I was in work earlier this week and a colleague asked on our work intranet if anyone had any recommendations for a trip to Thailand. I advised a few things for the places she said she was visiting, and it got me thinking that it might make a good post for my blog. It’s been a while since I post about travel, so maybe this is a good way back into the world of travel blogging.
In 2014 I graduated University and had grand plans to travel the world. The starting point was South East Asia. After a whistle stop tour of Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, and some of Thailand, I training as TEFL teacher, and started life in the North East of Thailand as a primary school teacher in Roi-Et. I spent months living and travelling around Thailand, experiencing the foods and the cultures, and enjoying as many of the sites and sounds as could be before we left for Malaysia.
In addition, my parents are due to travel to South East Asia at the end of the year. I have been looking at things to do and places to see, and advising them as much as I can, so my favourite things to do are very much in the forefront of my mind.
So, I’ve decided to write a post about my favourite things to do in Thailand. It’s not an exhaustive list by any means, there will be places missing and obvious answers, but it’s a compilation of activities I enjoyed, places I liked to see, and tips I learnt along the way:
Bangkok and Surrounding Area
I mean, Bangkok is the capital city and has a populations of over 14million in the Bangkok Metropolitan area, so it’s a huge city so it has loads to do. There is stuff for everyone, places to chill out and relax, places to eat and drink, palaces and temples, and pretty much everything in between.
For those of you who enjoy nightlife, and drinking, there is Koh San Road and Sukhumvit. The former is a market/bar area, and is a magnet for tourists and street sellers alike. Koh San Road is an experience, and if you like hustle, bustle, markets, drinking, and aren’t put off by hoards of (probably drunk) people, then it’s a must-see place. It’s also the home of many tour companies and a place to find some reasonably priced day trips and excursions. Sukhumvit is an exclusive area within Bangkok city centre, featuring exclusive hotels, bars, eateries, and shopping malls. Terminal 21 was by far my favourite area of Bangkok to visit for clothing stores, and foreign food, and is quite the experience to see.
For anyone visiting Thailand, I would definitely recommend spending some of your nights seeing local shows and sporting events. Thailand is famous for it’s Lady Boy Cabaret shows, and it’s Muay Thai boxing (which can also be seen in cities such as Chiang Mai!)
If you’re there for the weekend then I would definitely recommend visiting Chatuchak Market – it’s a HUGE weekend market that has some of the best food and the best souvenir stalls. It’s not just for tourists so the food is authentic, and it’s really easy to get to (just use the BTS metro train to Mo Chit Station). The market is only on at the weekend, but usually sees 200,000 people visit per weekend. It was undoubtedly my favourite place to see in Bangkok, with a crazy mix of locals, tourists, food, drink, souvenirs.
There are so many awesome temples and palaces in Bangkok. The Grand Palace sits on the Chao Phraya River, and is a complex of buildings that constitute the official centre of the Royal Family and Government. The royal family of Thailand/Siam living in the palace for over 200 years, but now it’s a tourist attraction, and host of official Royal and Diplomatic events throughout the year.
Aside from the Grand Palace, there are 3 temples that are definitely worth visiting if you have the time. Wat Pho (officially called Wat Phra Chetuphon Vimolmangklararm Rajwaramahaviharn) is home to the reclining Buddha, that for me was the most impressive temple/building that I saw in Bangkok itself. It stands next door to the Grand Palace, and features the largest collection of Buddha images in Thailand, including a 46m golden Buddha lying on its side. Near both The Grand Palace and Wat Pho sits Wat Phra Kaew, the building considered to be the most sacred temple in Thailand and home to The Emerald Buddha (a statue of the meditating Buddha sat in Gold made entirely from Jade, not Emerald as the name suggests).
Wat Arun is probably one of the most famous and iconic temples in Thailand, and even though it’s a Buddhist temple, it’s actually names after a Hindu God. It sits on the opposite bank of the Chao Phraya River, and in the morning it glows gold and iridescent in the rising sun. It’s a pretty awesome place to visit and is stunning to view from the river.
Somewhere that is a little different but much talked about is the Jim Thompson house (he was famous in Thailand for the establishment of the Thai Silk company!). Although I never got to visit, it’s a museum and art collection that was once owned by Jim Thompson and has now been converted into a museum to preserve architectural achievement that his house showcases.
