Thailand’s geography and terrain are quite diverse: from the lush, jungle covered peaks of the northern mountains to the turquoise hues of the Gulf of Thailand. Exploring Thailand by air, whether skydiving or riding aboard a hot air balloon, glider, helicopter, or small aircraft allows visitors to have an exhilarating experience while getting a unique perspective on Thailand’s spectacular countryside.
Because of its reasonable prices, outstanding weather, and warm hospitality, Thailand is a top destination for those looking to learn something on their holiday. Thai cooking, Thai massage, and Muay Thai boxing are popular cultural subjects of study that can be undertaken in a day or over an entire holiday. Flight schools, golf lessons, rock climbing instruction, and scuba certification are other popular holiday activities that benefit from Thailand’s rich natural resources, high standards of professionalism, and inexpensive pricing.
Without question, Bangkok is one of the world’s premier shopping destinations. Shopping in Thailand is world class, featuring 21st century shopping malls, such as Siam Paragon; multi-story electronics malls including Panthip Plaza; expansive local markets, such as the JJ weekend market; and local markets from Chiang Mai to Udon Thani that sell everything from clothes and household goods to food and flowers.
Nearly every city and town has a central market that is a fascinating way to spend a few hours and a great way to pick up toiletries, clothes, or local handicrafts. In the larger, touristier towns like Chiang Mai, weekend markets and night markets feature all variety of handicrafts both modern and traditional, including t-shirts and dresses made by inspirational young artists and puppets and jewelry crafted by hill tribe communities.
Bangkok’s night markets on Patpong and Sukhumvit Roads are ideal places to pick up souvenirs or gifts for those back home, while more impressive gifts can be procured from retailers such as certified antiques dealers, gem and jewelry shops, or Jim Thompson, the famous silk pioneer. In regards to gems and antiques, it should be noted that there are numerous occurrences of scams involving antiques and gems, and restrictions on the export of Buddha images. Otherwise, with the right guidance there are genuine opportunities to make some brilliant shopping discoveries.
Getting clothes tailor made in Bangkok is a top priority for many, though boutique shops in Siam Square feature the latest ready-to-wear designs from the city’s chic young designers. Meanwhile, in Chinatown, almost every conceivable knick-knack and trinket is for sale in the myriad mazes of back alleys, while those shopping for gold can do so along the district’s Yaowarat Road.
Thailand has abundant natural resources, including a variety of flora and fauna, as well as a diverse natural environment. There are more than 100 national parks, including over 20 marine parks, and the animals in Thailand include more than 1,000 different mammal species, numerous birds -both native and migratory, and spectacular marine life.
Each Thai National Park is inhabited by unique flora and fauna, from the northern mountain’s temperate forests and central Thailand’s expansive plains to the northeastern savannahs and the southern coast’s mangrove forests. The diversity of wildlife includes monkeys, gibbons, elephants, bears, and even whale shark, the largest fish in the world.
Eco-activities in Thailand include trekking, kayaking, snorkeling, nature photography, river rafting, bird watching, and spotting other wild animals in Thailand, such as elephants and gibbons.
Thai plants and animals are both unique and diverse, with a variety of climates suitable for various plant and animal species.
Natural forest covers nearly 25% of Thailand, with woodlands consisting primarily of monsoon forest and rainforest. Monsoon forests consist primarily of deciduous or hardwood trees, which shed their leaves during the dray season in order to conserve water. The rainforest zones are covered by evergreen trees. In the in the coastal lowlands, in addition to more predominately rainforest cover, mangroves and rattan abound. Trekking, horse riding, mountain biking, and even kayaking are great ways to get out into Thailand nature and make the most of your experience in the kingdom.
Thailand is famous for its variety of fruit and flower bearing trees and plants, the most iconic of which is the orchid, Thailand’s national flower which appears in over 27,000 different varieties.
While encroachment on their habitat has reduced the numbers of exotic animals in Thailand, there are still a great variety of indigenous species. The most iconic of these is the Elephant, of which roughly 1,000 remain, mostly within the National Parks in Thailand. Among the larger mammals are the tiger, leopard, Malaysian sun bear, sambar deer, otter, and civet cat. Climbing animals include the gibbon and many species of monkeys. There are also sheep, goats, oxen, tapirs, wild cattle, wild hogs, and a wide variety of snakes, including cobra.
There are over 900 breeding bird species indigenous to or migrating to Thailand. Birdwatching tours are particularly popular in Sam Roi Yot National Park and Khao Sok, which is home to six species of hornbill. Crocodiles, lizards, and turtles are numerous. Fish abound in the rivers and coastal waters.
Hiring a car and exploring Thailand on your own is an outstanding way to see the real Thailand, as hiring a Thai car is a cheap way of seeing rural areas and meeting everyday Thai people. Whether you hire a car to explore around Phuket or to see the countryside around Chiang Mai, renting a car is generally an easy and fairly inexpensive proposition. One way rentals between destinations (e.g. Bangkok-Chiang Mai) are also a possibility, though you should expect to pay a drop-off fee.
Avis, Hertz and other international car hire agencies are well represented in Thailand, although many rental companies will not rent a Thai car or provide insurance to drivers who do not have an international driving license. While it is technically legal to drive in Thailand with a valid foreign driver’s license, having an international license will make renting and driving a Thai car potentially less problematic.
Furthermore, Thailand has an excellent network of well maintained roads and highways between all the provincial capitals and major towns and cities in between.
Most roads and highways are in good condition, and have two or three lanes on each side, including a majority of the north-south route (from Chiang Mai to Bangkok to the southern beaches). Road signage follows international convention and is in both Thai and English, though some are only in Thai (like 'Stop' and 'Give Way'). Buy a decent road map before you set off, though it’s well to remember that Thai words aren't always romanized consistently (e.g. Petburi road on the map and Phetchaburi road on the street sign are one and the same).