by Natalie Paris, The Daily Telegraph, December 5, 2016
Today is Thailand's National Day – the first one it has marked without its late ruler Bhumibol Adulyadej. Thailand's new king, his son, was crowned just four days ago.
Life in Thailand continues much as normal despite its official year of mourning – but after a difficult few months, the country needs tourism more than ever. So here are 21 reasons to visit, not that you should ever need an excuse...
1. The street food
Some of Thailand's spiciest, tangiest tom yum soups can be eaten from roadside stalls. The hot and sour dish can be whipped up in a second by street vendors using fresh lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves and galangal. Other street food treats to try include rice with spicy stir-fried crabmeat and fresh yellow chillies.
Eating out at Damnoen Saduak Floating Market in Ratchaburi, ThailandCredit: alamy
2. Fabulous luxury hotels
Whether it is upmarket island bliss (try the Six Senses on Koh Yao Noi ), or sleek 70s curves (see Iniala Beach House in Phuket ) or the ewok-inspired tree dwellings of Keemala, also in Phuket, that inspire you, there is a wealth of choice in Thailand.
3. The world's prettiest lake
In Udon Thani, Red Lotus Lake bursts into a riot of crimson lotus blooms between November and February. The wide lake - 15km long and up to 5km is little-known by non-Thais but is a beautiful sight. Guides lead small boat tours around it.
4. Gibbons in the Khao Sok National Park
An array of exotic species live in Thailand's remarkably biodiverse park, including gibbons. With calls that can carry for up to two miles, gibbons are easier to hear than see but following their trail through nearly 460 square miles of pristine tropical evergreen forest is a great way to explore, perhaps catching glimpses of sun bears, leopards, tigers, tapirs, Asiatic wild dogs, gaurs, monkeys and deer along the way.
5. Beach football
If you consider yourself handy on the pitch there is no better way to make new friends in Thailand than a sunset game of beach football. Locals tend to strike up one most nights. Arrive early enough and join in one of the most scenic matches of your life.
6. The many Buddhas
Seated, standing, lying down - Thailand is full of gleaming Buddha statues, some large, some tiny and some made from emeralds. Take your pick of temples to see them in and then work your way through the country's collection of Buddha relics (mostly hair and fingernails) if you've yet to reach your fill.
7. Great budget rail trips
Take the train in Thailand and enjoy fantastic scenery for very little money. Plus the onboard catering takes some beating. The Bangkok to Butterworth route is particularly recommended, passing "waterlogged paddy fields lined with palms so bent they grew in diagonals, criss-crossing at the waist".
You can buy tickets for train 35, the International Express, from Bangkok to Butterworth, at Bangkok’s Hua Lamphong station. A second-class air-conditioned sleeper costs around £25 one way.
8 ...and scary ones
The “Death Railway” is a line devised by Japan's Imperial Army at the height of the Second World War to transport troops and supplies from Bangkok to Burma. As chronicled in the Fifties classic film Bridge On The River Kwai, they found a ready supply of labour in British prisoners-of-war captured when Singapore fell in February 1942.
The line was completed in just a year, but it cost the lives of around 13,000 POWs and 100,000 native labourers. One man died for every sleeper laid.
Ride it today and your carriage will hug the sides of sheer cliffs, passing over a number of rickety wooden bridges.
9. See vegetarians do the craziest things
The annual Phuket Vegetarian Festival is a version of the Taoist Nine Emporer Gods Festival, but involving much more gruesome self-mutilation. Though festivities take place across Thailand, the biggest are in Phuket - which has a large Thai Chinese population. The unusual rituals attract thousands of spectators, with participants piercing their skin with all manner of unusual objects.
10. Legendary beach bars
Thailand's beach bars can be what makes a holiday, offering a multitude of options, from driftwood shacks playing Bob Marley where bar staff become lifelong friends, to remote hippy hideouts selling psychedelic mushroom shakes and swanky places to sip cocktails and dress up for.
11. Unlimited opportunities for island hopping
The range of paradisical islands to choose from will please the pickiest of beach bums, whether it is a chic cabana and waiter service you're after or just somewhere to string a hammock. Our writers have picked their favourite, most unspoilt islands here.
And then there are the hundreds of islands that you can't even stay on, but which can be visited with the assistance of a local fisherman with a longtail boat and some time on his hands. Try Bamboo island, one of the Phi Phi Islands, home to one of our favourite beaches .
