Friendly Planet Blog

Bangkok: A Sensory Celebration

Grand Palace, Bangkok

You’ll never forget the first time you experience Bangkok. It startles all the senses, instantly tuning you into the hum of life in the “land of smiles.”

See

Petite women clad in chut thai wait on restaurant tables. Their long, straight skirts and matching tops of stiff Thai silk in vibrant hues shimmer with thread that’s golden like the spires of the temples scattered throughout the city.

Inside the walls of the Grand Palace you’ll step into a dreamland of the greenest lawns and trees. Thousands of tiny pieces of colored glass beads and porcelain, meticulously arranged piece by piece, adorn massive columns and spires, dazzling the eyes as sunlight sparkles off each one.

A long narrow boat with a rainbow-covered canopy takes us up and down the canals of Bangkok, past the houses on stilts sitting just inches above the river that overflows every rainy season. People wash and bathe, waving and smiling as our boat coasts by and we get a glimpse into their lives. Brightly colored spirit houses (miniature temples with offerings) brighten up the dull wooden shacks with tin roofs showing how important it is to give the spirits—bringers of good fortune and health—a more desirable home.

Hear

When Thai people speak, you can hear the smile woven into the soft chatter. Even the guy in the nightclub who’s had a little too much Singha to drink, slurs, “Welcome to Thailand…everything here no problem. Smile, be happy!” The zooming of cars, motorbikes and tuk-tuks is a modern counterpoint to the traditional ways of life that still exist today.

Tuk tuk

Taste

The Royal Hotel is one of the oldest hotels in Bangkok and a significant building during the student revolution 30 years ago. The restaurant has a nice vibe and offers cultural favorites in the restaurant lounge, such as a nice bowl of tom ka gai (coconut milk soup).

If you like spicy food, you should know that spicy dishes served up in Thailand tend to be much more fiery than the ones we get back home. You can always ask for not spicy and the Thais will readily oblige.

In the street stalls you’ll have your pick of moo ping (grilled pork) and kai yang (grilled whole chicken) and delicious som tamthai  (papaya salad), an unripened papaya salad like coleslaw without the mayo but sweet and spicy.

Thais also like sweet things like koa nieow (mango and sticky rice) and kanom krok, a morning treat of coconut custard grilled in a special iron skillet with depressions like a small egg poacher.

Som tamthai

Smell

It’s not just a whiff; it’s the sweet hot air you experience in this city of golden temples and Buddhas. Unfamiliar scents from fruits and vegetables you’ve never seen before combine with the delicious aroma of spicy noodles sizzling in big woks on street corners, blending with incense burning in a traditional family shrine at a sidewalk shop. Olfactor-ily speaking, there’s nothing in our experience to even compare it to.

Touch

A great cure for jet lag is a visit to a traditional Thai massage school for an hour of stretching and kneading. Thai massage comes from India and China, an invigorating blend of yoga (with somebody else doing all the work) and strong pressure along the meridians (the chi energy points) of the body. For just under $12 you’ll walk away rejuvenated and ready for your next tuk-tuk ride.

Thai massage

Get out and shop early, as the first sale of the day is thought to bring more business for the shop owner and they’re more likely to take a lower offer to encourage the sales to keep flowing. We bargain for every souvenir but just keep smiling.

Women who want to do something you don’t usually do at home, get your hair braided with beads on Khao San Road where all the farang (foreigners) hang out—a global, cultural experience in itself.

Go!

Whatever you do in Bangkok, do it with open heart, mind and senses. In this city you’ll likely feel more alive than you’ve ever felt before.

 

The 6 best beaches in Thailand

The summer months send American travelers flocking to local beaches. But if you’re in the mood for a more exotic beach getaway, where the water is a gorgeous azure, the sand is soft and powdery, and the people are incredibly friendly, why not venture to a country famed for its more than 1,800 miles of magnificent coastline—Thailand?

Thailand’s tropical landscape and warm climate make it the perfect destination for a seaside escape, but with so many jaw-dropping beaches to visit, it’s hard to select just one. If you’re dreaming of an exotic Thai vacation, here’s my list of must-visit Thai beaches.

1. Patong Beach, Phuket

Venture south to Thailand’s largest island, Phuket, to visit the famed Patong Beach. Patong’s more than two miles of white-sand coastline make it a perfect location for long days spent sun bathing and lounging by the sea. The beach is popular with partygoers, since the nearby town of Soi Bangla is famed for vibrant nightclubs, restaurants, bars, and shops. Embrace the best of both worlds. Excitement and relaxation make for the perfect vacation!

PATONG BEACH: Experience the vibrant atmosphere and exciting nightlife

2. Kata Beach, Phuket

Phuket island isn’t all about clubbing and nightlife. You can escape the hustle and bustle of Patong Beach by venturing just a few miles south to relax among palm trees and soft sand beaches. Visitors can choose between two beaches—Kata Yai and Kata Noi—and spend the afternoon sipping cool drinks under the hot Thai sun.

Read more…

Finding the spiritual side of Thailand

Most visitors to Thailand are struck by the obvious spirituality of the place, a paradox in a way, because life, particularly in Bangkok, is as frenetic and modern as anywhere in the world. Over 93 percent of the population in Thailand practices Buddhism, according to the Pew Research Center, and this religion permeates almost every aspect of life there – from the culture to the architecture to the people.

So it’s no surprise that visiting Thailand was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for Liz Hutchins, a member of the Friendly Planet Travel Reservations Team and our resident SE Asia expert, and you’ll see why when you read her account of her trip to this fascinating destination.

“My trip to Vietnam last year helped me realize that I absolutely love traveling to Southeast Asia. Once I was advised I was being invited by the tourism board to see Thailand, I literally jumped at the opportunity. The spiritual side of Asia has always been a big part of its draw for me. I was brought up as a Christian, but I have always appreciated and respected all religions, Buddhism in particular. Getting to immerse myself in the Buddhist culture was very eye-opening, and as you can see, was right on time, for I was about to enter a new chapter of my life …

Our tour started in the busy city of Bangkok. Here we saw popular sites like the Grand Palace and the Reclining Buddha. Because of their enormous significance, each site had more tourists than the last, which made our experience feel very fast-paced and exciting. But my favorite temple that we visited was Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep.

Read more…

The top phrases you need to know before traveling to Thailand and Malaysia

If you’ve never visited this part of the word, it’s a juxtaposition of new and old, modern and traditional, exotic and familiar. The languages of Malaysia and Thailand, however, are usually difficult for travelers from the West to navigate.

Consider, for example, that there are virtually no similarities between English and Thai or Malay. But that doesn’t mean you can’t learn a few key words and phrases that will help you get around and earn you lots of smiles and big-time approval from the locals when you test your skills.

We’ve put together a chart of some of these common words and phrases. Click on them for an easy-to-print version and keep them in your wallet for easy access on your trip! Read more…