02 Jan Beaches, Temples and More: Thailand’s Best Places
One of the best benefits of living in the Middle East has to be traveling opportunities. Before I moved here, I used to only dream about visiting places like Thailand, Australia, Japan or India. I had my eyes on Thailand ever since one of budget airlines announced their new Dubai – Bangkok route, just months ago.
Fast forward to last month, here I was at DXB Terminal 2, waiting to board on what would be a really awesome trip!
You get to read a lot of things online before you travel to a new country, and I must say, things about Thailand were accurate. Starting with the airport (Suvarnabhumi – thought to mention since there are 2 major airports in Bangkok), there were reports of people getting scammed trying to get a taxi to their hotel; note the case. As it turns out, there’s a very interesting system in place meant to prevent exactly incidents like that.
They have these machines where you state your approximate destination, you get a ticket with the cab number parked outside waiting for you and how much – give or take – the ride will be. Felt pretty safe and impressed because apparently, all taxi cabs have WiFi in Bangkok. The ride took around one hour going to my hotel, so the driver used this time to teach me basic Thai:
‘Thank you’ – ‘Kòp kun ka’
‘Hello’ – ‘Sà-wàt-dee ka’
‘How are you?’ – ‘Sà-baai dee rĕu?’
‘What’s your name?’ – ‘Kun chêu a-rai?’
A bit challenging language to learn, turns out but the driver was multitasking pretty good – driving and teaching. Next time I’ll try a few private lessons at Eton Institute beforehand. Just like anywhere, locals will appreciate the effort – especially when the language is so, so different from English. Tip: start with ‘bargaining’ language, this will keep you from spending AED 100 on an AED 5 souvenir.
Thailand is a fairly large country, with hundreds of things to see. In all honesty, you’d need at least a month to experience all it has to offer. If you have less than that, one has to choose carefully. I opted for:
- a few days in Bangkok: an 8M population capital city
- a few days up north in Chiang Mai: mountain, jungle and amazing wildlife
- a week down south in Ao Nang – Krabi: island hopping, wallpaper-like beaches
Reading the word ‘bustling nightlife’ on online reviews and blogs just doesn’t do it justice. You have to pack your bag and check it out because it’s pretty difficult to accurately describe it.
One of the most popular places is Khao San Road – which is a street dedicated to expat backpackers and tourists from all over the world. A street packed with restaurants, cafes, massage parlors, terraces, bars, street vendors, street food and thousands of people. There are no cars, though. It gets crowded from 8 p.m. and stays buzzing until 2-3 in the morning.
My boss was insisting on WhatsApp that I should never trust the street food. I normally listen to him, but on this occasion I did exactly the opposite, and it was amazing. Everywhere you turn in Bangkok, on every boulevard, little street or alleyway – you’re guaranteed to find street food: incredibly tasty and incredibly cheap. 5 Dirhams can get you a large, delicious street lunch or dinner. There are food vendors catering everything from marinated & grilled meat cuts, homemade noodles, fruits to pancakes. Though there are so many of them, they rarely prepare the same food as you can expect small variations.
Is it safe? Like other South Asian countries like Vietnam and Philippines, these street food vendors normally cater to locals. Locals care for locals; the last thing on their priority list would be for anyone to get sick. So I trust them and so far I’ve had worse experiences in fancy restaurants than going ‘local’.
You can get a nice boat-tour for one or two hours to get better views of the city. This way, you can also check out the main Buddhist temples around Bangkok and make a pit-stop at the most famous Bangkok floating market.
The city can get very congested with traffic, as I was soon to find out. That’s when I understood why all taxis have a reliable WiFi connection; you never know how much time you’ll spend inside. Best way to get around would be via tuk-tuk, since it can squeeze through traffic and it’s much very affordable. Expect roughly 10 baht per kilometer (1 AED).
Thailand’s northern region spreads far inland. The most popular way of getting around is to fly, with many low-cost airlines connecting this area from Bangkok. Instead of a 1-hour flight, I chose to ride the train for 12 hours. I thought this would enable me to see more of the country, but I would soon regret this decision. The a/c was freezing all the way and it only had a few short stops. Tip: if you’re a smoker, go for the air option – not much to see out the window.
Once in Chiang Mai however, the scenery is very green, similar to Bali. This is the second biggest city in Thailand and has been the cultural capital for hundreds of years. A lot of Buddhist temples to visit, the city itself isn’t as vibrant as Bangkok, but there are many options for jungle trekking, river rafting, bamboo rafting, mountain climbing, cave hopping and other outdoor activities.
I went on a 2-day jungle tour, spending the night in a remote elephant sanctuary where they didn’t have any electricity. Our guide – a mix of Jason Statham and Rambo – braved through the jungle showing us various fruit and wildlife. We fed the elephants in the morning and carefully bathed them – only for them to come back and roll through the sand. Pretty good experience, including a home cooked dinner around the campfire.
If you get more time in the area, you can rent a sturdy motorbike for 100 baht / 10 AED per day and visit the surrounding villages for canyon scenery and more authentic experience.
KRABI / AO NANG
A 2-hour internal flight brings us to Ao Nang, the capital of Krabi province. This is a small fishing town turned tourist destination, mainly because from here you can start a lot of ‘island-hopping’ day tours. So six days here were equally divided between the island tours and lounging around town.
An island hopping tour normally includes transport to/from your hotel, boat transport to/from various islands around the bay, lunch, snorkeling and 1-2 hours beach time on each island. Because Ao Nang is full to the brim with tourists all year-round, prices for anything reflect accordingly. We’re no longer in Bangkok. There are two options on the boat day-tours: long tail boat or speed boat.
Basically, the long tail boat is slower and the package is cheaper. The lunch is also less attractive. The speed boat is much faster, so you have more time on the islands – and the lunch is better. Tip: you don’t know when you’ll return, so go for the speed boat option.
The beach in Ao Nang itself are not spectacular, but water taxis are available for low fares. You can get to neighboring islands easily and enjoy the white sandy beaches. You will see places like James Bond island (’74 filming of Man with the Golden Gun’) or other limestone Avatar-like islands; works wonders for your personal social media accounts!
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