Regions of Thailand
Geographically, the Central Region extends from rugged western mountains bordering Burma to the northeast plateau to the east; extends northwards to Nakhon Sawan where the Ping, Wang, Nan, and Yom rivers unite to form the Chao Phraya River (River of Kings), which flows southwards to dissect Bangkok before entering the Gulf of Thailand; and southwards to Prachuap Khirikhan, where Thailand is compressed to its narrowest point, some 60 kilometres wide between western mountains and the Thai Gulf.
The Chao Phraya River largely irrigates the Central Plain, one of the world's major rice and fruit-growing areas, and sustains an intricate network of canals that irrigate bountiful orchards and market gardens; host vibrant floating markets; and support a unique, waterborne way of life.
Briefly, Bangkok's major tourism attractions include the fabulous Wat Phra Keo (Emerald Buddha Chapel) and Grand Palace complex; Wat Arun (Temple of Dawn); Wat Pho (Temple of the Reclining Buddha); Wat Saket (Golden Mount); Wat Benchamabophit (Marble Temple); Wiman Mek Palace, favorite residence of King Chulalongkorn (1868-1910) and the world's largest golden teak building; the fabulous royal barges; the Pasteur Institute's Snake Farm where poisonous snakes are fed daily and venom is "milked" from cobras and kraits to make invaluable serum; Jim Thompson's House Museum which contains a superb collection of Asian objets d'art; Suan Pakkand Palace's lacquer pavilion which is decorated with medieval gold leaf murals; the world's largest Crocodile Farm; a 200-acre open-air museum called the Ancient City; entertainment and recreational complexes such as Siam Water Park, Safari World, King Rama IX Park, and Dusit Zoo; unrivaled shopping opportunities for some of the world's most admired handicrafts; exceptionally fine dining in gourmet restaurants featuring the world's favorite cuisines; and a liberated, almost legendary nightlife.
The Rose Garden, a riverside tropical park/country club one hour west of Bangkok, boasts an 18-hole championship golf course, fine accommodation, and a Thai Village where daily shows feature traditional activities such as folk dancing, the Thai wedding ceremony, a Buddhist ordination, and elephants at work.
Nakhon Pathom, 30 minutes further west (60 kilometres from Bangkok), hosts the world's tallest Buddhist monument, the 380-foot high Phra Pathom Chedi, which marks the spot where Buddhism was introduced some 2,300 years ago to the Thailand-to-be.
Damnoensaduak , 40 minutes south of Nakhon Pathom, is Thailand's most vibrant floating market, where farmers congregate on canals each morning in produce-laden boats.
Kanchanaburi, some 130 kilometres west of Bangkok, is famous for the "Bridge Over The River Kwai," an Allied war cemetery, and surrounding countryside characterized by waterfalls, broad fertile valleys, and caves once inhabited by Neolithic man. The Saiyok Noi, Saiyok Yai, Erawan, and Huai Khamin Waterfalls and 12th century Khmer Prasat Muang Sing are especially worth visiting.
Ayutthaya, some 70 kilometres upstream from Bangkok, was the Siamese capital from 1350 to 1767. Magnificent ruins of temples, palaces, and crumbling fortresses provide eloquent testimony of the former capital's splendor. Wat Panan Choeng, Wat Si San Phet, Wat Mahathat, Wat Ratchaburana, Phu Khao Thong, and the Chao Sam Phraya National Museum should not be missed.
Bang Pa-In Palace, just south of Ayutthaya, was the summer residence of early Chakri kings. The local Wat Niwet Thamaprawat is one of Thailand's most unusual Buddhist temples, the chapel resembling an English Gothic church.
Phra Buddha Bat, Shrine of the Buddha's Footprint, is just north of Saraburi, some 110 kilometres north of Bangkok. The Buddha's Footprint was discovered accidentally some 350 years ago when a deer hunter found that a pool of water in the shape of an enlarged human foot had curative powers.
