Thailand – If heaven had a window this would be your view

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Thailand is a wondrous kingdom, featuring Buddhist temples, exotic wildlife, and spectacular islands. Along with a fascinating history and a unique culture that includes delectable Thai food and massage, Thailand features a modern capital city, and friendly people who epitomize Thailand’s “land of smiles” reputation.

Thailand is the most popular tourist destination in Southeast Asia, and for a reason. You can find almost anything here: thick jungle as green as can be, crystal blue waters that feel more like a warm bath than a swim in the ocean and food that can curl your nose hairs while tap dancing across your taste buds. Exotic, yet safe; cheap, yet equipped with every modern amenity you need, there is something for every interest and every price bracket, from beach front backpacker bungalows to some of the best luxury hotels in the world. And despite the heavy flow of tourism, Thailand retains its quintessential Thai-ness, with a culture and history all its own and a carefree people famed for their smiles and their fun-seeking sanuk lifestyle. Many travelers come to Thailand and extend their stay well beyond their original plans and others never find a reason to leave. Whatever your cup of tea is, they know how to make it in Thailand.

History

The earliest identifiably Thai kingdom was founded in Sukhothai in 1238, reaching its zenith under King Ramkhamhaeng in the 14th century before falling under the control of the kingdom of Ayutthaya, which ruled most of present-day Thailand and much of today’s Laos and Cambodia as well, eventually also absorbing the northern kingdom of Lanna. Ayutthaya was sacked in 1767 by the Burmese, but King Taksin regrouped and founded a new capital at Thonburi. His successor, General Chakri, moved across the river to Bangkok and became King Rama I, the founding father of the Chakri dynasty that rules (constitutionally) to this day.

Known as Siam until 1939, Thailand is the only South-East Asian country never to have been colonised by a foreign power, and fiercely proud of the fact. A bloodless revolution in 1932 led to a constitutional monarchy. During World War II, while Japan conquered the rest of Southeast Asia, only Thailand was not conquered by the Japanese due to smart political moves. In alliance with Japan during World War II, Thailand became a US ally following the conflict. After a string of military dictatorships and quickly toppled civilian Prime Ministers, Thailand finally stabilized into a fair approximation of a democracy and the economy boomed through tourism and industry. Above it all presided King Bhumibol Adulyadej (Rama IX), the world’s longest-reigning monarch and a deeply loved and respected figure of near-mythic proportions.

In September 2006, a swift and bloodless military coup overthrew populist tycoon Thaksin Shinawatra’s democratically elected but widely criticized government, exposing a fault line between the urban elite that has ruled Thailand and the rural masses that supported Thaksin. Thaksin went into exile and a series of unstable governments followed, with the successors of Thaksin’s Thai Rak Thai party and the royalist-conservative People’s Alliance for Democracy duking it out both behind the scenes and, occasionally, out in the streets, culminating in Bangkok’s airports being seized and shut down for a week in November 2008. As of 2009, things have quieted down, but the political scene remains in flux and the direction of the country once the ailing King passes away is a question mark.

Climate

Thailand is largely tropical, so it’s hot and humid all year around with temperatures in the 28-35°C range (82-95°F), a degree of relief provided only in the mountains in the far north of Thailand. The careful observer will, however, note three seasons:

  • Cool: From November to the end of February, it doesn’t rain much and temperatures are at their lowest, although you will barely notice the difference in the south and will only need to pack a sweater if hiking in the northern mountains, where temperatures can fall as low as 5°C. This is the most popular time to visit and, especially around Christmas and New Year’s or at Chinese New Year a few weeks later, finding flights and accommodation can be expensive and difficult.
  • Hot: From March to June, Thailand swelters in temperatures as high as 40°C (104°F). Pleasant enough when sitting on the beach with a drink in hand, but not the best time of year to go temple-tramping in Bangkok.
  • Rainy: From July to October, although it only really gets underway in September, tropical monsoons hit most of the country. This doesn’t mean it rains non-stop, but when it does it pours and flooding is not uncommon.

