After living for a year in Thailand, I’ve come to love the culture and country in ways I’d never expected. This place really does have so much to offer and after being asked several times over what kinds of things I’d recommend visitors do here, I thought I’d make up my own ‘Top Things to Do’ list. I came here to teach – which was an incredible experience in so many ways – but when placed in the north of the country I was skeptical. What? No beach? However, what I soon realized was that Thailand is way more than just sun, sea and sand, and some of the best experiences to be had are far away from the surf. Some of these are only possible if you are here at certain times of the year, but you should definitely try as many as you can. Enjoy!
1. Tiger Kingdom, Chiang Mai: I have done both the Tiger Kingdom in Chiang Mai and the Tiger Temple in Bangkok, and would definitely recommend Tiger Kingdom out of the two. The tigers are so well looked after and are quite lively, and you can get your pictures taken with them when they are alert and playing. Tiger Temple is not bad, though the tigers are so chilled out you could think they’re drugged or something – as some have hinted they might be – and all of my pictures with them had the tigers sleeping, even the babies. Tiger Kingdom has five sizes of tigers: smallest, small1, small2, medium and big, and each type costs about 500 baht – or around US$15 – or you can do time all for about 1900 baht. There’s also the choice of hiring a professional photographer for 300 baht extra, which is something I would definitely recommend.
2. Wat Run Kuhn, Chiang Rai: Thailand is chock-a-block full of temples, any one of which is worth a visit, but topping my list of favourites – without question – is Wat Run Kuhn. Often referred to by visitors and locals alike as ‘The White Temple’, Wat Run Kuhn is – surprise surprise – entirely white. Not only is it truly beautiful, it is a fairly new temple that is unique and unconventional inside and out. Built in 1997 it is home to some magnificent works of art, particularly paintings and sculpture; truly a sight, even for those who feel they’ve seen more than enough temples during their Thailand visit. Every step you take outside of the temple is a photo op for sure but, unfortunately, no pictures are allowed inside. Remember, of course, that even though it is relatively new and slightly unconventional, Wat Run Kuhn is still a temple so please be sure to dress and act accordingly.
3. Maya Bay, Koh Phi Phi: Maya Bay, also known as ‘The Beach’ – thanks to Hollywood and the ever-popular Leonardo DiCaprio – is one of Thailand’s most famous tourist attractions. It’s very beautiful and that alone makes it is easy to think of yourself as part of the film. The only downside is the sometimes exceedingly large number of tourists it attracts, however getting there early helps you beat most of the crowds. Koh Phi Phi itself is a tremendously relaxed island with amazing beaches, a chilled out vibe and water so blue you would think someone has painted the ocean.
4. Loi Krathong: This is the Festival of Light that happens during the full moon in the 12th month of the lunar calendar, which is usually during November. It’s an amazing festival that is celebrated throughout the country, particularly near rivers and other major waterways. You can get your own krathong, make a wish and send it off down a river with your wish attached. It truly is one of the most beautiful and enchanting times here in Thailand. Please try to be ecologically smart here, however; krathongs have traditionally been made out of natural materials but these days are often made of Styrofoam, which is a disaster waiting to happen – or happening, as it were, for 50 years! You can get krathongs made of bread with a negligible different in price.
5. Elephant trekking and swimming with elephants: You can go elephant trekking just about anywhere in Thailand, so you don’t have to worry about looking for a special place do to so (I have on Koh Chang, Krabi and in Chiang Mai). Most places are all similar and offer similar-type deals, however you should try to find one that involves swimming with the elephants because it’s just that much more amazing! The one I went to on Koh Chang was a trek through the jungle ending up in a lake where you could hop off the beasts and thank for them for the ride by washing and swimming with them. It was a truly enjoyable and unique experience to so close to such a mighty animal. We were even lucky enough to play with a two-week-old baby elephant, which absolutely loved the attention!
6. Muay Thai fights: Like the elephant rides, these events are everywhere, though do try to go see a proper Muay Thai fight and not a show one. The show ones are all fake, with the ‘fighters’ flying across the ring at the slightest touch and, really, why bother when the real ones are so easy to find. The latter will give you such a rush of adrenaline as you see the determination and grit in the fighter’s eyes. It’s something I thought I wouldn’t enjoy but I – along with the rest of the crowd – found it really exciting!
7. Songkran: This is the water festival that’s held to celebrate Thai New Year and is, in many ways, a five-day long water fight! I came to Thailand just at the tail end of Songkran and it was fabulous; this year I was in Chiang Mai, which I’ve been told is one of the best locations to celebrate one of the best festivals in the country. It’s hard to describe this: there are literally thousands of people lining the streets and constantly throwing water on you. Songkran is held all over the country in mid-April so if you’re there at that time, prepare to get wet.