If you’re looking for something a little different/out of the way, then this is a pretty incredible place to visit. It’s the cold capital of Thailand and has some pretty insane old temples and buildings to see. It’s a little way outside Bangkok, but you can get there on the train from the main station in Bangkok itself, and once there, lots of tour companies and tuk tuk drivers are more than happy to drive you round and show you all the best places.
The old city is now a UNESCO World Heritage site and is a historical park. Wat Chaiwatthanaram is one the larger and most popular Buddhist temples to visit within the complex, and was the location for many royal ceremonies were conducted centuries ago. Wat Phra Si Sanphet was used as design Template for Wat Phra Kaew in Bangkok and was the holiest, as well as grandest and most beautiful Temple in the city of Ayutthaya at the height of it’s power. Wat Yai Chai Mongkhon is a temple in modern Ayutthaya that was originally constructed to house monks that were ordained in the area.
The most photographed site is undoubtedly at Wat Mahathat. The temple itself is somewhat similar to the ruins around it, and pales in comparison to some of the more impressive Khmer architecture in the area, but within the grounds is the very unique site of the Buddha in the roots. When the Burmese destroyed Ayutthaya, the lopped the heads of Buddhas of, and although there are lots of theories as to how the modern day site occurred, the Buddha’s head in the tree roots is an incredible and unusual site. It’s a sacred site, so can only be approached from a kneeling position, for normal people should not be higher than the Buddha. If you get a chance, it’s an iconic photo to obtain.
This city is a lesser known historical site outside of Bangkok that can be visited by train within a couple of hours from Bangkok. It’s home to Prang Sam Yot, an old Khmer temple, and was a site of historical and royal importance in Thai history. The modern day city is known for its monkeys, the temple is almost overrun with them affording tourists with photo opportunities, and because they’re fed by the locals, they’re unafraid of stealing food and taking exactly what they want (yep, they’re pretty cool, but the whole thing is a bit crazy, so if you go do beware of the monkeys. I was bitten and did need rabies shots!)
Nearby, there is an area of farmland on which there is a huge amount of Sunflowers grown. They aren’t there all year round, so it’s worth checking if they’re in season if you want to visit, but if you get the chance to go then the photographs are pretty awesome!
OK, so maybe it’s not the place so much as what’s there. The famous Bridge Over the River Kwai is located in an area called Kanchanaburi, and affords some great picture opportunities, and the ability to say I went there. If you’re into history, or film, it’s a must visit!
If you’re into adrenaline sports or are looking for something a little different then there is something called Flight of the Gibbon, it’s a ziplining route through the rainforest and is absolutely incredible. You can do it from Bangkok to in a different rainforests but having done both, I can definitely say it’s better from Chiang Mai.
If you’re looking for a completely unique experience in Thailand, then there is a women’s prison that is teaching inmates to get professional massage qualifications, and they do really good Thai massages at a really good rate. Chiang Mai is also known for it’s authentic Thai cooking courses, so if you’re into Thai cuisine then it’s worth looking into.
Slightly outside Chiang Mai, there is a really cool temple called Wat Phra Tha on a mountain called Doi Suthep. It’s pretty awesome to see, it’s really sacred to Thai people, and it has some insane views over Chiang Mai itself that are worth the trip. There is a large set of stairs to climb, but once at the top it’s possible to see golden temples, glass Buddhas, and white elephants. If you don’t want to go outside the city, then the old temple Wat Chiang Man can be seen within the ancient city walls.
As Chiang Mai is in the North and near rainforest areas, it is home to many elephant ‘sanctuaries’ and ‘tiger temples’. I’m not at all saying don’t visit, I visited tigers in Phuket (mentioned below) and visited elephants in Laos. Both were once in a lifetime experiences, and if you want to do it I would definitely recommend it, just, make sure you do some research first!
Although I barely visited the city itself, Wat Rong Khun (often refered to as the white temple) certainly left it’s mark. It’s one of the most instantly recognizable temples in Thailand, and features a stunningly intricate and starkly white exterior, with an interior covered with unusual murals including Michael Jackson and Freddy Kruger. The outside has lots of grotesque statues and idols, symbolizing death and temptation.
