Thailand is often referred to as a golden land, not because there is precious metal buried underground but because the country gives off a certain lustre, be it the fertile rice fields of the central plains or the warm hospitality of its citizenry. People come here as miners: first perhaps for the uniquely Western concept of R&R. And while they toast themselves to a bronze hue on the sandy beaches, they find in the daily rhythm of Thailand a tranquillity that isn’t confined to vacation time. Welcome to a life-altering experience disguised as a holiday.
This is an exotic land that is surprisingly convenient and accessible. First introductions are made in Bangkok, a modern behemoth of screaming traffic, gleaming shopping centres and international sensibilities interwoven with devout Buddhism. Even the most cosmopolitan Thais wouldn’t dare choose a marriage date without consulting a monk or astrologer. And notice the protective amulets that all Thais – from the humble noodle vendor to the privileged aristocrat – wear around their necks: this is holy fashion.
Sitting upon the crown of the kingdom are misty mountains and Chiang Mai, the country’s bohemian centre, where the unique and precise elements of Thai culture become a classroom, for cooking courses and language lessons, for curious visitors. Climbing into the mountain range are the stupa-studded peaks of Mae Hong Son and villages of post–Stone Age cultures. Sliding down the coastal tail are evergreen limestone islands filled with tall palms that angle over pearlescent sand. Thailand’s beaches are stunning, hedonistic and mythic among residents of northern latitudes. But few visitors trudge into the northeast, a region better suited for homestays and teaching gigs than quick souvenir snapshots. In this scrappy region you can dive deep into the Thai psyche, emerging with a tolerance for searingly spicy food and a mastery of this strange tonal language.
Always eager to please, Thailand is a thick maze of ambiguities and incongruities with an irresistible combination of natural beauty, historic temples, renowned hospitality and robust cuisine. (Source: Lonely Planet Publications)