Friendly and food-obsessed, hedonistic and historic, cultured and curious, Thailand tempts visitors with a smile as golden as the country’s glittering temples and tropical beaches.
Outside the cluttered cities and towns lies Thailand’s rural heartland, a mix of rice paddies, tropical forests and villages where life is dominated by the rhythms of the agricultural clock. In the north, the forests and fields bump up against toothy blue mountains decorated with silvery waterfalls and honeycombed by deep caves. Down south, scraggy limestone cliffs poke out of the cultivated landscape like prehistoric skyscrapers, or emerge dramatically out of the turquoise sea. The usually arid northeast turns an emerald hue during the rainy season when tender green rice shoots carpet the landscape.
The celestial world is a close confidant in this Buddhist nation, and religious devotion is colorful and ubiquitous. Gleaming temples and golden Buddhas frame both the rural and the urban landscape. Ancient banyan trees are ceremoniously wrapped in sacred cloth to honor the resident spirits, fortune-bringing shrines decorate humble homes as well as monumental malls, while garland-festooned dashboards ward off traffic accidents. Visitors can join the conversation through meditation retreats in Chiang Mai, religious festivals in northeastern Thailand, underground cave shrines in Kanchanaburi and Phetchaburi, and hilltop temples in northern Thailand.
With a luxuriously long coastline (actually, two coastlines) and over 1400 jungle-topped islands anchored in azure waters, Thailand is a tropical getaway fit for everyone, whether hedonist or hermit, prince or pauper. The country’s coast is one giant playground, with plenty going on wherever the sand meets the sea. You can snorkel the gentle waters off Ko Lipe, dive with whale sharks around Ko Tao, scale the sea cliffs of Krabi, kiteboard in Hua Hin, party on Ko Phi-Phi and recuperate at a health resort on Ko Samui.
Good To Know
Thai cuisine is the national cusine of Thailand.
Thai cooking places emphasis on lightly prepared dishes with strong aromatic components and a spicy edge. Thai chef McDang characterizes Thai food as demonstrating “intricacy; attention to detail; texture; color; taste; and the use of ingredients with medicinal benefits, as well as good flavor”, as well as care being given to the food’s appearance, smell and context. Australian chef David Thompson, an expert on Thai food, observes that unlike many other cuisines, Thai cooking rejects simplicity and is about “the juggling of disparate elements to create a harmonious finish”.
Traditional Thai cuisine loosely falls into four categories: tom (boiled dishes), yam (spicy salads), tam (pounded foods), and gaeng (curries). Deep-fries, stir-fries, and steamed dishes derive from Chinese cooking.
In 2017, seven Thai dishes appeared on a list of the “World’s 50 Best Foods”— an online poll of 35,000 people worldwide by CNN Travel. Thailand had more dishes on the list than any other country. They were: Tom Yam Goong (4th), Pad Thai (5th), Som Tam(6th), Massaman curry(10th), Green curry(19th), Thai Fried Rice (24th) and Mu Num Tok (36th).