While Thailand has a been a hit traveling destination for backpackers, vacationers and travellers alike for some time, most people spend their time partying and sunbathing on the southern islands. While this is an important part of the experience, most of my fondest memories were made exploring other, more diverse, things that Thailand has to offer.
This list is a mix of the classic Thai experience and the other aspects that keep me dreaming of my time spent in this wonderful country.
As hectic as Bangkok is, this should be your introduction to Thailand. The hustle never stops in Bangkok, and it opens your eyes to the Thai lifestyle. Not only are more mopeds then cars, but when factoring in public busses, taxis,tuk-tuks, toruists and locals, you have yourself a circus.From finding a cab at the airport to relying on your driver to hustle his way through heavy traffic to fighting off tuk-tuk drivers and stall owners, Bangkok is always alive. Complimented by the immense concentration of buddhist temples, shopping malls and street food stalls, Bangkok will prepare you for the constant (beautiful) battle that is Thailand. (Click here for a more in-depth description of the places we visited in BKK)
- Koh Phi Phi
I will do my best to describe this truly indescribable piece of heaven. It may have just been the people that I met in Phi Phi, or the abundance of buckets I consumed, but I am sure that your Thailand experience will not be complete without staying on Phi Phi. The island, free from cars or motor traffic, is home to small streets lined with pubs, restaurants and tattoo parlors, the perfect combination for bad (good?) decisions. The streets lead to the main beach, clad with more bars, Thai dancers tossing fire sticks in the air and dingy hostels hosting pool parties and drinking competitions. There is a ‘booze cruise’ that takes you around Koh Phi Phi (to places such as Maya Bay and Monkey Island) while providing unlimited alcohol: this is a must do. If you aren’t into the loud nightlife scene, then Phi Phi is definitely not for you, but if you are, be careful because you might never leave.
- Songkran: Thai New Year
This was one of, if not the, most memorable experiences on my 6 month trip. Songkran is a 4-day festival celebrating the Thai New Year, and is marked by parades of colourful outfits and water fights across the country. Everybody, and I mean everybody, locals, children and adults, backpackers and foreigners included, spend their days by inflatable pools filled with ice cold water and pick up trucks loaded with family and friends to toss buckets, spray water guns and use hoses to soak anyone who walks by as a way to purify each others sins moving into the new year. This divine water fight is refreshing (literally, it was about 35 degrees C everyday) and heart-warming as the entire community comes together to embrace a cardinal Thai tradition.
- Diving on Koh Tao
It isn’t uncommon to find yourself diving in thaialnd. Not only is it the cheapest place to get PADI certified in the world, but also the sheer volume of incredible dive sites alone is enough to draw divers from around the world to move there permanently. Not to mention that the people working at these dive shops love their job and know exactly what they’re doing, making it an unforgettable experience. If you don’t have time to get PADI certified, having a go at a “try dive” or two before leaving Thailand is a must.
If you’re looking for a small, hippie community, a place to meet travellers who have settled down and have traveled around Asia, or even just relax for a bit before your next big move, Pai is the place to go. Although most travellers don’t make it to Northern Thailand, let alone Pai, it’s an amazing place to just RELAX. As most backpackers find out within the first few weeks, traveling isn’t as much of a holiday as people think and sometimes it’s necessary to just have a few days of doing nothing. And I mean NOTHING. Sitting in a hammock, lounging by a pool, and taking a break from all the temples and waterfalls (which are all lovely) that can get a bit overwhelming at times. Check out Pai Circus School Hostel if you’re interested in learning some circus tricks, having a ‘family’ dinner and a quaint pool to watch an unbeleivable sunset from.
- Full Moon Party
Once a month, every full moon, 20,000+ people gather on Haadrin Beach on Koh Phagnan to get VERY drunk. Matching outfits necessary. Get there a few days early and expect to leave at-least two days after it ends (recovery day very necessary). Check out Shenanigans or Dancing elephant. You get the rest.
- Chiang Mai
Apart from hosting the biggest Songkran festival in Thailand, Chiang Mai is also home to an incredible night market, a refreshing canyon, as well as a handful of ‘elephant sanctuaries.’ These elephant sanctuaries claim to rescue elephants from the places that allow tourists to ride (and often kill) elephants throughout the country and bring them to these open spaces to live in ‘the wild’ and ride-free. We spent the day at Elephant Jungle Sanctuary, and while it was definitely an experience (and no riding occurred) it still felt a bit off to me? All of the friends I’ve met travelling went to one of these sanctuaries and all had different experiences. Nonetheless, seeing, feeding and bathing these beautiful animals up close and personal is something that will be hard to top.
The “Grand Canyon,” a cute resevoir filled with tourists and floating bamboo rafts, is the perfect getaway from the city for a day.
- Chiang Rai
There are only two things I regret about my trip to Thailand. First, missing out on stopping in Chiang Rai on my way to Laos. This is why:
I know that I mentioned that there are temples EVERYWHERE, but Wat Rong Khun is not like the others. With an amazing backstory and masterpiece to follow, missing out on this hidden gem is something I will regret forever.
- Slow Boat to Laos
This is the second thing I regret. Running low on time, my friends and I took a 6am bus, followed by an overnight bus (a short trip by South East Asia standards), to Laos, as opposed to the 3 day slow-boat adventure that most travellers take. A few friends could not say enough great things about their experience, trailing behind us by only a few days, and ultimately experiencing the more rural, untouched side of Northern Thailand and Laos.
- Drink ALOT of Chang Beer: Don’t listen to the nay-sayers, Chang is FANTASTIC. No explanation needed.