Top Attractions in Thailand
The Grand Palace
Bangkok's Grand Palace and the adjacent royal temple, Wat Phra Kaew, appear like a fairy-tale castle of golden domes and glittering spires within white fortified walls. They were the centerpieces of the new capital when it was built more than 200 years ago, and they still form Bangkok's most impressive architecture. Wat Phra Kaew contains the Emerald Buddha, Thailand's most revered religious image.
Sukhothai is recognized as the first independent kingdom in what would eventually become Thailand. Its 13th-century ascendancy is referred to as the country's golden age: religion was codified; a writing system was introduced; and the arts flourished. The city's impressive ruins are preserved in Sukhothai Historical Park.
The Ruins of Ayutthaya
Thailand's second capital, destroyed by the Burmese in 1767, Ayutthaya had 2,000 gold temples and a population greater than London in its heyday. The Ayutthaya Historical Park has many Thai- and Khmer-style ruins that evoke the city's lost grandeur.
Chiang Mai was the capital of the ancient kingdom of Lanna, which grew to prominence in the 13th century. Even after it became part of Siam, Lanna was largely independent until the early 20th century, due to its mountainous terrain, and it retains a distinct culture. Chiang Mai was located on historically important trade routes, and still has a varied ethnic population and significant old temples. It's the gateway for jungle and hill-tribe treks.
Wat Po is Bangkok's oldest temple, and is sometimes called the country's first university. It has lessons in history and astrology inscribed on the walls, and people still come here to learn traditional medicine. Of the many buildings and images on-site, pride of place goes to the 147-foot-long Reclining Buddha, which shows the Buddha ascending into Nirvana after reaching enlightenment.
Khao Yai National Park
While the chances of seeing a tiger are remote, there's plenty of other wildlife in Khao Yai National Park, home to the waterfall from the film The Beach. The park's inhabitants include Malayan sun bears, Indian civets, and 3 million wrinkle-lipped bats that hunt for food together in a long cloud each evening.
Phimai was once the center of an important province in the Khmer empire, which at its height stretched over large parts of Thailand. The northeastern town's Prasat Hin Phimai National Historical Park has ruins of a Hindu-Buddhist temple complex that predates Angkor Wat, in Cambodia, and is thought to have inspired some aspects of it.
Ao Phang Nga
One of the most arresting natural sights in Thailand is formed by the jungle-clad limestone karsts and islands that rise like towers around the waters of Ao Phang Nga, a marine national park close to Phuket. The most famous of the islands is Koh Ping Kan, which was featured in the film The Man With The Golden Gun, and is hence better known as James Bond Island.
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