There are local deviations to these general patterns. In particular, the south-east coast of Thailand (including Ko Samui) has the rains reversed, with the peak season being May-October and the rainy off season in November-February.

 

Culture

Mainland Thai culture is heavily influenced by Buddhism. However, unlike the Buddhist countries of East Asia, Thailand’s Buddhists follow the Therevada school, which is arguably closer to its Indian roots and places a heavier emphasis on monasticism. Thai temples known as wats, resplendent with gold and easily identifiable with their ornate, multicolored, pointy roofs are ubiquitous and becoming an orange-robed monk for a short period, typically the three-month rainy season, is a common rite of passage for young Thai boys and men.

One pre-Buddhist tradition that still survives is the spirit house (ศาลพระภูมิ saan phraphuum), usually found at the corner of any house or business, which houses spirits so they don’t enter the house and cause trouble. The grander the building, the larger the spirit house, and buildings placed in particularly unlucky spots may have very large ones. Perhaps the most famous spirit house in Thailand is the Erawan Shrine in Bangkok, which protects the Erawan Hotel (now the Grand Hyatt Erawan) – built in 1956 on a former execution ground – and is now one of the busiest and most popular shrines in the city.

Some traditional arts popular in Thailand include traditional Thai dancing and music, based on religious rituals and court entertainment. Famously brutal Thai boxing (muay Thai), derived from the military training of Thai warriors, is undoubtedly the country’s best known indigenous sport.
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Phuket, Thailand

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Made up of 33 islands, Phuket covers an area of 570 square kilometers (354 square miles) and has a population of about 322,000 residents. Phuket Island, the largest, is linked to the mainland by a bridge. The country’s main source of income is tourism, though agriculture also plays a key role. The island is divided into three districts: Talang in the north, Kathu in the west, and Muang in the south.

Muang District

This area provides a less expensive alternative to the west coast beach resorts. Phuket Town is the administrative center of the island and offers a multitude of affordable accommodation, shopping, and eating. The older quarters of town are dotted with 19th century buildings that are distinguished by their distinctive Sino-Portuguese architectural style. From the summit of Rang Hill (Khao Rang) in the northwest, there are views of Makham Bay, the offshore islands, and a bird’s eye view of the town. Within this district there are also tons of things to see, including Phuket Aquarium , the Phuket Butterfly Garden and Aquarium and the Phuket Orchid Garden and Thai Village .

To the east lies Siray Island , home to Phuket’s largest settlement of Sea Gypsies. About eight kilometers (five miles) south is Chalong Bay , Phuket’s principal boat anchorage and the island’s largest bay, which has a number of renowned seafood restaurants. At the northern end is Phuket Zoo and nearby Rawai Beach . To the southwest is the Phuket Sea Shell Museum , Laem Ka Beach, a Sea Gypsy village, restaurants, shops, hotels, fishing, and charter boats.

The prominent southern extremity of the island, Prom Thep Cape , is a great place to enjoy a stunning sunset. Just to the north is Nai Harn Beach , popular for swimming and as a yacht anchorage i n the dry season. The wide, curving Kata Beach also has ideal waters for swimming and snorkeling among the coral reefs. There are numerous accommodation options, restaurants, bars, and clubs, and a regular daylight bus service runs to Phuket Town and the other beach resorts. Karon Beach is the second largest of Phuket’s principal tourist beaches and is a popular destination for tourists. Between Kata and Karon there is the crowd-pleasing Dino Park Mini Golf .

Within the Muang District a number of islands can be found, including Mai Ton Island, with its natural environment, white beaches, and clear waters. Kaew Island is small, but has a fine beach and incredible coral in the surrounding water. One of the main attractions on the island is the giant Buddha statue at Wat Phra Kaew. Lohn Island is large and mountainous, while Coral Island , is part of a marine reserve that draws travelers with its many hotels, restaurants and a variety of water sports. Raya Island is actually two islands that have crystal clear waters and excellent diving and fishing.

