For many traveling the world, visiting Thailand is top of the list. With something for everyone – from the adrenaline junkies to the sun-seekers – the beautiful country is by no means lacking in activities and sights. But where to start? Here’s an insider’s guide on where to stay, and what to see, do and eat while in Thailand.
Tips: get island-happy, find Spiderman in a temple, and do as Leo DiCaprio did… sort of.
Ko Phi Phi via http://divezone.net/
If you’re a sun-seeker, go anywhere with ‘Koh’ (or ‘Ko’) in its name. These islands are the best for beaches and getting your tan on, and are impossibly beautiful. Ko Samui is a popular favourite, and one of the most visited Thai islands. Koh Tao is a great destination for divers, rock climbers and hikers, while Ko Phi Phi, the largest Thai island, is another beautiful choice. Take the short hike to the Ko Phi Phi viewpoint and visit Maya Beach (the setting for Alex Garland’s book ‘The Beach’ and the film starring Leonardo DiCaprio) while you’re there. We recommend visiting as many islands as timing allows.
Looking for natural beauty at its most spectacular? Don’t miss the paradisiacal Erawan Waterfall at the Erawan National Park, debatably the most beautiful and impressive of Thailand’s many waterfalls. In terms of man-made wonders, a sight that can’t be missed is the Narnia-esque White Temple in Chiang Rai, one of the most extraordinary, ornate and extravagant temples you’ll ever see, with references to pop culture, such as Michael Jackson and Spiderman (really) in its décor. It’s a weird one, but really not to be missed.
Tips: monks give great massages, nobody can be trusted during Songkran, and danger is fun.
Songkran festival, Chiang Mai via http://www.demotix.com/
You can’t go to Thailand and not take a ride in a tuk tuk; you just can’t. They’re not the safest form of travel, in fact, they can be downright dangerous, but every traveller simply must try it once. Agree your fee before getting in so as not to get ripped off, know exactly where you’re going, if possible, and hold on tight – tuk tuks with seatbelts aren’t a thing.
Attend Songkran water festival if you’re visiting Chiang Mai at the start of the Thai new year (mid-April), then prepare to get wet. Songkran is, essentially, four days of getting soaked by people in the streets armed with buckets, cups and water guns. This whole scenario sounds bizarre, and it is, but with temperatures reaching 40 odd degrees at this time of year, it’s also a welcomed event. Shop around for the best water gun dealer, store your valuables elsewhere, and trust no one; every person you meet – pedestrians or otherwise – will have some kind of watery trick – ice cold or otherwise – up their sleeve.
After all that excitement, we recommend one of those famed Thai massages; ask a local for recommendations and they’ll tell you to go to a temple. Yes, really. If you’re in Bangkok, The Temple of the Reclining Buddha is home to one of the best masseurs in Thailand, and you can have those backpack-induced knots worked (beaten) out of you for only £7.50 an hour.
Tips: street vendors cook good, the queues don’t lie, and insects are food, not friends.
When in Thailand, you’d be forgiven for sticking to pad thai and green curry, but keep an open mind (and stomach) and you might discover some new favourites. For the most authentic Thai food experience, don’t avoid street vendors because your friend’s sister’s boyfriend’s mate once got a dodgy stomach from a questionable looking Moo Ping.
Nothing beats the smells, sounds and sights of a Thai night market, particularly Chiang Mai’s offering, and they’re not only great for snacks but souvenirs, too. The trick to finding the best food is to scout out the vendor with the longest queue and join it, pronto – the locals know what’s up.
Want to up the authenticity? You haven’t done Thailand properly until you’ve eaten some bugs. From the slightly more palatable fried varieties available from one of the many vendors plying their trade on the streets of Thailand (Bangkok, in particular) to the more extreme, like goong ten (literally ‘dancing shrimp’. Because they’re alive. And wriggling.), suck it up and try an insect or two. You never know, you might even go back for seconds!
Now you know what you’ll be seeing, doing and eating, you best get planning your trip! Check out these handy tips and get your flights sorted, the sooner the better. In terms of accommodation, we recommend booking as you go along, based on recommendations from other travellers or up-to-date guide books.