Thailand is celebrated for its magnificent royal palaces, decorative temples, glorious beaches and modern cityscapes effortlessly perched alongside peaceful riverside communities. Rich in culture and tradition, the Kingdom reigns strong as one of the most popular holiday destinations to visit in Southeast Asia. Bound by the Andaman Sea and the Gulf of Thailand, with neighbouring countries Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia and Malaysia, it makes a good base from which to explore the region. Increasingly popular as a destination offering the balance of wellness, health, food and retail therapy, beyond the country’s long history and unique culture, modern cities and inviting attractions are the luxury hotels and resorts, as well as the spectacular health spas and wellness retreats. But what really makes Thailand special is its generous and welcoming people, whether encountered in a small mountain village or in vibrant Bangkok. It is known as the land of smiles for good reason.
It goes without saying that Thailand has something to offer everyone and that it continues to be a perfect option for an affordable holiday. Koh Samui and Phuket are two of the most popular islands, with Koh Chang, the second largest island after Phuket, renowned for its quiet and tropical beaches. Hua Hin is one of the country’s oldest beach resorts and where the King has his summer place, while Chiang Mai in the North is recognised for its ancient culture, striking mountainous landscapes, elephant sanctuaries and tribal villages. Don’t overlook the vibrant capital Bangkok for its impressive historical structures and grand palaces, floating markets and bustling food stalls where modern and ancient cultures merge bringing sensory delights and surprises to the uninitiated. That and the ever-instagrammable limestone mountains, tropical rainforests, white sandy beaches and secluded beaches.
Shopping in Thailand is a day-and-night activity that rivals the best found elsewhere in the world. Work your way through Bangkok with visits to the legendary MBK, the sophisticated Emporium, trendy Siam Discovery and Central World Plaza, or the impressively upscale Siam Paragon. Not to be missed is the market of all markets - Chatuchak Weekend Market; with floating markets and night markets found around the country. Chiang Mai deserves a special mention for its authentic craft atmosphere. A city of artisans and craftspeople, there are many beautiful boutiques and art galleries. From little markets to hidden temples, hip cafes and shops.
Getting around Thailand could not be easier with the incredible infrastructure and endless transportation options available to you, from Bangkok’s modern Skytrain to traditional tuk-tuks, trains and ferries. You can pretty much get anywhere within Thailand by domestic flight, with 28 regional airports serviced by scheduled domestic flights. Double check which of Bangkok’s two airports your flight is from when booking, as you don’t want to find yourself on the wrong side of the city. Bangkok’s MRT subway system supplements their Skytrain and services destinations less frequented by tourists in the capital. For travelling on the river, the Chao Phraya Express is the way to go. Thailand has one of the best meter-gauge rail systems in the world and train travel is one of the most affordable ways to get around. It's comfortable, safe and environmentally friendly, while offering a genuine Thai experience that makes the journey as much a part of your trip as the destination. Commuter ferries efficiently transport people between major coastal destinations, simply search for the ferry that services the port you are leaving. Grab is Thailand’s version of Uber and may be most convenient if you simply want to get from A to B. All you need do is download the app, and you can book a ride from your phone. For a faster – and more fun option, the Grab moto taxi is cheaper and will let you get a real sense of the place. Don’t forget to wear a helmet! Travelling in a tuk-tuk offers a quintessential Thai experience, as they zoom around the city and weave through the traffic. Songtheuws are shared bus trucks you’ll find in parts of Thailand such as Chiang Mai, and as soon as you hit the islands, Longtail Boats will become a standard means of transport, whether you are using them to transfer to your accommodation, or for a private tour.
From five-star luxury hotels to beach shacks, hostels and homestays, you will find the right fit. Anantara, AMARI and Four Seasons hotels hold a strong presence, with 137 Pillars House and X2 Chiang Mai Riverside Resort in Chiang Mai worth a mention. Andara Resort Villas and the Banyan Tree in Phuket speak of romance. The LiT Hotel Bangkok has earned a reputation for their personal service, and along the Chao Phraya River, the Ramada Plaza by Wyndham Bangkok Menam Riverside is a family friendly winner. For a retreat to a secret hideaway, the Oasis Baan Saen Doi in Chiang Mai, and to step back in history, try a night or two at The Memory at On On Hotel in Old Phuket Town. The ultimate green themed island stay goes to Zeavola Resort & Spa, a sustainable Phi Phi Island luxury resort.
There may not be direct flights from South Africa to Thailand (at the moment), but with an array of airlines servicing the route with just one stop over, that really isn’t a problem. You can find well-priced airline tickets to Bangkok from all major airports in South Africa. Look to booking with Emirates, Qatar Airlines, Singapore Airlines, Cathay Pacific or Ethiopian Airways, who all fly into Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport. Bear in mind when planning that Koh Samui, Chiang Mai and Phuket are serviced by international flight and you may not have to go via Bangkok to get home. If you’re only stopping in Bangkok on your way to the rest of South East Asia, Bangkok Airways offers affordable flights for those wanting to travel on to Vietnam, China, Hong Kong, Laos or destinations as far as India, Singapore and Myanmar.
Beyond the silky white beaches, blue waters and lively nightlife for which Thailand’s Phuket is known, is the historic Old Phuket Town, an area that features rows of colourful Sino-Portuguese buildings, ornate and beautifully preserved ‘shophouses', quaint cafés and restaurants, impromptu museums, Buddhist and Chinese temples is a must see. From Bangkok, take a day trip to Ayutthaya, the first capital of Thailand. Time here offers an incredible depiction of how life was, as well as insight into the much-loved royal family. The capital’s famous Grand Palace is the number one sightseeing attraction in the city for a reason, get there early to avoid the crowds. For an alternative way to do some shopping, visit the floating markets of Bangkok. All this exploring and travel can be tiring and hungry work, and you must book a traditional Thai massage and consider a Thai cooking class. Don’t resist the street food, some of the best you’ll find. In the spirit of keeping the balance have a Singa Beer or two, they are the cheapest thing on offer if you’d like a drink that is light and refreshing, and more importantly, local.