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Welcome to the Land of Smiles!

Thursday, July 24, 2014

For the first-time traveler to Thailand, it's easy to imagine that all the smiling faces are for show, a deliberate gesture that you would see from anyone in the hospitality industry across the globe.

But then you begin exploring on your own ... through the green Lumphini Park of Bangkok or among the ancient temples of Chiang Mai or the white sand beaches of Phuket. Then it becomes clear to you: everyone smiles here. Everyone is welcoming in the most authentic and genuine sense. This comes as no surprise, considering that 94% of Thai people are Buddhists, a non-restrictive and all-embracing religion.

In Thailand, you've hit the travel jackpot – a perfect blend of exotic culture, captivating history, intense natural beauty, and genuine hospitality. Welcome to Thailand. Welcome, indeed.

Bangkok: Modern & Ancient Splendor

Welcome to the Land of Smiles!Bangkok is Thailand's bustling and electrifying capital. Thais call it Krung Threp, City of Angels. The more western name by which we know it translates into "riverside village of wild olives." No matter what you call it, it's sure to mesmerize you with its floating markets teeming with longboats, its ornate architecture and tropical gardens, and its glittering temples. It's also a culturally diverse city, where paper dragons adorn the windows of Chinatown and the fragrance of curry wafts through the streets of Little India.

The city's largest and oldest temple is Wat Po, the Temple of the Reclining Buddha. Within these hallowed halls, its namesake golden-hued deity is massive, stretching 150 feet long. The soles of its feet are intricately etched in mother-of-pearl. It is an extravagant show of spiritualism—and an echo of the nearby temple complex of the Grand Palace. Home to monarchs until 1925 and the fairytale setting of The King & I, today the Grand Palace serves a ceremonial function and is open for enraptured travelers to explore. Its Emerald Buddha in the Royal Temple is considerably more petite than the Reclining Buddha, standing only 26 inches.

Explore Ancient and Modern History Just Outside Bangkok

Buddha statues such as these serve as spiritual touchstones for the Thai people. There's another destination cherished by locals as the spiritual birthplace of Bangkok: the ancient capital of Ayutthaya. The golden era of Thai history unfolded among what are now temple ruins and incredibly preserved streets. This was once a powerhouse of Southeast Asia. Its palaces, monasteries, and temples inspired French King Louis XIV to compare the burgeoning metropolis to European capitals. It fell to the Burmese in 1767, after which the capital was moved to the riverside site of present-day Bangkok.

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