The south-east Asian region has really caught the imagination of travellers of all types over the last few years. It’s safe to say that in recent times Thailand has led this pack followed closely by Singapore but Singapore is an expensive destination to visit in comparison. Thailand is a vast country and is truly is versatile. There is something in it for all travel buffs. There is a robust nature & wildlife circuit, there are lots of religious & historically important sites, the food is great and so is the night life in the cities. The landscape is also varied with rainforests, hilly regions and beaches. The infrastructure is good with various modes of transport connecting the different towns and cities. There are lots of good hotels & resorts for every budget. So this is a great place for people with every budget. You can get decent hotels & service apartments ranging from just INR. 1000 per night. Even 4 & 5 star category hotels are quiet reasonably priced (Around 40% to 50% lesser than the rates in India). Thailand is not all about Bangkok & Pattaya, there are loads of other lovely places to visit like the now popular honeymoon beach destinations like Phuket, Krabi & Ko Samui.
Before we get into the descriptions of these places in further detail, let’s just go through some basic facts about Thailand.
Map of Thailand
Thailand is a country at the centre of the Indo-China peninsula in Southeast Asia. It is a monarchy headed by King Bhumibol Adulyadej Rama IX and governed by a military Junta that took power in May 2014. The king is the 9th of the House of Chakri and has reigned since 1946 as the world’s longest serving current head of state and the country’s longest reigning monarch. Although a constitutional system was established in 1932, the monarchy and military have continued to intervene periodically in politics. Thailand is the world’s 51st largest country and it is the 20th most populous country in the world, with around 66 million people. The capital and largest city is Bangkok, which is Thailand’s political, commercial, industrial, and cultural hub. Manufacturing, agriculture, and tourism are leading sectors of the economy. It is basically a Buddhist country. The official language is Thai and the currency is Thai Bhat.
Most of Thailand has a “tropical wet and dry or savannah climate” type. Countrywide, temperatures normally range from an average annual high of 38 °C to a low of 19 °C. During the dry season, the temperature rises dramatically in the second half of March, spiking to well over 40 °C in some areas by mid-April and it is very humid. The monsoon season is between May and July. Mostly its hot and humid especially in the cities and around the coast line.
Thai cuisine blends five fundamental tastes: sweet, spicy, sour, bitter, and salty. Some common ingredients used in Thai cuisine include garlic, chillies, lime juice, lemon grass, and fish sauce. The staple food in Thailand is rice. The street food culture is widely prevalent throughout Thailand and the food is cheap and good. The ubiquitous Seven-Eleven stores are the favourite when it comes to provisions and quick bites. Most of them are open 24 hours. If oriental food is not for you, don’t worry, there are lots of options to choose from. There are a lot of Indian & Pakistani hotels, atleast in the cities. If you are adventurous, there are eateries that serve exotic meats like snake, eel, bat etc. Insects & worms are also commonly consumed by the locals.
Thailand is a shopper’s paradise. One can get ready made garments very cheap in large markets in all major cities like the Indira Market in Bangkok. It is also famous for gems & jewellery and handicrafts. It is also a very big market of imitation goods so one has to be careful while shopping. Bargaining is the key to get a good deal while shopping.
Let’s now look at some important cities in Thailand and some of their famous attractions.
BANGKOK: It is the capital and the most populous city of Thailand. The city is now a major regional force in finance and business. It is an international hub for transport and health care, and is emerging as a regional centre for the arts, fashion and entertainment. The city is known for its vibrant street life and cultural landmarks, as well as its notorious Red light district. The historic Grand Palace and Buddhist temples including Wat Arun and Wat Po stand in contrast with other tourist attractions such as the nightlife scenes of Khaosan road and Patpong. Bangkok is among the world’s top tourist destinations. It is named the most visited city in MasterCard’s Global Destination Cities Index, and was named “World’s Best City” for four consecutive years by Travel & Leisure magazine. Now let’s look at some of the important places to visit in the city.
Golden Buddha Temple: The Golden Buddha, officially titled Phra Phuttha Maha Suwan Patimakon is the world’s largest solid gold statue, with a weight of 5.5 tons. It is located in the temple of Wat Traimit.
Golden Buddha Temple
Reclining Buddha Temple: It is located directly adjacent to the Grand Palace. Its official name is Wat Phra Chettuphon Wimon Mangkhlaram Ratchaworamahawihan. The temple is also known as the birthplace of traditional Thai massage. Wat Pho is named after a monastery in India where Buddha is believed to have lived.
