For nomadic-minded individuals, Thailand is the travel hub of South-East Asia and is an essential on the traveller’s checklist. With its blissful beaches, exotic jungles, delicious food and famed landmarks, Thailand is a magnet for travellers; like backpacker-bees to a honey pot.
When in Thailand, or in any country for that matter, there is a clear distinction between the different types of travel. There is the more authentic cultural experience, contrasting to the traveller-targeted experience. Starting this week with the more cultural route, here is a guide of the two possible travel paths when venturing around Thailand.
Most people fly into Bangkok, setting forth on their journey from there. Backpackers generally head straight to the famous Koh San Road, a bustling street filled with restaurants, clubs and market stalls. Although there is an exciting, highly energetic vibe on Koh San, don’t forget to visit some of the famous cultural sites in Bangkok, such as the Grand Palace, home to Thailand’s royal family. Within the palatine walls there are temples, shrines and statues; a great place to see many landmarks in one go. Be sure to cover up your legs, arms and chest though, as they have a strict dress-code policy. Another indispensable activity that is emblematic to Thai culture is the floating markets. Due to its numerous canals, Bangkok was once known as the ‘Venice of Asia’, and although these markets have become more of a novel spectacle, they still remain a must-see.
Next on the travel itinerary should be Chiang Mai, which is situated in the north of Thailand. Chiang Mai is yet another traveller-magnet, with a famous night market that draws many bargain-hunters to its stalls. It is an ancient city, encircled with vast jungle, ringed with temples and often often used as a launch pad for jungle treks – an essential Thailand activity. For a richer experience when jungle trekking, select a multi day hike, this enables you to venture further into the jungle and participate in more activities. If you wish, you can choose a trek tailored to more specific pursuits. For example if you have a particular fondness for elephants, pick a trek where you can meet, ride and bath them.
Pai, a city 3 hours north of Chiang Mai, is the perfect place to venture off the beaten track. Located in the mountains, it is infused with a chilled, hippy vibe, with breath-taking scenery and many natural landmarks. Be sure to visit one of the waterfalls or hot springs, and go to Pai canyon – an excellent photo opportunity that has “cover photo” written all over it. Whilst in Pai it may be beneficial to rent a moped, as most of the landmarks are a distance from the main town. The moped however, also known as a parent’s worst nightmare, can be dangerous if you simply just hop on one without learning how to ride it properly. There are places that, for a couple of hours, teach you how to ride, and I would thoroughly recommend this in order to avoid those all-too-common moped accidents.
One of the most prominent features of Thai culture is the food. Sample the Thai cuisine; eat Green Curry, Red Curry, Pad Thai (don’t just stick to the chicken fried rice), but most importantly don’t be afraid to try the street food. Street food, like most things in Thailand, is cheap. Unfortunately there is a negative stigma surrounding street food, although sometimes it is arguably safer to eat than the restaurant food there, just make sure it is prepared in front of you. If you want to take a bit of that Thai culture home with you, (and I don’t mean by marrying a Thai bride) why not learn how to cook Thai food? All over the country there are cookery schools that offer one-day courses, the best of which are in Chiang Mai and Bangkok.
Next week I will discuss the alternative side to Thailand; one that is, for want of a better word, conceptually more Ibiza-esque, but also teeming with fun activities highly popular amongst travellers.