Just as a restaurant lists many dishes on its menu, but recommends only a few, the National Tourist Board of Thailand (TAT) wants to highlight some of the most amazing things to do and attractions that no visitor to Thailand should miss. Thailand is rightly famous for its wealth of Buddhist temples, but if you’re looking for another taste of Thai culture, spiced up with tradition, sign up for a cooking class or go see a classic show in the capital’s Art Nouveau theater. Lovers of sports and the outdoors will certainly not lack the choice. In fact, they have the opportunity to rappel down a splendid waterfall in the largest natural park in the country or discover the green and mountainous North on the back of an elephant.
Many hidden pleasures await the divers in the Andaman Sea and Gulf Sea marine parks, simply spectacular. And then, you can play Golf in Hua Hin as in Phuket. Or learn the fundamentals of Muay Thai in a combat school in Koh Samui as in the Capital. Relax your mind with a retreat in a monastery in the forest. Restore harmony to your body with a detoxification program at one of the magnificent spas the Kingdom provides. For crazy shopping you can always go to a market – the Chatuchak Weekend Market in Bangkok is the world’s largest outdoor market. To return to the past – from the glorious kingdoms of Ancient Siam to World War II, hop aboard the legendary and luxurious Eastern-Oriental Express. Of course, you’ll discover plenty of other side dishes and appetizers that will make your vacation sensational, but these main courses must be enjoyed to the full.
Bangkok – the royal palace. Enjoy a royal and religious experience
Thailand’s most sacred statue, the Emerald Buddha, is located in the magnificent Wat Phra Kaeo in one of the most majestic architectural complexes in Southeast Asia. The mural paintings of intense spirituality are inspired by the national epic poem, the Ramayana. The gold-covered pagodas are among the first tourist attractions of the country. It is also fascinating the way Thai people come here to pray. Watching them follow centuries-old Buddhist rituals is like having a slice of authentic Thai life served fresh every day. The Temple and Palace, located on Rattanakosin Island, are within walking distance from other wonders such as Wat Po, National Gallery and City Pillar. The Grand Palace is open every day from 08.30 to 15.30 except on special occasions. Visitors are strongly advised to dress appropriately and not offensive.
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Chatuchak weekend market. For a real Thai shopping experience
For a truly local shopping experience, Chatuchak’s market is designed to appeal to both bargain hunters and antique collectors. From home decorations to handicrafts and exotic animals, you’ll find everything in this bazaar that resembles a giant being on the move. With nearly 16,000 stalls spread over 35 acres of land, the Week-End Market (located on the Sky Train line) is the largest outdoor market in Southeast Asia. The outdoor margin of the market includes plants, gardening tools and used clothing, while the stands in the indoor section are dedicated to clothing, souvenirs, jewelry and home decoration. The bottom and the northern part are the places where exotic plants and animals can be found. The market map distributed at the entrance is a valuable help.
The Gulf of Thailand
No trip to Smile Land would be complete without a visit to some of its tropical islands and world-renowned marine locations. Immerse yourself in the luxurious simplicity of Koh Samet or experience Chang Island for the richness of its sustainable tourism activities. Unleash yourself in the crazy nightlife of Pattaya or enjoy all these delights together in Koh Samui. There are other natural treasures, enchanting places edged with sand where serenity reigns supreme. Koh Tao is loved by families and every year has more divers than any other destination in Southeast Asia. To leave it all behind, try Koh Mak in the Koh Chang Marine National Park. For a pure Thai-style experience, head to Bang Sean, not far from Bangkok, which boasts some of the country’s most flavorful and cheapest seafood.
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Andaman sea coast
Whether you’re looking for more or less extreme adventures, from kayaking to simply getting drunk in the sun on a sandy tropical beach, the islands of Krabi and Phuket province are truly fascinating destinations. The symbol of Krabi, which is the oldest permanently inhabited province in Thailand, is the limestone cliff. The exclamation points of nature, these tall green monoliths dot the interior geography of this area and lead to striking cliffs that form the backdrop to incredible sunsets over the sea. For water sports enthusiasts there are many ways to experience an adrenaline rush: from water skiing to climbing, from banana boat excursions to deep sea fishing. There are many possible excursions: one of the most spectacular is a visit to Phang-nga Bay, dotted with limestone cliffs that rise hundreds of meters out of the water. Make a stop on the island of James Bond (Koh Phing Kan) and let the guides guide you in a kayak through the caves and fjords that open up to the forest from the lagoons.
