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Thailand was the first country I visited outside of Europe and my experiences there led to my love of travel ….
Having only been on package holidays prior to that, when we decided to go independently to Thailand, my husband said we would have to pack very light.
I happily laid out my piles of bikinis, sundresses, going out dresses, shoes to go with the different going out dresses, jewellery, scarves and hats plus a generous pile of beauty products – only for him to produce a hand luggage bag telling me it was for both of us to share for the whole trip! I looked at him in horror, declaring that “not even my makeup would fit in there” for which I was, quite rightly, ridiculed and the experience definitely taught me how to pack light for the future.
So according to Lonely Planet, Bangkok is the ‘best’ destination in Thailand but obviously that very much depends on what you’re looking for from your trip…. and whilst the city was an incredible experience, Bangkok certainly wouldn’t be my top choice……
And this is where my reasons you should visit Thailand begins:
☀ One. Wildlife.
The main reason we went to Thailand in the first place was because I’m animal mad and I wanted to see the monkeys and elephants – which influenced which parts of the country we stayed in. We flew into Bangkok but straight back out again and up north to the Chiang Mai Province which is cooler, calmer and a bit more exotic feeling than the cities or beach resorts because of its green mountainous terrain.
We based ourselves in the actual city of Chiang Mai, in quite a decent hotel which was embarrassingly cheap, then took different trips out to see the countryside.
The most adventurous one was a day-long experience of going to a traditional village, an elephant sanctuary and then white water rafting (I so did not want to do that part of it!). We went with a small group of people up into the hills and trekked to a village where it was cool to see how the families were living, but it all felt a little uncomfortable to me – not staged for the tourists because the people were genuinely living there, but I felt I was imposing upon their private space and it didn’t seem right that these people become a tourist attraction?
But then you are also supporting them by paying to visit, so I guess I felt a little conflicted. The children were very cute….
The highlight for me in this part of the country was obviously meeting the elephants – I’ll never forget being smacked round the face by an inpatient baby that wanted the whole bunch of bananas not just one! It actually bloody smarted, they are strong those small trunks!!
(Note: You do need to be careful which places you are visiting and giving your money to because not all the elephants are treated well and I certainly wouldn’t ever want to fund anything other than a genuine conservation effort – we went here)
☀ Two. Markets and Handicrafts.
Chiang Mai is famous for its night market which sets up every evening as it starts to get dark – if you like shopping, oh my god, you could spend hours there! Whether you want a traditional handwoven silk throw for your home or a knockoff Rolex or Louis Vuitton, it’s a brilliant experience to wander around the hundreds of stalls, bartering with the lovely Thai people and then grabbing something to eat from one of the many street cafes.
Whenever I travel I always like to bring things home with me for the house:
☀ Three. Scenery.
After Chiang Mai we flew south to the Phuket region and spent 2 nights there before getting on a ferry to one of the islands.
The main towns of Phuket are very touristy and you will find the infamous Patong beach with its lady boys and sex shows – it’s quite a fun experience but not really somewhere you would want to spend too much time:
Arriving at Phi-Phi island by ferry, cruising past towering limestone cliffs through the bright, jade green water was incredible. It is the picture postcard view you see everywhere of the Thai islands with sheltered beaches, incredibly clear water and rows of the traditional longtail boats moored up which you hear and see rushing around everywhere!
Our island experience was wonderful, a very chilled and laid-back vibe with super friendly locals and incredible views wherever you go with the huge cliffs and rocks sticking out of the sea.
We rented a bungalow right by the beach that was pretty basic but comfortable. My favourite experience of this part of our trip was feeding the monkeys at sunrise about 20 minutes away on a little sheltered beach. They are quite tame and certainly have no fear – you have to be really careful that they don’t grab any of your belongings as, much as they live away up on the cliffs, they are very accustomed to dealing with clueless tourists 😉
☀ Four. Fish!
The snorkelling in the Phuket region is amazing, the visibility is fantastic and you don’t need to go out into particularly deep water to see beautiful big tropical fish and small sharks. I’d never done anything like that before and I was quite nervous…..so when my husband jumped into the water first from the longtail boat, he decided not to mention that he did so into a big swarm of tiny jellyfish – because he “thought it would put me off”…. (errr yes?!)
The unsuspecting me right before the jellyfish incident…..