Kathu District

Renowned in this district is Patong Beach , the lively shopping and evening entertainment district that transformed a quiet fishing village into a bustling town in a short period of time. From bars to live music to discos, plus cuisine from all over the world available in its restaurants, every possible pass time imaginable can be found here. Not to be overlooked is the fine bay and four kilometer (2.5 mile) stretch of beach that promises excellent swimming, snorkeling and more.

Among the major attractions in the vicinity are Phuket Water-Ski Cableways , Kathu Waterfall, Loch Palm Golf Club and Tarzan Jungle Bungee Jump . In Patong, the famous Phuket Simon’s Group’s Cabaret Transvestite Show is a worthwhile after-dinner stop. Nearby is the Patong Go-Kart Speedway and to the south is the Phuket Country Club Golf Course .

At the northern end of Patong Beach is the wilder, undeveloped Kalim Beach , an adventurous stop for travelers looking to get away from the crowds. Further north lies Kamala Beach , a Muslim fishing village, with a beautiful two kilometer (1.25 mile) stretch of beach where buffalo herds often cool off in the afternoons by the sea. There are plenty of hotel options here and numerous traditional seafood restaurants. Nearby is Phuket FantaSea , Thailand’s most popular water sports center.

Thalang District

Covering the northern half of the island, this district has a number of attractions, including Thalang National Museum , which has a display of ancient artifacts and exhibits relating to the famous 1785 Battle of Thalang. Nearby is the imposing Two Heroines Monument , erected in commemoration of the sisters who lead the people into battle during an invasion from Burma long ago. Also in the area is Wat Phra Tong , home of the golden statue of Buddha that emerged from the earth many years ago.

Some of the most picturesque scenery in this area can be observed at the Khao Phra Thaeo Wildlife Sanctuary , which covers 22 square kilometers of virgin rain forest and waterfalls that serves as one of Phuket’s major fresh water sources. The Ton Sai and Bang Pae sites of the Gibbon Rehabilitation Project are also nearby.

Beaches on the west coast include Surin Beach and another fabulous sunset location, Laem Sing Beach , which is small but picturesque, with outcrops of huge granite boulders. Bang Tao Beach is mostly occupied by the massive resort development of Laguna Phuket. It is also home to the Banyan Tree Golf Club and Banyan Tree Spa . Nearby is the Phuket Laguna Riding Club and the Canal Village Shopping Center , which houses over 50 shops and restaurants.

North of Bang Tao, near the airport is Sirinat National Park , which stretches to the island’s northern-most tip and includes the 13 kilometer (8 mile) Nai Yang Beach. Often referred to as ‘Airport Beach’, this is where giant sea turtles can be seen and the National Park offices are located.

Wherever you are in Phuket, there are limitless opportunities to immerse yourself in local culture and tradition. There is more than enough opportunity to relax and enjoy the beautiful beaches and unique environment.
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Bangkok, Thailand

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As the political, economic, cultural, culinary, and spiritual capital of Thailand, Bangkok features both old-world charm and modern convenience, at times served up in an apparently chaotic manner, but always with a gracious smile.

Invariably, every Thailand holiday includes a visit to the kingdom’s capital city, Bangkok, or Krung Thep, “the city of angels” as it is known to its inhabitants. Many tourists who travel to Bangkok are immediately overwhelmed by the sheer size of the city and the vast number of attractions Bangkok has to offer. Indeed there are a wide variety of Bangkok sightseeing opportunities spanning more than two centuries of rapid development following the city’s founding in 1782 by King Rama I, the first king of the present Chakri dynasty; since that auspicious date, Bangkok has swelled to a cosmopolitan, 21st century city of more than ten million inhabitants.
While the immensity of the city and the chaos of its bustling streets can be intimidating at first, those who spend some time in Bangkok are quickly enamored by the variety of attractions Bangkok contains, from exotic temples, which epitomize Thailand’s strong Buddhist history, to modern shopping malls, which have make shopping an integral part of any Bangkok holiday. As the kingdom’s political, economic, cultural, culinary, and spiritual capital, Bangkok features attractions guaranteed to please visitors either simply passing through the city or spending their entire Thailand holiday in Bangkok.
Nearly every Bangkok holiday includes a visit to Thailand’s Grand Palace, arguably the premier Bangkok sightseeing attraction. Situated in the heart of Bangkok’s Rattakosin district, the gleaming spires of the Grand Palace are conveniently located nearby Bangkok’s most spectacular temples, including the Temple of the Emerald Buddha (Wat Phra Keaw), the Temple of Dawn (Wat Arun), and Wat Po, which features an enormous reclining Buddha and was home of the first Thai massage school in the kingdom. These iconic destinations are top attractions to all visitors who travel to Bangkok looking to appreciate Thailand’s unique cultural traditions.
In fact, there are more than 400 functioning Buddhist temples throughout the city and it’s not uncommon when you travel in Bangkok to spot saffron robed monks collecting morning alms or traveling throughout out the city, including along the Chao Phraya, the “River of Kings”, which passes alongside Rattakosin and the Temple of the Dawn.

