March through June are generally the hottest months of the year in Thailand. Daytime highs in August can easily exceed 40°C (104°F). It's probably no wonder, then, that the traditional Thai new year in mid-April is celebrated as a water festival. In ancient times, Songkran marked the end of the dry season and the start of the rainy season. The holiday is usually the one time of year when most Thais will travel, either to their homes in the provinces, or to such popular domestic destinations such as Chiang Mai. Curiously, Bangkok can be almost deserted at this time.
The heat can certainly pose a challenge to those not used to it, but if you're looking for a beach holiday, this can be a good time to go, since most of the high season crowds have left, and the rains have not yet begun in earnest. That said, you may want to avoid the Andaman coast, which is generally much wetter than the Gulf at this time. In other words, Samui or Koh Chang are probably where you want to be.
Thailand offers the tourist a somewhat unique experience in all of Southeast Asia. Unlike all of its neighbors, the country was never colonized by Western powers. At least not in the traditional sense. A long history of openness and adaptation means that the capitol of Bangkok in particular is a very western city.
However, you only have to scratch the surface to find old traditions and a style of doing things that isn't seen much any more. A very tourist-oriented economy insures that Thailand has something for just about every one. Explore the main cities and destinations at the top of the page, or read on for an overview.
Regions & Major Cities
Thailand is a huge country of more than 60 million people. With more than 1,000 years of history since the founding of the first Thai kingdoms, and influences ranging from China to India to Portugal, the country's major regions (see map) have each developed their own distinctive culture. Each region also has its own landscape as well. All this goes to make Thailand a varied experience for the traveler who takes the time to get to know the place.
The central plains are dominated by the capital of Bangkok, with its royal temples, immense shopping centers and more than 100 museums. Outside of Bangkok, the central region also has the ancient capital of Siam, Ayutthaya.
East of Bangkok, the coast stretches to the seaside playground of Pattaya. To the northeast, a high flat plateau is a region Thais refer to as Isaan. Here you'll find many ancient remnants of the Khmer empire that built Angkor Wat, such as Prasat Hin Phimai.
The north is something of the cultural heart of Thailand, home to what is thought to be the first Thai kingdom of Yonok. Descendants of this kingdom established the long-lived kingdom of Lanna in Chiang Mai, which remains the capital of the north and a major tourist destination. Other popular cities in the north include Chiang Rai, a popular base for exploring the Golden Triangle, and Mae Hong Son, for those looking for someplace off the beaten track.