Thailand: it’s a country full of natural beauty, magnificent temples, elephants and absolutely glorious food. In my recent trip, thanks to Tourism Thailand, I had the absolute pleasure to have some of the most humbling and bespoke experiences this beautiful country has to offer and quite literally, ate my way through it.
If you are planning a trip to Thailand, Tourism Thailand is a hub of information with everything you need to build your adventure.
On their website, you can use the search bar to directly find specific experiences, restaurants, flights, and hotels, or you can search by the type of event, destination or region to be inspired. Each experience has a section on ‘Things to Know’, ‘Facts’ ‘Facilities’ ‘Payment’ and gives you the full location details. Their inspirational page on planning a trip has excursion ideas lasting from 1 day to 5 days across the whole country. With bags of information on passports and visas, tour agents and promotions, you could spend hours on this easy-to-navigate website, learning all about the bespoke experiences Thailand has to offer.
Whenever I spoke to anyone who’d been to Thailand about my upcoming trip, their reaction was very much the same, Chiang Mai is their favourite place on earth. Now I understand why. Located in mountainous northern Thailand, this slow-paced city has charm, charisma and culture. Known for its nature and art, it is the second biggest city in Thailand and is home to 1000 temples, Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep being one of them.
Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep
Named after the mountain it is built upon, this magnificent golden temple is jaw-droppingly beautiful with the best views in all of Chiang Mai. 15km from the city itself, you can take in the magnificent views whilst being encompassed in the splendour around you. There are intricate designs everywhere you look including Naga-decorated stairs, stone snakes and an abundance of Buddha statues. It’s here I learn that there are 7 different Buddha Postures for the different days of the week that represent various personality traits. I was born on a Tuesday and find my Buddha is the ‘Reclining Buddha’, which means I have a relaxed approach to life.
As I walk around the beautiful temple we come across a monk and his apprentice who are giving blessed bracelets. Suddenly I hear a noise of a gong being rung with full force! Apparently the louder you ring the bell, the more fortunate you will be, and you are announcing your presence. I of course have a go with my polite English etiquette but was encouraged to do it with more rigour, so I obliged! This beautiful temple is an absolute must-see when visiting Chiang Mai. I saw some people cycling (clearly fitter than I) and others walking following the Monk’s trail, but my recommendation would be to go by car, save the walking around for the beautiful sites at the top. Don’t forget a cover for your knees and shoulders when visiting this glorious temple.
Blackitch Artisan Kitchen
Do you want to be treated to the finest food in all of Chiang Mai? Then book yourselves the chef’s table experience at Blackitch right now. I would recommend booking 3 months in advance to avoid disappointment… and believe me when I say you would be severely disappointed if you miss out on this culinary genius’s food.
Headed by Chef Black, who caught his love of cooking from his Grandmother, who was a restaurateur, Blackitch is the future of Thai cuisine. Seating only 16 people per sitting, locally sourcing their ingredients and switching up their seasonal menu every 2-3 months, this 10-course, bite-sized menu has a burst of flavour in every mouthful and the presentation is on point. It’s no wonder they’re featured in the Michelin Guide in Thailand. This small but oh-so-sweet restaurant has originality and flavours that are incomparable.
Maiiam Contemporary Art Museum
If you want to explore Chiang Mai’s culture and art, I highly recommend a trip to Maiiam. With a stunning collection of political pieces, this contemporary art museum boasts a huge selection of striking and thought-provoking pieces. With multiple galleries showing various artists’ work, you will wander around feeling challenged and enlightened.
Makkha Health Spa
What’s a trip to Thailand without an authentic Thai massage? Makkha Health Spa is a serene sanctuary that should be on your travel tick list. The floor-to-ceiling glass panels, sleek black and white designs and rich turquoise blue infinity pool instantly release the tension from your body. Upon entering, you are given a clipboard that allows you to tailor your massage. You can highlight any focus areas or delicate areas to avoid. This is also your opportunity to choose the pressure from the masseuse and if you have any common sense, pick soft! This oil and balm-free experience was the most unique massage I have ever received. It felt like a combination of a yoga class, with a lot of pressing and even some punching (just the palms of my hands). The therapist was brilliant, I could feel her giving extra attention to areas that felt knotted without a word from me. After the experience, my body felt rejuvenated, relaxed and relieved… Thank my lucky stars I’m still a little flexible!Chiang Mai Night Bazaar
There are markets aplenty in Chiang Mai and I ventured to the Night Bazaar. With a mixture of stalls from Christmas baubles to crystals, there were a lot of trinkets and treats to be found here, not to mention some absolute bargains! Definitely worth a wander one beautiful night in Chiang Mai, with local pubs and live entertainment nearby too.