Reclining Buddha Temple
Marble Temple: Wat Benchamabophit Dusitvanaram is a Buddhist temple in Bangkok. Also known as the marble temple, it is one of Bangkok’s most beautiful temples and a major tourist attraction. It typifies Bangkok’s ornate style of high gables, stepped-out roofs and elaborate finials.
Safari World: It consists of two parks named Marine Park and Safari Park. The park was opened in 1988 and its total area developed for the leisure park now consists of an open zoo and a marine park on approx. 200 acres of land. Safari Park is about 8 kilometres long. A drive through the park takes about 45 minutes. There are a lot of wild animals, including tigers and lions. There are daily tiger and lion feeding shows.
The Marine Park houses a vast spectrum of animals of land, sea and air. The attractions are Jungle Cruise river ride, a water flume ride through the jungles of Africa and Asia, 7 exciting shows daily, spectacular Spy War action stunts, water skiing, dolphins, Hollywood cowboy stunts, birds, orang-utan boxing, and sea lions, hundreds of exhibits featuring white tigers, fantasy carp garden, tapir kingdom, crocodile garden and many more.
Safari World Safari Park
Safari World Marine Park
Siam Ocean World: It is an aquarium in Bangkok, and one of the largest in South East Asia. It covers approximately 10,000 square meters with hundreds of different species on display in exhibits totalling about 5,000,000 litres. It aims to provide both entertainment and education to visitors. Through formal educational programs, the aquarium aims to promote an appreciation and understanding of the aquatic environment in line with the formal Thailand curriculum.
Siam Ocean World
Madame Tussauds: It is part of the world famous chain of wax museums. You can see life like wax statues of famous personalities here.
Chao Phraya dinner cruise: Chao Phraya River provides a glimpse of a traditional waterborne way-of-life that has remained essentially unchanged over centuries. The river and canals may be explored by cruise boats that offer light entertainment & dinner to tourists while they take in the lovely sights & sounds of the city in the evening.
Chao Phraya dinner cruise
River Kwai: It is a very famous river in western Thailand and joins the Mae Klong river eventually. The famous bridge of the Burma Railway crosses the river. However, this is not the same bridge as depicted in the famous war movie,”The Bridge on the river Kwai”. It is a major tourist attraction of World War II and one can also visit the cemetery & museum. It is about 3 hours drive from Bangkok.
Floating market: These markets have been created by the local administration mainly as tourist attractions. There are several such markets in Bangkok. One can get fresh fruits, vegetables, freshly cooked meals etc on boats floating around.
Bangkok floating market
Tiger temple: Tiger Temple Thailand is popular tourist attraction located in Saiyok in the Kanchanaburi province. Just minutes from the Myanmar border. It is a sanctuary of sorts for tigers. One can go on a day trip to the temple from Bangkok. It is about 3 hours drive from Bangkok. It is very popular amongst tourists as they can interact with the tigers in the presence of guides. The tigers are free to roam around the temple once a day.
PATTAYA: It is a city in Thailand, a beach resort popular with tourists and expatriates. It is on the east coast of the Gulf of Thailand, about 100 kilometres southeast of Bangkok in the province of Chonburi. The city never sleeps and is active throughout the night. Some of the popular attractions in the city are:
Art in Paradise: Art in Paradise Pattaya is another great place for tourists to visit in Pattaya City because it is, in the present, the first and only one illusion art museum – the museum presenting Anamorphosis. Additionally, visitors can enjoy the museum interactively by taking photos of your posture with 3d illusion painting or even touching the painting. It’s a favourite amongst kids.
Art in Paradise
Coral Island: The beautiful beaches of KohLarn – an idyllic island located just west of Pattaya – make a perfect daytrip. Known as Coral Island. Enjoy the abundant coral and underwater world and other water sport activities such as snorkelling, scuba diving, windsurfing, skiing & Para sailing.
Walking street: It is a long stretch of road which is full of pubs, shows and eateries on either side. It is open all night long and vehicles are not permitted. It’s a fun place to hang out.
Alcazar Show: Alcazar Co., Ltd., or broadly known as Alcazar Cabaret, was established on November 8th, 1981 originally, with about 100 performers and staff. “Alcazar” is globally famous with the reputation of the best transvestite cabaret show in Thailand.
