The Best Way to See Thailand
This past winter break I visited Thailand for a month. I first traveled with my mom and my auntie and then switched gears and traveled with my good friend John. This time gave me time to enjoy with my mom and sightsee while also traveling to many locations and partying with friends. Out of all of my travels here are the things I say you must absolutely do!
Stay a few days in Bangkok.
This bustling city has many amenities and while it's nothing like something you might usually be accustomed to, the Thai people are very welcoming and are always happy to show you around. For my first two weeks, I traveled with my mom so we ate at nicer places (not as much street food) and stayed in nicer accommodation. Nevertheless, the food and accommodation were rather inexpensive, because after all, Thailand is one of the cheapest places to visit. In Bangkok, I recommend the Focal Local B&B. This place was absolutely amazing. While it is not particularly close to what one would consider the center of town, they provide a tuk tuk ( a local form of transportation) to the river dock or the metro station, both which are still very close (they provide it mostly for your convenience). The rooms are large, clean and comfortable, the staff is helpful, and the complimentary breakfast is to die for! Really I can’t recommend it enough. In addition, they provide insightful recommendations for sightseeing and local tips for things to try.
While in Bangkok I definitely recommend going to see the temples, however, be warned! They are extremely touristy and full of people but I think a visit to Bangkok definitely warrants it. My favorite temple to visit was Wat Po where the large reclining Budha resides. Not only is the Budha an amazing site, the pagodas in the ground are also extremely beautiful. There is also a collection of golden Budha’s that are really amazing to look at. I also highly recommend doing a night river cruise to see the temples and city attractions at night. Most of these cruises include dinner and entertainment, and I thought was extremely affordable (about 65USD per person).
Another fun way to spend the day in Bangkok is to visit the Chatuchak market in the north of the city. It is easily accessible through the metro and it boasts everything from souvenirs and odd artisanal objects, to massage parlors, and even live pets! We tried to walk through much of it but honestly, it is so big, it is easy to get lost. One of the best advice we got and I am therefore passing it along is: if you see it and you want it, BUY IT! Really the chances of you seeing it again might be very slim. Another tip is: haggle and get discounts, they are obviously trying to grab every last penny from you since you are a foreigner but put your foot down, negotiate and try to get a reasonable price. There was a little area that had some sit-down restaurants and we ordered some food there. I obviously tried to eat as much Pad Thai as possible so that was my go to, but they have so many options I suggest you venture out and try new things! The saddest part was visiting the animal section of the market. You can find all type of live animals from chickens, dogs, and cats all the way to exotic animals such as snakes and birds. The really disturbing part of all of this is the small, cramped enclosures the animals are kept in. If you are an animal lover, such as myself, just don’t do it. We really were not planning on it but again we kind of wandered into it completely unaware.
If nightlife is your calling, then visit Ko San Road, this is one of those famous streets lined with bars and night clubs from one end to the other. You can pick your poison here and choose from bars where you will literally leave deaf from the loud music, or more chilled places with live bands. A suggestion: buy some beers at the closest 7/11 and find a massage parlor near a bar with live music, and treat yourself to a foot massage (really it was amazing).
One last thing you can do in Thailand is visiting the Jim Thompson House, which details the story of the reawakening of the silk industry in Thailand by an American in Bangkok. It told the story of Jim Thompson and the establishment of his empire in Thailand. The house both eastern and western influenced architecture and has a beautiful garden which you can walk through.
See some more natural, scenic spots in Chiang Mai.
Located in the north, this area is known for more natural scenery. Some of my recommendations for this area is to do the dinner and a show at the cultural center. Inquire with your hotel regarding this, we arranged ours with our B&B. The dinner includes all types of Thai dishes and it’s all you can eat, however, drinks are paid separately. The show was amazing and showed all different types of songs and dances of different areas of Thailand. The progression of the show told a story of the cultural development of the people of Thailand. If you get reservations early you can sit next to the dance area; these seats are on the floor with cushions to make seating more comfortable.
Another attraction in Chiang Mai is the Elephant Sanctuary. PLEASE! If you chose in your travels to do something animal related, always do some research and make sure these organizations are ethical and animal-friendly. When planning this part of our trip, I read many reviews of all the companies in the area and made sure this was a company that agreed with my morals and ideals. I decided on visiting Elephant Jungle Sanctuary, which is one of the smaller options offered around the area, and I couldn’t recommend them enough. They run a small operation of about 8 elephants, and just being around the elephants and their caregivers, made you realize how much they love and care for the animals. All of the animals in the camp are rescues from riding camps and other inhumane practices. The caregivers explained the story of each animal they care for, gave us details regarding safety, both for our sake and that of the animals, and then let us feed and get to know each individual elephant. We then took a walk through the park and got to see the animals enjoy themselves and interact with each other and bathe in the river. We had lunch while the elephants finished their walk and had some alone time and then it was time to help bathe the elephants. First, they apply mud on their skin and we helped rub it in. Then they rinsed the mud out on the river and we helped them by scooping up water with some buckets. Needless to say, it was a lot of fun!
I also suggest you visit Doi Inthanon National Park, there are many tours that take you through the park and it is really suggested to go as a group or with a private driver since the park has many interest points that are not close to each other. Some of the things to see in the park are the tallest point in Thailand, the Karen villages, waterfalls, and of course the twin pagodas. The pagodas have a stunning view of the valley and are surrounded by beautiful gardens. Pro Tip: there is a small hidden path that leads to the sign behind the Queen Pagoda if you go up this path you will get a perfect view of both pagodas along with the valley.
Relax beach side in Koh Phi Phi.
The beaches surrounding Thailand are world famous, some featured in big name movies like James Bond and The Beach with Leonardo DiCaprio. I was able to spend some days relaxing beach side. We chose to stay at a resort on the outskirts of town called Viking Nature Resort which was absolutely stunning and had its own private beach. In the town area, there are many shops, restaurants, bars, and dive shops. If you have your dive license I recommend signing up for one of the excursions. I was able to see many fish including barracudas and black tip reef sharks. The shop I chose was called ProFun Diving. They are a Chinese company but most of the instructors speak different languages such as Spanish and French. When visiting the area you also should sign up for a visit to the surrounding islands and beaches. We did a tour through our hotel that brought us to different snorkeling spots, to Bamboo Island, monkey beach, and the famous Maya Beach where Leo filmed his movie The Beach. The bay itself is beautifully surrounded by high cliffs, however, it is filled with tourists and garbage. Nevertheless, I enjoyed this relaxing time with my family and even picked up a bit of trash from the beach. I definitely recommend this island for full on relaxation and amazing sites.
Party in Koh Tao.
I met a friend in Bangkok after my family left and we made our way to the island of Koh Tao. At the time due to massive floods through the coast, we were unable to take the bus down there so we had to fly to Koh Samui and then take the ferry over to Koh Tao. The island itself is pretty small and is known through out the world for being one of the cheapest places to dive and get your diving license. My recommendation in Koh Tao regardless of where you end up staying is to do the Koh Tao Pub Crawl! It’s a great atmosphere, free drinks, fun people that are also there to meet others and have fun. There are also some trips around the island that take you out snorkeling and to Koh Nangyuan which is a small island near Koh Tao that has a small beach area where you can relax and swim.
There is so much more to do and see in Thailand so I definitely recommend it to everyone. It’s an affordable vacation, filled with magic and wonder.