Thailand has become firmly established as a popular, long-haul destination for sun-lovers. International standard hotels are well developed in the country’s coastal resorts, with up-and-coming hotspots like Trang and Ko Lanta rivalling old favourites such as Koh Samui and Phuket.
Away from the beaches, ancient temples, rainforests, elephant treks, river rafting and bustling markets provide a wealth of attractions. Combine your beach stay with a few days in vibrant Bangkok and you’ll enjoy the best of both worlds.
Getting there/getting around Thailand
There are plenty of cheap airfares to Thailand. Thai Airways, Eva Air and Qantas offer direct flights. There are indirect services with a number of carriers such as Emirates Airlines and KLM. There are many airlines which pass through Bangkok, offering additional choice.
Once you’re in the country, Thai Airways and Bangkok Airways offer affordable internal flights to most of the main tourist centres. The train and coach services are extensive. Traditional long-tail boats offer the best island hopping experience.
Meanwhile, Bangkok has a modern Monorail system called the Skytrain and an underground system. Metered taxis are available in most cities but the preferred mode of transport for most visitors is the tuk tuk.
Beaches in Thailand
If you’re only intending to stay in and around Bangkok, you can still visit some good beaches for a overnight stay. Nearby Pattaya and Hua Hin are good, family-friendly resorts. Pattaya’s beaches, such as Pattaya Beach and Jomtien, are probably the best in the area.
Beach life is superior in the south – on the west coast side bordering the green Andaman Seas lie Phuket, Krabi and Ko Phi Phi. All have excellent beaches and hotels. Pattaya is perhaps the most cosmopolitan place. On the east coast is the Gulf of Thailand where the beach huts of Koh Samui are slowly being replaced by more upmarket properties.
Island-hopping is a must, if you have time. Alternatively, a cruise around the unspoilt Similan Islands is paradise for divers. Up and coming hotspots include Trang, Koh Lanta, Khao Lak and Koh Tao.
Sightseeing around Thailand
First time visitors will inevitably start their journey in Bangkok. The city’s notoriously congested roads and streets may appear bewildering and frustrating initially. One way to avoid the problem is by travelling via the Skytrain.
Book a tour to see the must-see sights: the spectacular Wat Phra Kaew and the Grand Palace – allow at least a day to explore these and try to visit the National Museum and National Gallery.
To the south and on the islands, the natural attractions and namely the giant limestone cliffs around the Andaman coast will take your breath away.
For history and culture, the hill tribe centres of Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai in the Golden Triangle of the north offer a well-worn tourist trail. The region is renowned for its temples – the oldest wat dates back to 1296. Expect jungle trekking, river rafting and elephant rides.
Family attractions in Thailand
In Bangkok, explore the ‘klongs’ or canals that are home to the famous floating markets, and you’ll get a chance to appreciate how the locals live. Also visit Dream World theme park, where there are rollercoasters, a haunted mansion, bumper cars and tons of attractions, Dusit Zoo, the Snake Farm or Leoland Water Park, a huge rooftop water park set on top of Central City Bangna shopping mall on the eastern outskirts of the city.
In the coastal resorts, family-friendly hotels cater well to children of all ages. Boat trips, island hopping, snorkelling and jungle treks will also appeal to older kids and teens. In Phuket, visit Phuket FantaSea – a theme park based around Thai culture.
Day trips in Thailand
The evocative Bridge on the River Kwai is a popular day trip from Bangkok, along with the stunning UNESCO-protected temples that lie in the ancient capital of Ayutthaya. Or book a tour to the Chatuchak weekend market consisting of 15,000 stalls spread over 35 acres of land. You can buy almost anything you need here.
Throughout the country, there are several animal-friendly elephant camps that can arrange treks.
Island-hopping offers endless possibilities. For instance, the Phi Phi islands are between a one and three hour journey from Phuket, Krabi and Ao Nang beach.
Eating out in Thailand
Thai cuisine is better and more varied than the restaurant fare traditionally found in the UK. The north is renowned for its spicy jungle curries, tempered by the refreshing fruits of the south. Fresh seafood on the islands is excellent. Expect limes, coconut juice, chillies, lemon grass, garlic, noodles, soups and rice dishes.
Nightlife in Thailand
Bangkok has a thumping nightlife scene ranging from sophisticated to seedy, depending on what you want. The Patpong area is legendary for its tasteless bars and clubs but is still a tourist magnet. The Khao San Road is a mecca for those on a budget, offering numerous cafes and laid-back bars.
If you want something more upmarket, head for the Vertigo Bar on the 60th floor of the Banyan Tree Hotel, Spasso bar at the Grand Hyatt Erawan Hotel and the Bamboo Bar, at the Oriental Hotel.
Pattaya has all the nightlife you’d expect from a beach resort. Go to Koh Phangan for its monthly Full Moon parties which draw around 20,000 revellers. Koh Samui hosts a similar event.
Shopping in Thailand
The country offers superb shopping, especially fake designer goods. There are weekend, floating and night markets in almost every town and resort. As well as the fake watches, bags and clothes, you can pick up DVDs, CDs, jewellery, arts and crafts.
One of the most popular buys is a tailor-made suit or dress – typically silk – usually available within 24 hours. Get recommendations for the best tailors from fellow holidaymakers. Gems are another good purchase, but buy from reputable places. Never give in when taxi drivers try to persuade you to visit a ‘special discount store’.