Khaosan road: meet us at the junction
The intersections, for all travelers arriving in or leaving South East Asia, are those of Khaosan Road: this lively and bustling urban strip is a multicultural experience, with dozens of street vendors, street artists, clubs, picturesque bars and restaurants. Since the release of Alex Garland’s novel “The Beach” and the film with Leonardo di Caprio that was based on it, the street’s reputation has definitely improved and Khaosan Road continues to attract many young tourists – as well as their parents. Close to Khaosan Road, Phra A-thit Road is Bangkok’s little Bohemia, with artistically-demanding restaurants, chic bars and a riverside park that hosts dance theater festivals and musicals. All around, the beautifully preserved old wooden buildings are a gateway to Bangkok’s past.
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Khon & Hun lakhon lek: let yourself be enchanted today by yesterday’s traditions.
Visitors to the capital can travel back in time to 15th century Siam through performances of Khon (traditional Thai ballet) at the Royal Chalermkrung Theatre in Bangkok, the Art Nouveau venue that was the first air-conditioned cinema in all of Southeast Asia, and Hun Lakon Lek (traditional Thai puppets) at the Joe Louis Puppet Theatre. These unique shows are packed with traditional Thai music, traditional costumes and dancing girls. Once performed exclusively for the Court, today these regal forms of entertainment can also be enjoyed by tourists. These performances are based on the mythical epic of the Ramayana. The core of the story is how Hanuman, the white warrior monkey, came to the service of King Rama, who tried to defeat the demon ruler Thotsakan and his wicked men in green masks. During Khon’s performances at the Royal Theatre, English subtitles are projected through a screen placed a little higher than the stage.
Pak khlong talat & Yaowarat: you bloom too!
Pak Khlong Talat, the most important flower market in Bangkok, appears as an immense and vibrant color palette. Orchids of all sizes, garlands of marigolds, bouquets of roses from Chiang Mai, chrysanthemums and lush ceremonial ornaments called Bai Si, composed of banana leaves and crowned with flowers. Many tourists buy a box of special flowers, spray them with a spray before leaving, wrap them in a damp cloth and carry them as hand luggage: it’s a good way to enjoy them also at home. The market is very crowded both during the day and at night, but the moment when it really blooms is during the early hours of the morning, when the sellers arrange the stores and the streets are filled with carts and wagons full of flowers. Visiting this area, near the Chao Phraya (River of Kings), is a wonderful way to cool off after a hectic day of shopping in Yaowarat, Bangkok’s ChinaTown, famous for its goldsmith stores, street markets and Chinese-style temples. Some tours of the nearby canals include the market as a scented stop on their itineraries.
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The floating market and the tour of the canals: sailing along the river
Bangkok was formerly known as the “Venice of the Far East” because of all the waterways that then flow into a main artery – the River of Kings. Taking a ride on a long-tailed boat through the canals on the side of Thon Buri, with a few stops at the Temple of Dawn (Wat Arun) and the Royal Barges Museum (the Museum of Historical Boats), is a good way to immerse yourself in Thai and Siam history. Sailing along the waterways, passing by houses and floating gas stations conveys sensations that you won’t find anywhere else. Another historical journey is the one you can take and along the Khlong Om canal to the river island of Ko Kret, home to a thriving community of Mon craftsmen who sell the products of their work, such as sandstone sculptures, at very reasonable prices. To get there, take a river cab to the end of the line in Nonthaburi and rent your long-tailed boat once you arrive at the platform.
Relaxation in pai: the call of the forest
Pai, a pastoral town in Mae Hong Song province nestled in the mountains of northern Thailand, has become a base camp for explorers of all ages where you can trek and stop in the tribal villages of the hills or go rafting and mountain biking. Near this center there are waterfalls and gentle hills covered with greenery. The town itself offers many wellness courses, from Reiki to traditional massage and “New Age” disciplines. Among the favorite destinations of young travelers, Pai is also growing a lot thanks to its new airport.
Muay thai: jump in the ring
When it comes to martial arts, everyone knows that kick boxers who are dedicated to Muai Thai are the lords of the ring. Professional fights promise great boxing entertainment especially in Bangkok, but more and more people try their hand at kick boxing in Thailand, taking lessons in the many schools around the country to keep fit, for self-defense or to become professional boxers. Of course, there are gyms that welcome foreigners and offer courses in English. Even more exciting are the Muai Thai camps and training centers near the beaches of Pattaya, Phuket and Koh Phangan.
