Things to Do in Thailand
Thailand is my favorite country and I'll tell you why. It's got culture, beautiful scenery, cities, jungles, islands, good food, warm friendly people, and the best part is that it's extremely cheap for most tourists. Whether your fancy is partying and living it up, or relaxing and taking it easy, Thailand has the best of both worlds. So I'd like to break down some of the best things to do in Thailand and things to see.
To travel around the country, you have many options and most are very cheap. There are flights you can take from city to city which are extremely cheap. However, I'm afraid of flying so I chose to use other modes of transportation. There are trains travelling to most parts of the country, and the overnight compartment trains can be a fun part of any adventure. You just take the train and can sleep in the compartments until morning, which makes any long trip seem quicker. Motorbikes are available to rent in most towns. But you should be careful where you rent it, because most motorbike rental companies require you to leave your passport with them, and this could be dangerous. Keep in mind that there is a level of danger while riding motorbikes because many drivers on the roads are not licensed and inexperienced. There are also car rentals just like any other country. Another thing for people from some countries like USA to remember is that they drive on the left side of the road in Thailand. Buses are another option and are usually very cheap as well. For small trips, such as across town, you can use taxi cabs or tuk-tuks (the loud cart-like taxis as seen in the movie Ong Bak: Muay Thai Warrior).
Bangkok was voted as the best city to travel to by Travel and Leisure Magazine in 2008. It's definitely the most interesting city I've ever been to, and I've travelled to many places.
The minute I stepped off the plane, I was greeted by friendly people and that was my first impression of Thailand. I attempted to avoid the taxi cabs waiting outside the airport and tried to walk from the airport into the city to find a hotel. Bad Idea. The areas surrounding the Suvarnabhumi airport are very desolate and far from the actual city. Do not attempt to walk the distance if the thought should ever cross your mind. I eventually had to flag down a taxi to take me to a hotel. The taxis directly outside the airport are very expensive though so you may want to walk just a few feet away from the entrance of the airport to find a cab with decent prices. It's best to make sure they have a meter so they don't try to rip you off. Thais are friendly, but there are scam artists everywhere in the world so don't be too naive about things.
The hotels in Bangkok are very varied. You do not need to make reservations if you're not picky about where you stay. I never made reservations while I was in Thailand, I just walked around (I only had a backpack with me so this was easy) and I checked different hotels until I found a cheap one. My main goal was to stay in cheap places and I didn't care about the quality. But whatever type of hotel you are accustomed to, you will find it in Bangkok. It's definitely a city that is built around tourism. If you want a hotel that is average, like a Holiday Inn type hotel with decent prices (between $15 to $25 a night), then I recommend the New Fuji Hotel on Suriwong Road, near Sukhumvit. This hotel was average and the most expensive place I stayed in. The cheaper places were all dumps, but for the price I payed, I can't complain. The cheapest place of all was located near Khao San Road. I forgot the name of it, it may not even have an official name, as it was more of a hostel than a hotel. It wasn't actually on Khao San, but it was on a side street next to it, and there was many hostels in the area that were equally cheap. This place was a real dump, but I only paid $4 a night, so I'm in no position to criticize. An older thai woman ran the place, and there were 3 floors. On the first floor you have the public showers and the lobby, on the second floor you have the hostel rooms in which many people stay in bunk beds in one room (I believe it was about $2 per night to stay in this room with others), and the third floor had the private rooms. I stayed on the 3rd floor. My room was as basic as they come. It was extremely small, just 2 cots in the room with mattresses on them, and a table with drawers, along with a fan. It was extremely hot, so you may want to consider a place with air conditioning if you're picky. The fan was absolutely necessary. If I was trying to conserve money, I would probably stay there again however. There is no bathroom or shower, those are on the first floor. Basically, the shower and toilet are in the same room, and there was nothing separating the two. The toilet seat had lots of water on it from the shower, I mean they are literally in the same room with no divider. So that was a little strange.
Bangkok has so much to see and do. It would probably take months to cover everything, so I'm just going to mention the most popular things people do when it comes to sight seeing and outdoor attractions.
Khao San Road
Probably the most famous hippie hangout in the world next to Haight Ashbury in San Francisco, this area is a cultural spectacle. It's mostly populated by tourists, but contains many popular hangout spots for thais and is the spot for many hostels and restaurants. When I was there, it was an odd occassion because I even noticed groups of Jamaicans who have setup shop at some of the picnic tables in the alleyways. I thought the last place I would see Jamaicans with dreadlocks and Bob Marley flags hung up on the wall would be in Bangkok. The shops cater to this hippie extravaganza by selling Che Guevara tshirts and offering dreadlock hair services.
