THAILAND IS OPEN FOR TRAVEL
Thailand is one of those places that has something for everyone, home to picture postcard perfect white sandy beaches, mesmerizing Buddhist temples, amazing street food, and a strong cultural heritage. Whether you want to come here to explore more of its rich cultural heritage, or simply enjoy one of their many beaches and nightly parties, Thailand has easily become one of the travelling world’s favorite countries in Southeast Asia.
On November the 1st Thailand began allowing vaccinated international travelers, who have resided in one of 63 approved countries for at least 21 days prior to travelling to Thailand, to enter without having to commit to a lengthy quarantine before being free to travel in the country. That being said, they do however still need to take a PCR test on arrival and stay in a government-approved hotel for one night while they await the results of their Covid-19 test.
With Thailand now open to tourism, in this edition we are sharing some thoughts on what to see and do while visiting this fascinating Southeast Asian country. Pack your bags, Thailand is now waiting for your visit. Also, check the Thai Embassy’s FAQ page on entry procedures for the latest information.
Get lost in Bangkok
This busy metropolis is the beating heart of Thailand. It is considered as one of the most energetic, chaotic, and vibrant cities in Southeast Asia. While some people head straight to the beaches or islands, spending some time in Bangkok is a great way to get yourself familiar with this exotic country. There are tons of things to do in Bangkok, visiting the temples, diving into the shopping areas, wandering the fascinating streets and lanes of Rattanakosin Island, and pretty much everything that you can imagine under the sun.
One can spend a lifetime trying to understand culture and society, but artists have long offered the casual observer a kaleidoscope, or a colourfully framed mirror, to gaze through and contemplate the meaning of it all. To get under the skin of the Thai psyche and look under the hood of Thai culture take a trip to the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre. This fantastic art gallery houses an eclectic mix of works by contemporary Thai artists commenting and analyzing Thai culture in their painted art, sculpture and installations. It really is an artistic finger on the pulse of Thai culture and society.
And to get a sense of old Bangkok, a stay at the wonderful Chakrabongse Villas is a must. A Royal residence on the banks of the Chao Phraya River on Rattanakosin Island, built by Prince Chakrabongse in 1908 the property is till the home of the Chakrabongse family today. In walking distance to the Grand Palace, Wat Pho (Temple of the Reclining Buddha) and located opposite the iconic Temple of Dawn, Bangkok’s well-known highlights are yours to enjoy. But take a walk down the lanes of Rattanakosin Island and discover a Bangkok unchanged by time. Rickety wooden piers jut out into the River of Kings housing amulet markets where bare chested men adorned in religious amulets are trading in hopes and dreams of a better life, an ancient form of insurance promised by a magical myriad of amulets that, it is said, you can never buy or own, you only ever borrow.
Take a Cooking Class
Thai cuisine is today celebrated as one of the world’s favourite cuisines. But here in the home of one of Thailand’s most successful exports, the enormous variety of dishes and the variety in styles and flavours across the regions makes the menu of your local Thai restaurant look positively plain. Thailand can be simply divided into 4 regions, Southern Thailand, Central Thailand, Northeastern Thailand and Northern Thailand with each region having its own unique and proudly shared and enjoyed cuisine. Interestingly the cuisines reflect the culture and climate as you move around the country. The gentle culture and cooler weather of the north for example is home to an equally cooler, less spicy, cuisine rich in veggies and herbs and with curries often water based and the staple being sticky rice. Moving south the temperature heats up as does the cuisine, with the spiciest cuisine found in the hot and steamy south, where the coconut cream-based curries such as Kaeng Tai Pla (fish curry) are without doubt the spiciest dishes of the Thai food canon.
So, what better way is there to experience a country and its cultures than by dining with and as the locals do and taking some of those experiences home to share with family and friends in your own kitchens and dining rooms. Well, that has to be the best souvenir of all. And you can do this by taking some cooking classes while in country. As you can imagine it is a good idea to take more than 1 class too as you move around the country and take ideas and inspiration ideally from each of the 4 key regions and cuisines to wow the palates of friends and families back home with what you have learned.
Explore the Underwater World
If you’re a diving or marine world enthusiast, going on a liveaboard boat in Thailand is an experience you will never forget! Renowned for its very diverse and rich underwater marine life, Thailand is one of the best (and also the cheapest places) to learn how to scuba dive. You can get PADI certified as you go diving in Koh Tao, Koh Phi Phi, Phuket, or many of the other islands.
Thailand is set between 2 great bodies of water, the Gulf of Thailand and lining the west coast, the glorious Andaman Sea. Divers are really spoiled for choice in Thailand with everything from WW2 wreck dives to wonderful reef dives filled with macro wonders such as ghost pipefish, multi-coloured nudibranchs, seahorses and neon flat worms. And for fans of the big fish, Thailand’s dive sites have whale sharks, manta rays, and a big variety of pelagic fish including the beautiful leopard sharks.
Each dive site has its merits from the Gulf to the Andaman, but I think it is fair to say that the superstar of Thai diving has to be the Similan Islands. Set within a protected marine park 65km off the western coast in the Andaman Sea, the Similan Islands are a series of 9 granite islands offering divers stunning reef scenery and deep drop offs sharing the ocean’s wonders with divers from the macro to the massive.