Mai Restaurant & Bar
Mai Restaurant & Bar, on the 21st floor of the Meliá in Chiang Mai, is a fusion of traditional Thai dishes with Mediterranean influences. Each dish has a spectacular flavour and finesse and the food is just as delectable as the views.
The Bush Camp Elephant Hills
Honestly, I will never stop talking about this elephantastic experience. Recently opened, The Bush Camp Chiang Mai offers a bespoke and magical experience to visit their camp, in the most luxurious glamping tents you will ever see. With the opportunity to meet and interact with the elephants in this free roaming-chain free camp, you can even feed them and help prepare their food.
You also have the chance to have cooking lessons, learn about the life of the Mahouts and their tribe the Karen, and enjoy a barbeque with the most picturesque views in all of Northern Thailand. This jammed-packed 24-hour at Elephant Hills is one of the most humbling, enriching and exceptional experiences you could imagine.
Ayutthaya, just an hour away from Bangkok, is the Ancient Capital city of Thailand and an archaeological marvel. With history, delicious food and tuk-tuks galore, Ayutthaya should absolutely be on your bucket list for Thailand.
Baan Pomphet, famous for its river prawns which are ginormous, is a striking restaurant with outdoor seating overlooking the Chao Phraya River. With their boutique eye-catching style and locally sourced food from the river and local farms, the food they produced is flavoursome and comforting. Many people travel all the way from Bangkok just to eat the river prawns. Being vegetarian, I couldn’t partake, but our host had waited 3 years to have this experience again.
Frog-headed Tuk Tuk
One of the most unique modes of transport I have ever taken. These local vehicles are a brilliant way to be whisked around the ancient capital! Named after their distinctive-looking ‘frog head’ shaped front, you can jump on board the back and they will transport you to all the top sightseeing destinations in Ayutthaya. Don’t forget to barter and confirm a price before you jump in.
Ayutthaya Historical Park
Part of this archaeological historical park is now a UNESCO world heritage site. The city was invaded and destroyed in 1767 by the Burmese Army, and although some of this wonderous park has fire damage beyond repair, it doesn’t take away from the colossal monasteries and imagining its previous majestic appearances. You could spend hours walking around this magnificent archaeological site as there is so much to explore. The most iconic is the Buddha statue that has been entwined with a Bodhi tree near Wat Mahathat. It is believed that over the years, this tree has grown naturally around the statue, to create this image of the perfect balance of art and nature and truly wondrous sight to behold. Also rather harrowing, but most of the Buddha statues have been decapitated and the heads were stolen. It’s quite ominous and reminds us of the greed in man, even in a sacred place.
Suriyan Chandra Boat Trip
Set upon the Noi River, Suriyan Chandra is a renovated rice mill that is now a picturesque restaurant with striking purple lanterns, cascading chandeliers and bright flowers. Such a pretty venue, especially at night. Before dining, you can take a relaxing trip up the Noi River on the Suriyan Chandra Boat Trip. We managed to catch it as the sun was setting, it was marvellous. The perfect opportunity to really unwind, take in the superb temples along the riverside and enjoy some scrummy snacks and we each had a glass of guava juice. Although the music was a bit too eclectic for my taste, switching from traditional Thai music to Celine Dion was a truly calming and tranquil experience.
Thailand’s capital lived up to every expectation I had. Thriving markets, a busy boat-filled river, excellent food, opulent temples and friendly kind-hearted people.
BKK Social Club
I’ll let you in on a little secret… BKK Social Club inside the Four Seasons is the place to be! This fabulous club transports you to Buenos Aires, with cocktails inspired by the places, peoples and parties in Argentina, these unique and bespoke cocktails have flair and originality.
Every detail inside BKK Social Club is opulent. The Latin-inspired music, the ambience, every custom-made glass, right down to the engraved ice cube in your glass. Let’s not forget how good the food is! With bitesize and shareable portions, you can order everything off the menu and let everyone in on the delicious delights BKK Social has to offer. Huge shout out for providing mouth-watering Beyond Meat veggie options as well. I really do admire chefs who make alternatives just as appetising. If you want a night full of glamour that you’ll never forget, get your table booked now. And get the Champagne Colada, believe me, you won’t regret it.
