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With over 2,600 kilometres of coastline along the Gulf of Thailand and the Andaman Sea, Thailand has an abundance of beaches, seaside resorts and offshore islands. While most of the cleaner and lesser frequented beaches are located in southern Thailand, the eastern and western seaboards have a fair share of beaches and seaside resorts to boast of, some of which can be reached in a few hours from Bangkok. The Gulf of Thailand is the easiest region to explore. A regular service of buses from the bus erminal, opposite Soi 42 on Sukhumvit Road, connects Bangkok to Chonburi, Pattaya, Rayong, Ban Phe and Chantaburi.
The most frequented of all seaside resorts is none else than Pattaya, 147 kilometres from Bangkok. Once a sleepy fishing village, Pattaya has grown to become a major beach resort dotted with highrise buildings and luxury hotels, first class restaurants, cabarets, discotheques and nightclubs. It is also a centre for sports and leisure activities.
Basically, Pattaya consists of one curved four-kilometre-long road along the sea. On the northern side are hotels, restaurants, bars and shopping malls, and on the southern side is the sea. The two main streets known as Beach Road and Beach Road 2 are one-way streets.
As the sun goes down South Pattaya begins to swing. Scores of foodstalls and itinerant vendors crop up, selling anything from fruits and flowers to electronic watches, Buddha images and even rubies and sapphires.
Pattaya has no dearth of hotels ranging from budget class to luxury properties like the Royal Cliff Beach Resort which is in itself four hotels rolled into one. The Resort also has a private beach thanks to the location. Among the other popular ones are Dusit Resort, Amari Archid Resort and Marriott Royal Garden Resort.
One can never go hungry in Pattaya for there is something for everyone whatever your tastes may be. From Arabic dishes to French cuisine, and from Thai food to Japanese delicacies, including fresh seafood, the restaurants serve their customers till late into the night. For sun-Iand-sand lovers and water sports fans, Pattayals climate provides ideal conditions for swimming, fishing, sailing, water-scooter riding, water skiing, parasailing, scuba diving and windsurfing.
Windsurfing: There are plenty of windsurfing schools and the sport is popular at all beaches. The best season is October-June. Parasailing: Towed along by a speed boat, as one dangles from a parachute, it is a thrilling and adventurous sport. Scubadiving: Certain hotels and shops offer courses on this water sport. It is best enjoyed in good, clean water. Waterskiing: Speed boats can be hired at various beach locations and the rates are negotiable. Fishing: For fishing expeditions, the main centre is Bang Saray, about 18 kilometres south of Pattaya. There is also the Panark Park, a freshwater lake en route to the Siam Country Club. Other sports include tennis, archery, bowling and snooker, horseback riding, jogging and squash. Visitors can rent water vehicles for exploring Pattaya Bay and neighbouring beaches including.
Surrounded by sugarcane, tapioca and coconut plantations, Chonburi is about 100 km from Bangkok. Apart from being an important centre for oysters, it has two temples of interest - Wat Intharam, which is the oldest in the province and Wat Dhamma Minitr with a tall image of Buddha in a boat. On a hill outside Chonburi is Wat Buddhapat, also known as Buddha's Footprint Mountain.
Of all the health spas along the eastern coast, Si Racha is the most famous. Known as the production centre for a pungent sweet fish sauce called nam prik si racha, this little village has won praise as being the cleanest in the kingdom. Its parklands and curving shoreline have found favour with convalescents since one of King Chulalongkorn's queens first set up a sanitorium there.
Linked to the mainland by a one-and-a-half-kilometre-long bridge is Koh Loi or the Floating Island. The island temple of Koh Loi Srimaharaja sits high above the mud flats during the low tide and becomes an island when the water rises. The temple features a chedi, viharn and lifesize statue of a monk known for his healing powers. What is most notable about the site is the beautiful view it enjoys. The pavilion is buffeted by constant breezes which sets its tiny bronze bells tingling.
About 12 kilometres from Si Racha, which once served as Thailand's custom port and was listed among the kingdom's most popular weekend destinations is Koh Si Chang. The island has been a favourite with the Thai royalty. King Mongkut visited it 120 years ago. King Chulalongkorn built a rest house and restored a 10 metre-high chedi. The island's pure and fresh airbrought King Vajiravudh to this island for recuperation from illness. The island's two principal sights - a Chinese temple and the ruins of the old royal palace - can be seen from faraway. The temple, halfway up the hill, is always shrouded by the sweet haze of burning incense. This temple is much revered by the Chinese who visit the shrine in great numbers at Chinese New Year.