So yes, my first experience of snorkelling was jumping into a pile of jellyfish – the feeling was that of being mildly electrocuted all over my arms and legs, and resulted in me flinging myself back onto the boat, hyperventilating somewhat then refusing to get back in unless I could hang onto the instructor – well that was my excuse anyway 😉 …. and it was incredible – the fish, not gripping onto the instructor – but I still don’t think I ever fully relaxed after that electrifying introduction.
Me glad to be alive afterwards??!
(Note: Not long after this trip I then got bitten on the thigh by a barracuda in Florida, so I’m not sure snorkelling and I are really meant to be?!)
☀ Five. Pineapples On Sticks!
There were tons of fantastic restaurants whichever part of the country we were in and I will never forget eating my first Thai sweet-and-sour dish (very different to the Chinese version) that came out served inside a whole, hollowed out pineapple which we ate on the beach, listening to the waves and with little crabs running around by our feet!
Wherever you go the food is decorated with intricately carved roses out of fruit and vegetables such as mango and carrots!
The flavours of thai food are incredible and not something I’ve ever fully managed to replicate at home – the curries are particularly hot so you really have to stress you want it mild if you are a bit of a lightweight like me.
For vegetarians there is a pretty good choice of both curries and things like pad Thai which is always crammed with really fresh, beautifully flavoured vegetables.
My favourite snacks were pineapple lollies where they carve fresh pineapples, then skewer and freeze them – so refreshing in the humid heat!
☀ Six. Adventure.
When you are in Thailand, even popping out to a nearby village, temple or restaurant can be an adventure if you take a tuk tuk. I loved how each one was decorated differently and it does get the adrenaline going when you are whizzing down streets with the sides open, fresh air rushing in and weaving in and out of traffic.
There’s all sorts of proper adventures on offer wherever you go too – whether it be diving, trekking, zip lining through jungle where you can see Gibbons. If you are an action junkie you will never be bored and if you haven’t been to Asia, just walking around the streets and interacting with the local people is an adventure in itself as it’s just so different to anything you will have experienced before.
☀ Seven. Temples.
After some restful weeks living the beach life we headed to Bangkok which was a massive shock to the system, but a totally brilliant place – the palaces and buddhas are a photographers dream.
There are over 400 Wats (temples) in the Bangkok area alone. If you like design and patterns, you can literally spend hours looking at the outside of these temples and when you step inside your senses are hit with the smell of incense and feeling of serenity.
Wat Pho – The Reclining Buddha is probably one of the most famous temples in the whole country. Wat Arun – Temple of the Dawn – has 5 different towers and is decorated with thousands intricate pieces of ceramic and the original Wat Suthat dates right back to the 1700s:
☀ Eight. Weather.
I don’t just mean sunshine, because honestly you can get that 4 hours from the UK, what I mean is experiencing proper tropical weather – regular, evening downpours that drench you through to the skin in seconds… thick, heavy rain that produces huge mists rolling over the jungle covered hills, lightning that illuminates the sky in dramatic forks and then everything returning to normal with perfectly dry streets only minutes after the weather system passes.
There is something delicious about proper, tropical rain! My advice to you would be to go at the beginning of the dry season so that all the plants are nourished and lovely, you get plenty of sunshine and heat but you also get to experience full on downpours like that!
☀ Nine. Location.
Thailand is very close to many other beautiful countries such as Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Malaysia and it almost seems a crime to travel all that way and not see anywhere else! So if you have the time and money for a big adventure, Thailand is a great place to start – it is also sometimes cheaper to buy a one-way ticket to Thailand and then buy your other flights in local currency once you get there.
☀ Ten. Happy People.
This probably sounds strange, but I was fascinated by the faces of the Thai people – they have such a friendly, warm and wise look and aura about them.
I had a lovely experience just sitting quietly in the back of one of the temples, taking in the sight of all the exotic flowers that had been given as gifts to the gods and the smell of incense all around … a beautiful young monk came and sat beside me and asked if he could practice his English with me for a while and he was everything about Thai people that I respect so much – kind, gentle, funny and so expressive….
So if you are considering a trip to Thailand, I would definitely encourage you to go to more than one part of the country to get the full experience, even if it’s just for a couple of days at one or either end of a beach holiday. There’s a brilliant choice of accommodation, it’s super cheap to eat out, the views wherever you go are incredible and you will be made extremely welcome in what is known as ‘the land of smiles’…..