The unique terrain of Thailand boasts the perfect balance of city and country, water and mountains, making it an incredibly special place found only in Asia. With a seemingly endless supply of floral, fauna, exotic fruits, and spicy foods, there is no shortage of things to do or try in Thailand. While most could spend upwards of a month still discovering it’s hidden gems, if you don’t have the luxury of time, here are some must see’s for a first timer’s trip to Eastern paradise.
Go Big or Go Home
Hospitality just has a different meaning in Asia and Thailand especially knows how to treat visitors like royalty. Splurge on one of the many four or five star resorts in the area to uncover luxuries like personal butlers, remote controlled waterfalls and some of the most cushy bathrooms in the world.
That food, though. From street eats to local markets to haute cuisine, food in Thailand is not for the faint of heart. From off the chart heat to interesting snacks like scorpion and silkworms, you must be adventurous to dine like a local. Stay open minded, hungry and don’t worry, there’s something for everyone.
With foot massages, back massages and any other kind of muscle relaxer available on virtually every corner for as little as 100 baht (about $3) per half hour, there is no better place to get pampered. Try one of the more unique regional treatments like the fish spa where a tank full of fish suck off your dead skin (but make sure to choose one that looks sanitary) or an Ayurveda spa treatment, a type of alternative bio healing adopted from India. If you really want to get hands-on, learn the art of massage at one of the many Thai massage parlors.
Shop, Shop, Shop
The night markets and open air bazaars sprinkled throughout the country are a traveler’s paradise. Whether you’re looking for knockoff designer gear, local handicrafts, electronics, or cheap clothing, you can find just about anything from gag gifts to personal keepsakes. Known for their tailors, plan a few days in advance to get measured and have a custom shirt made for around $20 USD or a suit for $200. Turnaround can be as quick as 24-48 hours.
Those Marvelous Temples
The many famous pagodas of Buddha are a symbol of the region’s divine faith to the gods. Called wats, these holy sanctuaries are a sight to be seen -- glitzy, glamorous and completely over the top with no ornate detail spared. The smell of incense, burning candles, and gold leaf are a thing of beauty and will leave you intoxicatingly in love with the spirituality of it all. Gain an understanding of Buddhism by studying their belief in karma. Have a guide explain to you the different ways to pay respect and appreciate the customs -- at some temples you can have your fortune read or be blessed by a monk.
Thailand is known for its elephant attractions, but there are also areas to pet and play with tigers. In either
case, make sure you’re going to a responsible venue that treats
the animals humanely. Patara Elephant Farm doesn’t just let you ride the
magnificent creatures, but teaches you to care for one, going as far as having
you bath each other in the river.
Feel the Wind in Your Hair
The river runs right through the heart of Bangkok so one of the coolest ways to see the sights is on a speed boat tour of the temples and impressive architecture along the Chao Phraya River. In fact, many hotels even have their own water taxis to take you into town. You'll stop to feed the gigantic catfish with bread sold by locals on neighboring docks as you explore the culture of it all. Because really, is there anything more stylish than arriving by boat?
Cooking Like a Top Chef
Thai cooking classes are quickly becoming one of the most popular attractions in the region as they educate you on their unique ingredients found in the area. They'll take you on a tour of the market to pickup fresh fruits, herbs and veggies that you'll use in your dishes before offering hands-on instruction to make your favorite plates. Many high-end hotels offer in-house cooking classes, but we recommend Blue Elephant Cooking School in Bangkok or Phuket.
Thailand is party central so try to plan your visit around one of the many festivals. The full moon party down south occurs monthly based on the lunar calendar, but if you want something more low-key, the Royal Flora Ratchaphruek runs from December to March. A beautiful botanical garden show, it features elaborate fauna displays from around the world.
The Hill Tribes
Many small indigenous villages still exist in Thailand, just a few hours north of Chiang Mai. Spend the day learning their craft -- making tea or coffee, engaging in native song and dance, and taking in their history. Many like the Lahu people offer home stays, the chance to sleep and cook in their mountain villages, which gives Westerners a unique and off the beaten path way to experience a completely different side of life.