Sun, Scuba Diving, Elephants and a lot of Spice
From the sprawling streets of Bangkok to the pristine islands of Phuket and Koh Samui, we take on you a fabulous seven-day adventure across Thailand for the best travel experiences in Thailand…
City Life in Bangkok
The city of Bangkok is a maze. We landed there early one December morning and travelled into the city by taxi to our hotel in the Sukhumvit area of town. This area is very typical Bangkok – colourful, exciting, noisy and packed full of people. The streets are wide and lined with stalls selling everything from designer knock-off bags to traditional and kitsch souvenirs.
While Bangkok has endless sights to explore, three days is enough time to get a real taste for Bangkok life and see the very best of the city. On our first day, we started early and travelled by SkyTrain over to Chinatown to see the sights and to sample some interesting street food. The SkyTrain is an attraction in itself, a modern, fast train that flies over the rooftops of the city.
After exploring Chinatown and grabbing some breakfast from the street stalls, take a water taxi down the Chao Phraya River to the Golden Palace complex. The water taxis are a traditional feature of Bangkok the journey down the river takes in views of old Bangkok, with crumbling temples and traditional neighbourhoods on one bank and brand new five-star riverside hotels on the other. Longtail boats are available to hire for a private journey, but the water taxis offer a great way to mingle with the locals and get a glimpse of city life in its natural glory.
Alighting the boat at the Golden Palace complex stop at Chang Pier, the pathway will lead you straight through a bustling market that offers delightful trinkets such as antique pocket watches. The Golden Palace is situated across the road from this market and will take the best part of a day to explore. One of the most authentic travel experiences in Thailand, the complex has been home to the kings of Thailand since the 1780s. Today, they reside elsewhere but it is still an extremely significant building used for many ceremonial events and widely considered to be the spiritual heart of Thailand.
The Outer Courtyard at the entrance provides a suitably awe-inspiring opener to the complex, which is home to a collection of ornate buildings with twisting towers and intricate, stunning architecture with an abundance of gold. Thailand’s most sacred Buddhist temple – the Temple of the Emerald Buddha – takes up an entire corner of the complex. Carved from a single piece of jade, the Emerald Buddha attracts many devout Buddhists who worship in beautiful atmospheric surroundings as the smell of incense fills the air.
Foot massages and Brilliant Buddhas
After taking your time to admire the many buildings within the complex, take a very short walk to another of Bangkok’s treasures – Wat Po. This attraction has two claims to fame – it is home to the famous Reclining Buddha, and it is considered the birthplace of traditional Thai massage. More than one thousand images of Buddha decorate the complex, and the Reclining Buddha is truly one of the most outstanding travel experiences in Thailand. At 43 metres long and 15 metres high, it is possible to walk all the way around it and admire the jewelled detail, mosaics and accessories up close. The massage school at Wat Po has trained some of the best masseurs in Thailand. It’s a majestic place to enjoy one of the most traditional travel experiences – the foot massage – while those on longer visits can take a massage course and learn the trade.
There are lines of tuk-tuks just outside Wat Po, which will take you to the Pak Khlong Tala to see the flower market. This massive, 24-hour market plays host to a sea of colourful flowers in beautiful and skilled arrangements and is a wonderful place to visit after a rejuvenating foot massage. For a unique experience, visit at dawn when the florists are arranging their flowers for the day ahead. The Sala Rattanakosin Eatery and Bar are just a short walk from the market and a lovely spot for dinner. It boasts a gorgeous riverside setting with views of Wat Arun – the Temple of Dawn – lit up against the night sky.
Floating Markets and World-Class Shopping
On your second morning, prepare for an early rise and a trip out to the Damnoen Saduak floating market. This market is best enjoyed in the early hours when it’s at its most lively and packed with locals. Your long tail boat will wind its way down the waterways and past idyllic scenes of Bangkok life. The food sellers are undoubtedly the most eye-catching and photogenic; particularly those who have their boats piled high with fresh, brightly coloured fruit. After this glorious journey into Bangkok past, it’s time to head back to the city and take advantage of the many fantastic shopping opportunities on offer. Terminal 21 and Central World Plaza are great options, but the standout shopping location is Siam Paragon. As one of the biggest shopping centres in Asia, it offers world-class designer shops and also has a cinema and Madame Tussauds – perfect to keep the family entertained. For a more authentic shopping experience, head over to Chatuchak Market (only open on weekends) – an open-air wonder that oozes Thai culture. It has more than 15,000 stalls including some excellent food options and buzzes with activity all day. After exhausting your shopping options, it will be time to grab a bite to eat. Take your pick from one of Bangkok’s many quality restaurants, with some of the most exciting and best value options available from the street food stalls. Some of the best street food locations are situated along Charoen Krung Road and in Sukhumvit Soi (Street) 38.