The winding Chao Phraya is connected by numerous canals from which Bangkok has earned its nickname the “Venice of the East”; when you travel around Bangkok, a cruise on the Chao Phraya, a visit to a floating market, or an exploration of the cities “back alley” canals (klongs) are themselves unique Bangkok attractions.

Other historical and cultural Bangkok sightseeing ‘must sees’ include the National Museum, Vimanmek Mansion, and Suan Pakkad Palace, all of which either house fine art or are national treasures in their own right.

Beyond Bangkok’s historical district, there are plenty of other attractions that make a Bangkok holiday both enjoyable and memorable. While modern “downtown” districts along Silom and Sukhumvit Roads were once nightmares of oppressive heat and unbearable traffic, a modern and convenient electric rail system, including an elevated sky-train and underground subway have made travel in Bangkok both easy and enjoyable. Connecting hotels directly to modern shopping malls and traditional markets, such as the Suan Lum Night Bazaar and Chatuchak (JJ) weekend market, the MRT and BTS electric rail systems have literally elevated Bangkok shopping to world class status.
Of course, no Thailand holiday is complete without experiencing Thailand’s vibrant nightlife, during which time you may even witness the occasional elephant wandering the Bangkok streets!
Whether, the purpose of your Thailand holiday is to immerse yourself in Thailand’s unique culture or simply to splurge in Bangkok shopping malls, when you travel to Bangkok you are guaranteed a fascinating experience of both old world charm and modern convenience and luxury.Over the last few decades, Bangkok, Thailand’s capital city, has changed into a modern, exciting, and sophisticated city. Bangkok offers visitors not only the modern amenities they would expect from other cosmopolitan cities, but also a unique treasure trove of cultural attractions. Thailand, in the heart of Southeast Asia, was never colonized and thus kept its unique culture and heritage intact. Bangkok offers visitors the opportunity to experience a fascinating glimpse of Thailand’s gentle culture amidst the bustle of a great and dynamic metropolis. Amazingly, this great city has had astounding success in combining the ancient and modern worlds.
For tourists, Bangkok has a feast of attractions to offer. The city is dotted with 400 glittering Buddhist temples of great beauty, magnificent palaces, classical dance performances, numerous shopping centers, and a still functioning traditional way of life, especially along the canals and the Chao Phraya River, the “River of Kings”, which winds through the city; Bangkok truly is the “Venice of the East”.
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Top 10 Things To Do In San Jose, Costa Rica

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San Jose, Costa Rica has a wide variety of attractions, from butterflys to bullfights. Read on for information about the top ten…

You’ve flown into San Juantamaria Airport (SJO) in Alajuela and take a taxi or bus into San Jose to your hotel.  Once you’re ready to venture from your hotel room, here are a few suggestions:

1. Zoo Avenue

Zoo Avenue is a sanctuary for injured animals on one hand and a bird-lover’s paradise on the other. See colorful macaws, toucans and others from Costa Rica and around the world, mysterious owls, hungry raptors. There are also deer and monkeys and a good-sized crocodile. Time out: 2 hours

2. La Basilica de Nuestra Senora de los Angeles

Though destroyed in 1926 by an earthquake and rebuilt after, the basilica is still a very popular attraction. When Christianity came to Costa Rica, there were many devotees to the goddesses. Because of this, the Virgin Mary became very popular. The legend states that the statue of the virgin appeared miraculously on the site. Even if you aren’t religious, this is a beautiful church

3. Art

The art of Costa Rica is preserved in several popular museums.

