A Thailand vacation offers a large variety of fascinating and exciting destinations to be experienced on Asia tours.
The appeal of Thailand involves a long list of reasons to visit this destination in Asia. So here goes. The weather is fantastic all-year-round. The people are friendly and welcoming. The food is simply mouthwatering. It is not an expensive destination. There is an abundance of culture and history. There are plenty of excellent beaches to choose from. The shopping is amazing. There is wildlife to discover. There are lots of festivals to enjoy.
So, let’s look at how to spend two weeks in Thailand enjoying all this.
You will more than likely arrive in the capital, Bangkok. Don’t skimp on your time in this fabulous city. The best way to get your bearings is to take a cruise on the Chao Praya River which meanders through Bangkok from north to south. It cuts right through the centre of the city and allows you to view many highlights. You can choose between an organized boat cruise with commentary or take one of the local boats which stop at different points on either side of the river to allow you to disembark and then later take another boat. Some of the following can be seen or visited on a Thailand vacation either from the river or at a different time.
The Grand Palace
This imposing palace situated on the banks of the Chao Phraya River is Thailand’s most sacred site. It used to be the official residence of the Kings of Siam. It is made up of numerous buildings, halls, pavilions set around open lawns, gardens, and courtyards. The palace is divided into two main parts – the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, which contains a sacred Buddha image meticulously carved from a single block of emerald, and the royal residence.
The architecturally-beautiful Wat Arun, also known as The Temple of Dawn and situated on the banks of the river, is one of the most stunning temples in Bangkok, not only because of its location but also because the design is very different from the other temples in the city. It is partly made up of colourfully decorated spires, which sparkle in the sunshine, and stands majestically over the water. It is an important place of worship for Buddhists.
Jim Thompson House
The Jim Thompson House is a museum that houses the art collection of American businessman and architect, Jim Thompson, the museum designer and former owner. It was built in 1959 and is unconventional architecturally. It is a complex of six traditional Thai-styled houses, mainly constructed of wood, and various old Thai structures that were collected from all parts of Thailand. He built a large collection of historical Buddhist statues and traditional Thai paintings made of wood, cloth, and paper that depicted the life of Buddha. He has collected secular art not only from Thailand, but from Myanmar, Cambodia, and Laos. There is also a collection of white and blue porcelain from China.
On a trip to Thailand, you can take a cruise on a long-tailed boat through a network of small, narrow canals which are known locally as klongs, hidden away in the centre of the city. The cruise allows you to see sights that are not available any other way such as a temple, a unique art gallery, and an orchid farm. You also get to observe the activity and daily life of the locals as you pass by simple wooden houses with clothes drying in the sun.
The following are three day trips which can be taken while visiting Bangkok.
Damnoen Saduak Floating Market
The Damnoen Saduak Market is about one hour’s drive from Bangkok, situated in a small town. Most visitors on a Thailand vacation join a long-tailed boat that takes them to the market, which is active among narrow canals with wooden houses on stilts on the banks. When you arrive at the market, you will see fruit and vegetable sellers rowing up the canals delivering their goods to the locals. The Floating Market is always crowded with vendors floating in their small boats selling agricultural products and local food which are mostly brought from their own nearby orchards.
The River Kwai
The River Kwai is mentioned in the famous film, Bridge over the River Kwai, about a moving experience which took place during the Second World War. On Thailand vacations, you can visit for a day or stay overnight, as there is plenty to see. The actual bridge can be walked on. The bridge was part of the Death Railway, linking Thailand with Myanmar (Burma), built by allied prisoner-of-war under Japanese supervision. The Kanchanaburi War Cemetery contains the remains of almost 7000 allied POWs who perished during the construction of the Death Railway. The War Museum has a collection of war instruments, photographs, uniforms, etc. You can enjoy a breathtaking ride on a traditional long-tailed boat on a 2-hour trip which takes in a number of the highlights of the area. You might want to consider a very special experience by staying at the River Kwai Jungle Rafts Resort. It offers unique accommodation right on the river. All floating rooms are tucked into a floating bamboo lodge moored along the river, surrounded by lush green mountains and jungle.
Ayutthaya is an ancient capital north of Bangkok, founded around 1350. By 1700, Ayutthaya had become the largest city in the world, with a total of 1 million inhabitants. When it was invaded by the Burmese in 1767, it was almost completely burnt to the ground. Today, what remains are some temples and palaces made of stone. This UNESCO World Heritage site, which is actually an island, has 67 amazing temples and ruins with a number of imposing Buddha statues.
As time will be fairly limited on your Thailand vacation, it is suggested to stay in Chiang Mai, known as the “Rose of the North.” After Bangkok, it will seem very relaxed. It is a historical city complete with ancient city walls and offering 30 Buddhist temples. It is also a shopper’s paradise. Take advantage of the street markets where you can buy handicrafts and excellent souvenirs. Check out the Night Bazaar which stretches for 1 kilometre/ half a mile and is open every day from sunset to midnight. Have a look at the “designer” clothes, shoes, jewellery, watches, CDs, etc. (real and fake). Remember to bargain.
