It’s time to face the music and realize I am not some youthful, gap year backpacker. While there is nothing wrong with this fact, it does present a couple of physical limitations. For example, my inability to cope with a hangover and the general staying power of a beer belly. Consequently, the month I spent in Thailand was more about balance. There are the locations that are deemed “party islands” for good reason I am sure. While I do enjoy a good night out, I also did not want my entire time in Thailand to revolve around drinking and the inevitable recovery. Allow me to present to you my five favorite places aka the best destinations in Thailand. Although they may be incredibly fun, none of these places feature Full Moon Parties, drinks by the bucket, or all-you-can-drink booze cruises.
Yeah, so Bangkok is famous Khao San Road and ping-pong shows among other things I deliberately avoided, but there is so much more to Bangkok and it should not be labeled by just one street. I opted to devote my time walking, eating, and cultural enrichment. With just a few days in such a huge city, I wanted to use my time wisely.
Visit the Grand Palace
Well they don’t call it the Mediocre Palace. The complex is stunning and extravagant, but crowded of course. Don’t forget to dress appropriately! They do provide additional pieces of clothing, but you will have to wait in another line and put down a deposit. Ladies, leggings are not pants at the Grand Palace (found out first hand!)
Eat Street Food
Eat mango sticky rice. Seriously. You will thank me. Honestly, everything is delicious and you surely can’t go wrong with meat on a stick.
Take a Food Tour
A food tour is a great way to learn about the influences on Thai cuisine. I joined Bangkok Food Tours on an exciting, educational, and delicious morning. I stupidly ate breakfast prior to joining the tour at 9:30 am. That was unnecessary. I selected a walking tour through the Bangrak neighborhood. We visited Mom and Pop type restaurants who had been in business for over 30 years. Some of these restaurants you would be unable to discover on your own. Additionally, there weren’t any English menus which is usually a good indicator of authentic cuisine. We sampled delicious Thai dishes, some with Chinese influence and others with Muslim influence. We tried plates that ranged from fantastic to exotic (like cow brain and duck-bill). The morning ended with a delicious custard pastry and Thai iced tea.
Visit an Elephant Sanctuary
There are zillions of elephant “sanctuaries” in Northern Thailand, but I advise you to do your research. Elephants are often mistreated in order to force them to be docile for the tourists. Things to look out for are whether or not the establishments allow elephant riding or chain the elephants. I had a great day at the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary and had also heard wonderful things about Elephant Nature Park. The day includes roundtrip transportation from Chiang Mai, lunch, morning and afternoon feeding sessions with the elephants, as well as (mud) bath/swim time. Wear something grotty.
Explore the Temples in the Old City
I enjoyed aimlessly walking around inside the old city walls and visiting whichever temples I stumbled across. If you have a deep-rooted interest in Buddhism and temples, you may opt to plan an itinerary and ensure you hit all the “can’t-miss” spots. For me, who has seen a temple or two in my life, really enjoyed the freedom and the pace of not planning and simply wandering.
Take a Cooking Class
Thai is arguably the best Asian cuisine. By arguably I mean, this is literally just me stating my opinion (but don’t argue with me). There are dozens of cooking classes to choose from and the best part is you are typically able to choose exactly what you’ll make for each course. My decision was based on which class would allow me to make Pad Thai (duh), AND Tom Yum Soup, AND papaya salad, AND mango sticky rice. DING DING DING. Baan Thai Cooking School was a winner. I ate everything and had never felt so full (in at least three days anyway).
Visit Doi Suthep
In my opinion, the easiest way to visit this temple in the mountain is by songtheaw aka pickup truck with a bench that acts as a taxi. The ride up is a bit winding and can be nauseating, but is definitely worth it. There are beautiful view points on the way up and the temple itself is impressive to explore with additional stunning views.
Take a Day Trip to Chiang Rai
In my head I made plans to go and stay in Chiang Rai because I was dead set on seeing the White Temple. Instead, I extended my time in Chiang Mai and took a long day trip up to Chiang Rai. The White Temple was spectacular as expected; however, the rest of the tour to the Black House and the Golden Triangle were a bit underwhelming. Consequently, I was so pleased that I didn’t opt to stay in Chiang Rai. There would have been the added cost of transportation and accommodation without much to do.
