They say that you should visit Thailand five times in your life.
As a young student looking for an affordable and exciting travel adventure with friends; on your honeymoon for the epitome of warm island romance; as a family with young children wanting to relax into an inviting culture; as a gift to self that allows self-exploration and the spiritual awakening the kingdom offers; and with children and grandchildren for multi-generational themed discoveries.
Either way, everybody should visit Thailand at least once in their lifetime, these are some of the reasons why.
Wherever we travel it is the people we meet that enhance our memories. The genuine friendliness of the Thai people and their charming Thainess remain one of the most appealing aspects of time in the Kingdom. Traditionally friendly and living up to the ‘Land of Smiles’, their traditional Thai greeting, the Wai – when someone slightly bows with their hands together almost as if in prayer, will be your first introduction. The strong sense of family, the willingness to assist and the warm hospitality as they naturally go out of their way to ensure you’re having a good trip all add to the charm.
With over 40,000 Buddhist temples found across the county, you are bound to find at least one that captures your heart, and imagination. Dating back to various dynasties, each one reflects that era’s architectural and construction style in the façade and interiors, with variations found across the various provinces. Each, whatever their scale, offers a quiet and contemplative spiritual presence, and you may even be lucky enough to be offered a blessing from one of the resident monks while visiting.
The History and Culture
Even though Thailand’s cities are undeniably modern with high-end establishments, luxury hotels and chic neighbourhoods, throughout your travels you will come across ancient tradition and culture existing seamlessly alongside the new. Parts of Bangkok’s China Town or Samphanthawong District seems to have remained unchanged for centuries, as do places like Ayutthaya and the remote hillside tribes of Chiang Mai. Cities like Sukhothai are pushing against too much change, with ancient ruins dating back to the Siamese Kingdom in 1238. The country’s history can also be seen in its many art forms, like traditional Thai dancing, Muay Thai and Thai puppetry.
The Beaches and the Diving
With over 3200 km of coastline, clusters of postcard-perfect islands and protected marine parks, Thailand is heaven to the beach seeker. The more popular beaches draw the crowds but step beyond these to discover stretches of palm tree-lined strips of white sand that remain quiet and secluded. Some of these include Freedom Beach in Phuket and Sunset Beach on the island of Koh Kradan. Koh Bulon Lae in the Satun province and Koh Tarutao in the Andaman Sea. Thailand is also home to some of the best dive sites in the world and regardless of where you find yourself, you’ll be able to book a diving trip and go in search of sea turtles and the colourful ocean life. Some of the best places to dive in Thailand include Koh Tao, the Surin Islands, Koh Chang and Chumphon.
The Element of Adventure
Given the country’s unique and varied terrain, visitors are invited to seek out a number of adventure-driven excursions during their time in Thailand. With 127 National Parks in Thailand, of which 22 are marine national parks, activities can vary from hiking, rock-climbing, ziplining in the jungles, white water rafting and days spent chasing the best surf. Ethical elephant sanctuaries are ideal for tourists wanting to contribute to a good cause. You can take Muay Thai lessons with a resident champion, and even learn to drive your own Tuk Tuk. Outdoor options are almost limitless. Look out too for marathons, which draw generous crowds each year.
The Markets, Shopping and the Food
Thailand’s markets are like no others in the world, each with its own distinct character. Be it the famous floating and weekend markets of Bangkok, or the charming night markets that appear from nowhere across the country. Shop for antiques, second-hand items, clothing, and handcrafted souvenirs; you never know what treasure you may uncover. The food stall section is always the main attraction. Transformational, Thai food is so delicious and diverse that visitors often go on to cook Thai inspired dishes for friends once home. You can work your way through the markets, informal food stalls and restaurants, and never eat the same dish twice. Regionally influenced, the cuisine varies from the north to the south. It is highly recommended that you do a Thai cooking class.
The Colourful Festivals
There seem to be endless reasons to host a celebration with famed Thai festivals are held throughout the year. Most of the festivals are marked by religious events and the lunar calendar and are all wonderful to witness, or better still partake in. Many travellers go as far as to plan their entire holidays around the festival they would like to attend. Some worth mentioning are the annual Songkran, a festival that takes the shape of a nationwide water fight, the Phuket Vegetarian Festival, the Lantern Festival and Loy Krathong.
Bangkok needs an independent mention and should not be overlooked or rushed through. Home to over eight million people with a healthy ex-pat community, it’s a madly exciting introduction to the country. Crowded with heaving traffic, it can be overwhelming, but you will find Bangkok is a city full of surprises and hidden gems. Temples, sky bars, museums, art galleries and expansive green parks. High-rise buildings, intense heat, and rich culture and tradition that is ever prevalent. We may call it Bangkok, but to the Thais, it is better known as Krung Thep, which means City of Angels. Shop at the markets, take a boat trip on the Chao Phraya River and pay respect at the Grand Temple, among much more.
For travellers on a budget wanting to share their time between cities and islands, Thailand’s affordable and diverse modes of transportation make getting around easy. Budget-friendly airlines service their international and domestic airports and buses and trains are incredibly affordable. Accommodation takes on every shape and form with recognised hi-end hotel brands, beachside resorts, hostels and self-catering apartment for every budget.
All this making Thailand a destination that allows you to easily divide your time between more than one hub, diversifying your overall experience.
Read my other posts on Thailand. Photos supplied by the Thailand Authority of Tourism.