Lop Buri, an ancient city dating from the 9th century some 150 kilometres north of Bangkok contains Hindu and Khmer ruins and the imposing Ramratchaniwet Palace built by Ayutthaya's King Narai during the 1600s as a summer retreat. Major ruins include the Khmer Phra Prang Sam Yot, the Hindu San Phra Kan, and Wat Phra Si Mahathat.
Phetchaburi, 120 kilometres southwest of Bangkok, is well known for its exotic sweets; the Buddha-filled Khao Luang Caves; the hilltop Phra Nakhom Khiri palace; the lovely Wat Suwanaram, with its Ayutthayan meeting hall, murals, and scriptural repository; and the mountainous, scenically arresting Kaeng Krachan, Thailand's largest national park.
Cha Am, 173 kilometres southwest of Bangkok, has a popular beachside resort hotel and public beach.
Hua Hin, 198 kilometres from Bangkok, is Thailand's oldest beach resort and has been the Thai royal family's summer residence since the 1920s. A genteel Edwardian ambiance characterizes the resort, which has a fine beach, excellent accommodation, and opportunities for swimming, sailing, riding, windsurfing, waterskiing, parasailing, snorkeling, fishing, playing tennis and golf.
Sam Roi Yot National Park, one hour south of Hua Hin, occupies approximately 60 square kilometres of coastal land.
Prachuap Khiri Khan, some 280 kilometres from Bangkok, is a fishing town with a scenic bay and the beachside Khao Chong Krachok (Mirror Mountain), which supports a small pagoda and a resident monkey tribe.
Bangsaen, 100 kilometres southeast of Bangkok, is the capital's nearest resort. A cool palm-lined promenade separates Bangsaen's long crescent beach from seafront bungalows, a water amusement park, and a modern hotel.
Khao Khiao Open Zoo, 15 kilometres inland from Bang Phra, occupies a 1200-acre hillside setting. Favorite Asian, African, and European mammals occupy spacious enclosures. Thailand's most spectacular aviary, nestling against a forested hillside, contains several rare Asian species.
Si Racha, 15 minutes further down the coast from Bang Phra, is a fishing community famed for a delicious, tangy sauce and excellent seafood.
Pattaya, 147 kilometres southeast of Bangkok. is Thailand's "Riviera" and internationally famous beach resort. All manner of watersports, motor-racing, offshore coral islands, luxury accommodation, and a vibrant nightlife comprise Pattaya's main attractions.
Bang Sare fishing village, from where game fishermen seek marlin, sharks, king mackerel, tuna, and other Gulf denizens, and Sattahip, lie within 30 minutes to the south.
Rayong, is best known for its Ban Phe fishing village and the narrow, 6-kilometer long Samet Island. Ko Samet has some 15 bays and lovely beaches, Coral reefs and limpid waters ideal for swimming, snorkeling, scuba diving, and fishing are found on the island's east coast.
Chanthaburi, is famous for historic sites: Thailand's largest Christian church; locally mined star sapphires; bountiful orchards; and the Khao Khitchakut and Namtok Phlui National Parks, which contain attractive waterfalls.
Trat, the province bordering Kampuchea, is best known for the 52-island Ko Chang Marine National Park, which is dominated by Thailand's second largest island.
In 1238, the aptly named Sukhothai (Dawn of Happiness) became the first truly independent Thai kingdom where the Thai alphabet was created and art forms developed.
Diverse elements, including crisp mountain scenery, hill tribes, forests worked by elephants, colorful festivals, invigorating cool season weather, ancient cities, exquisite northern Thai- and Burmese-style temples, and friendly people contribute to northern Thailand's enduring charm.
Sukhothai, 427 kilometres north of Bangkok, is notable for massive sentinel stone Buddha images that preside over ruins within the old city walls. The largest temple, Wat Si Chum, with its massive seated Buddha measuring some meters from knee to knee, merits special attention.
