Thailand is one of the ten most visited destinations in the world. And it is curious because it is the only country in Southeast Asia that has not been colonized by a European nation. And in that something will have to do with the tolerant and dialoguing character of the inhabitants. It is natural. They are wonderful people. They don’t do it out of commitment, they like to share and help foreigners. They want to communicate at all costs. Just by taking a taxi, you can tell: they ask about everything, they are interested in where you come from and what you are going to do in their country.
That is surely one of the reasons why they gave it the nickname “the land of smiles”. Thailand does not discriminate against anyone. Everyone is welcome: insatiable adventurers, newlyweds looking for surprises, families with restless children, or even disenchanted young people in search of new perspectives…
Thailand, in short, is a place that adapts to the traveler’s needs, lets himself be loved, and gives you what, deep down, you want. We verified it on a trip from Chiang Rai in the north, to the paradise islands of the south.
1. Tribal Adventure in Chiang Rai
Thailand’s adventurous capacity is mythical. Geographically, its territory is divided into three: the most mountainous north, a flat central area, and the south where the beaches rule. In that sense, one can already decide where to go according to what suits you. We start from the northernmost part, rich in mountains and a cooler climate. Chiang Rai is the best-known city in the north and is located in the Golden Triangle since at that point it borders its neighbors Burma and Laos.
Mountain ranges, forests, and natural parks abound. There is much to discover. Chiang Dao, the sacred mountains of Doi Suthep and Doi Pui or the Inthanon National Park, the roof of Thailand (2,565 meters high) are true paradises for hikers. In any case, our recommendation would be to go to the region on the north bank of the Kok River, a short distance from the city of Chiang Rai, where you can also visit the Akha, Lisu, M’mong, and Lahu mountain tribes.
2. Massages in Chiang Mai
A massage is always good, wherever it is. But in Thailand even more. Traditional Thai massage (nuat Thai) is an age-old full-body treatment that combines yoga postures, acupressure, and Indian Ayurvedic principles. UNESCO has even recognized its importance by adding it to its list of world cultural heritage. And the truth is that it leaves you like new.
UNESCO has recognized the importance of Thai massage as a cultural heritage of humanity
There are massages for all audiences, in almost all places (even in prisons), and for most of the members of our body (foot massage is a pleasure that leaves you speechless). If we are looking for an authentic Thai massage, we should head to Chiang Mai: many temples in the old city have a massage sah-lah (room), resuming their ancestral tradition of storing knowledge and healing. It must be said that, in these centers, in addition to receiving massages, we can learn to give them.
3. The Historic City of Sukhothai
We always insist that in the same way that to get to know other people thoroughly it is important to understand their past, the same thing happens with places. And Thailand has a fascinating history. To get to know it, many travelers visit the ruins of Ayutthaya, which was the capital of the glorious kingdom of Siam centuries ago, since it is located just 80 kilometers from the capital. And it’s well worth it, of course. There you can see such exceptional pieces as the Buddha’s head among the roots of Wat Phra Mahathat, the great reclining Buddha of Wat Yai Chaimongkon, or the enormous chedis (stupas) of Wat Phra Si Sanphet.
Anyway, there is a corner less beaten by tourist circuits that is worth visiting: the Sukhothai Historical Park. Access is indeed somewhat complicated -it is 450 kilometers from Bangkok-, however, in its 70 square kilometers of surface we can delight ourselves with an old wall and some of the best-preserved 13th and 14th-century temples in the country such as the Wat Mahathat, the Wat si Sawai or the Wat Si Chum.
4. The Northeast: The Village of Ban Chiang
We pass from history to prehistory. Northeast Thailand is possibly the least visited territory by tourists. However, 47 kilometers from Udon Thani is Ban Chiang, one of the most relevant excavations of the Bronze Age and where it is believed that the first civilization in the world settled at that time, more than 5,000 years ago. It was declared a World Heritage Site in 1992.
The Northeast is not exactly a small space. It is a large extension that borders Laos. There are several recommended excursions: among them, take a rowboat ride through the sea of red lotuses, enter the Elephant cave, one of the largest in Thailand, or visit the sanctuary where they say the footprint of Buddha is housed, a mark on a stone from the master’s tread.
5. The Route of the Buddhist Temples
95% of the population of Thailand is Buddhist, and it is estimated that there are more than 40,000 temples in the country. It is said soon. They dot the country from end to end. Although most maintain a similar style – intense colors, much filigree ornamentation, and high, steep ceilings – there are a few that differ. The doctrine of Buddhism is simple: achieve karma with good actions and drive it away with bad ones. As we said before, religion is part of the lifestyle, culture, and personality of the Thai people.