Oasis Sea World: It is one of the most popular attractions in the city. It is an aqua park maintained privately but regulated closely by the government. It houses several dolphins, some species of which are considered endangered in Thailand. It hosts dolphin shows daily and offers the one-of-a-kind experience of swimming with the dolphins.
Swimming with Dolphins
Nong Nooch Gardens: It is a 500-acre botanical garden and tourist attraction close to Pattaya. It can be reached via bus, taxi or private land transportation. It is also a major scientific centre. There is a mini zoo inside as well and also some shows done by wild animals. There are some cultural shows for tourists as well.
Nong Nooch Gardens
Cartoon Network Amazone: It is a water opened in late 2014 and is themed towards Cartoon Network and its shows. The park includes different zones where different water slides can be seen. There is also a wave pool and surfing simulator that anyone can use, and the largest water playground in south-east Asia.
Cartoon Network Amazone
Sriracha Tiger zoo: It is a tiger and crocodile zoo on the outskirts of Pattaya which has over 200 tigers and over 10,000 crocodiles. They put on various shows for tourists with these wild animals. Tourists can also handle these tigers and click pictures with them.
Sriracha Tiger zoo
PHUKET: It is one of the southern provinces of Thailand. It consists of the island of Phuket, the country’s largest island, and another 32 smaller islands off its coast. It lies off the west coast of Thailand in the Andaman Sea. Phuket Island is connected by bridge to Phand Nga Province to the north. The next nearest province is Krabi. Tourism is one of the main activities on the island where honeymooners and families from around the world come to enjoy its lovely beaches. It is a short flight away from Bangkok. Some important attractions in Phuket are:
Phi Phi Islands: Discover the magical landscape of Phi Phi Island on a full-day big boat cruise from Phuket. Snorkel and swim at the filming location for the blockbuster movie “The Beach,” and explore Viking Cave, home to a thriving bird’s nest soup industry. This is one of the best attractions of Phuket.
Phi Phi Islands
James Bond Island: James Bond Island is a famous landmark in Phang Nga Bay. It first found its way onto the international tourist map through its starring role in the James Bond movie ‘The Man with the Golden Gun’. A distinctive feature of this famous bay is the number of sheer limestone cliffs that vertically jut out of the emerald-green water.
The bizarre, why-doesn’t-it-fall-over outline of James Bond Island or Koh Tapu (meaning Nail Island in Thai), lies next to the equally well known Koh Ping Ghan (sometime spell ‘Ping Gan’ or ‘Ping Gun’). The entire area surrounding this island is indeed spectacular, but it can get crowded with tourist boats in high season.
James Bond Island
Phuket Fantasea show: It is a stunning 140-acre Hi-tech theme complex, packed with a multitude of activities and entertainment: a Carnival village with games, handicrafts and shopping; a 4,000-seat theme restaurant offering a grand buffet of Thai and international cuisines; and a breathtaking Las Vegas-style theatrical show, where state-of-the-art technology and special effects enhance the grace and beauty of Thailand’s myths, mysteries and magic in a wondrous extravaganza certain to delight the whole family.
Phuket Fantasea show
KRABI: Krabi is a town on the west coast of southern Thailand at the mouth of the Krabi river and hence the name Krabi. The town is the capital and Krabi district. Tourism is an important industry. Facing the Andaman sea, like Phuket, Krabi is subject to a 6-month rainy season between May and November, often with sustained heavy rains for days at a time during the monsoons. The province includes several small islands that are well known for water sport activities.
KO SAMUI: Ko Samui is an island off the east coast of Thailand. It is Thailand’s second-largest island after Phuket. Abundant tourist resources, sandy beaches, coral reefs, and coconut trees are present on the island that has contributed to the increasing popularity of the island amongst tourists. It is also an exporter of coconut & rubber. The climate is warm and humid for most of the year and it receives lesser rainfall in comparison to other southern regions of Thailand. The heaviest rain is typically seen in the months of October and November.
CHIANG MAI: Chiang Mai is the largest and most culturally significant city in Northern Thailand. Chiang Mai was one of two tourist destinations on Tripadvisor’s 2014 list of “25 Best Destinations in the World”, where it stands at number 24. It has a tropical climate and is warm and humid most of the year.
I think we have managed to cover most of Thailand and its major attractions. So now you know where to go for an inexpensive & action packed vacation. Happy travelling!
Written by: Shashi Sarma (Mumbai)