BANGKOK & NORTHERN THAILAND BANGKOK & NORTHERN THAILAND lonelyplanet.com
BANGKOK & NOR THERN TH AILAND •• H istory
It might be the saffron-robed monk riding the Skytrain, or the sensuous smell of spices
wafting up from a curry, or elephants strolling down the street alongside you, but at some
point Thailand enters the soul.
All roads lead to Bangkok they say, and this fabled country is the Mekong region’s most
popular destination by far. In part this is because of all the irresistible attractions – the ancient
ruins, the hill-tribe treks, the glorious temples, the golden beaches – but Thailand has also
earned this status because of its comfortable balance between East and West, foreign and
familiar. Thailand is arguably the world’s most accessibly exotic location.
While the rest of the Mekong region suffered various incarnations of war and isolation,
Thailand got a head start welcoming visitors, making it the easiest country in the region to
travel around. But don’t mistake convenience for lack of adventure or diluted culture. True,
many visitors get stuck in various backpacker ghettos (often happily so), but the tourist trail still
bypasses huge swathes of the country. Yes, Thailand can still facilitate journeys of discovery.
Though Thailand’s path through modern history differs greatly from other countries in
the Mekong region, its connection is more than just geographical. The ancient ebb and
flow of empire spilt myriad cultures across the north of Thailand and took Thai traditions
well beyond the nation’s current borders. Lao, Khmer and Yunnanese influences remain a
vital part of today’s Thai tapestry.
Whether Thailand is solely intended as your gateway to the region or you come here with
a laundry list of sights to check off, you’ll be planning your return before you’ve even left.
Rise of Thai Kingdoms
It is believed that the first Thais migrated
here from modern-day Yúnnán and Guǎngxī,
China, settling into small riverside farming