Thailand Travel Guide. If you are considering a vacation in an exotic location, Thailand might be a good idea. To make sure you get the most of your precious holiday time, knowledge of the country will be to your advantage to help your planning. George Conradie has lived in Thailand for several years, visited multiple locations and shares these experiences.
Finding reasons to visit Thailand is easy and, once you have been here it becomes even easier finding reasons to return a second time. It has great weather, a friendly and interesting culture, historical sites dating back to ancient times, adventure opportunities and food lovers will find Thailand’s tantalizing flavours irresistible. The country also offers diverse locations to visit ranging from the rain forest covered mountains of Chiang Mai in the north, pulsating Bangkok and crazy Pattaya to the multitude of tropical islands in the south. Add to this the generous price tag of stunning beach hotels and luxury resorts and Thailand becomes one of the most enticing leisure travel destinations in the world.
If the time has arrived for you to discover this amazing country you might be faced with one daunting question. With so many fantastic places to see, which one do you go to first and, which of the many hotel accommodation options in each area will be best for your requirements? For a first time visitor I recommend one or several of the following.
Bangkok is a gigantic city, fast paced, chokingly hot and it can be energy sapping but, those who have been here will tell you that no visit to Thailand is complete without stopping in Bangkok. If ever there was a place of contrasts where ancient and modern, old and new, order and chaos, conservatism and liberalism combine to create a fascinating megalopolis, then it is indeed the city of angels. Bangkok is famous for its cheap shopping at enormous street markets where you can buy anything from a chicken to fake Gucci labels. Make sure you visit the Chatuchak week-end market, the biggest street market in the world and bargain your way to rock bottom prices. You should also not miss the Prathunam market and the many stalls and small shops of Chinatown selling interesting articles.
A great way of exploring the city is by river taxi down the Chaophraya, the river of kings, and stopping by fascinating city attractions along the way which include the grand palace, emerald Buddha and Temple of the Dawn. Another must do while in Bangkok is visiting the floating markets where merchants sell their goods from traditional long tail boats laden with products along the narrow canals of the river. There is also an array of temples and museums each with its own history to tell. Bangkok of course has also a very romantic side to it and one of the best ways to experience it is during a dinner cruise at sunset on the Chaophraya River passing lit up old temples and building along the way.
In the accommodation department Bangkok spoils with countless hotels with very high standards. An almost bigger decision when booking accommodation is to decide where in the city to go, rather than choosing a hotel itself. If you want to be in an upmarket part of the city, and close to attractions, shopping opportunities and public transport, you should head for the Silom, Siam, Sukhumvit or Sathorn districts. The best 5 star hotels offering great value for money here include names like Sofitel Sukhumvit, Anantara Sathorn which is also a good family friendly hotel, Siam Kempinski and Mandarin Oriental located on the banks of the Chaophraya River. Some of the best 4 star hotels in these areas include Bandara Suites Silom which is also great for families, Siam @ Siam Design Hotel, Amari Boulevard and Century Park Hotel.
Only two hours by road from Bangkok is Pattaya, a small fishing village during days long gone turned modern sea-side holiday mecca. If you want to escape the frenetic pace of Bangkok for a few days or even for the rest of your holiday and don’t want to travel too far, Pattaya is it. The areas’ several beaches include central Pattaya which is busy and the nightlife quite simply raunchy. For a more relaxed sea-side experience, head for Jomtien Beach in the north or Naklua and Wong Amat beaches in the south. One of the best things about Pattaya is its many exiting recreational activities. The area has a variety of golf course, small islands to visit only minutes from its shores, scuba dive opportunities, taking the family on a real yellow submarine cruise, boat tours, aquariums, zoo, elephant shows and an array of water sports.
If you are indeed planning a family holiday, the best 5 star hotel to consider is the Centara Grand Mirage Beach Resort featuring a “lost world” theme, beach-side water park and ideal family-type accommodation. Names like Dusit Thani and the Sheraton will resonate well if you like exclusivity and a private beach to relax unhindered. Four star hotels like Holiday Inn and Siam Bayshore have the perfect locations, budget savvy prices and are highly recommended for their standard of service.
This is home to Thailand’s biggest tourism magnet namely Phuket, but also areas like beautiful Krabi and Phan Nga. The island offers a bottomless pit of exhilarating holiday activities. It hosts the Phuket Fantasea which is Thailand’s own Disneyland, elephant trekking opportunities, scuba diving, and hiking and canoeing in nearby Khao Sok national park will be a sin to miss. I highly recommend you stay over a night in one of the floating lake cabins. Phuket also boasts several world class golf courses, a choice of water sports and busy nightlife area. Around Phuket other locations such as the iconic Phi Phi islands, Yao Noi island, Racha island and Lanta island to name a few all offer pristine nature and can easily be reached by boat for a day excursion or, since all offer their own hotels and resorts you could even spend a night or two.
