Avril- Ann Braganza
Formerly Siam, now the Royal Kingdom of Thailand, is a popular travel destination for tourists across the world. Thick, green jungles, sparkling blue waters and exotic food; Thailand is a haven for backpackers and luxury travellers. Among others, popular tourist destinations include Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai and Phuket. Three nights per city are recommended, but on a budget of $500*(excluding airfare), visiting more than two cities may be difficult.
Accommodation,on the inexpensive side costs between $15-50 per night. Entry to some attractions may be free, but others cost approximately $2-15. While bus and trains are available for intercity travel, flights save time. Intercity travel by bus might save cash, but time may be wasted in communication, due to language barriers.
Pick up some goodies at the floating market in Bangkok. Image Courtesy: Simone Liane Noronha
The capital of Thailand, Bangkok, is the shopping capital for shoppers. Marvelous temples and palaces, busy markets and a pulsating nightlife; Bangkok has several hidden gems waiting to be discovered.
Visit: Three nights are adequate to experience Bangkok at its best. While Bangkok (and other cities) can be explored on your own, conducted tours are recommended due to the language problem. Organised tours are conducted to the Royal Palace, Bangkok's famous monastries and temples such as Wat Phra Kaew (Temple of Emerald Buddha), Wat Pho (Temple of the Reclining Buddha), Wat Arun (Temple of Dawn), Wat Traimit (solid gold, seated Buddha Temple) and Wat Benchamabophit (The Marble Temple). A boat ride (water taxis are inexpensive at less than a dollar as compared to the tours) on the Chao Phraya River, is a relaxing and beautiful way to see Bangkok. The river Kwai day-trip, full day floating market, Rose Garden tour and a day trip to Pattaya is a must.
Budget Hotels: Bangkok Unico Express, Imm Fusion Sukhumvit, Baiyoke Boutique Hotel, The Phoenix Hotel, Baan Sukhumvit Inn Soi 18
Eat at: Street food is cheap and there’s plenty of variety including grilled meats, spicy soups, stir-fries, cart food and hand-held snacks. East Meets West Restaurant, Crown Kitchen, Na Aroon are some restaurants to try.
Shopping: A shopper’s and bargainer’s paradise, Bangkok is number one on the list for most shoppers. With dozens of malls to choose from, you can find anything from jewellery, beautifully designed clothes, traditional handicrafts to silks and antiques. The major shopping centres are the bazaars and malls at Prathunam market and on Sukhumvit Road, including Central World, Siam Square, MBK mall and Pantip Plaza (electronic gadgets). The night bazaars, floating markets and Chatuchak (Jatujak) Market (open on weekends) are also shopping options.
Pattaya is most popular as a beach destination and attracts families, couples and single travellers. There is always something to do for everyone, be it water and land sporting opportunities, theme and amusement parks, the underwater world, offbeat museums, botanical gardens, shopping and a vibrant night life.
Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, a Buddhist temple in Chiang Mai Province is a sacred shrine to many Thais. Image Courtesy: Salien Malik
Thailand's ‘Rose of the North,’ Chiang Mai is a beautiful, ancient city where both historical and modern Thai cultures coexist. Other than temples, Chiang Mai has a number of elephant camps, cooking and massage schools, and is famous for its traditional handicrafts in silk, wood, ceramics, silver and various cultural performances.
Visit: Three nights in Chiang Mai is sufficient to visit its several temples, museums and other popular tourist attractions. Chiang Mai National Museum, Insect and Natural Wonders Museum, Chiang Mai zoo, Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep, The Bhuping Royal Palace Gardens, Wat Phra Sing, Wat Suan Dok (home to a 500-year-old bonze Buddha, one of Thailand’s largest metal images), Wat Chedi Luang, Wat Chiang Man (oldest royal temple in Chiang Mai), Wat U-mong are a few must see attractions. While in Chiang Mai, try the traditional Thai massage (recommended to check with the hotel for a good spa), and the Golden Triangle Tour – a day trip from Chiang Mai to the Golden Triangle; where Thailand, Burma (Myanmar) and Laos meet, a stop at a natural hot spring, boat trip to Laos
Budget Hotels: The 3 Sis (Bed and Breakfast), Chateau Chiangmai Hotel, FX Hotel Royal Paneri, The Small Hotel Chiang Mai, Baan Orapin Bed and Breakfast, Pak Chiang Mai.
