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You take a glance at the calendar, and you realize that you haven’t had more that two days off in a row since Christmas. And while holidays are great, they also usually include shoveling the sidewalk for Mom and smiling dutifully at the patent leather lanyard your uncle gets you (“It’s hip and useful!”). The truth is, you need a vacation. So, when you finally get to pick the lock on the cubicle chains for a well-deserved break, it’s just a matter of choosing where you’re going to go.
Of course, there are a number of usual suspects where you can get away. Florida, Mexico, any one of the swath of Caribbean isles-you can find a beach and a barstool easily within your comfort zone. And sure… it would be great, in its own way. But wouldn’t it be great to duck out of the ordinary? Go somewhere different: where the people, landscape and even the alphabet look different. Get out of the hemisphere this time. Go ahead, just point at a spot on the map. Thailand? Alright, Thailand it is.
Why travel or visit Thailand?
Thailand is Southeast Asia’s most visited country–and with its alluring blend of culture, history and natural beauty, it’s not hard to see why. You can ride an elephant through the forest and drink village-made whisky in a hill-tribe hut. See buddhas of every size and stripe, hike through quiet rice paddies, or lounge on white-sand beaches. Bow your head to a saffron-robed Buddhist monk as you ride in one of the ubiquitous tuk-tuks, the onomatopoeic name of a modern-day moped-chariot, which is the lifeblood of the Bangkok streets. Thailand’s an intriguing mix of bustling energy and stark simplicity: a place where the beach bums and culturati can get the best of both worlds..
Best of all, Thailand is cheap. Sure, the chances are it may cost you some cash to get there–but once you’re there, a modest budget buys an extravagant vacation. Stay at a beachside bungalow for anywhere from $5 to $15 a night. Buy a 20 oz. beer for $1, and a hearty Pad Thai lunch from a street vendor for 50 cents. Get a half hour Thai massage for $3. It’s possible to get by on $20 a day, and if you double that you can live like a king (relatively speaking). Add to that the fact that this may be unlike any trip you’ve ever been on, and the decision becomes easy.
When to go to Thailand: Best times to visit
November through March are the best times to visit. Weather during the rainy season isn’t ideal, but if this is the only time you can visit, it shouldn’t keep you away.
Where to go when visiting Thailand: Top recommendations!
There are any number of spots to check out, but there are three general areas that are popular.
Bangkok – The energy is high, the pace frenzied and the aesthetic is a stunning amalgam of the modern and traditional. Make your way to the Grand Palace, a bejeweled 18th century example of royal excess. Get your Buddha on-check out the Emerald Buddha– or the Temple of the Reclining Buddha, so named for the 140-foot recumbent golden statue within. Walk through a market overflowing with thick pungent smells and the din of commerce on your way to the Chao Phraya River where you can take a long boat to see some of the rest of the sights. Hear the locals chant in unison at a Muay Thai (otherwise known as Thai boxing) match, or make your way to the Patpong District to see some-ahem-exotic displays on the very fringe of the performing arts (let’s just say that ‘Pong’ is an operative syllable). Consider staying around Sukhumvit Road or Siam Square or, if you must, the famed backpacker hive of Khao San Road. Keep in mind that the latter is overcrowded and about as Thai as apple pie.
Chiang Mai – Several hundred kilometers north and a world away from Bangkok, Chiang Mai is a slightly more peaceful town with a rich history. It serves as the ideal starting point for a trek into the hills, where you can immerse yourself in fantastically green rice paddies and the singular culture of the Thai hill tribes. Completely autonomous, these tribes often speak their own language, have their own religion (some are Christian in this overwhelmingly Buddhist country) and live simply in the tropical forest. Many guesthouses and tour companies in Chiang Mai offer overnight treks, including standout Banana Guest House. The tour is well-run, the guides are knowledgeable and friendly, and you get to hang out and have a hearth-cooked dinner with the tribe. Plus, you can stop at an elephant farm on the way to go for a leisurely stroll through the forest on a pachyderm.
Southern Beaches – Thailand’s island beaches are recognized as some of the best in the world, and there are a bevy to choose from. Phuket is regularly listed as a top beach destination. Ko Tao is well known for its diving. Ko Samui, Ko Kood, and Ko Lanta are all popular destinations as well.
For an experience unlike any other, time your trip to the isle of Ko Phangan. It’s here, every month, that 10,000 to 20,000 brazenly fun-loving people descend for the incomparable Full Moon Party. Essentially a giant rave on the beach, this event for your inner hedonist overflows with what can aptly be described as lunacy. Just make sure you keep an eye on your drink, and don’t take pills from strangers.
If you go to Thailand, a few things to remember:
It’s good to be the king. Thais are deeply devoted to their sovereigns, as you can see from the gilded pictures of them posted in the streets. Never say or do anything that would be considered disrespectful to the king or queen.
Get in touch with your inner haggler. Prices, especially for tuk-tuk rides and souvenirs, are often negotiable. Ask the staff at your guesthouse or hotel to get a general idea of what a tuk-tuk would cost, and use that as a baseline. Remember not to get too caught up in the game though-you could be spending five minutes arguing over the equivalent of 25 cents.
Honor thou melon, and keep your feet to yourself. Thais consider the head a sacred part of the body, and the feet as base and vulgar. So, don’t touch a Thai person on the head, and try to keep your feet on the ground and out of people’s faces.
Try to learn a little Thai. It can go a long way towards ingratiating you to the locals. At the very least, put your hands together in front of you, bow politely, and try a friendly “Sawatdee!” (Hello!)
This article was originally published November 1, 2007 on DebonairMag.com and was reproduced with permission.
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