Let’s not forget snorkeling. It’s not always necessary to strap tanks on to see Thailand’s underwater wonder world. In the Gulf of Thailand Koh Tao and Koh Phang Ngan offer some great reef environments right off the beach, in sheltered bays these spots are easily accessed and safe places for snorkelers of all levels of experience. And Koh Lipe, often named as Thailand’s Maldives, this beautiful island in the Andaman Sea near the Thai and Malaysian border has it all, from white sand beaches, turquoise seas and colourful coral reefs. Continuing on the Andaman side, the waters of the Phi Phi marine park have long been Thailand’s poster boy for island life and fantastic snorkeling. While you will need a boat to access the reefs the waters are gentle with little or no current and the variety of coral and fish life are truly amazing. Book a stay in one of the gorgeous beach pool villas at Koh Jum Beach Villas, which is located on the quiet island of Koh Jum near Krabi, the resort is perfectly positioned for taking private snorkel trips with family and friends to nearby reefs of the Phi Phi Marine Park. Or head to the rustic luxe of Baba Eco Lodge on Koh Phra Tong with the stunning Surin Archipelago and its National Marine Park to the northwest, the resort can also organize private snorkel trips aboard one of their local scorpion tail boats to nearby islands and reefs, and why not make it a perfect day by taking a picnic to enjoy on the beach of an uninhabited island between dives.
Sharpen your negotiating skills
If you want the best deal on your souvenirs or other goods, you should master the art of negotiation. Haggling is common in many (non-food) markets around Thailand. Even something as simple as taking a tuk-tuk (local 3-wheeled ‘taxi’ or motorized-rickshaw) often requires a little bit of discussion to reach an agreeable price. And although they really should be using a meter, many taxi-meter drivers will try and haggle to a fixed price too.
Head to the Hills and Mountains of the Lanna Kingdom in Northern Thailand
While the charms and fascination of central and southern Thailand are hard to leave, allowing yourself some time on your itinerary to explore Thailand’s north will reward you with some wonderfully contrasting scenery and experiences. Once a kingdom in its own right, the Kingdom of Lanna, the culture and traditions of the north are distinctly different to the rest of Thailand. Home to a variety of ethnic groups and hilltribes, the kingdom’s heritage dates back some 800years to King Mengrai who united the northern cities and communities creating a kingdom that reached as far as Northern Vietnam, Yunnan, encompassed Northern Laos and swathes of the Shan States of Burma. The influence of this important time in the region’s history can still be seen today in the similarities in the style and motifs of the traditional dress of the people from Northern Thailand, Shan States, Laos and Sipsongpanna (in Yunnan in China), the architecture of the Buddhist temples, traditional art styles and in the cuisine too where you will find all these people sharing the staple of sticky rice.
Perhaps the perfect introduction to the north is a stay near Chiang Rai, the city founded by King Mengrai and named in his honour, at the delightfully slow-life exemplar of traditional Lanna hospitality, the Ahsa Farm Stay. Owned and managed by Lanna people, proud of their heritage they are keen to share the stories, traditions and experiences of Lanna life with guests at this working farm nestled in the Chiang Rai countryside. Try your hand at local agriculture joining in activities with the local community and on the farm. Dine on totally traditional Lanna cuisine made from ingredients straight from the farm and take the slow life concept down a further notch with a steam in a traditional Lanna herbal sauna.
And Chiang Mai, the city that became the jewel in Mengrai’s crown, and is still a today seen as the heart of the Lanna kingdom. With so much to see, do and explore in this city and the surrounding area its perhaps advisable to make your home base a little outside of town to gain some perspective, and the grand family home that is Vana Som Villa makes for a perfect choice. Set in the cool hills just 15minutes or so from town you are wrapped in nature and warm family-style Lanna hospitality when staying at this grand country home. Spoil yourselves while staying here with a picnic at their organic farm, set on a hill that enjoys the best sunset views in Chiang Mai. Simply sip champagne and toast the day as the sun sets behind Thailand’s highest mountain. As the earth rotates and the sun is removed from view the air chills so gather with your family and friends around the firepit and swap the stories of the day as the Vana Som team prepare a delicious dinner for you at the farmhouse, served on the terrace under the stars. By the end of your stay here in northern Thailand you’ll be so relaxed and in tune with nature you will be able to sit and hear the rice grow…
Slow Down Your Pace
With so many amazing things to see, do and experience, it can be tempting to try and cram as much as possible into your Thailand travels. If time is limited, though, don’t attempt too much. You’ll just end up wasting time being on and off the road, having less time to enjoy the activities, dashing around sites, and feeling exhausted. If you have 1-2 weeks, for example, it’s better to focus on either the north or the south, plus a few days in Bangkok – rather than trying to do the whole country in one trip. This is where having the Secret Retreats concierge team to help you plan and book your trips to Thailand, and wider Asia, will pay you dividends. Having travel professionals to help you plan and book, ensures that your travel plans are correctly paced to allow you time to both experience Asia’s amazing destinations, and to have time to simply relax and slow life down too as you travel, discover and enjoy the essence of each destination. Travelling with Secret Retreats is a holiday of wonderful experiences, not a boot camp.
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