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The best ideas for a multicentre holiday in Thailand

Experience the best of both worlds in Thailand

From mist-shrouded jungle hills studded with temples to tree-tufted tropical islands accented with sand, Thailand is a land of magical landscapes that offer the chance to both relax and explore all in one trip. Splitting time between Bangkok, Chiang Mai and one of the southern islands gives travellers a complete picture of the country: temples, hill tribes and tasty food in Chiang Mai; history and heart in Bangkok; and tranquillity and bliss on a little desert island. Thailand's well-developed transport network, including convenient internal flights between key destinations, means there's no need for long-distance road journeys. And finding hotels catering to your tastes couldn't be easier either - from rustic bamboo huts and yoga retreats to luxury spas and chic 5-star resorts - there's a place to stay in Thailand to suit everyone.

Culture and discovery

There are a wealth of wonderful experiences to be had in Thailand, whether it be temples, rainforest, beaches or cuisine. Thailand's buzzing capital, Bangkok, is a feast for the senses, crammed with life, sizzling street food stalls and bustling night markets, golden-gilded temples and an ornate palace. One of its best sightseeing spots is Ratanakosin, the city's old royal and religious quarter, where you can take in the dazzling architecture of the royal palace, and serene surroundings of Wat Pho temple and monastery, which houses an enormous reclining golden Buddha. Take a break from sightseeing for a vigorous Thai massage in Wat Pho's massage school and don't miss a chance to take a water taxi along the Chao Phraya river from Tha Tien pier to see the city from a different perspective.

Bangkok is also a good base for excursions to surrounding points of interest. A short jaunt away and you can experience a traditional Asian floating market on the Mae Klong river, where boats laden with fruit, vegetables and all manner of curiosities come to trade on the water. Just an hour's train journey north of Bangkok is the world heritage city of Ayutthaya, with an island centre chock-ablock with ruined temples, Buddha statues and once-illustrious palaces. Once the royal capital of Siam, the city offers travellers a captivating insight into the history of the country.

From Bangkok's international airport, there are regular internal flights to the southern islands of Ko Samui and Phuket and the northern city of Chiang Mai, so you need not waste holiday time on long journeys by road or train to get between destinations.

To get immersed in the country's natural beauty and wildlife, consider spending some time in one of its many national parks. North-east of Bangkok, Khao Yai is Thailand's oldest national park, covered in lush evergreen and deciduous forest and home to wild elephants, deer, tigers, gibbons and an array of birds. You can hire a wildlife expert to guide you through the park and you can even stay overnight at the Kirimaya Resort. In the south, Khao Sok National Park covers a completely different landscape of limestone crags woven with rainforest, and deep ravines with hidden caves and waterfalls. Monkeys, deer, sun bears and clouded leopards live in the forest and there are expert guides on hand to help you explore and spot the local wildlife. If you want to spend more than a day here, floating lodges and luxury tents are available at Elephant Hills Jungle Camp.

The northern city of Chiang Mai is the gateway to the region's colourful hill-tribe villages, jungle-enveloped ruins and temples. From here you can take guided walks, elephant treks and short excursions into the lush hills and mountains. The city itself is dotted with decorative temples and restaurants serving some of the best red and green curries in Thailand.

Beaches and spas

There is more to Thailand than its stunning beaches but that doesn't detract from their beauty, which should be experienced by anyone with a penchant for the purest, finest sand and most crystalline aquamarine water. A long coastline and an assortment of islands also means you have a good chance of finding a slice of paradise to yourself, though this sometimes means disconnecting from the tourist trail or exploring by boat.

With an international airport and regular connecting flights to Bangkok, the island of Ko Samui in the Gulf of Thailand has become one of the country's top beach destinations. Fortunately, careful development means its scenic beaches remain unspoilt. The island is a great place to unwind, with a range of luxury hotels, affordable resorts and spas backing onto wide swathes of golden sand. Ko Samui's neighbouring islands of Ko Phangan and Ko Tao are a short boat ride away and offer more secluded beaches, yoga retreats and fantastic diving. Ko Tao is particular popular as a base for scuba-diving expeditions in the Gulf of Thailand. Near Ko Samui, Ang Thong National Marine Park encompasses little emerald uninhabited islands with empty beaches that can be explored on a boat excursion. After swimming in hidden lagoons and gazing on stunning panoramas, you can lay back on a beach miles from civilisation and drink in the pristine scenery.

In the northern gulf, the islands of Ko Samet and Ko Chang are also perfect for a beach escape. Though not as scenic as the southern islands, they are never-the-less beautiful and have the added bonus of being much closer to Bangkok.

On the eastern coast of the Malay Peninsula you can go island-hopping through one of the most striking seascapes in the world. The towering rock formations, caves and hidden bays of countless uninhabited islets are irresistible. Phanghan Bay, between Krabi Province on the mainland and Phuket island, has stunning limestone karst cliffs indented with untrammelled beaches. Phuket, with its countless upscale hotels and smart resorts, is the perfect base to explore the region. While spending a few nights on Phi Phi Don puts you right in the heart of Thailand's most stunning scenery.

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