Thailand is a country of rugged limestone mountains that soar into the sky; jungles that hum with exotic animals and ancient lore; cities poised with modern skyscrapers and meditative temples; and tranquil beaches that slope into crystal blue waters. Long a favorite of students and budget savvy tourists, Thailand has become, according to Forbes, “a hot spot for luxury with more five-star resorts, spas and hotels as well as becoming a center for medical tourism, wellness and a haven for yachters.” No matter if you’re a traveler looking for unforgettable luxury or a backpacker looking for the latest trending adventure – Thailand truly has it all! Your only challenge is fitting it all into one trip. So, here’s what you need to know before you go.
The Golden Triangle: Thailand’s Wild Side
Begin your adventure on Thailand’s northern crest, where three countries – Thailand, Myanmar and Laos – are visible from your ridgeline roost at Anantara Golden Triangle Elephant Camp & Resort. Get to know the gentle giants of the jungle through various immersive experiences with the 25 or so rescue elephants that reside on the property. Learn how to communicate with these intelligent creatures using any of the 70 commands taught to you by a resident mahout. Observe the elephants’ mindful movements and steady breaths, and then take part in a yoga class in a rustic sala at the baby elephant camp. Or, embark on a leisurely ride perched on an elephant’s back through the surrounding landscape, which includes 160 acres of bamboo forest, riverside plains and rice paddies. Back at the lodge, relax in your room decked out with teakwood floors and Thai silks, then slip into your jumbo terrazzo tub to wash the day away.
...at Anantara Golden Triangle Elephant Camp & Resort ...get to know the gentle giants of the jungle through various immersive experiences...
Chiang Mai: Nighttime Wonders
If Chiang Mai is considered enchanting by day (it is, of course), then consider it doubly so by night. Watch the sky transform at sunset from the stoop of one of the city’s many Baroque temples, or, better yet, catch a tuk tuk to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep – a golden temple on a 5,500-foot-tall granite mountain just outside the city center.
But nowhere is the nighttime action here more apparent than the Chiang Mai Night Bazaar, a more than half-mile stretch of pulsating lights, handmade crafts and sizzling street food on the east side of the old walled city, and its open every evening from dusk until midnight. Arrive an hour early to watch the otherwise mellow street unfold into a spectacle of vendors, stalls and carts. Bargaining nearly qualifies as a national sport in Thailand, so don’t be shy about doing some friendly haggling with the vendors.
If you’re feeling adventurous after the night bazaar, head to the Thaphae Stadium to watch Muay Thai – one of Thailand’s most fascinating and boisterous traditions. Here, travelers and locals fill the stadium’s plastic chairs and crowd around the ring for a night of intense boxing matches that feature some of northern Thailand’s best champs.
Bangkok: Contemporary Design Meets Historic Architecture
Although Bangkok is sprawling, exploring sections of Thailand’s capital by foot offers a glimpse into the city’s history through its myriad architectural styles. In the center of this thriving metropolis, you’ll find the Grand Palace, a complex of aristocratic buildings that has been tied to the kings of Siam and present-day Thai royalty since 1782. Set aside some time to explore the imperial grounds, which rest on the banks of the scenic Chao Phraya. Don’t miss Wat Phra Kaew, regarded as the most sacred Buddhist temple in Thailand, which is located within the palace’s precincts.
The massive building housing Bangkok’s Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) is a work of art in and of itself. Built to suggest that it was carved from a single piece of granite, sunlight filters through the outer wall’s detailed openwork carvings, revealing patterned shadows on the atrium floor that morph as the sun crosses the sky throughout the day. But don’t stop there; continue exploring the museum’s six floors, which are filled with works from Thailand’s most prevalent contemporary artists. Vivid paintings and stately sculptures explore the country’s current affairs and cultural milieus.
When it’s time to refuel, venture to Issaya Siamese Club, a modern restaurant located within a stunning historic residence and helmed by Thai celebrity chef Ian Kittichai. Opt for a table on the patio overlooking the lush garden to enjoy signature dishes that use ingredients from the local markets, such as the Mussuman Curry Lamb Shank and Jasmine Flower Flan. Save time for an after-dinner drink at the Siamese Club lounge located upstairs in the house’s former bedrooms.
Krabi: A Coastal Paradise
Sure, there are the five-star resorts in Phuket and on the bustling beaches of Koh Pha Ngan, but the Krabi province has it all. Towering limestone karsts give way to tangled mangroves and smooth, serene beaches lined with long-tail fishing boats that bob in the warm waters of the Andaman Sea. You’ll find plenty of adventure activities near Krabi Town, from kayaking its upper craggy shores to rock climbing at Railay Beach. Or, take a day trip to the tropical island of Koh Phi Phi. No matter how packed your itinerary gets, a sunset cruise is definitely not to be overlooked.
You’ll find refuge from the crowds at Rayavadee, a resort perched on the edge of Krabi Marine National Park, where you can have the white-sand beach nearly all to yourself. Abutting the Andaman Sea surrounded by coconut groves and jungle, there are many ways to familiarize yourself with some of Thailand’s most unspoiled tropics, including hikes to one of the many nearby waterfalls. To get up-close and personal with ocean life, charter an excursion to the Rok Islands, which are virtually untouched by nature. Leave some time to explore the interior ecosystem, rife with banyan trees, monitor lizards and friendly shell crabs – simply another reminder that Thailand really does have it all.