Travel : Thailand
By Kate Robertson
Enjoy it like a local
With a long-standing tourist industry, Thailand is often described as a magical place to visit. It is the number one destination in southeast Asia, and attracts millions of visitors each year. Combined with a population of more than 68 million, the multitude of people may seem daunting, but there are lots of places you can visit to avoid the crowds.
Even in the bustling city of Bangkok, consider visiting lesser-known temples, instead of the Grand Palace or Wat Pho (where the 46 metre long reclining Buddha lies) to stave off throngs of tourists. Take a tuk-tuk (three-wheeled motorcycle taxi) to Wat Ratchabophit or Wat Suthat to see impressive gold-leafed Buddhas, magnificent wall murals, pagodas and sweeping ceramic tiled roofs.
At nearby Talad Trok Mo morning market, mingle with the locals and stroll the narrow alleyways where vendors are set up in front of crumbling shops. Here you can browse the fresh produce, meats and fascinating (often unrecognizable) food items. Take the time to watch flower vendors skillfully weave jasmine into beautiful, aromatic Thai garlands, which are worn on the wrist or hung over the rear view mirror in taxis for good luck. This is a good place to try some traditional street food like pad prik khing (a red curry with meat and long beans), or khanom buang (sweet Thai crepes).
Bangkok’s main river, Chao Phraya, connects with a maze of centuries-old canals. Hop aboard one of the local water taxis (traditional long-tailed boats) for a charming cruise down Bangkok Noi Canal, where you will see traditional stilted shacks mingled with beautiful temples, factories and upscale homes. Ask the driver to stop in front of the temple to feed the catfish, where women sell bags of stale bread (the catfish are protected here). If you’re lucky you’ll spot large monitor lizards sunning themselves on shore.
Natural Chiang Mai
Nestled amidst forested mountains, Thailand’s northern capital has a more rural, laid back feel. There are plenty of temples to see, but it’s also a great place to get in touch with Thailand’s natural side. Within a short jaunt from the city, you’ll experience lush green countryside, rainforest eco-reserves and Patara – an ethical elephant farm and rescue facility. At Patara, you will be assigned your own elephant for the day, and taught how to bathe, feed and ride it, as a keeper would.
Bordered by Myanmar and Laos, not only is the climate cooler in Chaing Mai, but the food is less spicy on the tongue than in other parts of Thailand. An example of this is their most popular street food khao soi – a Burmese-influenced, rich noodle soup with seasonings and chunks of meat, topped with crispy noodles.
Thai massage is available everywhere and is very affordable. Indulge in a luxurious treatment at CHI – the spa at Shangri-La Hotel. Your masseuse will lead you down small pathways, over bridges and alongside ponds to your own private hut where you will be pampered, starting off with a salt foot scrub in rose-petal water.
Krabi Island Hopping
With more than 100 islands nearby, the beach resort town of Krabi, located on the Andaman coastline, is the perfect place for island hopping. Here, the vivid turquoise ocean is dotted with dramatic karsts (limestone formations rising out of the water) and blanketed with emerald green foliage. It’s hard to capture a pictorial reference, even in your imagination.
A 10-minute boat ride through the mangroves will take you to Ban Ko Klang island, which is a predominately Muslim fishing community. Local initiatives here include the farming of a special sang yod rice (violet/reddish in colour) and batik-making to help to sustain the local economy. Without cars on the island, you’ll have to rely on a tuk-tuk for a tour of the tiny villages, where you’re likely to see water buffalos and goats grazing in expansive fields along the way. Take note of the song birds that hang in cages outside of each home – the more birds, the higher the family status. Before you leave, make sure you enjoy a fresh fish lunch in the peaceful ambiance of one of the rustic floating restaurants.
Founded in 1350, Ayutthaya was once the capital of Thailand before it was attacked and burned by the Burmese army in 1767. A guided bicycle tour is a great way to visit the many archaeological ruins of Buddhist monasteries and prangs (reliquary towers), which point to how majestic this city once was. After the ride, reward yourself with a bag of sai mai (threads of sweet, colourful cotton candy), which are sold everywhere on the streets.
Although Thailand is smaller in size than the the province of Alberta, there are so many amazing things to see and do, you’ll be planning your return trip before you even arrive home.
Photography, Kate Robertson