Outside Chiang Mai
Doi Suthep Temple
This temple is located near the top of Doi Suthep (Mount Suthep), situated 15 kilometres/9 miles from Chiang Mai. It was built as a Buddhist monastery in 1383 and is still a working monastery today. The architecture, statues, murals, and shrines here are breathtaking. You start with either a walk up 300 steps of the Naga Serpent Staircase or take the elevator. At the top, there is a golden spire and walls decorated with historical murals and shrines. There is a large viewing terrace which houses one of the world’s largest gongs. From here, you have terrific views down over Chiang Mai.
When in Northern Thailand, you should visit a hill tribe village. These are groups of ethnic minorities who crossed over into Thailand from Myanmar and Laos, and are numerous in this region. There are seven main hill tribe groups in Thailand. Because of their colourful, traditional dress and dramatically elongated necks adorned with brass rings, the Karen people from Myanmar have long been considered an attraction. If you visit a village, you will be asked to buy handicrafts made by these minorities. Each hill tribe group has its own unique language, customs, and culture. In general, the best tours are the ones where you go in small groups.
Thailand is blessed with a large number of outstanding resorts. To choose just one for a Thailand vacation is not easy, but to a degree, it depends on one’s tastes and style. The following is a small selection for consideration.
Phuket is located on the west side of the country on the largest island in Thailand and the best-known and most popular resort. There are many beach locations from which to choose, each one fairly self-contained from the others. Patong is the most famous beach in Phuket. It is also the busiest. It is not for those looking to stay somewhere quiet and serene. It is made up of hotels, good restaurants, bars, and entertainment centres and offers a very lively nightlife scene. Karon Beach is the second largest of Phuket’s beaches. The sand is very white and the beach is rarely crowded. This beach has good choices for dining, shopping, and nightlife. Kata Beach offers a full range of hotels. It is popular with families due to its peaceful and safe palm-lined white sandy beach. Kata has its own nightlife and selection of restaurants as well as gift stores. Surin Beach still has a small village atmosphere and offers clear turquoise water and a beautiful picturesque white sandy beach. It is also known as “Millionaires Row,” due to the number of celebrities who stay here in one of the luxury resorts or at one of the luxury homes on top of the hills overlooking the beach. This is the place for high-end restaurants and bars. Bang Thao Beach is one of the longest beaches in Phuket. Most of it is occupied by the Laguna Complex, a massive five-star hotel development with a golf course.
Koh Samui is Thailand’s third largest island. The central part has an almost uninhabitable tropical jungle mountain. You have a large range of beach options depending on your style and interests. Chaweng Beach is the major and largest beach and suits the type of visitor who wants a lively resort on their Thailand vacation. Chaweng’s nightlife is streets ahead of anywhere else on Koh Samui. If you are looking for real peace and quiet, Mae Nam Beach is a good place to stay. It offers swimming and sunbathing, especially for families with children, due to the shallow waters. Lamai Beach, the second largest beach area, is somewhat quieter but still offers plenty of accommodation, dining, and shopping options. Bophut Beach is a popular starting point for diving tours and is not as developed as Chaweng, but there are still plenty of restaurants, shops, and bars. From Koh Samui, you can visit the 42 island archipelago Angthong National Marine Park by boat, where you can spot dolphins, green turtles, and macaques (a type of monkey).
Phi Phi Island
Phi Phi Island was put on the map by the film, The Beach, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, filmed here in 2000. It is considered one of the most naturally beautiful islands, not only in Thailand but anywhere, with its coral, long white sandy beaches and backdrop of limestone mountains. Phi Phi Island is easily accessible from Phuket, reached by ferry. Phi Phi is made up of several islands but only 2 are of any significance, Phi Phi Don and Phi Phi Leh. All accommodation is on the main island of Phi Phi Don, which is the only island that is populated. The central area of Phi Phi Don is the liveliest place with hotels, restaurants, bars, and shops suiting all budgets.
Not too far from Phuket is the resort of Krabi, in many ways a smaller version. What it does have is stunning scenery with mile after mile of white sand beach. Ao Nang Beach is the best known and most developed beach in the area. It is not crowded and has a peaceful atmosphere. You have views of the majestic-looking limestone cliffs that rise straight out of the clear waters of the sea. Also, in the evening, experience the magnificent sunsets. For a relaxing time, head to Railay Beach with its limestone cliffs and cut-off location. There are many other activities in which to indulge yourself in Krabi, including visits to hot springs, a cave temple, and a national park.
Khao Lak is a 20 kilometre/12 mile stretch of coastline set against a backdrop of jungle-covered mountains on the Andaman Sea, north of Phuket. It is a quiet and peaceful Thailand vacation destination, ideal for families and nature lovers. The highlights here are the attractive, uncrowded beaches and national parks. There are 3 main centres. Bang La On is the most tourist-oriented of the three, with its many shops, bars, and restaurants. The town’s beach is called Hat Nang Thong, which has a few hotels and a dive centre. Just north of here is Bang Niang which is much quieter, but it does have a reasonably active nightlife as well as good beaches. The third centre is Khuk Khak which has a daily market.
So, as you can see, to really get to know the country on a Thailand vacation, it is essential to visit all 3 regions mentioned above.