Rent a Scooter
This is every backpacker’s favorite mode of transportation in Pai. Be careful, be safe, don’t be cocky. And don’t drink and scoot! I have never seen so many bandaged limbs in my life. A motorbike is a good way to visit the various waterfalls, viewpoints, and coffee shops of Pai. If you want to bike, but feel you may not have the skills, rent from Aya Service and tell them it is your first time. They will whisk you away to a secluded parking lot for a practice session. If motorbikes aren’t your thing, it is possible to rent a taxi or take a day tour around to the main attractions. The day tours offer a great value and be sure to negotiate the price, you can get it lower than they are asking!
Pai is filled with cutesy little cafes and coffee shops. I was able to have my first “real” breakfast in ages. Hostel cornflakes and raw toast (I know, I know, people call that bread) can get old. One of my favorites, Coffee in Love (let’s all “awww” in unison), has spectacular views. I like views if you can’t tell.
Eat Street Food
The street food in Pai takes a dramatic turn when compared to the rest of Thailand. If you are craving Thai food (well, because you are in Thailand), your best bet may be to visit a restaurant. In Pai, it is as if someone told the street vendors it is International Week. If you have been in Thailand for a while and are missing the tastes of well, anywhere else, you can enjoy cart after cart of different types of ethnic food. There was lasagna, shwarmas, pizza, Indian, pancakes, burritos, nachos, loaded baked potatoes, literally anything your inner fat kid could imagine. Nothing like forgoing a Thai meal just to see how Thai people make lasagna (fact: it’s delicious).
Get a Massage
I had the cheapest, yet one of the best Thai massages of my entire time in Thailand whilst in Pai. I am sort of a Thai massage aficionado which you can read more about here.
This town is so laid back. Most of the hostels are riddled with hammocks. Sit back, grab a book, and kick it. Even travelers need a break!
Go to the Beach
The beaches on Koh Lanta are a much needed change of pace from Railay Beach in Krabi, where I was previously getting my sun on. Koh Lanta offers expansive beaches with space to lie down and not touch anyone like at crowded Railay Beach.
Take a Dog for a Walk
The Lanta Animal Welfare Center is doing an incredible job to support homeless animals in need. But wait, you too can help! They are open daily between 9 and 5. So either you can spend your day bumming on the beach ORRRRR you could go pick up a puppy and take it on a walk on the beach. Either way you are at the beach. Win-win. They also have cats if that is your thing, along with a variety of other ways you can help!
Ok, radical honesty. I’ve never done yoga. But there was a really nice looking studio and I was totally gonna do yoga! However, this day unfortunately coincided with the day he-who-shall-not-be-named became president of the US. Depression and trying new things don’t mix. Instead I ate gelato followed by Greek food.
Go to the Beach
Koh Lipe is referred to as the Maldives of Thailand. Although I haven’t been to the Maldives, I can undoubtedly say Koh Lipe is one of the most beautiful beach destinations I have ever laid eyes on. So spend your days on the beach and soak it all in. I went for three nights but could have easily stayed for three weeks.
With water so beautiful, you just have to see what lies beneath! You can either rent your own equipment and go out on your own or join a tour which will take you further out by boat and around to different islands and snorkel spots. I participated in the Plankton tour which begins in the afternoon and includes a night-time stop to view the glow-in-the-dark plankton. While it is a cool concept, you will not be surrounded by glow-in-the-dark entities, so don’t get your hopes up! Your face must see submerged and you will see tiny blue specks. One of the more entertaining parts of my snorkel tour was that I was the only person who knew how to swim. I’m no expert, but I think that should be a prerequisite for snorkeling. I went off and observed the sea life while the six other people clung the to life ring beside the boat! We even made stops where they were not allowed off the boat due to the current.
Although I did not dive in Koh Lipe, there were loads of dive shops and I can’t imagine you could have a bad experience with such beautiful water.
Watch the Sunset
When an island has a beach entitled “Sunset Beach,” you watch the sunset on that beach, dammit!
This list is not to say that I did not enjoy a few nights out here and there, but it was not the objective of my travels.
I contemplated visiting Koh Phangan for the Full Moon Party and Koh Phi Phi for a booze cruise, but ultimately decided to save this type of trip for when I’m younger. Wait, what?