And the temples, in a certain way, are their houses. That’s why there are so many. It is interesting to be able to admire them, enter and talk with the monks, and immerse yourself in their liturgy. The three most famous in Bangkok are Wat Phra Kaew, Wat Pho, and Wat Traimit. One of the most sacred is the Wat Phra Kaew or Temple of the Great Emerald Buddha, inside which stands a 66-centimeter statue carved from a single piece of jade. But there is a temple that is not talked about so much and that is one of the oldest: that of the Lopburi monkeys, built in the 13th century by the Khmer empire of Angkor Wat. Quite a find.
6. Street Food and Floating Markets
One of the great attractions of traveling to Thailand is its food. The stomach is one of the great beneficiaries of this adventure, there is no doubt. Thais love to eat. They don’t have schedules. They eat when they feel like it. It is their culture. For this reason, when you visit Bangkok, in the central part of the country, it is essential to go out into the streets, walk and, of course, open your nostrils wide and let yourself be seduced. Gastronomy is based on the harmony between the five flavors: sweet, spicy, sour, bitter, and salty.
Chinatown (Yaowarat), Kao San Road, Bang Lamphu, and Sao Ching Cha are some of the neighborhoods that one should not miss if one wants to taste genuine Thai street food. But there are also the floating markets. They are vibrant. There are many to choose from.
But to escape the crowded streets of the capital, it’s worth taking a short boat trip through the canals (khlongs) of historic Thonburi, which are lined with old wooden houses and lush gardens. One of the stops is the Khlong Lat Mayom floating market, where it is possible to treat yourself by trying different dishes cooked on board the boats.
7. The Full Moon Beach Party
We are facing one of the most fashionable events in recent years. Thousands of young (and not so young) flock to Haad Rin beach on the island of Kho Pha Ngan, between Samui and Kho Tao, to enjoy drinks, jugglers, fireworks, DJs, and rock music. It is the Full Moon Party, or what is the same, the full moon party.
It is celebrated every month. It originated in the 80s when a group of friends lit a bonfire on that beach during a full moon night to celebrate a farewell. There were about 30 people then, but they must have had a great time because today more than 10,000 people congregate on that same beach. If you want to attend, it is essential to book the ferry and accommodation well in advance.
8. Diving in the Similan Islands
In Thailand, not only is the surface beautiful but also the world is under the water. Some of the spots most frequented by scuba diving fans are concentrated there. The small island of Koh Tao, north of Koh Samui, is one of the most outstanding destinations on the planet and is suitable for beginners and experienced divers. It has an incredible diversity of marine life.
But for fans of snorkeling and goggles, we would like to mention the remote Similan Islands National Park, off the west coast of Thailand. These are nine islands of white sand and turquoise waters in the Andaman Sea. The underwater landscape is wonderful. Great pinnacles of rocks, elongated coral reefs, or huge walls with caves full of life. It is possible to see manta rays, reef sharks, napoleon fish, large groupers, toadfish, barracudas, moray eels, whale sharks…
9. Muay Thai, Thai Boxing
Thai boxing or Muay Thai (also known as the “art of the eight limbs”) is a widespread martial tradition throughout Thailand: there are gyms in Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Koh Samui, and especially on the island of Phuket. Its roots are found in Muay Boran, a type of ancient combat created by Buddhist monks around 200 BC. Today it is a symbol of Thai identity.
There are many options if one wants to attend a Thai boxing competition. In Bangkok, there is the most popular stadium for this sport, the Lumphini Stadium. Entry costs between €25 and €50 (1,000 baht), depending on the seat chosen. Anyway, if possible, it is worth going to the Galaxy Boxing Stadium in Patong, Phuket, where the Thais usually go. In Phuket, there is a huge fan of this sport and there are the best Muay Thai schools in the whole country, and this is the stadium where they compete to be the best.
10. From Island to Island
It is difficult to choose an island ( Koh ) in Thailand. There are more than 500. Some are well known like Koh Samui, Phuket or Phi Phi Koh, on whose beaches, by the way, the famous movie The Beach, starring DiCaprio, was filmed, and others are small, quiet and wild. There are islands in the north of the Gulf, very close to the capital, there are others to the south, and others in the Andaman Sea, on the west coast. The truth is that each island offers something different to the traveler.
A great suggestion is to discover Koh Lanta. It is a quiet option. It is 27 kilometers from one end to the other. Many visitors rent a scooter or kayak to explore it. It is an island divided into two: Lanta Yoi and Lanta Noi. One more developed and another wilder. Its two halves are separated by a strip of water of about a kilometer and are part of the Mu Koh Lanta National Park. They say that the sunsets there are legendary.