I have been fortunate to spend the last several years living as a “digital nomad,” working remotely while experiencing some of the amazing places and people this world has to offer. My husband, Jeff, and I recently spent the last four months in the fascinating country of Thailand.
Whether you’re a first-time traveler to Thailand or a repeat visitor, there are many “must see” sites and experiences to be had in this expansive, beautiful place.
Thailand has over 40,000 Buddhist temples. Each temple is individually and uniquely designed. The most well-known is Wat Pho in Bangkok, home to the reclining Buddha. A few of my other favorites include the Wat Rong Khun (White Temple) is probably one of the most photographed located outside of Chiang Rai. The White Temple is one of the most contemporary temples in Thailand and tells a unique story. To enter the temple you must cross the bridge "the cycle of rebirth" and pass through the "gate of Heaven."
Outside of Chiang Mai is Wat Umong (the tunnel temple), which sits on 15 acres, is known for its tunnels beneath the chedi. The tunnel walls are inlaid with original wall paintings from the 13th Century.
Wat Sri Suphaan (Silver Temple) is completely covered in silver. For some reason this temple is always overlooked, small but quite impressive. The Silver Temple is used to ordain monks and for other special ceremonies. For this reason, women are unfortunately forbidden from entering the temple. The temple house has a silver workshop where you can watch the monks work on their craft or even join in a class yourself.
Markets are a must in Thailand and visiting one is part of daily life. They’re more than just shopping and errands, for locals and tourists alike, it’s a social experience. You can find a market on nearly every corner in Thailand and they appear in all different shapes and sizes.
Night markets are mostly food stands and goods. Visiting a night market is a great way to get some souvenirs and dinner. Day markets will be mostly groceries and dry goods. A great way to experience a day market is to do a cooking class. The Thai Farm Cooking school takes you to the market to buy your ingredients for the class before you head out to the farm to prepare your Thai meal from scratch (including making the curries).
Floating markets are also a unique experience. At most floating markets you can hire a boat to float you around to different stalls or for a long ride down the canal to cool off on a hot day.
Another unique market is Maekong Railway Market (the Railway Market). Local vendors set up shop right on the train tracks. When everyone hears the train approaching, baskets of goods are dragged away from the tracks, the overhead tents are drawn back and the tracks are cleared, making way for the train. This is a mostly food and sweets market, but the novelty is in its location. You won't find any souvenirs here.
In my opinion, skip Damnoen Saduak, the most popular floating market, and instead head to Bang Nam Pheung for a more traditional experience. Bang Nam Pheung is small and the closest floating market to Bangkok. Due to its size, there is not as much of a chance to "cruise," but the scenery and mangroves around the market are beautiful and a peaceful contrast to the bustling city of Bangkok.
It’s hard to visit Thailand and not make a point to see the Asian Elephants, much smaller and lighter in color than their cousins in Africa. Please know that we’re sensitive to how the elephants are treated and cared for, so we definitely support some sanctuaries and experiences more than others. In our experience, when travelers learn more about these gentle giants their respect and support of conservation efforts increase. Something we all can rally around.
Thailand is known for its markets and street food vendors. The best way to sample what Thailand has to offer is by taking a street food tour. Each region of Thailand offers unique flavors and dishes. I love the Northern flavors including khao soi (a sweet and savory curry noodle dish and pork sausages), sai krok isan (a garlicy, salty pork sausage), moo yor (close to the American hot dog in texture) and sai oua, which is flavored with the spices of Thailand, lemongrass, kaffir lime and galangal.
Festivals are a highlight for locals and visitors. If you’re traveling time is flexible, it could be worth planning your journey around one of the authentic festivals in various regions of the country.
Yee Peng is the lantern festival celebrated by the Lanna tribe of Northern Thailand (Chiang Mai). It co-insides with the floating light festival Loi Krathong and marks the end of the rainy season. The festival is based on the Thai lunar calendar and usually takes place in November. For Yee Peng, swarms of lanterns decorated with good wishes and prayers are released into the sky for three days.
Loi Krathong (known as the festival of lights), revolves around the building of Krathongs – a banana trunk decorated with flowers, banana leaves, candle and incense sticks. Participants release the Krathongs onto the river to symbolize one's willingness to release anger and hatred, say goodbye to misfortune and show respect to the river.
The islands of Thailand have gained in popularity (and hence density of visitors) in recent years. And, while Phuket and Samui are the most well-known, I suggest Krabi. Krabi really isn't an island, but it is a great jump-off point for going to several of the smaller more remote island of Thailand. Krabi will have access to more luxury accommodations than you’ll find on the smaller islands. Phulay Bay, a Ritz Carlton Reserve, is one of my favorites. From Krabi you can do day trips to Phi Phi, Trang Islands and Koh Lanta, just to name a few.
Other island highlights include: Koh Lipe – This is arguably the best island for snorkeling and scuba diving. Located close to the Malaysian border, Koh Lipe is part of a national marine park and is rich in coral and crystal blue waters. The island is small and isn't on the tourist radar yet. The laid-back peaceful vibe could be a perfect way to end your Thailand trip.
Koh Lanta - A speed boat ride away from Krabi, Koh Lanta is made up of several islands and offers a more remote island feel. The main island Lanta Yai or Big Lanta is home to sandy beaches, a natural park, several resorts, beachside restaurants and amazing sunsets. From Big Lanta it’s easy to explore other smaller islands such as Phi Phi and the Trang Islands on a day trip. You can also arrange 3-day diving trips to the Similan islands from Koh Lanta.
Thailand has so much to offer. It’s an eclectic mix of big cities, small villages, rich history, tasty food and stunning land and water vantage points. Want to learn more about traveling there? Email Amanda at AmandaS@PiqueTravel.com.