Words by David McGonigal
Thailand, how do I love you? Let me count the ways. Here are 10 reasons why a Thai holiday is the perfect break.
The number of Thai restaurants across Australia — most with appallingly punning names like Thai-tanic or Thai Me Up — reveals our love of the cuisine. And it’s even better in Thailand, where it’s worth exploring the difference between palace and market cuisine, and the wide variation in dishes from north to south. If you can, make time to attend a Thai cooking school so you’ll come home with a new skill.
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Thailand is renowned for its warm hospitality, and that is reflected in its hotels and resorts, which range from the legendary Mandarin Oriental hotel to simple backpacker lodges. Relatively, all are good deals — especially mid-range hotels like the highly regarded Rembrandt Hotel in Bangkok.
The capital is a mishmash of everything from chaotic traffic to tranquil royal gardens. There’s plenty of sightseeing from canal cruises to hidden shrines, and shopping and eating are always high on everyone’s list.
It’s the juxtaposition of teeming streets and peaceful retreats, palaces and bars that makes Bangkok so dynamic. You just have to find the side of Bangkok that suits you — I find I need a hotel that provides an escape from the hustle and bustle.
In the past, one of the quintessential tourist activities in Thailand was an elephant ride. Fortunately, we have become more enlightened and most tour operators now specifically exclude them, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have any interaction with these magnificent animals.
Anantara Golden Triangle Elephant Camp & Resort outside of Chiang Rai, gives you the chance to learn how to be an elephant mahout with animals rescued from the city. Cleverly, the program doesn’t merely buy the distressed creatures so owners can use the funds to buy another and perpetuate the cycle.
Rather, the elephants are “leased” and the animal, along with the mahout and his family are brought to live in the reserve by the resort — so your rewarding experience is doing good, not harm.
For a different perspective on Bangkok, take to the river and canals. This can be done on a tour, or you can be adventurous and explore on your own. The ferry stops along the river are relatively easy to understand, and several hotels like the Anantara Riverside and the Peninsula Bangkok operate their own ferries to and from town.
But the real joy is to wander into the back canals — especially at dawn — when the long-tail boats are full of school children and monks are collecting alms in the communities. Having learned the hard way, if you do this, I recommend carrying the name and address of your hotel written in Thai so you can find your way home.
One of Bangkok’s great contributions to entertainment is the precipitous rooftop bar. The trend started at Banyan Tree Hotel’s Vertigo Bar, where although it’s on the 61st floor, the railings are low and inconspicuous.
Late at night, when the city is laid out below you and you have a drink in your hand, it well deserves its name. There are many others including the Sky Bar at Lebua State Tower and the Marriott’s Octave.
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The tropical heat of Thailand makes it a very attractive beach holiday destination. The age-old favourites are Phuket — the island to the south, midway between the Malaysian and Myanmar borders — and Pattaya, once a popular R&R stop near Bangkok for troops during the Vietnam war. Both areas have developed a lot but the beach remains a focus.
Then there’s Hua Hin, part way down the Peninsula and a favourite with Thai royals for generations. With its white sand and crystal clear water, Koh Samui is very popular, along with Phi Phi Don, where Leonardo diCaprio’s The Beach was filmed.
Phra Nang’s caves and limestone sea stacks in Krabi are also remarkably photogenic.
It’s almost impossible to think of something that you can’t buy in Thailand. From malls full of top international fashion labels to crowded markets selling every imaginable electronic device — it’s all on hand.
Of course, there are also homewares like shimmering Thai silks and satins that can be bought by the metre, as ready-made outfits or tailored to your requirements. Bangkok has some of the world’s best tailors utilising cloth from around the world and the speed they work at defies description.
Or you can keep the holiday going in perpetuity, and return home with Thai brass and bronze tableware.
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While the Temple of the Emerald Buddha (Wat Phra Kaew) is the nation’s most famous, you can find temples in every shape and size, all elongated in the vertical plane with gilded serrated edges.
Reclining buddhas, smiling buddhas, or one of solid gold — take your pick. Throughout the land, you can round a nondescript corner to find a beautiful temple in a dramatic location.
One constant on any trip here is the Thai people themselves. There’s a natural, graceful hospitality that makes any visit remarkably rewarding — it is indeed the Land of Smiles.
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