Located on the banks of the Chao Phraya River, the traditional lifeblood of Thailand’s fertile central plains, Bangkok is a thrilling paradox.
It is a city that both preserves the old with respect and embraces the new with enthusiasm. The Thai capital for more than two centuries,
Bangkok has in the last 20 years undergone more change than at any other period during its history.
Concrete and glass high rises have reshaped the skyline and
multi-lane expressways re-mapped the city’s thoroughfares, while a Sky train mass transit system and a
subway under construction are opening up new ways to experience the city. The ultimate impact of all
the development is that Bangkok is now better than it has ever been-greener, more comfortable and quicker
and simpler to get around.
Likewise, the options for shopping,
dinning and entertainment have vastly expanded in the last couple of decades. Now, modern luxury buys
are available as well as traditional handicrafts; Thai restaurants are matched by others offering virtually
the whole gamut of world cuisines, while entertainment can be as diverse as a classical concert at the
Thailand Cultural Centre or an Irish band plying in an Irish pub.Amazingly, at the same time as developing
as a thoroughly modern metropolis, Bangkok has succeeded in preserving monuments to its traditional
Oriental splendour. It is still a city of temples and palaces, of golden spires and orange-tiered roofs,
of saffron robed monks and serene Buddha images.
Classic sights, most famously the Grand Palace
and Temple of the Emerald Buddha, remain as magnificent as ever.
In its enchanting ambience as well as in its major sights, Bangkok retains its own special essence.
In all things there is an element of “Thainess”, a sense of style found nowhere else and which
indelibly stamps the culture. Thus Bangkok retains a personality that is unchanging
and uniquely its own, and which allows the traveler to discover somewhere truly different while also
enjoying all modern conveniences
Set in the heart of the central plains that extend north from Bangkok is Ayutthaya. Easily visited on a day excursion from Bangkok,
either by road or, more interestingly, by the Chao Phraya river, this ancient city offers an intriguing glimpse into a glorious part.
Founded in the 14th century, Ayutthaya was the nation’s capital for more than 400 years until its destruction in 1767.
During the height of its power it ranked as the largest, most magnificent city in the Orient, as witnessed in the extensive ruins
of numerous temples and palaces that are today preserved in what is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
West of Bangkok and abutting the mountains, which divide Thailand from Myanmar, Kanchanaburi combines historical interest with some of the
most picturesque scenery in the whole country. The landscape is dominated by forested hills and the valleys of the valleys of the Khwae Noi
and Khwae Yai rivers, where waterfalls and caves are additional elements of natural wonder. Historically Kanchanaburi is best known as
the site of the infamous “Death Railway” and “Bridge Over the River Kwai”, built by allied POWs and Asian forced labour during World War II.
The region, however, has a long past, with evidence of settlement during Neolithic times, while in recorded history, the area was occupied
by the ancient Khmer prior to the rise of the Thai.
Situated on the western shores of the Gulf of Thailand, Petchaburi is best known for its beach resort of Cha-am, an established favourite for
family vacations by the sea. Aside from its long sandy beach, the province also boasts both historical and scenic attractions of considerable
interest. Petchaburi town, today a small provincial, has a distinguished history as witnessed in ancient Khmer ruins and
large number of
temples, including Wat Yai Suwannaram and Wat Ko Kaeo Suttharam, which contain some fine mural paintings.
There is also a 19th century hilltop palace built by King Rama IV, and an enchanting grotto enshrining Buddha images. The province’s natural beauty is best showcased at Kaeng Krachan
National Park, Thailand’s largest protected area covering 2,920 square kilometers of well-watered forested hills and valleys, and home to some
40 mammal species, including Malaysian sun bear, Asiatic black bear, clouded leopard, tiger and elephant. The park also encompasses the scenic
45 sq km Kaeng Krachan Reservoir.
Prachuap Khiri Khan
This narrow coastal province, directly south of Phetchaburi is similarly best know for a beach resort, Hua Hin, which is the country’s oldest
seaside vacation center. First coming into vogue in the 1920s as a royal summer retreat, Hua Hin today offers moderns luxury
while preserving much of its traditional character as a classic beach destination, including one of the country’s first and finest 18-hole
golf courses.The natural coastal environment is also well preserved at Khao Sam Roi Yot (Mountain of 300 Peaks) National Park, which contains
a wide range of shoreline habitats-limestone hills, marshes, mangroves, coves and caves. The fauna is especially rich in both resident and
migratory birds, of which more than 300 species are to be found. Indeed, Prachuap Khiri Khan provides equal opportunity for relaxing in the sun
and for exploring a rich natural setting, all within easy distance of Bangkok.