Given the fact that it has been the no 1 tourist destination with more than 125.000.000 tourists per year, the following declaration is the most obvious that it could but here goes :
THAILAND IS AMAZING AND EVERYBODY SHOULD VISIT!
Okay, not really yet. But despite it being the experience of a lifetime, I do feel quite self conscious recommending places that have a gazillion hits on TripAdvisor, so I will try to list the ones that fall under the “seek-the-unique” category.
First of all, Thailand is a big country with lots of islands (did someone say Captain Obvious???) so first thing will be to choose among the list of destinations and activities, unless you spend two months there (please do if you can). Because of its increased popularity it has lost some of its authenticity, making it the most Western world friendly country of the Orient. The trap of this is one could easily spend their days there drinking in Irish pubs, eating pizza and pasta and only realizing where they are when the time comes to pay and it has to be in baht.
As an initial tip, the most well spent money would be on a direct flight, especially if the trip is not long enough to counter balance the journey.
Of course Big Buddha, Emerald Buddha, and all the little Buddha’s in between. Again, as one does. They cannot be missed from Bangkok first timers. My group happened upon the mourning for the king, which, albeit sad, was a great cultural experience. Thai people are genuinely warm and kind-hearted so it was very moving to see so many of them in black solidarity kneeling in the streets in memoriam and providing soup in huge pots and free water for the mourners. Touchy subject between them as they mostly dislike the new King but still took the time to explain in whatever English they spoke to help us tourists understand.
By the way, they really do not speak English. They appreciate it like desert rain when we try to utter Kob-khun-kah (thank you) but unless you want any surprises, stick to the touristy places to eat that have English and/or illustrated menus. Also keep in mind the water is highly NOT drinkable, but bottled water is very cheap so it should not be an issue. That being said, hardcore me did use the tap water to boil to make some tea in Phuket. Others refuse to even brush their teeth with the tap water. It is basically a come as you wish.
Tip : When in Bangkok allow the Skytrain to surprise you when you arrive in Suvarnabhumi Airport. It is the best way to get to the city, fast, clean and quite reliable, and you can arrange subsequent cabs to your accommodation (if needed).
Accessible by land and by plane as well, Thai Airways is the way to go for a fast and smooth flight, if you don’t have a day extra to spend on the road. Phuket itself does not have a lot of beautiful places or beaches, so it is better to use it as stepping stone for the thousands of excursions in small islands nearby that it is not possible to spend the night. There you can find 4 and 5* hotels for 20 USD-EUR per night so if you don’t want to pinch every penny I say go for it just because. Again not very authentic but it is one option, hostels for a fourth of this are always possible. Depends on how much of a light sleeper you are.
Thailand offers a lot of snorkeling options for the public. Organized, with high speed boats included in the package and friendly tour guides. However, most of these trips take place in the Gulf of Thailand, which means that the amazing turquoise waters with that soft white sand are actually quite murky, because the waters are shallow and with frequent currents. In other words, you get a mask that you cannot see anything through. Similan Islands however are located in the Andaman Sea, where the waters run deep and the currents cannot affect them. Despite the circa 3 hour commute from most Phuket hotels, I would deem it absolutely worth the time for an authentic National Geographic experience as seen below :
To compare : Top 3 are in the Andaman Sea, bottom in the Gulf of Thailand, near the famous James Bond Island.
***Trips : there are some options to book online if you want, and normally our inner control freak advises to go for it; however I really have to emphasize that some things are better left at the last moment to decide as not every option is available in websites and you can always get better prices by haggling, especially as a group. Plus by winging it you can end up in something wonderful like…
Boats in the port of PhiPhi for private tours to Maya Bay and anywhere else you want-just ask the captain!
James Bond Island
In itself not very impressive and definitely smaller than imagined. Does make good background for pictures of course, and normally the trips there include also a stop for lunch at the Muslim fisherman village (Koh Pan-Yi). There the stark contrast of the local houses with the bare necessities and the abundant souvenir stands can be admired.
Another amazing activity was canoeing through the channels at Hong Island. In twos and threes the locals led boats through the caves and if you are lucky enough to land a guide that noticed the adventurous gleam in your eyes theu can show you how to reach an actual lagoon (think Mila Yovovich). The enormity of the murky waters and the hills above with the patch of sky visible between is too precious to try to describe. Only in Thailand.
Not-so-fun-fact : due to it being the portuguese jellyfish season I had the enormous pleasure to kick one of these monsters as we were swimming to the lagoon. Fortunately on the head, so I wasn’t stung. Lucky doesn’t begin to cover it!
Famous for the full moon parties where locals play with rings of fire and tourists sip tastefully cocktails from buckets, it falls under the same category as Patong Beach in Phuket : touristy, sometimes overpriced, lacking local color and full of intoxicated dudes in sleeveless tops-it does not get more cult than that. For a night out it is definitely the way to go, but do not expect quality drinks or music. The highlight was the passion fruit mojito bucket from a street vendor, including FRESH fruit (!) for 250 THB (ca 6 USD/EUR/GBP). Which brings us to…
One of the great reasons to visit any country with tropical climate, is the taste of the ingredients, namely fruit and vegetables. The longer they are to their natural temperature, the less preservatives they need thus the flavor is as good as it gets. There I tasted for what seems like the first time pineapple, mango, dragon fruit, passion fruit, bananas and the list is endless. Plus the shellfish! Grilled prawns from a street vendor is a risk that anyone must take – try to check the quality by eye a bit as some of them do look dodgy.
As far as the actual meals are concerned, I was eating noodles/rice with the usual veggies and occasionally seafood literally all day long, from breakfast to dinner. Try to opt in for a breakfast included reservation as it is not the easiest thing to find. For dessert eat as much mango sticky rice and road ice cream you can.
Made in front of you, coconut milk and fruit of your choice. 100% heavenly.
And that’s about that folks. Happy Thailanding!