Grand Palace and Wat Pho
The #1 thing people go to see is the Grand Palace. It's a beautiful example of ancient architecture. Next to this is the Wat Pho temple, which is home to the giant reclining Buddha you may have seen in pictures or movies. You must take your shoes off to enter the temple and view this buddha, so please be respectful. Also, be careful of scammers outside these two locations. Some men in taxis or tuk tuks may try to tell you that the temple or palace are closed. This is just an attempt to get you to come with them so they can drop you off at a club or a travel agency, in which they receive a commission for delivering you there.
Chatuchak Market and Flower Market
The Chatuchak Market is the largest outdoor market in the world. Imagine the world's largest flea market and that will give you a good idea of what to expect. For people looking for great deals on clothing or souvenirs, this should be your first stop. It's common to barter with the sellers there, in fact, it's expected. So before buying something, you may want to attempt to negotiate the price with them, as it could turn out to be to your advantage. The Flower Market is also worth checking out if you're into botanicals. Another record setting market, it's the largest flower market in the world. I'm not much into flowers so I didn't pay it a visit.
The Floating Market is located about 50 miles (80km) from Bangkok in the Damnoen Saduak district. It's world famous for being the Venice of Asia. The river is filled with boats that serve as open air markets, mostly serving food, but other items as well. It's definitely an experience for anybody who hasn't been there before. It's also a great opportunity for culture rich photos.
MBK, or Mahboonkrong, is too big to call it just a mall, so it's official title is Mahbroonkrong Center. This massive shopping mall is 8 floors high. Yes, 8 stories. It's the largest mall in Thailand. Anything you're looking for, you'll find it here.
Muay Thai Boxing (also known as Kickboxing) is Thailand's national sport. Many kids begin training in this sport before the age of 8. It was originally known as Muay Boran, which was a much less restricted form of modern day Muay Thai. There is even a National Muay Thai Day on March 17. This day is in honor of a legendary fighter named Nai Khanom Tom. In 1774, after the Burmese invaded Thailand, the King of Burma had all the captured thais who could box fight Burmese fighters. Nai Khanom Tom defeated his opponent quickly, so the King ordered him to fight 9 more men. He defeated all 9 and the King was so astonished with this, that he decided to release Nai Khanom Tom and allowed him to take some thais with him, along with two Burmese wives. Today, the two national arenas for Muay Thai, Rajadamnern and Lumpini Stadium, are located in Bangkok. Lumpini is run by the Thai Army, and all profits from the fights help fund that specific military branch.
Bangkok has more nightlife than probably anywhere in the world. Popular locations include Sukhumvit, Khao San Road, Ratchadapisek (Royal City Avenue) and countless other locations that I'm probably forgetting. Those are the most well known areas. Those are the more upscale locations, though those looking to find a partner for the night may be more attracted to places such as Patpong, Soi Cowboy, and Nana Plaza. Those 3 locations are known for being sleazy and when you hear about Bangkok's "other" industry, it's those places that put it in on the map.
Located a little outside of Bangkok, Ayutthaya is Thailand's ancient kingdom. It's the most historical site in the country, because wars were fought here and it's the original royal kingdom. If you're into history and ancient ruins and things like that, this place will definitely appeal to you. It was also used as a spot for filming, as it appeared in a few scenes in the Mortal Kombat movie.
Pattaya is a party person's dream spot. When Guns n Roses wrote the song "Paradise City", it was probably this place that they were inspired by. It's heaven for some, and hell for others. Pattaya is mostly known for it's prostitution, and is similar to Patpong, Nana Plaza, and Soi Cowboy, however, it is also known as a massive party town and one of the best cities to experience Thailand's famous Songkran Festival. It has a little to offer everyone, but if you're easily offended by women in skimpy outfits and old men walking down the street with 20 something year old women, you may want to avoid this city. Walking Street is it's main attraction, which is lined with massive night clubs, go go bars, and seedy brothels disguised as pubs. Definitely not a place you would want to visit with the wife and kids. It's more of a place for young people, or old single men looking to relive their youth. There's a few excellent places in town for shopping, such as the Tesco Lotus and Big C. To my surprise, the hotels are actually cheaper the closer you get to the action. All the action is near the beach, and I guess it's cheaper because many people don't feel comfortable staying so close to all the noise and wild antics. If you've seen the show Big Trouble in Tourist Thailand, then you already know what to expect in Pattaya.
