Whenever Thai Airways International takes delivery of a new aircraft, the several million dollars worth of hi-tech aviation machinery is blessed by a Buddhist monk according to time-honoured ritual. Similarly, soaring Manhattan-style office blocks in Bangkok are inaugurated with propitious rites
rooted in ancient beliefs. Any land which can maintain such traditions and host around 10 million visitors a year surely has some magic left to offer.
Throughout its 700 years of independence, the Kingdom has displayed an amazing continuity, underpinned by the peoples' unwavering adherence to Buddhism, the national religion, and to the monarchy which, constitutional since 1932, is as deeply revered now as it was in the days when kings were
literally 'Lords of Life'.
Enduring traditions exemplify a quintessential "Thainess" which inedibly colours the nation and gives the sense of an ancient land that is different. Yet the Thais miraculously combine a sincere respect for the past with zest for the new and a joy in today's pleasures.
It is precisely this seeming paradox that makes Thailand so rewarding. Here is not only a truly multifaceted destination of enormous cultural and topographical diversity, but also all the modern advantages to ensure the most pleasurable travel experience. From exclusive opportunities for sightseeing
to excellent accommodation in all categories, superb dining, shopping aand leisure, the visitor will find plenty to appreciate.
Thailand's main gateway is Bangkok, where most tourists spend a few days all the time. The Thai capital can appear confusing and ugly. In what seems variously to be Tokyo, Los Angeles and Disneyland, the skyline is dominated by thrusting highrise blocks, while the constant heat, air pollution and hopeless
traffic congestion threaten chaos.
In time, however, negative first impressions fade and Bangkok's inescapable, if idiosyncratic, charm exerts its influence. Within a modern sybaritic world, the city manges to preserve its cultural heritage to a marked degree. The soaring roofs and gleaming spires of the Grand Palace and many historic temples
present of medieval Oriental wonder, the very stuff of Easten fairytales.
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Beyond Bangkok, tropical beaches are the big attraction. Close to Bangkok is the brash and bawdy international playground of Pattaya while, on the opposite shore of the Gulf of Thailand, Cha-am and Hua Hin provide quiet beach alternatives. Top spots, however, are in the far south, where Phuket island, Ko Samui and Krabi boast some of the finest
beaches in the world.
By contrast, northern Thailand is an area of uplands with splendid natural scenery and ancient monuments attesting to a long and distinct history. Here the attractions are sightseeing and exploring hill country dotted with the villages of colourful hilltribes.
In between are the Central Plains, the nation's agricultural heartland and site of the ancient capitals of Ayutthaya and Sukhothai. The area to the west of Bangkok, stretching to the Burmese border, is rich in both history and nautral beauty, while Northeast Thailand is the least developed part of the country
and in many respects the most traditional.
It is a cliche, but no less true, that Thailand offers something for everyone. It is neither the tropical paradise of tour brochures nor the Sodom and Gomorrah of press reports. Liberally showered with natural gifts and cultural distinctions, Thailand simply presents a rather greater choice than most other places.