12. Whale sharks
Every year, these gentle giants of the ocean pass through Koh Tao, an island full of dive shops more than happy to help you strap on a snorkel and get into the turquoise water with them.
13. The world's cheekiest monkeys
The annual Monkey Buffet sees a spread of more than 4,000 kilograms of fruit devoured by a troupe in front of the Pra Prang Sam Yot temple in Lopburi province. The event is a way of thanking the monkeys for drawing tourists. In recent years monkeys have been given huge fruit ice lollies to lick on.
14. Elephants that play polo
Not quite as nimble as a muscle-packed pony, Thailand's elephants nonetheless turn out for a highly-popular polo tournament each year called the King’s Cup . Aside from whacking a little ball around, this is a four-day festival of events dedicated to supporting elephant welfare.
15. The world's smallest mammal
Kitti's hog-nosed bat is thought to be the world’s smallest mammal, weighing just two grams. Found in western Thailand, in limestone caves in the small Tenasserim Hills region in the Kanchanaburi Province, the bat is listed as "vulnerable" due to a dwindling population.
16. The most fun you can have with a water pistol
Songkran marks the end of the dry season – April is Thailand’s hottest month – and the beginning of the annual rains. Consequently, the festivities revolve around soaking one another with water, with tourists among the most enthusiastic participants.
Tom Vater, Telegraph Travel's Bangkok expert, said: "Songkran, or Thai New Year, is a Buddhist festival and the kingdom’s most important public holiday. Nowadays, the throwing of water is the festival’s highlight. In fact, for three days virtually the entire country turns into a celebratory battle zone."
17. City shopping beyond compare
Bangkok is a shoppers’ paradise. Beyond the preponderance of shopping malls, the city also offers innumerable local markets offering all sorts of wares.
Shopping on Khaosan Road
Though some, such as Khaosan Road’s, are almost exclusively aimed at tourists and have inflated prices to match, others cater to locals and are crammed with curios that can, with effective haggling, be picked up for a song. And more upmarket bargains are available too, with the city’s skilled tailors on hands to tailor-make beautiful suits, shirts and dresses for savvy shoppers who prefer things to be bespoke.
18. Afternoon tea in the treetops
A treetop treat in the jungle on the Thai island of Koh Kood that gives high tea a whole new meaning. Guests are suspended 15ft above the ground on Koh Kood island in a giant man-made replica of a bird’s nest.
Afternoon tea in the treetopsCredit: paul raeside
"Treepod dining” is a simple idea," said our reviewer . "Strapped to a seat within a nest-like pod just bigger than the accompanying dining table (and on a very strong pulley system), I was hoisted up high into the trees of the island, to have an elevated eating experience – a picnic taking full advantage of the height dimension."
19. Holidays that leave you feeling great
It’s not just the sunshine, scenery and ever-smiling locals that make Thailand a feel-good destination, it’s the country’s abundance of spa and wellness retreats too.
Spa fans will of course enjoy the most authentic and effective Thai massages here, but for something more thorough a number of specialists offer tailored detox programmes, expert-led fitness breaks and high-end beauty treatments to ensure travellers reach their peak both inside and out.
20. A temple that was fought over
Preah Vihear, a ninth century Angkorian temple on the boarder between Thailand and Cambodia, is now considered safe to visit after being the subject of conflict between the two countries since 2008. Surrounded in jungle and bearing similarities to Angkor Wat, it was declared a World Heritage site in 2008.
“Set on a promontory 500 metres above the Cambodian plains in the far north of the country, the temple’s remote and stunning location lends it a majesty that even Angkor Wat falls in the shadow of,” said Mark Hotham of Audley Travel, who visited just prior to the dispute. “Sitting on the steps of the temple at dusk with just a couple of local monks for company as the village cooking fires light up 500 metres below is one of the most resounding memories of all of my travels through Asia."
21. The most beautiful gardens in South-east Asia
Suan Nong Nooch, in Pattaya, is arguably the most beautiful botanical garden in the region, a fairytale world of ornamental blooms and tropical plants, pretty houses and fruit plantations, and the park also hosts Thai cultural shows. It attracts more than 2,000 visitors per day who come to see the world's largest palm collection and largest collection of orchids.
This article was written by Natalie Paris from The Daily Telegraph and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.