(Most definitely check out the below slideshows before sharing them with the kids.)

Search for “Thailand” and you’ll encounter a land of seeming contradictions — pre-modern hill tribes and post-modern Bangkok, elephants trekking through lush forests and barely-dressed models trekking back and forth along a fashion runway, Buddhist monks in orange robes and bikini-clad Europeans on bright white sand beaches. At first glance this jumble seems like it must make Thailand an incongruous mess, but upon further exploration you’ll begin to get the sense that all of these disparate parts of Thai
society somehow coexist. While there must be internal tensions in Thai society–with so much going on, there simply must be–on the surface Thailand greets you with a smile. (The above Flickr link searches for “Thailand -model -fashion” to give you a fighting chance of seeing anything else.)

For a non-touristy set of images from Thailand, visit, which is a stream of photos from Thai photographers. Here you’ll get a sense of Thai life from the inside: images of street festivals and street protests, photos of hill tribes in poverty and Burmese refugees in peril, the Thai military on patrol and parade, the Thai king in all his kingly glory.Â


International travelers’ first taste of Thailand usually comes after landing at the airport in its modern metropolis, Bangkok. The city is alive day and night, a land of noise, pollution and relentless traffic that either screams by at a bloodcurdling pace or is parked on the road, inching ahead and belching exhaust for hours.

While some travelers thrive with the rapid pulse of such a city (or at least thrive on the just-for-grown-ups nature of some of what it offers in its “red-light” district), others made a mad dash out of it to explore the rest of the nation. Some head north to Chiang

Mai where the pace is, thankfully, much slower. There you can learn about Thai culture by taking cooking courses, study the seemingly impenetrable Thai language, or use the city as a base from which to embark by elephant on forest treks, or expeditions to visit Thai hill tribes like the Karen. [Should you visit the Karen “Long Neck” hill tribe known as the Padaung?].

Others — especially tourists from Europe — make a beeline for Thailand’s pristine southern beaches of Ko Samui, Kho Phi Phi Don and Phuket, where, according to Lonely’s Thailand pages, they’re liable to “find in the daily rhythm of Thailand a tranquillity that isn’t confined to vacation time.” In its list of “10 Things to Do in Phuket,” recommends more than the beaches. There’s a Vegas-style stage show with dancing elephants, a yearly 9 day long vegetarian festival and, last but not least, a really big Buddha.

Wherever travelers go in Thailand, the general perception is that the Thai people welcome them with open arms. Thai travel sites describe the country as “the land of a million smiles.” While the Thai people’s generally pleasant demeanor is not
just a superficial put-on for tourists, a Thai smile is more than a simple indication of bliss; there are thirteen kinds of smiles in Thailand.

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