Thailand has a rich and colourful culture, and many exotic monuments and stunning beaches, which draw millions of visitors each year, ranging from budget-conscious backpackers to those seeking luxurious pampering in a spa.
Where else but Thailand can visitors cruise on a converted rice barge, roar upriver in a long-tail boat and take a white-knuckle ride on a bamboo raft, then stay in jungle tree houses as guests in the homes of hilltribe villagers, or on rafthouses floating on a river? Equally memorable are the trails leading deep into the rainforest past cooling waterfalls, and the simple beauty of the translucent sea lapping onto endless white, soft sand. Not to be missed is dynamic Bangkok, a city that is larger than life, with its futuristic high-rise buildings juxtaposed against the glittering Grand Palace.
Early morning is when the saffron-robed monks leave the sanctuary of their wats (temples) to receive alms from the people, be it in a dusty village or on crowded city streets. Buddhism is a way of life here and with the reverence the people have for the monarchy, a dynasty that has maintained the independence of the country for centuries, the result for the Thais is a blend of tradition with contemporary living.
His Majesty King Bhumibol is the longest reigning monarch in the world, having come to power in 1946. Following the end of absolute monarchy, Thailand moved towards democracy, but this was thwarted by the military, which has often staged coups in protest at government policies. The most recent was in September 2006 when a bloodless coup overthrew Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and replaced him with an interim prime minister until elections could take place, probably in October 2007.
For all this, Thailand has risen above economic collapse in 1997, SARS, avian influenza and the devastating tsunami in December 2004 to become a hugely popular destination on the long-haul tourist trail, possessed as it is of great natural beauty and a very rich cultural heritage.