Thailand is often referred to as a golden land, not because there is precious metal buried underground but because the country gives off a certain lustre, be it the fertile rice fields of the central plains, white sandy beaches or the warm hospitality of its citizenry.
Thailand's cool season runs from November until the end of February. With its low humidity, relatively low temperatures and clear skies, the cool season is the best time to visit, though regular days of high 20s and low 30s might leave you wondering just who came up with the term ‘cool’. It is also the peak tourist season, so expect lots of new friends at the more popular spots like the islands and major towns.
First introductions are made in Bangkok, a modern behemoth of screaming traffic, gleaming shopping centres and international sensibilities interwoven with devout Buddhism. Chiang Mai, the country's bohemian centre, is where the unique and precise elements of Thai culture become a classroom, for cooking courses and language lessons; while climbing into the mountain ranges around Mae Hong Son you'll find stupa-studded peaks and villages of post-Stone Age cultures. Sliding down the coastal tail are the evergreen limestone islands of Ko Tao and Kho Phi Phi Don, filled with tall palms angling over pearlescent sand. Thailand's beaches are stunning, hedonistic and mythic among residents of northern latitudes.
People come here as miners: first perhaps for the uniquely Western concept of R&R. And while they toast themselves to a bronze hue on the sandy beaches, they find in the daily rhythm of Thailand a tranquillity that isn't confined to vacation time. The northeast is a region better suited for homestays and teaching gigs than quick souvenir snapshots: here, you can dive deep into the Thai psyche, emerging with a tolerance for searingly spicy food and a mastery of this strange tonal language. Welcome to a life-altering experience disguised as a holiday.