Thailand is an amazing cultural and geographical adventure and there are perhaps dozens of things to do if you ever make it there. Here are my top 6 things to do in Thailand (don't miss 'em if you're heading there):
- Street Food - Thai food makes for an array of amazing flavours and I'd recommend the earthiness of Thai street fare over any "fine dining" opportunities that present themselves. A meal for two, as I've mentioned in a previous post, can end up being as cheap as $ 8. Don't miss the pad thai noodles, the penang curry, the green curry, the masamman curry, the krapow rice, the stir fries in thai herbs, the tom yum and the tom kha soups, the tamarind fish, the endless arrays of grills, the pancakes and the mangoes with sticky rice. I think you get my drift -- there's way too much variety out there and best way to taste it all is to take your pick from the endless rows of street food vendors.
- Bargain Hunting - Thailand is definitely a shopper's paradise. I traveled with my wife this time and came back with 40 kgs of shopping! If you're happy to put on a smile and put in the effort of speaking broken English with the locals, shopping can be the most enjoyable experience. For those uninitiated to the sport of bargaining, I'd suggest a trip to the Bo Bae market on Damrong Rak road in Bangkok. Its a wholesale market that will usually give you stuff at local prices provided you're willing to buy multiple items from the same shop. The limitation however is the fact that that this is primary a place to shop for clothing and accessories. Remember that most of the other markets that most people recommend - Khaosan Road, Pratunam, Patpong or even the famous night bazaar at Suan Lum, happen to quote "tourist rates" and will need you to put on your best bargaining hat - the right price could even be 1/10th of the asking price. I discovered Bo Bae by accident, but its turned out to be one of my best shopping experiences ever.
This said, nothing beats the Chatuchak Weekend Market - the world's biggest open air flea market. Here you can find almost everything you need - antiques and collectibles, home decor stuff, furniture, plants and gardening tools, pets and pet products, books, ceramic and handicrafts, religious items, clothing and accessories and pretty much everything that you need. Look around and you cant miss the great deals. My wife was intent on taking home a golden retriever (with a pedigree certificate), and I had to put my foot down - though I couldn't resist the price tag! With 28 areas of land laid out for your shopping pleasure, I highly recommend paying a visit to the market if you're at Bangkok on a weekend.
- Exploring the seas - While the tsunami destroyed many of the islands and beaches on Thailand's western seaboard, there are still a lot of beautiful seasides to be explored. If you are a diver, this is jackpot! Phuket is widely known to be one of the top 10 diving sites in the world and you could get really economical diving courses if you are keen to learn. There are plenty of diving sites in Krabi and Koh Samui as well; so just choose your spot and let nature play host! If you don't dive (like me), then you could choose to snorkel and while I'm sure that ain't half as interesting (I can tell from sea-walking). You could end up swimming with a school of angelfish led by a giant sea-turtle and that'll just make your day. Visibility is great in places like the Similan Islands, Ko Phi Phi, Ang Thong Marine Park and Koh Tao so admiring the coral reefs from the surface shouldn't be an ordeal.
- Watching a Muay Thai Match - Muay Thai (Thai kick-boxing) is the country's national sport and deadly martial art. You have to watch a live match to know how punishing it can be. There's the Bangla stadium in Phuket, the Chaweng and Penbutcha stadiums in Samui and the Lumpini and Ratchadamnoen stadiums in Bangkok where you can catch some really serious fighting. If (unlike me) you wish to don the gloves and feel what its like to be a fighter, there are various options available too. You could participate in the various free demo lessons that many gyms offer at all major tourist destinations. You could also take a full course at any of these gyms or just hang out with some of the toughest fighters in the business at any of the World Muay Thai Council camps. I caught Dzabhar and Zidov from the Contender Asia 2008 series and it was quite thrilling to see these guys practice each day at Lamai beach in Samui.
- "Wat" (Temple) watching and Reveling in the glory of Thailand's Royalty - Thailand is primarily is Buddhist nation and its Buddhist temples (Wat's) are quite awesome. While Bangkok, the capital has some of the most amazing temples - Wat Phra Khaeow, Wat Arun and Wat Po being the foremost: the other towns are not far behind. Look around in each town and you'll come across some beautiful sights. Thailand's king is equivalent to divinity and their royal ceremonies and monuments are things to be seen to be believed. When in Bangkok, dont miss the Royal Barge Museum, the Dusit Park that contains the Vimanmek Mansion (home to the late King Rama V and the world's largest teakwood mansion), and the amazing Grand Palace. Remember the current king, His Highness King Bhumibol Adulyadej (aka Rama IX) is the world's longest reigning monarch at the age of 81 and in his 61st year as the sovereign; so he is an extremely popular and loved ruler.
- Thai Spas and Massages - I had to expand my list of top 5 and make it a "top 6" just to include this. I'll cut a long story short. Thai massages as you might already know are renowned for their use of aromatic oils and herbal scrubs and of course the trained Thai masseurs. For the aristrocrat, you could walk into a spa and get treatments as costly as $400-500 or you could be as cheap as me and get a 200 Baht ($5.72) foot massage by the road at Khaosan. Just don't miss the experience of the trained fingers easing your pain and relaxing your muscles.
I've had some amazing fun in Thailand in the last few weeks, and I hope to post some blog entries on the experience for those that are interested. If you've been contemplating a trip and haven't decided yet, I'd say go for it -- you wont regret it. The land of a thousand smiles has loads to offer in way of food, adventure, culture and fun!