In World Heritage Sites: traveling through time by bike
Sukhothai, which means “Dawn of Happiness”, saw the rise of the first Siamese kingdom and the birth of the Thai language. Once an outpost of the Khmer empire, it passed to the Siamese who established their first kingdom there in 1238. It was the golden age of classical art, architecture and Buddhism. To pass through these magnificent ruins in the Sukhothai Historical Park – the Thai equivalent of Cambodian Angkor Wat – you can easily rent a bicycle. You can also comfortably ride a bike among the remains of the second historical capital of Siam: Ayutthaya. Here you can ride along the banks of rivers that form a natural moat around the city center once considered the most glorious commercial port in all of Asia. In addition, the museums, so rich in artifacts, offer an overview of more than 400 years of reign. There are not many cities in the world where you can cycle through the ruins of a 15th century pagoda, but this is the magic that Ayutthaya gives.
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Elephant trekking: riding an Asian pachyderm
Siamese soldiers fought on elephants, today tourists are allowed to ride them. Although you can ride these giants on many of the Thai islands, the most scenic views are in the large, green north. On the elephant’s back you can climb the hills, wade through the waterways and advance without hesitation into the jungle. In addition, some of the camps that preserve them are also staging shows. For an incredible demonstration of the power of these animals, just watch them carry tree trunks.
At the Elephant Conservation Center in the northern province of Lampang, visitors have the opportunity to sign up for mahout courses. Learn how to “guide” one of these pachyderms, take him to the river for a bath, feed him and even sleep with him in the jungle. Remember, however, that these intelligent and delicate creatures are sacred to the Thai people. In fact, there was a white elephant that once decorated the flag of Siam and still today you can see Thai people walking under the elephant’s belly, as the ancient Siamese warriors did, to receive strength and fortune.
Dive to the islands similan & surin: explore the underwater treasures
Imagine descending from the wall of a cliff in the middle of a gushing waterfall that surrounds you on both sides: this is the accessible thrill you can experience in Khao Yai National Park, included by UNESCO in the list of World Heritage sites for the variety of its ecosystems and its 800 different species of fauna. The park is also renowned for its waterfalls ranging from 15 to 50 meters high. But there is more than the splash and thrills to fill a day in the park: to reach some of the waterfalls you need to cross the lake by kayak, or go trekking in some of the most delightful forests of the kingdom. And the jungle is a haven for wild elephants, gibbons and hornbills.
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Dive to the islands Similan & Surin: explore the underwater treasures
Some of the most exciting spots for diving and snorkeling can be found in the archipelagos of the Similan and Surin Islands, on the Andaman Sea. Beneath the emerald green and sapphire blue surface you will see giant manta rays, whale sharks, lionfish, shoals of barracuda and about 75% of Thailand’s coral species. And more: sea turtles, squids, octopuses and fan gorgonians. If you choose to use the boat, book a liveaboard (which means sleeping and eating on board for several days) from Phuket or Khao Lak to explore the Similan Islands and their multitude of ideal diving locations, what locals call the “rainforest of the sea” or coral reefs teeming with marine life. You’ll sleep comfortably and wake up to smell the salty breeze and then dive into the wild blue below the waves. Many snorkellers also choose to stay on the Surin Islands in accommodation provided by the National Park Service.
Meditation: find some inner peace
Citizens seeking inner tranquility should devote themselves to contemplation by indulging in a meditation retreat in one of the country’s many temples. Near Suan Mokkh Monastery (Garden of Liberation) in Surat Thani Province and Wat Mahathat in Bangkok you can learn the secrets of serenity from a true Buddhist monk. These practical lessons will also help you understand why the Buddha’s tolerant and compassionate teachings make it one of the most growing religions in the world today. In the capital’s temple, located not far from the Royal Palace, visitors receive, sitting or walking, meditation lessons from Thai monks who speak English.
You can stay at the center for a night or even a few weeks, as long as you respect the precepts, such as not eating after 12:00, as monks do. The temple only asks for a small donation and leaves you free to choose the amount to offer. On the contrary, the courses at Suan Mokkh International, about 1 km from the temple in the forest of Surat Thani, are more intensive: you wake up at 4:00 a.m. to begin a long day of meditative practice that includes listening to speeches on Buddhist doctrines and even practicing yoga. During all the days of your stay it is mandatory to observe complete silence. It is hard, but it brings many benefits, including increased concentration, increased willpower and domination over what the Buddha called “the monkey mind”.
