From Vietnam to Thailand: A Travel Guide
Wherever you decide to base your Thai holiday, you are certain to be thrilled with your experience. The people, the food, the scenery, the culture and the history all combine to present a truly wonderful country.
Thailand has a population of around 62 million people, of which 80% are ethnic Thai. The remainder are made up of Chinese (10%), Malaysian (4%), then Lao, Mon, Khmer, Indian and Burmese minorities. This largely Buddhist country enjoys a tropical climate with three distinct seasons: the hot dry season from February to May; the rainy season that still enjoys plenty of sunshine from June to October; and the cool season from November to January. The northern reaches of the country are much cooler, especially during the night. The south is the hottest part of the country with temperatures averaging 28ºC throughout the year.
Thailand is easily the most popular holiday destination in Southeast Asia and one of the most popular in the world. The country was represented no less than three times in the Daily Telegraph list of the world’s “Top Twenty Most Visited Cities” for 2017; Bangkok was 2rd, Phuket 16th and Pattaya 20th. Bangkok alone received 18.7 million visitors. It is known for the friendliness of its people, gaining the nickname, “The Land of Smiles.”
Thailand is world renowned for its fabulous cuisine, highly flavoured and very often highly spiced. But the way in which the Thais use spices is unique. The food is never heavy and always has a fresh, light, clean taste. Street food here is as good as it gets, with CNN only this year naming it the best street food in the world. Everywhere you turn, there will be a food vendor surrounded by delighted customers. Along Thailand’s extensive coastline you’ll find the finest seafood imaginable, whilst inland, the wonderful Thai curries, pad Thai, papaya salads and hot soups will fire the Imagination.
The capital, Bangkok, is a throbbing metropolis and very much a 24-hour party town. It has everything that you need for a city-based holiday. Terrific restaurants, fabulous shopping and the wildest entertainment scene on the planet. Drinking venues take the form of everything from quiet pubs to large sports bars, music venues, street bars and go-go bars.
Bangkok is very easy to get around, as its Skytrain system (the BST) and the underground metro (MRT) take you where you want to go. For a really fun way to get around the city take a ride in a riverboat. These zip along the canals making lightning fast stops to drop off and pick up passengers. The famous tuk tuks are another good way of getting round. They can fit up alleyways where buses and taxis cannot go. They do morning tours fitting in one or two of the markets. Always negotiate a price first.
Bangkok is famous for its temples and of course the Grand Palace. Inside the palace grounds you’ll find Wat Phra Kaew (the Temple of the Emerald Buddha) and on the opposite bank of the Chao Phraya River, Wat Arun (the Temple of Dawn) is certainly well worth paying a visit. The best way to reach Wat Arun is to take the BTS Skytrain Silom Line to Saphan Taksin Station then get the river shuttle boat from the adjacent pier. After visiting Wat Arun catch the shuttle boat to the Grand Palace.
Eighty five kilometres north of Bangkok is the old capital of what was then Siam - Ayutthaya. In 1700 this was the largest city in the world, with a population of 1 million. Ancient French and Dutch maps show a great city full of grandiose palaces, where large ceremonies would have taken place. The docks had huge flotillas of trading ships from around the world. Sadly, when the Burmese invaded the city in 1767 they almost completely razed it to the ground. Today, the ruins, which are incredible, provide a fascinating glimpse into what could have been one of the modern world’s greatest cities. The train ride from Bangkok is interesting and it is possible to arrange a boat trip as well.
Pattaya is a hugely popular tourist seaside town on the east coast of the Gulf of Thailand, about 90 minutes drive from Bangkok. It’s famous for its wild nightlife and infamous Walking Street. But there is much more to Pattaya than this. Jomtien Beach to the south is very beautiful and has lovely restaurants serving terrific seafood. North Pattaya again is quieter and has some very nice restaurants bars and hotels. Close by, there are some lovely offshore islands including three within seven kilometres of the western shore: Koh Larn, Koh Sak, and Koh Krok are all worth a visit. They can be reached by speedboat.
The Southern Islands
Phuket is Thailand’s largest island and one of the most popular tourist destinations in the country. It lies off the west coast in the Andaman Sea. Phuket is connected to the mainland and Phang Nga Province by the Sarasin Bridge. It is currently receiving a large number of tourists from Vietnam. In July this year alone, there were five charter flights taking 900 people from Ho Chi Minh City to Phuket. Vietjet are currently looking to start direct scheduled flights from HCMC.
Koh Phi Phi refers to a small group of islands that lie between Phuket and the west coast of the Thai peninsula. Koh Phi Phi grew in popularity rapidly after the release of the 2000 film “The Beach”, which was filmed there. Incredibly beautiful, the islands were totally devastated by the 2004 tsunami, but have rebuilt themselves magnificently to become one of the country’s most treasured assets. The main island of the Koh Phi Phi Don group has a population of about 3,000 though this swells significantly in the main tourist season.
Koh Samui is another popular island. It has plenty to offer. If you want nightlife and a more upbeat vibe, then Chaweng is the place for you. But there are also many laid-back parts to the island, like the Big Buddha Beach. The Fisherman’s Wharf area is a terrific place to eat in the evenings. Just off the northern tip is Phan Ngan, famous for its monthly all night Full Moon Party.
Khao Phing Kan also has a big draw. It does get very busy but is still worth seeing. The strange 20-metre tall islet called Ko Tapu lies about 40 metres from the shores of Khao Phing Kan and was was featured in two James Bond movies, The Man with the Golden Gun and Tomorrow Never Dies. Ever since it has been known as James Bond Island.
The tourism board of Thailand are currently trying to promote the northern cities and their proximity to the mountains. This really is a beautiful part of the country, with cooler, fresher air and wonderful landscapes. Climbing, particularly in Mae Hong Son Province, is becoming quite popular. But for the less adventurous there is still much to see and do here.
Chiang Mai is a lovely smallish city in the mountainous north of Thailand. It is one of the largest cities in the country, after Bangkok, though its population is only around 200,000. The old centre of the city dates from the 13th century and is surrounded by a square city wall, with impressive gates in the middle of each of the four sides. The walled city contains 30 temples and is surrounded by a moat. The town has wonderful restaurants and many of them have live music playing. The city is growing rapidly but has retained its small town feel.
Chiang Rai is a three-hour drive north of Chiang Mai and sits in-between and close to the borders of both Myanmar and Laos. This area is known as the Golden Triangle. Chiang Rai is the most northern city in the country. It sits by the the Mae Kok River, which runs along the north of the city, flows eastwards from Myanmar and joins the Mekong River about 40 kilometres north-east of the city. The most famous attraction here is the magnificent white temple of Wat Rong Khun. Also close by are the Doi Pha Hom Pok and Doi Luang National Parks.
Pai lies three or four hours to the west of Chiang Rai and sits beautifully between two national parks: Si Lanna and Namtok Mae Surin. The Myanmar border is close-by, to the north of the town. This lovely former market town is inhabited by ethnic Tai people, and now survives on tourism. It is well known among the backpacker community and loved for its laidback atmosphere. The town has many cheap guesthouses, souvenir shops, and restaurants. Close by there are spas and elephant camps, hot springs, and plenty of beautiful scenery.