The ruins of King Chulalongkorn's old summer retreat are one kilometre left of the town. The surviving foundations, crumbling staircases, beautiful flowering trees and an eerie reservoir blanketed with dead leaves form a sight which is slightly different from what one might expect prior to being there. Sharing the pride of the island are the pomegranates, the size of which is unequalled in Thailand. The bitter-sweet, ruby-red fruit is prized by locals and the Thai tourists who throng the island on weekends.
Thailand's oldest beach resort, Hua Hin is located 188 kilometresfrom Bangkok,on the western coast overlooking the Gulf of Thailand. The main attraction is the beach with some watersports facilities and an 18-hole golf course. Hua Hin also offers picturesque hills, jungle, lakes, sugarcane and pineapple plantations. It was put on the map by King Chakrabongse in 1910 when he brought international royalty here for a hunt. He chanced upon this beach and impressed by its beauty built a vitla closeby which still exists.
South of Hua-Hin is the port of Pranburi and nearby is the National Park of Khao Sam Roi Yot (Mountain of 300 Peaks). This park has innumerable gorges and caves that provided shelter to highwaymen who robbed unwary travellers. Cha-Am is a long, straight casuarina-lined beach favoured mostly by Thai people. Situated 170 kilometres from Bangkok, this typical Thai beach resort can make a good day's excursion.
This hill town lies in a picturesque valley near the Burmese border, about 360 km from Chiang Mai. It is an exciting journey around the mountains and the landscape is amazingly beautiful. Long isolated from the rest of Thailand by its geographical situation, it was not until 1832 that the Prince of Chiang Mai first sent an expedition into the area in search of the white elephant. It is not known whether the elephant was found, but a small settlement was definitely founded. Half a century later, Mae Hong Son became a provincial capital.
Today, the town has not only cars and motorbikes but also an airport. The place retains its charm and culture and is unaffected by tourism. A spectacular view of the town can be had from Wat Phrathat Doi Kong Mu, a Burmese-style temple at a height of 1,360 ft. Other wats include Wat Phra Non and Wat Kham Kho near the foot of Doi Kong Mu. Wat Chong Kam and Wat Chong Klang are other Burmese-style temples situated near the town's small lake.
Founded in 1262 by King Mengrai, Chiang Rai is about 178 km from Chiang Mai and at the heart of the Golden Triangle - the meeting point of Thailand, Laos and Burma. About 785 km from Bangkok, it is accessible by air and road. Chiang Rai, once the capital of the Lanna kingdom, was conquered by Burma but became a part of Thailand in 1786. Other than the many high-altitude tribal villages and the breathtaking beauty of the mountains that surround it, Chiang Rai's main attraction is its wats. Wat Phra Keo on Trirat Road is said to be the original home of the Emerald Buddha. It was discovered when lightning cracked the chedi and exposed the statue. Wat Ngam Muang is situated atop a hill where an ancient chedi enshrines the remains of King Mengrai.
An enchanting little settlement on the banks of the Mekong, Chiang Saen is about 30 km from Chiang Rai. The Golden Triangle is easily accessible from here. Temples worth visiting are - Wat Pa Sak with an excellently restored chedi, Wat Phra That Chom Kitti which provides a good view of Chiang Saen and Wat Chedi Luang known for its 186-foot- high chedi. This is opposite a small museum which is open daily, except Monday and Tuesday. Local shops here sell fabrics and home-spun bags.
An attractive and popular place, well known for its old temples, Nan lies in the far north. ocated on the west bank of the River Nan, it is about 340 km from Chiang Mai. The town is also known for its annual boat race, marked by a lively fair held during that time. Nan's historical background dates back to the 19th century and can be gathered from the National Museum in the vicinity of the town. There are some wats worth seeing.
Just opposite the museum is Wat Chang Kham Vora Viharn known for its chedi constructed in 1406. On the other side is Wat Phumi built in 1596. It houses a giant centrepiece of four Buddha images. The walls of this wat are decorated with murals. Two bronze statues of the walking Buddha are enshrined at Wat Phaya Phu. A 130-foot-high prang and a viharn enshrining a 500-year-old Buddha image of Phra Chao Thong Tip are the main features of Suan Tan. The walled temple dating from the 11 th century is Wat Phra That Chae Haeng. Located on the opposite bank of River Nan, it has a 176 ft. high chedi.
This little town is midway between Bangkok and Chiang Mai. Situated on the banks of River Ping, King Taksin of Thonburi was once the governor of Tak. A statue of the king and a pavilion have been built in his honour. The town's other attractions are Wat Bot Mani Sibunruang known for its northern style viharn and a gold-crowned chedi, Mae Sot an interesting little border town facing Burma and the ruins of Kamphaeng Phet, once a satellite of Sukhothai.