Eat at: Post an evening shopping at the night market (generally open till midnight), there are countless little restaurants where you can sample northern Thai food. There are also several reasonably priced restaurants around Chiang Mai, serving different cuisines. Among them Pun Pun (vegetarian), Lemongrass Thai Restaurant and Funan are a few.
Wat Rong Khun, a contemporary, unconventional Buddhist temple in Chiang Rai will leave you awestuck. Image Courtesy: Salien Malik
Thailand’s northernmost province, Chiang Rai lies in the alluvial plain of the Mae Kok River. A region of rugged mountains and fertile valleys, this city is full of historical interests and not very far from The Golden Triangle
Visit: Wat Phra Kaeo (previous home to the Emerald Buddha), Wat Rong Khun (White Temple), Wat Phra Sing, Wat Phra That Doi Chom Thong, Chiang Saen, Khun Korn Waterfall, Chiang Rai beach on the banks of the Kok river
Budget Hotels: YMCA International Hotel Chiang Rai, Baan Bua Guest House, Baan Norn Plearn, Ban Rub Aroon
Eat at: Aroon (Rai) Restaurant, Oasis Vegetaurant (Vegetarian), Gara Garon
Tours from Phuket are conducted to James Bond Island which was featured in the movie "The Man with the Golden Gun." Image Courtesy: Simba Sea Trips Co Ltd
To the south of Bangkok, Phuket, is one of the country's largest islands. Once a major trade route between India and China, it is now the land of sun, fun and water sports. Rich in scenic and cultural attractions, there are several Buddhist temples, Chinese pagodas and Muslim mosques to be explored. White sandy beaches, crystal waters, quiet coves against a backdrop of green hills and spa treatments are ideal to unwind and relax.
Visit: Many of Phuket's beaches are perfect for snorkeling, swimming, relaxing, scuba diving, wind surfing and sun bathing. To name a few, Hat Patong (known for its vibrant nightlife), Hat Mai Khao (Phuket’s longest beach), Hat Nai Yang (ideal for picnics, relaxing and snorkeling) are popular beaches. Thalang National Museum, Wat Phra Thong, Wat Chalong (ancient temple enshrining statues of Phuket’s two most revered monks), Phuket Butterfly Farm, Wat Phra Nang Sang are some of the major tourist attractions. The Simon Show, the ultimate transvestite extravaganza should not be missed by tourists.
Several tours are organised from Phuket to Phi Phi and Khao Phing Kan islands (also known as James Bond island after it was featured in the James Bond movie, The Man with the Golden Gun) and a trip to one of these is recommended.
Boats stop just before anchoring at Phi Phi Island and tourists can try their hand at snorkelling. Image Courtesy: Sneha Solanki Bajaj
Budget Hotels: The Beach Boutique, The Phulin Resort, Patong Premier Resort, Amici Miei Hotel, Bodega, Summer Breeze Hotel, Phuket Tropical Inn.
Eat at: Budget travellers recommend Phuket La Ca Sa, Suay Restaurant, The Kitchen Kata Beach.
Other places to visit- Krabi, Hua Hin, Ko Samui, Phangnga Bay, Sukhothai, Udon Thani
All values arespecified in US dollars
Shopkeepers do not appreciate rude bargaining, but if you ask politely for a discount, most shopkeepers will oblige. You can get 'discounts' anywhere (except restaurants) from hotels, shops and local transport to conducted tours.
Thai's eat early and you will find most restaurants shut after 9 pm.
Taxis in Bangkok run on meters and ensure that drivers use the meter. The BTS sky train is another good mode of transport and services from the airport to the city are available. In other cities, for taxis without a meter, negotiate a price before you get in.
Avoid tuk tuks and taxis parked in front of a hotel as these drivers often whisk you off to shops with which they have tie-ups. You end up spending, he gets a commission and you probably won't reach the destination of your choice.
Never talk about the king disrespectufylly. Thai people have a deep respect for their King, and even a slight jest at his expense is considered an offense. Respect for him isn’t just polite, it’s the law.