They call Thailand the “Land of Smiles,” and it’s no wonder why. When Southeast Asia started to develop into one of the trendy travel destinations of the world, Thailand welcomed the tourists with open arms. Millions every year flock to the country’s white sandy beaches, buzzing street markets, and regal Buddhist temples. Despite the hordes of tourists, Thailand remains a seemingly untouched land like no other. Whether it’s food, history, adventure, or spirituality you’re seeking, Thailand will teach you lessons on how to live the good life.
Have You Tried Thai Food?
Thai food is much like Thai culture: there's a bit of everything. On the street markets of Thailand cities, you can experience the sour, sweet, salty, meaty, spicy, bitter, or tangy, sometimes all at once. Of course, the constant here is sticky white rice. The question “Have you eaten rice yet?” is how the Thais say “How’s it going?” You're not doing well if you’re not eating well here. Luckily, the options are so varied and plentiful that you’ll always be having a good time.
What we’d call “fast food” in America is so cheap and high quality in Thailand that eating out is often more affordable than cooking at home. Chiang Mai
city in Northern Thailand is the mecca for khao soi
, a coconut curry soup with egg noodles. The Northeastern section of Isan
is where you’ll find the best som tam
, or spicy green papaya salad, and the
extremely spicy salad laab
. The misty valleys of Central Thailand
is where to go for the spiciest dish, gang keow wan
, or green curry.
Fun is Cheap
Night markets are a quintessential Thailand experience, not only for the exotic street food and colorful knick knacks, but for the vibe. Pak Khlong Talat
Market is a colorful 24-hr market in Bangkok, with all kinds of flowers, vegetables, and fruits on display. The Night Bazaar
in Chiang Mai is where you’ll have to work out your bargaining muscles, as vendors will definitely inflate their prices for their collection of clothing and trinkets in the presence of tourists.
Chatuchak Market, Bangkok
in Bangkok is one of the biggest weekend markets in the world, taking up over a kilometer of space. If you can stand the crowds and humidity, you’ll find wood carvings, Buddhist amulets, handmade flower arrangements, silk, handbags, paintings from local artists, and even fluffy dogs across its 15,000 booths. Paddle among the boats of Damnoen Saduak Floating Market
to see why Thailand earned its reputation as the “Venice of the East” from historical journeymen.
Leave Your Problems Behind
If you’re in Chiang Mai during the fall months, you can’t miss the Loy Krathong
festival, a lunar holiday that usually falls in the month of November. Loy Krathong
is a three day festival with traditions about gratitude, forgiveness, and good fortune. Thousands every year decorate banana-leaf baskets, or krathong
, with flowers and candles and release them onto the city’s waterways to pay respect to the Goddess of Water. The festival is most famous for the tradition of releasing paper lanterns, which are actually like small hot air balloons, into the night sky - a symbol for letting your troubles float away.
Paper lanterns being released into the night sky, Loy Krathong Festival
When it’s especially hot and humid, the Songkran Water Festival
is basically a nationwide water fight that ushers in the Thai New Year in April. There’s no better way to deal with the heat and humidity than dancing in the street in a weeklong festival of water guns and ice buckets in city streets.
Elephant in Chiang Mai province
Be an Elephant
Elephants play an important role in Thai culture. They’re considered sacred animals in Thai Buddhism, and generally represent strength, honor, and loyalty. To experience the majesty of these animals up close, visit the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary
in Chiang Mai province, essentially a retirement home for elephants who have suffered in the logging and tourism industries. Here you can engage in ethical tourism by feeding and playing with these gentle giants, as well as giving them a mud spa or bath in the river. Elephant Hills
in Khao Sok National Park
is another ethically run elephant sanctuary, combining luxury tent camping with an African safari-style jungle experience.
Find Your Inner Peace
Elephants are featured in all kinds of artwork, literature, and national emblems. Thai temples are often ordained with gold and elephant imagery to symbolize prosperity, and Thai propsperity is often more spiritual than literal. You can find elephant paintings in the temple Wat Phra That Doi Suthep
, known for its dragon-shaped staircase that leads you up to a golden stupa with a view of Chiang Mai city.
Wat Arun temple overlooking Chao Phraya River, Bangkok
The Sanctuary of Truth
in Pattaya is a gorgeously carved wood temple that aims to honor Eastern philosophies of human responsibility, and life’s relationship with the universe. Wat Arun
, or the Temple of Dawn, is a Khmer style tower covered in seashells and porcelain that is most magnificent lit up against the night sky. Thailand is home to over 300,000 luxurious Buddhist temples of all shapes and sizes, meeting places that are a reminder that the greatest wealth in this life often lies beyond the material world.
An auto rickshaw (tuk tuk) in Bangkok
See the Country
Travel is encouraged and accessible here. Thailand is the destination of choice for those sightseeing on a budget. In the happening city of Bangkok, the clean, efficient BTS Skytrain
can get you around quickly. At the street level, hitch a ride on a tuk tuk
. A tuk tuk
is a cheap sort of 3-wheeled auto rickshaw that’ll get you across town in a jiffy; a sort of hybrid between a moped and a tour bus. Hostels are plentiful and cheap places for backpackers to meet. Echo Beach Backpackers Hostel
is a gorgeous place to stay on the island of Koh Phangan. The welcoming
is within walking distance from Bangkok’s biggest attractions, including Khao San Road.
There’s a popular saying in Thai culture: “m’pen rai,” which can translate to “no worries”, “never mind”, or “it’s OK”. It’s more than a platitude; it’s a way of life, a reminder that we should live in the now. For a rush of adrenaline, Chiang Mai’s Flight of the Gibbon
is an outdoor adventure that kicked off the worldwide zipline craze. With over six kilometers of zipline among ancient rainforests trees, this thrill ride also offers a chance to catch some rare animals, including the elusive Gibbon, in the wild.
Maya Bay, Koh Phi Phi
Koh Phi Phi
, also known as James Bond Island, is a stunning island beach with no roads and crystal blue waters. Here you can go snorkeling through its crystal blue waters and strikingly beautiful corals and prismatic schools of fish. In southern Thailand is Ao Phan Nga National Park
, a marine park home to dozens of island rock formations jutting out of the calm sea. There are countless caves, lagoons, and mangroves here, all naturally protected from the dangers of monsoon season in a bay of quiet.