Full Moon Party
The Full Moon Party is the largest party on earth, with over 20,000 party goers sometimes. It occurs once a month, when the full moon is present, and lasts for approximately 2 days straight (or 12 hours if you only count the peak time when everybody is there and dancing and drinking). The location is on the island of Koh Phangan, at Haad Rin beach. The most common drink is the famous buckets of liquor, which are usually whiskey or other liquors mixed with coca-cola, and which often contains a little bit of Rohypnal (Flunitrazepam). Rohypnol is also known as roofies, or the infamous date rape drug. Drinks are spiked with it to cause extreme intoxication, though usually not enough to have the same effects of large doses that a rapist would typically use. Though people should still take caution and avoid it if possible. Better safe than sorry.
Phuket is mostly for people who enjoy the beach life. It's a quiet area that comprises many other smaller areas such as Kata and Kamala. The nightlife in Phuket is not as wild as other areas in Thailand, with the exception of Patong. Patong is a miniature version of Pattaya, very seedy, very crazy and uncensored. If you're a party animal, Pattaya should suffice and you may want to skip Phuket. I'm more of a party person myself and found Phuket to be somewhat boring. The beaches are excellent though and very scenic. While I was there, they were building the Giant Buddha on top of the mountain. I'm sure it's been completed by now and if you're in Phuket, you see can see it from most distances because it's enormous. Kata View Point is probably the most scenic area in Phuket, which offers magnificent views of the beaches and capes below. Prom Thep Cape is another area that offers beautiful scenery. It's mostly known as the best spot in Phuket to view the spectacular sunsets.
Phi Phi Islands
An hour long boat ride away from Phuket, is the Phi Phi Islands. Kho Phi Phi Don, and Koh Phi Phi Leh. To reach the islands, you can purchase ferry tickets through most travel agencies in Phuket. If you want them to pick you up at your hotel and bring you to the docks, many will do that for an extra charge, which is what I did. Phi Phi Don is the island with life on it (hotels, restaurants, gyms, bars, shops etc.). Phi Phi Don was one of the areas that were severely affected by the 2004 Tsunami, though most of the damage has been repaired now and you can hardly tell it happened. Phi Phi Leh doesn't have any structure or buildings on it, but is extremely beautiful and candy to the eye. It has many hidden canals, and is the filming location for the movie The Beach which starred Leonardo Dicaprio. The actual beach where it was filmed is called Maya Bay, and the only way to get there is to rent a long tail boat (complete with driver, because you can't rent one and captain it yourself) or to rent a speed boat (same deal). There's many hidden caves on this island, including the famous Viking's Cave, which is the spot where birds nest soup ingredients come from. The swiftlets that live in the cave are the birds that produce the nests that make the delicacy.
Chiang Mai is the largest city in Northern Thailand. It's close to the infamous Golden Triangle. It's similar to Bangkok but not quite as dirty and not as hot or congested. It's much more quieter. It's the most popular place for people to spend their time during the annual Songkran Festival. Things are much cheaper in Chiang Mai compared to Bangkok, though it's still more expensive than the smaller towns nearby, such as Nan and Pha Yao.
Kanchanaburi is a quiet exotic location a few hours out of Bangkok. It's a small area in terms of population, but geographically large. Here you will find Tiger Temple, which is a buddhist temple where monks live with tigers. The tigers are said to be peaceful, and the monks believe that the tigers were once monks who lived in the temple but had died and were reincarnated as tigers. Tourists can take pictures with the tigers. But what Kanchanaburi is mostly known for is Erawan National Park, and the Bridge on the River Kwai. Erawan is a huge national park and the site of beautiful waterfalls. The waterfalls are on different "tiers", so you start at teir 1, and climb your way up to each tier, as the waterfalls vary on each tier. The Bridge on the River Kwai is the famous bridge that was built by p.o.w.'s in World War 2. The movie of the same name is based on the bridge. There's a small train that goes across the bridge that tourists can ride on and it's a great location for photo ops.
Isaan is an unincorporated area of Thailand to the northeast. It's the rural side of Thailand that most tourists don't see. It's a poorer area with less infrastructure, but for those who want to see the real genuine version of Thailand and thai culture, this is the place to go. Rice farming is fairly common in this area and the accomodation can be really cheap.
Well I hope you've learned a little more about Thailand from this guide, and I'm certain you will enjoy your trip if you haven't been there yet. Just remember to keep your passport or visa in a safe location and be respectful and friendly to Thais, as most of them will respect you and welcome you into their country.
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