From here I returned to Bangkok and this vibrant city that never sleeps. The Chao Phraya River runs through the alluvial plains now developed into various regions, each branching off into their independent lives and offerings. Traffic is crazy, yet public transport ranging from The Skytrain (BTS) and underground (MRT) rail systems to river taxis and express boats can easily be used to explore the many historic sites and attractions. Taxis are also reasonably cheap and you’d do well to take a Tuk-tuk, at least once.
Of the must-see attractions, is the Grand Palace and Emerald Buddha Temple where on a 60 acres property in the heart of the city, 1782 the first King of Thailand started construction of these incredible temples and palaces with their intricate detail, mosaic, Buddhas, turrets and bells. The mythical animals command your attention and you’ll be marvelled by the beauty. Allow plenty of time and don’t get tricked. There are often ‘guides’ on the street here trying to con you into paying for entrance or a tour, there is no reason, find the entrance that is ALWAYS open and walk yourself around.
Cycling the City
For me a great delight was taking a half-day 25km city tour with Spice Roads Cycle Tours, crossing the Chao Phraya River and weaving our way through the Bang Kra Jao green zone known as the Bangkok lung. This amazing wilderness can only be reached by boat as no bridges span this part of the river and incredibly it has been left untouched by developers. It’s like taking a journey back in time to a peaceful place with lush vegetation, a maze of tiny waterways, small villages, temples and a real tropical jungle. If it wasn’t for Bangkok’s skyline, you would think you’d left the city Actually, Spice Roads offer numerous cycle tours around the city and the country.
The Kingdom of Ayutthaya
Take a day trip to visit the Wihan Phira Mongkhon Bophit Tempel at Ayutthaya, the first capital of Thailand and holder of the status for 417 years. An incredible depiction of how life was and insight into the much loved royal family. The bronze Buddha inside offers serenity and blessings and the groups of school children visit a look at the future. We walked the ruins of Wat Phira Si Samphet with its ancient turrets, stairs, towers and walls. Took a longboat down the river and walked around the grounds of the Kings Summer Palace with its detailed buildings and topiary filled landscaped gardens and the surrounding village is well-developed with some good markets to shop at.
In Bangkok I stayed at the wonderful Amari Watergate Bangkok where the service was impeccable, the staff warm and incredibly helpful, the position excellent, especially for shopping and their green sustainability policies, inspiring given their location in the beat of the city. It’s easy to see why it’s the most popular hotel for South African’s visiting Bangkok. That and their Breeze Spa and rooftop pool and bar.
Returned and rather loved up by the destination and theme, I much look forward to returning in October where my trip will focus more on the coastal areas and I’ll manage some beach time. For now, though, the varied shades of green sit well with the inevitable blue beauty of this extraordinary country.
Thailand Travel Tips
- There are no direct flights from South Africa to Bangkok. I flew from Cape Town on Singapore Airlines, with a convenient switch in Singapore. Other options include Cathay Pacific and Emirates, which both offer excellent value. Internal flights can be booked with Bangkok Air.
- South Africans do not need visas to visit Thailand.
- The currency is the Thai Baht and it makes our shaky SA Rand look pretty good. Most credit cards are welcome in the cities, although more remotely and while shopping at the markets, cash is essential.
- Best time to travel to Thailand? High Season is November to March, although the months of May to August, known as the rainy season, are a good option for excellent discounts. Also, the rain comes and goes, but it’s warm and doesn’t detract at all. Unless the sole purpose of your visit is as a sunseeker.
- In the more remote areas, not a lot of English is spoken and you may find you need a guide, or a language app to offer the basics.
- As always I picked up a local Simcard on arrival, 1GB of data and some airtime cost about R300 and lasted me 12 days. It really is the most cost-effective way to stay in touch. Although there is good wifi almost everywhere.
- For more info on things to do in Thailand have a look at the Tourism Authority of Thailand and Amazing Thailand South Africa who do excellent work bringing the various aspects of the destination to life.
- Many of these villages mentioned are not that easily accessible without the help of somebody on the ground and I recommend Local Alike, a Thai-based social enterprise that assists with developing authentic eco-tourism while offering support to the communities for this.
Just about every Thai person has a nickname like ‘Pin’, ‘Bee’ or ‘Lek’ given to them by their parents. Old tradition has it that evil spirits are on the lookout for newborn children to snatch and using a nickname confuses them and keeps the child safe. They’re mostly endearing and will make it easier to remember names.
One last thing, a favourite Thai drink I want you to try. A double shot of coffee, sweetened with a shot of condensed milk, over a glass of ice with frothed foam to top it off. Delicious. Don’t knock it till you’ve tried it. Delicious!
I travelled by invitation of Lesley Simpson Communications and was generously hosted by the Tourism Authority of Thailand in association with 7 Greens Thailand, which advocates for sustainable ecotourism. Together they planned a brilliant itinerary that offered insight into a lesser-known region and perspective of the country. One of my hope is more people will get to know. After all community-based tourism seeks to uplift local communities while providing a rich, cultural experience for travellers, it’s a win-win for all.