Phitsanulok, south of Sukhothai, is as famous as the site of the riverside Wat Phra Si Rattana Mahathat, which enshrines the venerated Phra Buddha Chinarat cast in 1357, and is commonly regarded as Thailand's most beautiful Buddha image.
Si Satchanalai, 55 kilometres north of Sukhothai, was the ancient seat of Sukhothai's viceroys, and is noted for several magnificent ruins, including Wat Chang Lom and Wat Chedi Chet Thaeo.
Lampang, 600 kilometres north of Bangkok, is the sole provincial Thai capital where horse-drawn carriages remain in daily use. Lampang is noted for several Burmese-style temples, including Wat Phra Kaeo Don Tao and Wat Si Chum, the magnificent Wat Lampang Luang, and a Thai Elephant Conservation Centre.
Lamphun, 670 kilometres from Bangkok, is famed for beautiful women, bountiful orchards, and the stunning Wat Phra That Hariphunchai, a classic example of northern religious architecture.
Chiang Mai, the principal northern city, some 700 kilometres north of Bangkok, was founded in 1296 and is located in a fertile valley approximately 1,000 feet above sea level. Many of its historic temples date from the 1300s. You can enjoy crisp mountain scenery, distinctive festivals and handicrafts, and learn firsthand about several formerly itinerant hill tribes of Tibeto-Burman origin.
The Bor Sang-San Kampaeng area is particularly rich in cottage industries that produce handicrafts such as parasols, silks, cottons, jewelry, woodcarvings, silverware, ceramics, and lacquerware.
Doi Inthanon, Thailand's highest mountain, lies to the west. A 90-kilometer drive from Chiang Mai brings the visitor to the 8,514 foot-summit, passing the beautiful and popular Mae Klang, Wachirathan, and Siriphum waterfalls.
Mae Hong Son, a 35-minute flight northwest of Chiang Mai, is the tiniest and most isolated northern provincial capital, nestling in a valley surrounded by mountains containing several hill tribes and Burmese-style temples.
Chiang Rai, northeast of Chiang Mai and 785 kilometres from Bangkok, lies in the very heart of the Golden Triangle and is particularly famed for majestic mountains and many high-altitude hilltribe villages. Popular attractions include Chiang Saen, an ancient capital facing Laos across the Mekong River, and the mountaintop Wat Phra That Doi Tung, which commands a spectacular view of surrounding mountains and several Akha hilltribe villages.
Nan, some 790 kilometres from Bangkok, is the site of famous annual boat races and several historic temples, including Wat Chang Kham, Wat Chae Haeng, Wat Phra That Khao Noi, and Wat Phumin, with its undulating Naga balustrades and famous murals.
Known by Thais as I-San, the sprawling Northeast Plateau is bordered to the north and east by the Mekong River and Laos, and to the south largely by Kampuchea.
Khao Yai National Park, northeast of Saraburi and some 200 kilometres from Bangkok, covers parts of four provinces at an average elevation of 800 meters. Khao Yai is some 54,000 acres in area, has a highest peak of 1,351 meters, and contains within its rain forests and high grasslands numerous species of protected wildlife, such as deer, bears, tigers, elephants, giant hornbills, sunbirds, and silver pheasants. The park is laced with hiking trails, and has 10 rapids and waterfalls.
Nakhon Ratchasima, 259 kilometres northeast of Bangkok, is the gateway to l-San. Fifty-six kilometres to the northeast of the provincial capital lies Phimai, site of an 11th century prasat hin temple, one of the loveliest examples of classical Khmer architecture found outside Kampuchea. The complex occupies land within boundary walls measuring 250 X 280 meters and was sufficiently important to have been connected by road with Angkor.