8. Floating Market, Bangkok: The floating market is exactly that: a whole market that is on the river and is only accessible by boat. You hire a long-tailed boat and it takes you down the river stopping at small stalls on the side of the bank. It is quite an experience and likely not like anything you will ever have experienced before so most definitely worth a look. Be warned: haggling here is as important – if not more so – than anywhere else in Thailand!
9. The Grand Palace, Bangkok: Located in the centre of Bangkok, the Grand Palace is one of the biggest tourist attractions in the city. The scale of the buildings and the details within them is breathtaking. Only 350 baht to get in and you can literally spend hours looking around! And though it’s not part of it, also check out Wat Pho which is just around the corner from the palace and is home to the massive reclining Buddha. Phenomenal, to say the least! It’s definitely more than worth the 100 baht to take a peek.
10. Local food ‘delicacies’: Some of the delights that have graced our lips during our time in the country include: fried scorpion, chicken feet, chicken elbow, fried bugs such as grasshopper, cockroach and maggot, snails, ant egg omelet, rat, boiled baby buffalo head, congealed blood, baby king cobra moonshine, diced innards with raw blood and grilled pig intestine. Be sure to try as many as you can stomach and, even if you can’t tuck in and really enjoy a scrumptious meal, you’ll be happy you tried them for posterity sake if nothing else!
11. ‘Lady Boy’ shows: ‘Lady boys’ (the Thai term, not mine) are quite normal here. So much so, in fact, that many of my (primary school) students are already aspiring lady boys. There are two types really: The ones who are so beautiful and ladylike that you wouldn’t think twice about them being girls and the second ones are the overly camp, dressed up, can-see-hair-on-their-legs type with a very large bulge in a place that no woman would have one – and I’m not talking Adam’s apple! However the second type put on great shows that are worth going to see. Chiang Mai offers up an excellent free one every night at 9:30 in the Night Bazaar, resplendent with more feathers, glitter and fake eye lashes than you can possibly imagine!
12. Koh Tao and the magical Koh Nang Yuan: Without a doubt, this is one of the most beautiful islands I visited anywhere in Thailand. It is home to the whitest, sandy beaches and the bluest water you can imagine. Not only is a great place to relax and really chill, it is an excellent snorkelling and diving location, and a very popular place to get your scuba certificate. The best beach is called Shark Bay, and you’ll need a boat taxi to get there. The sand is the whitest I have ever seen and if you are lucky you will see baby sharks in the surf! Take a day trip over to Koh Nang Yuan, which is a very short boat trip away and closes at 5:00pm as it is a nature park. It’s secluded, beautiful and peaceful, and the views from the top of the hill are stunning to say the least.
13. Full Moon Party, Koh Phangan: Another one of Thailand’s most famous tourist attractions is the full moon party on Koh Phangan. The whole beach is turned into a massive party with neon body paint, drinks sold by the buckets and a chance to go down the fire water slide, fire skip rope and see the fire shows! It only costs 100 baht to get in, and the drinks are cheap! It’s not for everyone for sure, but if a wild night out is your thing, this is definitely not something to miss!
14. Flight of the Gibbons, Chiang Mai: This is an action packed day of flying though the tree tops of Chiang Mai’s forest on zip lines and abseils. There are a couple of companies that offer this adventure day, however the Flight of The Gibbons is the one we used. The company takes you to see the wild gibbons and gives you an amazing three-course meal with live jungle music. Not only do you get to take in some pretty amazing scenery, you also get to take zip along the longest zip line in Asia. It really is nonstop and ziplining in Chiang Mai has been touted as “Thailand’s number one tourist attraction”. The costs and offers can vary depending on where you get the tickets from but it is roughly 2800 baht, or about USD$85. That may seem a bit steep in terms of Thailand expenses, but it’s pretty much a full day adventure and one that doesn’t come around every day so do keep it in mind.
15. A sail along the Mekong and a visit to the Golden Triangle: The Golden Triangle is an area of land where Laos, Myanmar and Thailand meet. You can take a boat ride down the Mekong River and stop over on a small part of Laos at the market where everything is beyond cheap. Be sure to try some very strange brew such as snake, gecko or armadillo whiskey, which have all of their namesakes inside the bottle. Try to shy away from the tiger penis whiskey; no need to encourage further decimation of the endangered animal. You can also take a short bus ride to Mae Sae and visit the very top of Thailand. The town is home to massive markets with top of the range knock off goods so it’s worth a look if you like your designer attire without the designer price.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jennie McKie is a 26 year old English teacher from Scotland who has travelled to and/or taught in the United States, Canada, Australia, Thailand and South Korea, as well as in a number of European countries. She is off to Europe again soon before heading to another live-work adventure in Taiwan. She plans to settle down one day, but for now “seeing the world is too much fun”. You can read more of her adventures at http://teacherjennie.com.