Fall in love with Thailand on your first trip, but want to see and do something different the second time around? Well, don’t worry, there’s still plenty to see and do for repeat travelers.
Maybe the first time around you went to all the major tourist destinations (Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Koh Samui and Phuket); these spots are fine, but why not be a little adventurous and go off the beaten path, seeking out destinations that are truly Thai and don’t just cater to foreigners?
By Scott Murray
Time is always a concern when you are traveling, so where you go obviously depends on how much time you’ve got. But, say you are stuck in Bangkok, why not visit Nonthaburi’s Koh Kret on a day trip, renowned for its Mon pottery or kwan aman, unglazed terra cotta carved with intricate patterns.
And it you want to go for an interesting bike ride and see some rare greenery in Bangkok take a short boat trip to Bang Krachao, known as “the green lung”. There are a number of homestays available on this peaceful piece of land; it’s a great way to get away from the hustle and bustle of Krungthep. And to see a side of Bangkok you wouldn’t traveling by car, cross over the Chao Phraya and take a klong (canal) trip throughout the waterways of Thailand’s ancient capital in Thonburi.
Everyone wants to cook proper Thai cuisine when they go home. But to really understand Thai cuisine, you need go to the market and pick the produce yourself. The sights and sounds of a morning Thai fresh market are fascinating. You also need to properly learn how to cook Thai food, so find a good cook who can also teach. There are the high-end courses like Blue Elephant, where you learn how to prepare Royal Thai cuisine. But throughout the country, there are various courses geared to fit everyone’s budget.
Elephant Stay in Ayutthaya is a great place to learn more about Thailand’s magnificent mammals. For a couple days you can live with elephants, cleaning and feeding them. A little further afield in and around the Chiang Rai area, you can actually take a mahout course, I mean how cool is that – you can learn to be a mahout. The Thai Elephant Conservation Course was the first to offer such a course, but many elephants camps offer similar programs now.
If you think you will be making many more trips to Thailand in the future, it’s time you learned some Thai. If you can, pick a course in a small town where you are forced to use your Thai. It’s too easy to fall back on English in the big urban areas. Remember there’s a different dialect for the North, the Northeast (Isarn), as well as central and southern Thailand. Challenge yourself to learn a few words from each.
Domestic travel by airline has become ridiculously cheap with carriers like AirAsia, Nok Air, Thai Lion Air, VietJet, traveling to all corners of the Kingdom, so it’s never been easier to travel throughout Thailand. You can also use trips to remote corners of Thailand to visit neighboring countries e.g. Anyaraprathet has long been a gateway into Cambodia, while you reach Langkawi in Malaysia by boat from Satun in southern Thailand. The Mergui Archipelago in Myanmar can be accessed from Ranong, while Pakse and its environs in Laos can be accessed through just beyond Ubon Ratchathani.
The Pha Taem National Park, about 100 km northeast of Ubon Ratchathani, provides great views over the Mekong River of Laos and cliffs in the park feature pictographs dating back 4,000 years (part of the movie Alexander was filmed here). South of Ubon, in Phu Chong National Park, you’ll find the “Emerald Triangle”, where the forests of Cambodia, Laos and Thailand meet in a sea of emerald green.
In southern Thailand, few places match the stunning karst topography of Phang Nga Bay. Crew on a boat during one of Phuket’s many sailing regattas or just charter a sailboat yourself. Railay Beach in Krabi is quite famous for its rock climbing, so if you are into climbing combine it with a great beach vacation.
If you want to better care of yourself and are looking for some healing, resorts such as Phuket’s Mangosteen Resort have their own Ayurveda spa doctor, and go a step further by recommending healthy cuisine and yoga, basically all that’s good for you.
Muay Thai camps have evolved as well; before many of these camps that catered to foreigners focused solely on fighting or attack, but now many focus on health and nutrition, the history of the sport and even mediation. And as the number of women taking these courses continues to increase the self-defense component of the sport is being stressed.
If you are up in the Chiang Rai area, you can visit the old Kuomintang sanctuary of Mae Salong, now a hill station, teaming with tea plantations, providing wonderful views of the surrounding countryside. If you get a chance to do this trip by motorbike, by all means do as you will find it an exhilarating experience. A short trip away from Mae Salong is the Doi Tung Development project, designed to wean farmers from opium growing by using alternative crops, and the Queen Mother’s Mae Fah Luang Foundation along with its beautifully tended gardens.
From there, head north to Mae Sai, where you can visit the Burmese border of Tachileik. The US$10 million Doi Tung Hall of Opium, down by Chiang Saen is a must if you would like to learn more about that drug’s fascinating history. The luxurious Anantara Golden Triangle Resort & Spa is nearby, with their Camp Dara, which supports 20 elephants along with their mahouts and families. And if you want to visit the UNESCO World Heritage site of Luang Prabang in Laos, you can catch the ferry at Huay Xai, across from Thailand’s Chiang Khong.
Another good way to explore a town and learn more about Thai history at the same time is by taking a temple tour, either on your own, or with an experienced guide. Little-known Nakhon Phanom, in northeast Thailand, has seven historic temples, each dedicated to worshipping on a different day of the week, all within easy driving distance of its city centre. Ho Chi Minh also called the province home in his early fight to gain independence from France for Vietnam. Tha Khaek in Laos lies directly across the Mekong River.
An area definitely worth exploring is the Koh Chang archipelago. Koh Chang is the country’s second biggest island after Phuket, and well worth a visit itself, but the less-traveled Koh Mak and Koh Kood are a must if you get out that way.
And if you want a unique travel adventure, but don’t want to be bothered doing the homework, there are adventure travel companies such as Smiling Albino, who can individualize a tour package for you fitting in what your most want to see and do most in the time you have available.
There’s just so much to see and do in the Kingdom – that is why they it is called Amazing Thailand.