Other major l-San attractions include Khon Kaen, a university town some 450 kilometres from Bangkok in I-San's geographic centre, famous for its Mat Mi silk; Loei province's Phu Kra Dung National Park, a crisply beautiful forested plateau between 1,000 and 1,350 meters, where nighttime temperatures sometimes drop to near freezing point, and the Kaeng Khut Khu rapids at Chiang Khan, the scenic Si Chiangmai to Nongkhai road, which largely parallels the Mekong River; Udon Thani's Ban Chiang village and museum, which house priceless Bronze Age jewelry and pottery excavated from local burial mounds; Nakhon Phanom's Phra That Phanom, the most revered Northeast shrine, the spire of which dates from the 5th century; Ubon Ratchathani, 629 kilometres from Bangkok, which introduces the annual Buddhist Rains Retreat with a lovely Candle Festival, and the pre-historical rock paintings at Pha Taem in Khong Chiam district near the Mekong River; Yasothon, where, each summer, massive homemade rockets are ceremoniously fired into the air to 'ensure' bountiful rains; Surin, where an annual Elephant Round-Up each November attracts visitors from all over the world; and Buri Ram's Prasat Hin Phanom Rung, a lovely hilltop Khmer sanctuary once connected by road with Angkor.
Geographically, southern Thailand extends through the Kra Isthmus from Chumphon, 460 kilometres south of Bangkok, to the Thai-Malaysian border, and is bordered in the east by the Gulf of Thailand, to the west by the Indian Ocean.
Chumphon has several lovely beaches, birds' nest islands, and excellent scuba diving waters, particularly around Ko Tao.
Ranong, to the southwest, 568 kilometres from Bangkok, has a Hot Spa Health Resort drawing water from Thailand's sole potable Geo-Thermal Mineral Water Spring.
Surat Thani, is best known for the beautiful Ko Samui, Thailand's third largest island, 268 nautical miles south of Bangkok, and jewel of a sparkling archipelago that contains the lovely Angthong (Golden Bowl) Marine National Park.
Nakhon Si Thammarat, 780 kilometres south of Bangkok, is an ancient city, home of the historically important Wat Phra Maha That, and the major centre of southern Thai handicrafts such as black and gold neilloware, yen lipao basketry, and intricate shadow-play figures.
Songkhla, 950 kilometres from Bangkok, a medieval pirate stronghold, is a historic, albeit sleepy town with a thriving fishing community and the lovely Samila beach. The Great Songkhla Lake hosts the 32-square-kilometer Khu Khut Waterfowl Park, home to some 140 species.
Pattani, some 100 kilometres further south, has Thailand's most beautiful mosque and innumerable fishing communities with hand-painted, lavishly decorated boats.
Narathiwat, further south and bordering Malaysia, is noted for its Ba Cho Waterfall, a massive seated golden Buddha at Wat Khao Kong, and the border town of Sungai Golok with its liberated nightlife.
Hat Yai, 933 kilometres from Bangkok, is southern Thailand's principal commercial communications and entertainment centre, and regularly attracts visitors from nearby Malaysia.
Phatthalung, some 95 kilometres north of Hat Yai, has the Talay Noi Nok Nam bird sanctuary at the northwestern end of the Songkhla Great Lake.
Trang's Khao Chong Nature Reserve, some 65 kilometres further west, contains one of southern Thailand's loveliest waterfalls.
Krabi's major attractions are the beautiful Phi Phi islands, the 75-million-year-old Susan Hoi shell graveyard, one of the only three in the world, and the sweeping Noppharat Beach.
Phang Nga's major attraction is the eerily beautiful Phang Nga Bay, where verdant limestone islands, honeycombed with caves and aquatic grottoes, soar perpendicularly to heights of 300 meters and more from almost perpetually calm waters.
Phuket, 862 kilometres from Bangkok, is Thailand's largest island (the approximate size of Singapore). Phuket is a resort of international stature, blessed with a wide variety of magnificent beaches, hidden coves, and secluded bays, and has probably the best seafood in Thailand.
Thanks to the Tourist Authority of Thailand (TAT) for providing this information.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication