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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.”


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.


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


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


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.


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

Thai silver is a favorite treasure to bring home from Bangkok. If you want to follow Thai custom, particularly for men, look for a little Buddha amulet (you get to choose your own) and have it embedded inside a triangular case lined with red felt, and hung on a gold or silver chain.

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.


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.


Why Thailand should top your 2015 travel bucket list

Thailand is truly one of the world’s most fascinating countries. Its alluring beaches, tantalizing cuisine, ancient culture, modern cities, and welcoming people make it a must-visit destination, one that all world-travelers should add back onto their bucket lists for 2015.

While Thailand faced its fair share of hardships in 2014, with the nation undergoing a significant governmental transition, 2015 will undoubtedly be the year of Thailand’s reawakening. It’s just as beautiful, tranquil, and spiritual as ever, ready to welcome a new wave of guests to its friendly shores.

But don’t just take my word for it; see for yourself why you need to add Thailand to your international bucket list.

What are you waiting for? With 2015 on the horizon, now’s the time to plan the vacation of a lifetime — one that will not only teach you about the world, but introduce you to your true self.

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?

While the Thai military coup recently slowed tourism to the country, more travelers are returning to this hot travel destination as political turmoil settles.

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!

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.


Announcing the winner of our Exotic Malaysia & Thailand Sweepstakes

Can you believe it? It’s time to announce yet another winner of a free Friendly Planet tour! This one has to be one of my favorites: our Win Exotic Malaysia & Thailand Sweepstakes will award one lucky traveler a free trip for two on our Exotic Borneo & Bangkok tour.

Our winner will get to explore the fascinating culture, natural beauty, and unique history of these Southeast Asian destinations. Whether it’s walking the streets of Bangkok in Thailand, a bustling metropolis with to-die-for cuisine, or exploring Borneo in Malaysia, where a mosaic of indigenous tribes, intriguing history, ancient rainforests, and diverse wildlife await — trust me, this winner is lucky indeed.

Are you ready to find out who this winner is? Here it comes! The winner of our Exotic Malaysia & Thailand Sweepstakes is …

Sara Morgan from Oregon — Congratulations!

We called Sara to let her know about her prize, and she was so sweet. She loves traveling to explore different cultures and experience new things, but doesn’t get the opportunity to do so often. She’s never been to Asia, and works with some Asian species of bears in her role at a zoo, so she’s looking forward to getting to see them in person! She’ll be taking her husband on her exciting adventure to Southeast Asia!

Congratulations again, Sara. I know you’re just going to love your vacation.

Thanks to everyone who entered our sweepstakes. Although you couldn’t all win, we have some great news for you about our super Cyber Monday sale, which will make it possible for you to save BIG on every Friendly Planet tour, so stay tuned. More details coming soon.

Exploring the wonders of Thailand with a devoted and passionate local guide

I always look back on my trip to Thailand with fond memories. One of the biggest reasons why I had such a memorable experience is due, in large part, to our local tour guide Lek, who was warm, welcoming, and extremely knowledgeable about Thailand’s history, attractions, and culture.

Now, as we end our Exotic Malaysia & Thailand Sweepstakes, is a good opportunity for Lek to share with our readers what makes Thailand special from a native’s perspective, and what travelers can look forward to seeing when they visit. Read on for our Q-and-A with her.

Q: Lek, could you please share a bit of your background with us?

A: I was born, raised, and educated in Bangkok. After graduating from high school, I attended the Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus [for college]. I was a secretary major, and then joined the travel industry. I’ve worked for several agencies, but I’ve been with Exotissimo, Friendly Planet’s local supplier, for almost ten years!

Q: What made you decide that you wanted to get into the travel industry?

A: When I was young I had contact with foreigners because I attended Catholic school. The nuns who came from abroad taught me English, and I got to know them. My interactions with the nuns and priests sparked my interest in travel, and I envisioned joining the travel industry by possibly becoming a flight attendant.

Q: What’s your favorite thing about being a tour guide? (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.

It’s a very special place, and one lucky traveler will get to experience it for free through our Win Exotic Malaysia and Thailand Sweepstakes. Be sure to enter to win a free trip for two now if you haven’t.

Visiting Thailand was also a very special experience for Liz Hutchins, a member of the Friendly Planet Travel Reservations Team and our resident SE Asia expert. We shared her first-hand account of her trip to Vietnam earlier this year in a blog post, as well as some of her photography and her review of authentic Vietnamese cuisine. But her trip to Thailand was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for Liz, 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.


How you can win a FREE trip for two to Malaysia and Thailand!

If you didn’t come out on top of our Win Wild South Africa Sweepstakes, don’t fret. We had so much fun putting that sweepstakes together that we’ve got another surprise in store — we’re giving away ANOTHER free trip for two!

This one is a real treat — an 11-day adventure to Malaysia and Thailand on our Exotic Borneo & Bangkok tour. And since we’re conducting this sweepstakes in partnership with Tourism Malaysia and Tourism Authority of Thailand, you know you’ll see the best these countries have to offer. If you don’t need to hear more and want to enter now, simply visit our Facebook page, Like us, and enter your information in the Win Exotic Malaysia and Thailand tab for your chance to win this prize, worth up to $4,900! Since this is a brand-new contest, you’ll have to enter your information (whether or not you participated in our Win Wild South Africa Sweepstakes) to be eligible to win this prize.

Thailand is a beautiful country that’s flush with exotic wildlife, spectacular islands, and rich history. In fact, it’s one of the most visited destinations we offer. On the other hand, Malaysia is an up-and-coming hot spot that offers visitors a fusion of cultures, cuisine, beauty, and adventure that travelers need to see to believe. The lucky traveler that wins this tour won’t be disappointed with all there is to see and do in these countries.

Our grand prize package includes:

  • Round-trip airfare from Los Angeles or New York including fuel surcharges, taxes, and fees
  • All intra-Asia flights and ground transportation
  • Accommodations in deluxe and superior first-class hotels
  • Buffet breakfast daily and five lunches
  • Comprehensive sightseeing tours
  • Professional English-speaking tour guides

So read the full itinerary and then be sure to visit our Facebook page to put your name in the hat! Don’t forget to invite your friends to enter! You’ll earn an extra entry for every friend that enters through your invite, increasing your chances of winning.

The sweepstakes will close at 11:59 p.m. on November 15, and we’ll announce the winner soon after. To all of our travelers, good luck!


Why Thailand owns the title ‘incredible’

We recently announced new departure dates for Friendly Planet Travel’s Incredible Thailand tour, and they’re already selling out! However, I’m not surprised. Thailand is beloved by our travelers, including Dr. Ak Schmidt, a long-time Friendly Planet traveler who just returned from our Incredible Thailand tour.

She sent me an e-mail telling me why her tour was so wonderful, and gives some excellent advice if you’re traveling to Thailand. I copied the e-mail below (verbatim).

“the trip to thailand was indeed incredible! it sounds great on the friendly planet overview but it’s so much more! i don’t know where to start. hotels were great. everyone should stay at the dusit thani. we went back there for a weekend on our own.

our guide was awesome. she made extra stops for us along the road for things like sticky rice cooked in bamboo (loved that) and always asked if everyone had their passports, etc when we went to a different place. she took us on a boat to laos and everyone got their passports stamped and of course we got to shop a little.

as far as shopping goes, i’d say watch out. thailand has everything and you’re gonna want it all. bangkok is easy to get around in and has a super mall close to the dusit thani. one thing i would say too is that the golden buddha and the white temple should be emphasized more in the advertising because they are unique and more than amazing – truly incredible!!

i’ve been to egypt, borneo, morocco, cambodia, vietnam, kenya and now thailand with fp. going to south africa this summer. guess that tells you something. ps. will send pix if any are good, but jim yancey is gonna have the best pictures. you should pick some for your website. ps2, our guide, lek, was the best i’ve ever had and y’all have some good ones. and noni, her assistant had a cooler with ICE and COLD soft drinks and water. i can’t tell you how wonderful that was. a really great practice where it’s so hot.” — Dr. Schmidt, La Grange, Texas

Thanks Dr. Schmidt for the kind words! I look forward to hearing about your trip to South Africa with us. If you’re interested in experiencing Thailand, you can still book a departure date for the 14-day Incredible Thailand tour. But hurry, space is limited!

Gary Arndt’s lessons to take with you on the road

A few months ago, we caught up with Gary Arndt, author of Everything Everywhere, in a podcast. We talked to him about how he quit his job, sold his house, and started traveling the world. For the last three years he’s been documenting his travels on Everything Everywhere, which was voted one of Time Magazine’s 25 Best Blogs of 2010.

The reason I’m bringing up Gary is that I stumbled upon a guest post he wrote on the The Blog of Tim Ferriss, called “20 Things I’ve Learned From Traveling Around the World for Three Years.” Everything he’s learned I can say I, too, have learned in my 30 plus years of traveling.

Not only that, but a few of his lessons are the very same ones I am constantly preaching, such as everyone should travel. Traveling exposes you to different cultures, but it also teaches you that despite where we come from, we’re not all so different from one another.

Gary also brings up an important point about the political protests we covered in detail when they occurred earlier in the year in Bangkok, Thailand. He was in Bangkok at the time of the protests, and he witnessed firsthand, that unless you were in the area where these protests were occurring, you would never know they were happening.

Bangkok is a sprawling city, and these protests were occurring in isolated areas. It broke my heart when tourism to this magnificent country suffered because of reports that led travelers to believe it was unsafe to go there. Fortunately, tourism to Thailand has been rebounding beautifully and all has returned to normal.

Jump over to the article to read more about what he’s learned on the road. I think a lot of travelers will be able to relate with what Gary says. And in case you missed the podcast with Gary the first time around you can still listen to it or read the transcript.

Is there anything you’ve learned from traveling that Gary doesn’t mention? Leave a comment on this post letting us know what it is.

Talking Thailand on Around the World Travel Radio

Last week I got the chance to share my passion for one of my favorite places in the world, Thailand, with Arthur von Wiesenberger from Around the World Travel Radio. We talked about how well tourism is bouncing back after the political protests, what makes Thailand one of the most beautiful locales in the world, and Friendly Planet Travel’s three tours to the country.

Listen to our conversation on Around the World’s website. Thanks to Around the World Travel Radio for chatting with me!

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