincial city surrounded by jungles and mountains. The city is preparing to celebrate Loi Krathong: while the rivers are at their highest, they celebrate the end of the rainy season by paying tribute to Mae Khongkha, the water goddess. Yao, our host, will help you to make a krathong – fold a banana leaf into a lotus flower basket, on which you lay orchid flowers, incense and candles. At nightfall, men, women and children gather facing the river, illuminated by thousands of floral boats - and in the sky, floating helium balloons and tissue paper lanterns of all the colours of the rainbow.
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The streets are buzzing with processions, fireworks, and cymbals. The next day, for a break from the clamour of the moonlit night, stroll through the streets of the colonial district, relax under the frangipani, and enjoy the silence of the Lana wood temples. Visit antique and art shops in the late afternoon for ceramics, lacquerwork, rice paper and silks. Spend another day in Chiang Mai, but off the tourist trail: go for a boat ride on the Mae Nam Ping river, or walk in the orchid farms. Outside the city, continue farther, through the misty mountains and their teak forests, to the Golden Triangle. Here, where Thailand, Laos and Myanmar meet, opium crops have been replaced by rice paddies, lychee orchards and coffee plantations.
Head south on the island of Koh Phangan in the Koh Samui Archipelago. Wake up slowly - a bungalow on the beach, in the shade of the tamarind trees, with your feet in the water. Take in the white sand, emerald sea and coconut trees. Spend the day relaxing on the beach, while tame monkeys harvest coconuts, swinging from tree to tree to choose the ripest nuts. When you need refreshment, make the tough decision between a fresh mango cocktail and coconut water. When night falls, all the little restaurants light up their rice paper lanterns one at a time, and garlands hang in the trees - the beach becomes a riot of colour.
Dine on grilled shrimp, chilli and lime, washed down with a Thai beer, barefoot in the sand. The next day, tour the island in a long-tail boat and visit secluded coves. Enjoy the catch of the day on the beach at Chaloklum Bay. Walk along a sandbar to the tiny island of Ko Ma. Dive down to the coral with your mask and snorkel and swim with parrot fish, moon fish and clown fish. After swimming in the natural lagoons of waterfalls in the heart of the island, in Phaeng, spend an afternoon in a spa on the beach, lulled by the sound of crickets. With a sarong tied around your waist , gently move from the bath built into the rock to the water vapours scented with essential oils, and then to the fresh water pool, before being massaged – scents include ylang ylang, lemongrass, rose and lavender – from your scalp to the tips of your toes. Spend one last night on a deserted cove, facing out to the sea.
REASONS TO VISIT THAILAND
In Bangkok , watch a Thai boxing match at Rajadamnern Stadium, the oldest in the country; have tea in Jim Thompson's garden; go shopping at the young designer boutiques of Siam Square; in Mae Chan, watch the monks leave their mountain monastery at dawn to collect alms on horseback; in Pai, bathe in hot springs; in Chiang Mai, shop for lacquerwork, ceramics and carved wood; in Chiang Rai, sail a boat down the Mae Nam Ping River; in Sukhothai, explore the remains of the first capital of Siam; in Koh Kradan, go diving; in Krabi, relax; in Samui, go snorkelling.
Tuk-tuks are a fun way to travel around Bangkok and Thailand's towns and villages. When the first tuk-tuks appeared on the streets in the mid-1930s, their drivers had to pedal for miles under the hot sun; today, these inexpensive taxis are motorised. Red, yellow, green, or blue, Thai tuk-tuks liven up the streets with their colours. The tuk-tuk is as much a symbol of Thailand as Buddhist orchids or temples.
Reasons to visit Thailand with us
Travel by train to Chiang Mai, an original and eco-friendly stay.
A retreat on Naka Island - find your inner zen. Enjoy beaches, the turquoise waters of the Andaman Sea, Ayurvedic treatments and reflexology.
In Bangkok, take a personal shopper to MBK and Siam Square to find the best boutiques in the city.
Indulge in traditional Thai massage at Wat Po - a week-long course to learn how to relieve fatigue, stress and nervous tension: therapeutic massages, foot massages and aromatherapy.
Before you go home, why not buy some large bouquets of orchids at the Pak Khlong Talat flower market, opposite the Royal Palace, to brighten up your living room.