Thai spa and massage: take a dose of healthy tourism
Thailand has become the spearhead of the spa business in Southeast Asia. Most of the country’s major hotels and resorts have spas within them where you can choose from facial to holistic treatments, based on traditional Asian healing methods and aiming for a balance between the physical and spiritual dimensions. Many of these centers are enriched with art and antiquities and feature a sophisticated as well as traditional setting. As obesity, stress and lack of physical activity claim more and more victims, good health has become a vital issue and it is no wonder that so many tourists choose health-conscious vacations. Today, vacations are no longer just exercises of gluttony and laziness.
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Tom Yum Kung, Phat Thai and cooking: taste the Thai spices
Now that traditional dishes like Tom Yam Kung (a spicy broth with lemon leaves and fresh shrimps) and Phat Thai (Thai style pasta) have become famous, more and more people want to learn the basics of one of the most popular cuisines in the world. Forget recipe books and try authentic Thai food preparation with a distinctly local touch. Even better, you can choose your own kitchen. Would you like to study on board a wooden barge for transporting rice? And why not in a humble wooden house in the jungle? Or would you prefer to try your hand at the shimmering kitchen of a five-star hotel? Whatever you choose, you can take a one-day – or longer – course and learn the secrets to preparing your favorite local dish like a real Thai chef. You can then join the party and enjoy your food with your cooking buddies. Would you like some sweet green curry with chicken or a spicy papaya salad? How about an appetizing steamed grouper with ginger and lemon? All these dishes can be found on the menus of cooking classes, along with outings to buy fresh ingredients at local markets.
Songkran and Loy Kratong: make a memory of the past with wonderful festivals
When night falls, the waterways of the village are illuminated by miniature boats carrying flowers, incense and a small candle. This tribute to the water goddess takes place on the first full moon night of the eleventh lunar month. Loi Krathong is also a romantic festival: couples float their krathong together. Although you can participate all over the country (as long as there is a river, a stream or a canal), the most unforgettable place to fully appreciate its beauty is among the fascinating ruins of Sukhothai Historical Park, where the tradition originated many centuries ago.
The festivities in Thailand are proof of how important water is in a society with strong agricultural roots: the Songkran, the Thai New Year’s Eve held in mid-April, arrives amid the splash of water wars in the streets. The images of the Buddha are subjected to ritual baths and, in a moving scene, young people use to pour water on the hands of their venerated parents. Each of these festivals demonstrates both the spiritual and goliardic side of the Thais and will certainly leave memories in your memory that will be hard to forget.
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Play golf: start your game on tropical greens
The possibilities to practice sports in Thailand are endless. Thanks to the combination of tropical climate and beaches, water activities are the main attraction. On the mainland, golf is the main attraction. Every year thousands of professionals and amateurs play at least one game in Thailand during their vacations in picturesque scenery such as Hua Hin and Phuket. There are so many tourists who come to the Kingdom every year to dedicate themselves to their favorite sport that several tourist companies were born to meet the tastes of these fans. This means that you can choose between various packages, from VIP golf vacations to less expensive variants, or you can decide to stay in the seaside resort and attend a course on the spot. You don’t have to be Tiger Woods to roll the ball and the offer includes, in addition to magnificent courses and locations, the lowest rates in Asia and exceptional caddies service.
Travelling by train: eastern and oriental express
When it comes to train travel, true lovers of luxury and history can only think of the legendary Eastern and Oriental Express. Treat yourself to your dream vacation on the tracks by booking the 8-day, 7-night package with stops in cities rich in history such as Ayutthaya, Chiang Mai and Kanchanaburi (www.orient-express.com). Panoramic breaks include guided tours to the ruins of the “Death Railway” and the bridge over the Kwai River, remains of World War II, as well as river cruises. From the privacy of your E&O compartment you will have a view of one of Thailand’s most cinematic landscapes (both rural and urban). The range of international dishes available in the dining car is mouth-watering. After a seven-day crossing of Thailand, the E&O heads through Malaysia to the terminus in Singapore. How many other trains have their own well-stocked library?
On top of Thailand
The northern plateau is a region of teak forests and jungle-covered peaks, where the gullies of the mountains hide small secret valleys. The Doi Inthanon National Park, the southernmost offshoot of the Himalayas, is a perfect place for trekking. An important attraction in this beautiful landscape is the mountain tribes (Karen, Hmong, Yao, Lahu). Chiang Mai, the second largest city in the country, is located in the center of this region and is the base from which to explore the area. Chiang Rai, a small and ancient pearl of the far north, conquers for its relaxed atmosphere and is the true gateway to the Golden Triangle. Mae Hong Son, a fairy-tale town on the border with Myanmar, nestled in a deep valley surrounded by high mountains, preserves a special, almost enchanted atmosphere.