OK, so many people visit the Islands for the full moon party, and if this is what you’re about then Phangan (or Samui) are deifnitely the islands for you. The day after the full moon party there is also a pretty awesome Jungle party that you can attend to, continuing the lunar fun! If you can find a good tour, then it’s well worth trying to get into the island to Phaeng Waterfall, which is super pretty and a little more off the beaten beach and bar track.
The island is absolutely lovely, but because it’s a little smaller it’s more expensive than Samui/Phangan. It’s the home of relaxation and water sports, so if you want to snorkel or scuba dive it’s definitely the best place. I did my advanced Scuba courses there and can highly recommend many of the sites there, a lot of which can be seen snorkelling too. If you’re into diving, or want to sample the pleasures of the underwater world, then Koh Tao is one of the cheapest places to complete diving courses as well as featuring some of the most accessible and reliable diving sites.
Koh Phi Phi
The island itself i very small but very pretty. Many people use it as a stop for Maya bay (or the beach beach) which is a pretty awesome beach bay featured in the Leonardo Di Caprio film. I would definitely recommend doing a tour in the morning. The bay is allowed to fill up with boats in the afternoon, so it’s more impressive and less busy in the morning.
The fishing town of Krabi is located on a peninsula in the south and is a place that Maya Bay and Phi Phi can be reached from easily. It is home to some great beaches and is the best place to originate if you would like to visit Railay Beach. Home to mangrove trees and Limestone cliffs, Krabi is one of the most popular destinations for rock climbers, so if you’re into climbing this is the place for you. Railay is separated from everywhere around it by cliffs, so the only way to get to the island is by boat.
Home to beaches and plazas, bars and clubs, Phuket is a hive of activity. It wasn’t my favourite place in Thailand, but it did allow some incredible trips. Nearby there is a tiger kingdom, which let’s you get up close and personal with tigers in cages, from babies to full grown cats. Yes I did it and I am very pleased to say I survived to tell the tale with some cool memories of meeting big cats up close and stroking their striped fur. I’m not sure I’d repeat it because I’m very sure it’s a drugged cat and a difficult life, but it’s something to look into if you want the photo opportunity or to research.
My favourite thing about Phuket was Phang Nga bay. It’s a series of limestone cliffs, rock formations, islands, and mangrove forests, that almost resemble the famous Vietnamese area of Ha Long Bay. There are some great tours available that show you round, take you kayaking and swimming in the waters around the formations, and take you through hidden caves to enclosed mangrove areas. The coolest thing by far is Ko Ta Pu. The rock formation was used in the film Man with the Golden Gun, and is now more commonly known as James Bond island.
Thailand likes to celebrate any reasonable holiday that fits with it’s calendar and beliefs, but there are some that, if you get the chance, are special to witness.
Songkran is the celebration of New Year in Thailand and is held every year on April 13th, but often celebrated on 14th and 15th as well. It is a time for celebration and visiting family, and most notably, water fighting. It’s a crazy time of year to be in Thailand, and an awesome thing to be a part of if you get the chance. Major streets are closed off for Water Fight arenas, and many of the temples are inundated with people donating food to the monks within.
This festival pays homage to the water spirits and ancestors and sees Thai people place Krathongs, or floating baskets, onto rivers. They add flowers and money to give to the spirits and float them, with candles and lights, onto a river with thousands of others. It’s traditionally celebrated on the full moon in the 12th lunar month, usually falling near the end of November of beginning of December, changing year on year. In addition, many cities set off huge firework displays, and also light floating lanterns to be released into the sky.
New Year’s Eve
Bangkok is often considered to be one of the best cities to celebrate New Year’s Eve in, and having been there myself, I can tell you that they don;t hold back. The city came alive, the food was incredible, music was playing, and the fireworks, wow, the fireworks were huge!
I know, it was a long one, and I’m not going to apologise as I loved writing it and thinking about must do things in Thailand. I hope you find it useful in planning you future trips, or even just reminiscing over a past visit!
What’s you favourite thing to do in Thailand? Where is your favourite place?
Have any questions? Feel free to ask me below!