On your final day in the city, pay a visit to Wat Traimit – a smaller temple complex that is home to the Golden Buddha. Standing at nearly ten-foot tall, the solid gold Buddha is housed in a four-storey marble complex and is a glorious sight and a great symbol of the Buddhist culture. In the early afternoon, wander over to Khao San Road. This location was world famous by novel and film The Beach but is still a great sight despite the touristy atmosphere and a fun place to wander around and bargain for souvenirs. For a memorable final night in the city, the Ratchadamnoen Stadium awaits. As the oldest stadium in Bangkok to host muay thai (Thai boxing), this is a great chance to have a noisy and intense traditional experience. Take a klorng boat to the Tha Phan Fah stop to reach the stadium, where matches take place four times a week and start at around 6.30pm.
Phuket is world-renowned for having some of the most beautiful hotels in the world. The Kata Rocks is a multi-award-winning resort set within the cliffs overlooking the Andaman Sea. Designed around the principles of Feng Shui, every spacious boutique villa exudes modern style and luxury. Each Thai-style residence includes its own infinity pool while the penthouse villas are the well-deserved winners of the title of ‘best apartment in the world’, with each one including a huge terrace and private infinity pool with swim-up bar.
Phuket is a great gateway from which to access the famous Phi Phi Islands via a relaxing boat trip while the island itself offers the chance to enjoy every type of watersports. Phuket offers a number of ways to leisurely fill the days, such as taking an elephant safari around the lesser-known parts of the island. Animal lovers can pay a visit the island’s Gibbon Rehabilitation Project, which is situated within a beautiful national park. The Indigo Pearl Phuket is another outstanding hotel that offers a great way to enjoy the best of Phuket’s beaches among unparalleled luxury. There is the opportunity to enjoy oceanfront dining in a peaceful ambience while the spa is a real tropical sanctuary with tree-house treatment rooms. Down in the town, the night market that takes place on the weekend is a great place to soak up the atmosphere and enjoy some traditional street food, while Phuket also has some great nightlife and lively clubs. Baan Rim Pa is one of the best places to enjoy the evening – consistently voted one of the country’s best restaurants and certainly one of the most delicious dining experiences in Thailand; the luxurious space includes an elegant piano bar, exquisite local cuisine and an extensive cocktail menu.
Seduced by Samui
Over on Koh Samui, there are even more ways to have fun and relaxation against a backdrop of Thailand’s famous pristine sands and beautiful oceans. Samui’s airport has been voted as one of the most beautiful in the world and offers a lovely introduction to the island. Motorbike rides are an extremely popular way to explore off the beaten track and discover ‘real Samui’ island travel experiences in Thailand. The roads are quiet and serene, lined by lush green jungles and coconut plantations that lead down to the rustic fishing village of Baan Taling Ngam, where you can discover ancient temples and jump off to take a hike through the jungle with its waterfalls and dazzling scenery.
Jitneys – small jump on-jump off vehicles are an easy way to get around the more populated areas of Samui, such as the charming Fisherman’s Village at Bophut with its many seaside restaurants and the Chaweng Beach area which is filled with shops, bars, markets and restaurants, as well as many spas with the temptation to stop off for a foot massage. The Sunday night market at Lamai beach is colourful and fun while the Big Buddha temple near Bophut is a tranquil location with gorgeous views and monks on site to offer you a blessing. The watersports on Samui are among the best in Thailand – daredevils can hire a jet ski to race over the waters while the waters are also perfect for canoeing, kayaking, scuba diving and snorkelling as well as boat trips. Taking a class at the Meditation Centre in Maret is an alternative place to relax and unwind and the ideal spot to end your journey in the land of smiles.
For somewhere beautiful to stay, the Panacea Retreat is one of the most secluded resorts on the island with just five incredible residences nestled in the lush hilltops. This residence is also an active retreat, including an outdoor Muay Thai boxing ring fringed by jungle foliage, as well as tennis courts, yoga and cooking classes with all activities embedded in the values of detox and wellbeing.