Thailand lies in the heart of Southeast Asia, making it the gateway to Indochina, Myanmar and Southern China. Thailand's four natural regions are: the mountains and jungles of the Northern district; the verdant, well kept rice fields of the Central Plains; the semi-arid farm lands of the Northeast plateau; and the lovely tropical islands and snow white beaches along the coastline of the southern peninsula.
Most journeys start in Bangkok . Thailand's huge, noisy, polluted capital can be an overwhelming introduction to Southeast Asia, but there are traveller-oriented guesthouses aplenty here, and heaps of spectacular temples to visit. It's also the best place for arranging onward travel and visas for neighbouring countries. A popular side-trip from the city takes in the raft houses of Kanchanaburi, the infamous site of the Bridge over the River Kwai. After Bangkok, most travellers head north, sometimes via the ancient capitals of Ayutthaya and Sukhothai , to the enjoyably laid-back city of Chiang Mai , where they organize treks to nearby hilltribe villages. There's tranquil countryside in bucketloads up in the northern highlands around Mae Hong Son and along the Mekong River in Thailand's northeast (Isaan), where you can stay in village guesthouses and hop across the border into Laos. The northeast is the least visited area of Thailand, but holds two fine ancient Khmer ruins at Phimai and Phanom Rung, and the country's most popular national park, Khao Yai .
After trekking and rural relaxation, most visitors want to head for the beach - and Thailand's eastern and southern coasts are lined with gorgeous white-sand shores, aquamarine seas and kaleidoscopic reefs. The most popular of these are the east coast backpackers' resorts of Ko Samet and Ko Chang, the Gulf Coast islands of Ko Samui, Ko Pha Ngan and Ko Tao, and the Andaman coast idylls of Laem Phra Nang, Ko Phi Phi, Ko Lanta and Ko Tarutao. The southern island of Phuket and the east coast resort of Pattaya are more expensive, package-tour oriented spots. In the deep south, Thailand merges almost seamlessly with Malaysia, and there are plenty of border crossing points here; the city of Hat Yai in particular offers convenient long-distance bus and rail links to many Malaysian towns. Getting into Cambodia overland is not so easy, but there are two crossings currently open, Poipet and Trat.