In regard to almost all of the above, Thailand did not disappoint. The weather was excellent, the people were very nice, the scenery was stunning and the food was great, especially for the price.
In the end, however, the it wasn’t the parts of Thailand that everyone raves about (the beautiful beaches) that we most liked, it was the cities and towns that are often nothing more than transportation hubs for the sun-worshipping Euros (along with Aussies, Europeans constituted most of the tourists we saw in Thailand) that we liked the most. Whether it was the border town of Hat Yai, Trang (which is the jumping off point for many of the islands far south), or Prachuap Khiri Khan (on the little visited central coast), or Nakhon Ratchasima (a northern transport hub), we liked the towns that are probably on few pre-arranged itineraries. For us, these little slices of life represented some of the real Thailand, where people just go about their life rather than being overrun by foreign tourists. A true pleasure of ordinary Thai life is an evening stroll past the temples, markets, and stores where Thais are going about nightly routine before heading off for a bargain feast at the local night market.
Now all of this isn’t to say that Thailand doesn’t have some truly stunning coastal scenery that is a justified attraction for mass tourism. The islands we visited in the south were probably some of the most naturally beautiful places we’ve ever visited. Soaring limestone islands with perfect blue water and soft sand beaches aren’t a bad place to pass a few days even if they are more crowded than you might wish.
Overall, while we were astounded at the beauty of the southern islands, it was our rental car road trip to the northeast that really made Thailand one of the highlights of our entire trip (even factoring in getting stuck in the sand and a speeding ticket—fortunately even those are cheap in Thailand!)