First is the Museo de Arte Costarricense – known as el MAC – is home to the national collection of art which includes over 2,500 pieces. Sculptures, woodcarvings, and paintings can be seen here, as well as traveling exhibits from around the world. Then there’s the Galeria Ocelote. The Galeria was created to promote Latin American handcrafts. Shown here are textile designs, sculptures and ceramics among other things.

4. Butterflies

Costa Rica is home to an abundance of magnificent butterflies. Two gardens in San Jose will let you get up close and personal with these kaleidoscopic creatures. At the Spirogyra Butterfly Garden, you can learn about the natural history of Costa Rica and see the living relationship between the butterflies and their surroundings. See also beautiful plants and hummingbirds. Stop by the gift shop for lunch, all things butterfly and fabulous coffee. Open 8 to 4.

At the Butterfly Farm, just south of Alajuala, you can walk through an enclosed garden while the butterflies flutter about. You’ll see up to 80 different types of butterflies as well as see the various phases of the butterfly’s life, from egg to caterpiller to cocoon. The cocoons themselves are displayed in the shimmering colors and movement that helps keep them safe from predators. Daily bus tours leave from many San Jose hotels and is included in the admission. 2 hour guided tour.

In addition to these two, there is also the La Paz Waterfall Gardens. This is an attraction that offers not only a huge butterfly garden (claimed to be the largest in the world) but takes you into the rain forest alongside the La Paz River to see orchids and hummingbirds and a series of waterfalls that are nothing short of breathtaking. La Paz may be a bit pricey, but it’s worth every peso. There’s a remarkable hotel here as well. Plan at least 2 to 4 hours to see it all.

5. Café Britt Farm

Coffee Break time? How about a trip to the coffee farm? Café Britt is one of the top coffees in Costa Rica and the company has an interesting tour at the farm 20 minutes outside of San Jose. From the plant to the roaster to the can, see all phases of production. And, of course, a trip to the coffee farm wouldn’t be complete without a taste. Differing qualities of coffee are there for you to try and there’s a gift shop and restaurant as well.

6. Lankester Gardens

Costa Rica boasts over 1000 varieties of orchids and there are over 800 here at Lankester Gardens in Cartago (30 to 40 minutes from San Jose by bus.) The gardens are administered by the University of Costa Rica and the goal is to preserve the local flora. Walk their well tended trails from sunlight to the shadow of the forest, seeing orchids in bloom everywhere. Give yourself up to three hours for this and don’t miss the gift shop.

7. Bull fighting

If you can call it that. Ticos play at bullfighting. Las Corridas a la Tica is a popular sport. No traditional blood and guts killing of the bull here, though. Ticos prefer to just tease el toro. It’s rather an enclosed running of the bulls as up to 150 toreadors improvisados ( improvised bullfighters) scramble to stay out of the bulls way. If the bullfighters are feeling particularly brave, they’ll slap the bull’s behind on it’s way by.

8. Volcan Arenal

Not technically in San Jose, but worth a day trip to see the one of the most amazing volcanoes in Central America. The night view is breathtaking as Arenal throws fireworks into the air.

9. Soccer

The soccer season runs from September to June and Ticos – native Costa Rican – are serious fans. Costa Rican soccer is as good as any in Central America and their national team has gone to the World Cup more than once. Games are usually on Sunday at 11:00 a.m. and tickets range from $2 to $15. Better to pay more and get reserved seating in the shade.

The local team is Saprissa (affectionately called El Monstruo, or “The Monster”).

10. The sun has set and it’s time to party. Is there anything to do in San Jose at night?

Absolutely! Let’s face it, where there are tourists and college students – there is NIGHTLIFE! If you want to find out what’s going on while you’re there, where the local ex-pats are hanging out, pick up a copy of Tico Times and have a ball.

