Peace & Quiet
Land of the Free
Through a fortuitous mixture of good luck (Great Britain and France were more interested in keeping each other out than in taking over) and the far-sighted modernising philosophies espoused by King Mongkut (1851-68) and King Chulalongkorn (1868-1910), Siam, as Thailand was then known, remained independent throughout the colonial period. Perhaps because of this, Thai people are particularly welcoming and courteous to foreigners. They are very open to new ideas and fashions; if they like something, they will embrace it with open arms. Yet they remain distinctively Thai, with a confidence in their unique cultural identity.
Thailand is a fortunate land. Literally translated, its name can mean 'Land of the Free', and indeed - almost alone in Asia - it escaped colonisation by the West. Fertile, warm and washed by the seas of two oceans (the Indian and the Pacific), the country can easily feed its rapidly stabilising population with plenty left over for export. Its people are friendly, hence the popular epithet 'Land of Smiles', and the scenery, from the mountainous north to the jewel-like islands and pristine beaches of the south, is of great beauty.
This tropical paradise also boasts a cuisine that is delicious, varied and features a mouth-watering selection of familiar and exotic fruits. Not surprisingly, tourism has become a major industry, encouraging over the past 25 years the development of the most sophisticated and diverse destination in the region. Getting to Thailand is increasingly easy and reasonably priced, and the range of accommodation is unsurpassed, from sumptuous international resorts and luxury hotels to clean and comfortable guest houses.
Thailand is not just a delight for hedonists seeking a suntan. This ancient kingdom has produced some of the most outstanding architecture in the world. From the Grand Palace in the national capital, Bangkok, to the temple-studded city of Chiang Mai in the north, a plethora of attractions awaits the visitor. Saffron-clad Buddhist monks, colourful minority hill tribes and the general population bear daily witness to Thailand's age-old culture and traditions. They form a vibrant backdrop for adventurous pursuits such as elephant riding, trekking, rafting and scuba-diving. An internationally renowned nightlife and world-class shopping ensure this destination satisfies every taste and purpose.