As a Buddhist nation, Thailand is full of spectacular temples, the purpose of which is for Thais to devout themselves to the principals passed down by the Buddha, nee Siddhartha Gautama. As Thailand is such a welcoming country and Buddhism is a non-restrictive religion, it is easy for visitors to study Buddhism and learn meditation at a number of temples and meditation retreats around the country.
While those simply curious about Buddhism can attend “monk chats” at Wat Chedi Luang or Wat Suan Dok in Chiang Mai, these and other temples allow visitors to check themselves in for a week or longer of intensive meditation study.
While certainly intriguing, these meditation retreats are not for those unprepared for serious self reflection: the purpose of meditation is to clear the mind and achieve clarity and inner peace; consequently, most meditation programs do not allow students to talk during their stay, with the exception of meditative chanting and discussions with senior monks to help their meditation techniques. Furthermore, by its very nature, meditation can be somewhat mundane, and so visitors are expected to follow the routines and procedures quite thoroughly if they wish to genuinely learn to meditate properly and achieve the most from their experience.
For those unable to commit to a remote meditation retreat from which they cannot easily leave, Wat Mahatat, near Bangkok’s Grand Palace, allows visitors to study meditation no less strictly, but with more flexible time requirements.
Thailand’s diverse terrain includes both developed and pristine areas that allow for a variety of outdoor land activities. Extreme activities such as paintball and bungy jumping exist closer to the centers of tourism, such as Samui and Pattaya, but there are many outdoor land activities that utilize the protected and still unspoiled regions of Thailand. Activities such as horse riding, elephant trekking, cave exploration, and rock climbing allow visitors to have fun while exploring the beautiful Thai countryside. 4x4 off road driving, mountain biking, and jungle trekking can take visitors into the most remote areas of Thailand in order to visit hill tribe villages and spot exotic and endangered wildlife. No matter what your level of activity, there are many opportunities for you to experience the great natural attractions of Thailand.
With ample green space and a reputation for first class service, Thailand was a natural choice for developers and designers to build some premier golf clubs and courses. Novices benefit from reasonable prices, while experienced golfers enjoy the spectacular weather and challenging courses, including the hilly Santiburi course on Koh Samui.
A mere thirty minutes from Bangkok, Chonburi is home to more than 30 courses, and Kanchanaburi and Hua Hin feature world class courses just a few hours further from the capital. Thailand contains courses designed by Nick Faldo, Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, and Gary Player and featuring settings including the mountain surrounded greens of Chiang Mai and the beach views of Phuket.
Nowadays even the most exclusive golf clubs in Thailand, such as the Blue Canyon Country Club, are freeing up tee times for non-members to play. Golf packages are more common than ever and Thailand is increasingly becoming a top destination for travelers looking for great courses, great prices, and great service.
Thai culture features a number of performing arts including Thai dance, drama, and sport, all of which have a number of intriguing variations. Variety shows that feature a number of different theatrical arts are common in Chiang Mai, Bangkok, Phuket, and Pattaya. There are also venues that feature Thai culture shows that specialize in particular arts.
Perhaps the most popular among visitors is classical Thai dance, which is typically accompanied by live classical Thai music. Thai dance performances in Chiang Mai, which are typically arranged in conjunction with a dinner of traditional Thai food, also feature dances from various hill tribes living in Thailand. Thai theatre includes performances by masked dancers as well as puppet shows, either performed by similarly masked dancers, or from behind a curtain using the shadows of the puppets to recount tales from Hindu and Buddhist lore.
Other Thai culture performances include wedding ceremonies, theatrical performances of ancient Muay Thai boxing matches, and of course exhibitions of Elephants, either showing off their working skills or even playing musical instruments.
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).