I spent two months this summer exploring Thailand, as part of an extended journey around Asia. Whilst there I fell in love with the beautiful landscape, charismatic locals and delectable cuisine; here are my favourite places that I visited.
The capital of Thailand and most people’s entry point, Bangkok is chaotic, humid and exhilarating, but has some of the country’s most famous cultural sites, amazing shopping experiences and one of the best transport systems I’ve encountered. Despite the recent bombing tragedy, I’ve never felt safer in a city of its size.
Top places to visit there include the impressive Grand Palace, which houses Wat Phra Kaew (Temple of the Emerald Buddha), Wat Pho, which is home to largest Reclining Buddha and contains more Buddha images than any other Temple in Thailand, and the weekend market at Chatuchak, said to be the largest in the world.
My favourite two experiences around Bangkok were spending the day cycling around the city and the backwaters to the south, and taking a long tail speedboat up the Chao Phraya River to visit Ko Kret, a tiny island inhabited by a Mon community famous for their ceramic wares – both trips were a glimpse into a completely different, and more serene side of the city.
Chiang Mai, in the north of Thailand, is famous for its numerous temples, northern Thai cuisine (try the famous khao soi) and trekking opportunities. A lot of the stunning Lanna-era temples,colourful markets and boutique guesthouses are contained within the old city walls which runs a 2 by 1.8 kilometre rectangle through the heart of Chiang Mai.
Further afield lies my favourite temple in Thailand, Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, located near the top of Suthep Mountain about 15 kilometres from the city. Entered via a steep climb of 300+ steps (or a cable-car ride), the temple compound is beautiful and atmospheric, and hosts the most incredible views looking over the city and the surrounding Ping Valley.
Must-dos in Chiang Mai include taking part in a cookery class, watching a Muay Thai show and exploring the ancient old city streets and bazaars.
Further north from Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai is a much smaller city, compared to Chiang Mai & Bangkok, but retains a huge amount of charm. Nestled within mountainous valleys, it is an ideal base for superb trekking, particularly amongst the various ethnic hilltribes of Northern Thailand. There are also beautiful waterfalls worth visiting.
My favourite attractions within the city surrounds are Baan Dam (the Black House) and Wat Rong Khun (the White Temple), which are unique and completely contradictory, architecturally. Designed by a famous Thai painter, Chalermchai Kositpipat, the ornate Wat Rong Khun is blindingly-white, with unconventional detailing and beautiful murals. In contrast, the Black House is more of a private museum, with grounds that contain numerous teak buildings adorned with dark objects including skulls, animals and artwork.
Thought to be Thailand’s oldest beach destination, Hua Hin is conveniently located four hours south of Bangkok. The beach itself runs for 6 kilometres along the eastern coast, and the town contains numerous restaurants and a lively night market.
At the southern, quieter end of the beach is Wat Khao Takiab, a hilltop temple that has become overrun with monkeys but hosts spectacular views of the coast.
One of my favourite places in Thailand is the nearby Khao Sam Roi Yot National Park, which is easily visited as a day-trip from Hua Hin. Sam Roi Yot is a marine national park and activities there include a long tail boat ride around the limestone karst islands, a visit to a colourful fishing village, Bang Pu, and a hike up to the most famous attraction Phraya Nakhon Cave, a large cavern with a hole in the ceiling and a small Temple shrine.
Koh Tao (or Turtle Island) is the smallest of the three main islands in the Gulf of Thailand. Primarily known for its excellent scuba diving, there are many other activities on offer, such as hiking, rock climbing and Muay Thai.
My highlights during my visit to the island were visiting the beaches, especially Koh Nang Yuan, a nearby island, and Aow Leuk, snorkelling off Nang Yuan and Mango Beach, sea kayaking around the bays and watching the nighttime fire shows on the beach.