Wat Pho, also known as the Temple of the Reclining Buddha, is an outstanding Temple right in the centre of Bangkok. One of Bangkok’s oldest temples, it is easy to access via water taxi. It’s hard to believe this stunning work of magnificent architecture is just steps off what would appear to be an ordinary street.
At Wat Pho, we had the unique opportunity to be taken through a guided meditation with a monk. He taught us meditation breathing techniques, and how to meditate whilst sitting, standing and walking (but not sleeping, he said it’s his least favourite way to meditate as he often falls asleep!). We also learnt that if you walk heel first, it means you’re angry, if you walk ball first it means you’re apprehensive, so whilst meditating you should walk slowly, placing your whole foot on the floor at once. It’s an alien movement at first, but it really does make you slow down.
An absolute mind-blowing statue at Wat Pho is the reclining Buddha. Since finding out the Tuesday Buddha position aligns with my birthday, I have a strong affiliation with it so I was excited to see what the fuss was about. This reclining Buddha is beyond comparison to any we have seen, being an impressive 15 metres high and 46 metres long and fully gold in colour, it truly is magnificent. You also have the chance to pay a donation to the temple, pick up a bag of coins and drop them in the bowls to bring good fortune.
With its stunning water features and golden, orange and turquoise intricate designs it really is worth blocking out a morning to visit. You will need a cover for your shoulders and knees when visiting this sacred place.
Yu Ting Yuan
If you are looking for the best Cantonese food in Bangkok, then look no further than Michelin starred Yu Ting Yuan in the Four Seasons Bangkok at Chao Phraya River. This genius menu offers perfectly balanced bite after bite of delicious delights. Their traditional restaurant has a show kitchen, where you can see the experts at work and stunning views of the reflective pond. The plates are just as impressive as the courses as they complement the artwork throughout the Four Seasons. Fully booked up to 3 months in advance, make sure you get your table secured early.
One of the largest shopping centres in Asia, Icon Siam oozes luxury from the moment you set eyes on it. With deluxe brands like Gucci and Celine in this huge indoor market, this building could be explored all day long. From its impressive multimedia water features to its own outdoor park, this shopping centre is an absolute staple within Bangkok now. Not to mention the gorgeous views of the busy Chao Phraya River whilst sipping a cocktail or two.
Jump off the river taxi at Tha Tian, the same stop for Wat Pho, and just across the road, you stumble upon the most exquisite rooftop restaurant in Bangkok, Above Riva at Riva Arun. Their fusion menu is delicious, one of my favourite meals across the whole trip. If you want some advice, don’t fill up too much on their delectable homemade breadbasket. With light jazz music playing, you have views of the beautiful Wat Pho on one side and the mesmerising Wat Arun on the other.
In a nutshell
And just like that, my terrific Thailand trip was over. It was a humbling honour to explore this beautiful country, with experiences and meals I will never forget. I am so excited to return one day, to make more memories and have more adventures. Thailand, you have my heart, you have my soul and you have my belly.
Top Tips for travelling in Thailand
1. Bring a smile
Whenever we asked what was needed for a trip, our tour guide said to bring a smile. I think I had one naturally plastered across my face for the entire vacation because of the serenity I felt, the kind-natured people and the delicious food.
2. Bring your Appetite
I can honestly say I have never been so well-fed in my life. I was told in Thailand when you go to someone’s house, they don’t ask how you are, they ask if you have eaten! You will want to enjoy every morsel of the delicious delights you can. My clothes may have felt tight, but my heart felt even fuller.
3. Bring your repellent (and buy tiger balm)
Thankfully, I managed to avoid bites apart from one tiny one on my ankle on the last day, but some people were covered! Bring plenty of repellents, especially for around the elephants and at night. And just in case you do get bitten, tiger balm works a treat, and is very good value to buy in Thailand.
4. Be respectful
Everyone I met in Thailand was so respectful it was humbling, so make sure to follow suit. Take your shoes off when visiting sacred places. Bring a cover for your knees and your shoulders. Stand still when you hear the national anthem. Use the words ‘Ka’ and ‘Khap’ at the ends of your sentences to be polite. Also, always reciprocate a ‘Wai’, this is the bow where you place your hands together at your heart and nod your head.
5. Be present
What I found when visiting Thailand was that although I was only there for a week, I felt like I’d be out there for a month. The way of life in Thailand is so calming and serene. If you’re used to city life in the UK, I think we could take a leaf out of Thailand’s book and be more present, slow down and enjoy the little moments in life to the fullest.
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Imagery courtesy of Tourism Thailand unless stated otherwise.