Gambling is legal in Costa Rica, so there is a wide variety of places to rid yourself of that pesky extra money. Play slots, poker, blackjack, roulette. Shoot craps. It’s all there for you.

There are discos, dance clubs, and bars aplenty in San Jose. Many of these will draw you to the dance floor with an intoxicating salsa beat. El Pueblo, an entertainment complex in the style of old Spain, offers a smorgasbord of places to try.

Just south of the University is a 2-block stretch called La Calle de Amargure (Street of Bitterness). While the name doesn’t sound inviting, it’s a haven for the suburbanites and college kids. Bars and cafes mixed with shops and bookstores. At night, the place hops.

Feeling a little more artsy than hanging with the wild bunch? Cool. San Jose has a great selection of theater and performing arts. Burlesque, modern dance, theater, symphony, and concerts all vie for your attention. Every March, the country hosts El Festival Nacional de las Artes and each night you will have an amazing selection of things to choose from.

Before you head out, though, a word to the wise. Because downtown San Jose is very compact, you can get pretty much anywhere you want to go on foot. Often, that’s the fastest way to get around. But street crime is a bit of a problem so be careful. Hang on to your purse – better yet, get a fanny pack. Don’t flash your jewelry or camera around. Better to be safe than sorry.

With its wonderful climate, rich growing jungles that are home to abundant color, both in plants and animals, and age-old culture, Costa Rica, particularly San Jose, is a great getaway.

Please Look at our upcoming tours page to take an amazing Costa Rica adventure with us http://www.playersclubtours.com/tours/

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Top Ten Most Popular Things to do in Costa Rica

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There are more things to do in Costa Rica than you’ll likely have days for. These are the most popular.

Canopy tours
Whether it’s a zip-line thrill ride, gondola, or naturalist educational trip through the treetops, canopy tours have exploded in popularity in the past decade.

Coffee tours
Before it was overtaken by tourism, coffee was the driving force of Costa Rica‘s economy. A tour of a coffee farm and processing facility is a great way to satisfy your curiosity about the source of your morning cuppa and get an introduction to Tico history and culture.

Surfing & Windsurfing
Costa Rica breaks are world renowned, and rightly so. Inland, Lake Arenal has constantly balmy water (66 to 71 °F, 19-21 °C), average wind speeds of 24 mph (40 kph), and an exquisite setting for windsurfers. Rental equipment and lessons for both types of board sport are available.

Volcano Watching
Arenal is the premier destination with its lava flows, fire belching, and rolling smoking boulders, but Poás and Irazú have their attractions as well.

Nature Cruise
The canals of Tortuguero, wetlands of Caño Negro, and mangroves of the Damas estuary adjacent to Manuel Antonio are the most popular places to sit back relax and let the boatman be your guide to bird and wildlife spotting.

Whitewater
As you might suspect in a country covered in rain forest that rises from one ocean to 12,000 feet and drops back to sea level in the space of 70 miles, whitewater abounds in Costa Rica. Trips cater to all ability levels and interests.

Beach
Sunning, swimming, surfing, sailing, scuba, snorkeling, and that’s just the S’s. Beach lovers might think that Christopher Columbus had them in mind when he dubbed this (or did he?) the land of the “Rich Coast”.

Nature Walk
This catchall category covers everything from a walk on a paved path to multi-night treks up the bed of a river to prime jaguar country. Most visitors to Costa Rica spend at least some time hiking through the rain and cloud forests or along the beaches.

Hot Springs
There are hundreds of hotsprings in this volcanic land and a couple of them have spawned spas. If you want to relax your tired muscles (or have a masseur relax them for you) hit the natural pools, then spend a night at Tabacón resort.

Waterfalls
Rainforests, mountains, and canyons add up to countless waterfalls and you can enjoy anything from walk up viewing platforms a few yards from a restaurant to strenuous hikes into secluded skinny-dipping pools.

Bird Watching
Everyone becomes an amateur birder as soon as they land in Costa Rica. You can’t help but notice the remarkable colors, calls and plumage, and you’ll find plenty of serious bird watchers and qualified guides to fill you in on the habits and natural history of the species you see.
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