Dob Harrison, a former resident of Thailand, tells us why he still goes back for more.
By Dobromir Harrison
It’s certainly a popular destination for JETs and everyone else! So what does Thailand have to offer? Well, for a start, its reputation as a cultural highlight is well-deserved. It’s also a great introduction to South-East Asia, offering both a well-travelled backpacker trail and other destinations that are well off the beaten path. Besides, where else can you stay in a 4-star hotel for less than the cost of a mid-range here in Japan?
I used to live in Thailand and still like to head back there every so often. If you don’t know my friends, though, what is there for you to see and do? Well, whereto go in Thailand depends entirely on the kind of holiday you want. Bangkok offers the shopping and big-Asian-city with- smelly-markets experience, and I’d recommend you spend at least a couple of days there at the end of your trip. The southern islands like Koh Samui, Koh Phang Ngan and Koh Tao, as well as having their fair share of tourist-destroyed cultureless hell-holes, have numerous beautiful beaches and offer great scuba diving, especially for beginners. Finally, you can head up north to Chiang Mai, Sukhothai and Chiang Rai for a more ‘cultural’ experience gawking at Hill Tribe villagers or riding elephants.
Thailand undoubtedly offers something for everyone. Whether you’re making your first tentative steps into mainland Asia or you could write a guidebook on your travels there up to now, I guarantee that any time spent in Thailand will be time well spent.
THAILAND’S TOP SPOTS
Any of the zillions of Thailand guide books out there will give you a good overview of what there is to see and do, but here are my own favourite ways to pass time in Thailand:
1. Make jewellery in Chiang Mai – I urge everyone to go to Chiang Mai as it’s one of the best cities in the world, in my opinion. As well as providing great shopping, nightlife and food while still retaining its small size and charm, it’s a big learning centre. For those not into crafts, try a cookery course, jungle trekking or rent a car and drive to the nearby elephant sanctuary (you can watch the baby ones paint pictures). The famous Night Market is touristy as hell, but there’s no better place to buy souvenirs. Together with Chiang Rai (a miniature Chiang Mai offering the majority of the same activities and increasingly popular with tourists less inclined to the hustle and bustle of big cities), it’s the main base for trekking into the jungle. It’s just a really laidback, internationally-minded city!
2. See the amazing ruined temples of Sukhothai – An 8 hour bus ride from Bangkok and en route to Chiang Mai, Sukhothai used to be the capital and has a historical park full of examples of spectacular Thai old world grandeur. Bring a camera, rent a bicycle and spend a few hours exploring them. Phitsanulok, the big city nearby, is a good place to stay as it offers more to do at night. Ayuthaya, near Bangkok, is easier to get to and offers a similar experience, but is nowhere near as good. Sukhothai can be awkward to get to, but it really is amazing
3. Go shopping in Bangkok – It’s an awful introduction to the country, but you really have to experience it. The coup is over, though, so you won’t see any tanks.
4. Kick back on a deserted beach on Koh Phangan – This is where they have the Full Moon rave party every month, the very idea of which makes me want to scratch my eyes out. So why am I recommending it? Well, just head up to the north-west side of the island and stay in a bungalow on one of the little secluded beaches and you’ll see why. If you’ve read ‘The Beach’, you’ll know that the ‘in’ island is always changing, but you’re above all that, right?
5. Go to the cinema – not something that immediately comes to mind but it’s a cool experience (you have to stand up at the beginning to respect the king) and they actually have the latest films out! Shock!
Bangkok Airways now does direct flights from Hiroshima, but they can be a little pricey. It can be cheaper to fly from Fukuoka with China Air or Asiana. Expect to pay at least 70,000 yen in peak season.
The buses are a great way to get around the country and first class can be very comfortable. Watch out for scams, though; only buy tickets from the actual bus stations or from travel agents you trust. The train is slow, so probably best avoided. Flying is cheaper than you think and can save a lot of time on a short trip.
A lot of great deals on hotels. I’ve never had any problems with them.
Probably the best link for information on Thailand out there.
For cheap flights in Thailand (shop around!):
I also recommend using blogs. You can contact people and it’s a great way to get a good perspective. I have used this method when travelling to the Philippines and South Korea.