Seekers of luxury and scruffy backpackers alike flock to the translucent shores of Thailand every year, hoping to discover the allure of this global wonderland. Some may entertain notions of gaudy neon commercialism, swarms of sweating tourists and the notorious ‘farang’ price tags on everything from fake designer handbags to bright kickboxer t-shirts. But peer beyond the main drags of Bangkok and Pattaya where this is known to be true, and it doesn’t take long before Thailand’s winning combination of natural beauty, friendliness and incredible cuisine will entrance even the hardened cynic.
Crackling with energy, slicked in humidity and thrumming with pollution, Bangkok is, nonetheless, a bucket-list stop on any Thai-tinerary. Don’t squander your Thailand holidays, or your money, on a protracted stay here when there are more pleasant cities – instead, embrace its attention deficit vibe and cram as much into a couple of days as possible. Come face to face with at least one Buddha (make it the emerald one at Wat Phra Kaew). Have your breath stolen by the Temple of Dawn, enjoy at least one vigorous massage, and brave the street food – whether savoury and delicious pad thai, or the more intrepid choice of deep fried cockroach.
An island province tacked onto the mainland by two bridges, Phuket lies to the south-west of the country. This landscape of dreamy, opalescent water and spattering islands is a jumping off point for travel to paradise destinations like Ko Phi Phi and Rai Lei, but there’s still plenty to keep travellers from getting antsy. Enjoy the lush surroundings and regroup with a visit to a spa, trek through the jungle atop a swaying elephant or visit one of the chaotic local markets to pick up an extra special souvenir.
Located in Thailand’s most mountainous region, Chiang Mai is the country’s cultural hub. This University city enjoys an altogether more recumbent vibe than the thronging streets of Bangkok or the full-moon partying of Hat Rin. Get involved in something immersible and learn something meaningful; there’s an elephant park at which to volunteer, or sign up for the Thai cooking school for the souvenir that keeps giving. There’s even an opportunity to have breakfast with local monks so that they might improve their English. Take in a traditional Lanna dancing show, or explore the bustling night market to the east of the city. Chiang Mai is safe, clean, and beautiful, making it well worth dallying.