If you like things quiet and serene with a romantic atmosphere, head for Phuket’s northern tip featuring beaches like Mai Khao and Nai Yang. The best hotels here include the fabulous Indigo Pearl Resort, Centara Grand West Sands and Sala Phuket Resort & Spa. Patong is the centre of activity and nightlife, but to the south, Karon and Kata Beach offer their own entertainment, but nothing as busy as Patong. Karon features the best family friendly hotels with names like Centara Grand Beach Resort and Movenpick Phuket resort and spa. If you like exclusivity, great views and your own private pool, nothing beats the villas at The Shore at Katathani Resort and Spa located in Kata Beach to the south.
Krabi and Khao Lak are two areas on the mainland you should not miss seeing if you are staying on phuket. They are reached by road via the Sarasin bridge within an hour and are the most scenic and idyllic locations imaginable. Commercial activity, especially in Khao Lak, is limited, it is not over-run by tourists, the beaches are pristine and quiet and, exploring the untouched surrounding nature is captivating. In Khao Lak, Le Meridien Beach resort is an all-time great resort and in Krabi nothing beats the southern Thai styled pool villas of Rayavadee or secluded location of The Phulay Bay Resort. If you want to be sure your get the most for your money it will be worthwhile comparing the best deals for accommodation offered by smaller inter-net based business like hotelsphuket.travel with some of the bigger guns out there.
The Gulf of Thailand
An approximate 2 hour flight to the east of Phuket is the island of Koh Samui. It is half the size of Phuket and the biggest in an archipelago of more than 40 islands. Like Phuket, Samui also offers endless recreational activity, including world class golf courses, scuba diving, lots of water sports and array of beaches, small bays an coves each with their own atmosphere, character and choice of hotels. Chaweng and Lamai beaches are the most vibrant areas with countless restaurants, bars, markets and electrifying nightlife. If you prefer these areas’ exiting holiday atmosphere, consider hotels like Le Meridien beach resort in Lamai or Anantara Lawana in Chaweng. They offer more personal space, private pool villas and are located directly on the beach. If you prefer a more exclusive location, the luxury W Retreat features its own private beach and is listed as one of the top hotels in Samui. For those of us with a stricter budget to consider, Centara Villas, The Kala and Fenix resorts are all great 4 star venues in the perfect locations.
Other islands in the archipelago only 30 minutes by boat from Samui are Koh Phangan. It now offers top notch accommodation like the Santhiya, Rasananda and Panviman resorts. The best thing about Phangan is that this relatively small island still retains its idyllic charm with large parts being rural and peaceful. A little further away is Koh Tao which attracts scuba divers by the hordes and next to it the island of Nangyuan is uninhabited, but boasts incredible scenery. Something not to miss is visiting the Ang Thong Marine Park which consists of most of the islands in Samui’s archipelago. These are closely huddled together, all are uninhabited and snorkeling among them is unforgettable.
The north is the birthplace of Thai society and as culturally and historically rich as it gets. It is also a region of incredible nature scenes with rolling hills and high mountain peaks covered in dense rain forest. The ideal location from where to explore the area is Chiang Mai. It is home to the northern hill tribes who still live as they had been for hundreds of years and wearing their traditional, colourful clothes. In Chiang Mai you can visit and stay in their villages, share in their lifestyle and learn more about their culture. The region offers a wealth of hiking trails, an elephant village offering the opportunity to go trekking in the jungle, night safari expeditions and gilded Buddhist temples and monasteries built on top of the highest mountain peaks. It also offers famous street and night markets and enjoying dinner on a boat cruise down the romantic Ping River is unforgettable.
In terms of accommodation you have one of two choices namely to either be in the centre of the city and close to attractions, restaurants and markets where hotels like Ratilanna and the Chedi are located on the banks of the Ping River. Another two is Le Meridien and Shangri La. The other option if you want to wake up to fresh mountain air, the sound of birds chirping and the sight of green hills and rice paddies is to head for the Mae Rim Valley outside the city. The resorts here feature the most amazing spa’s which pamper with tantalizing body treatments which combine ancient remedies with modern techniques. To make the best of your time in Mae Rim hotels like Panviman and the Four Seasons combine an authentic Thai experience with 5 star luxury accommodation.
By no means are these the beginning and end of places to visit in Thailand. Mae Hong Son and Mae Sot in the north, Hua Hin which is two hours from Bangkok and islands like Koh Chang, Koh Kut, Koh Samet and Koh Lipe all have something spectacular to offer, but these call for their own story to be told.