Insiders Guide to Thailand

Since I absolutely love Thailand, and have spent a significant amount of time there over the past 5 years, I thought I’d share some of favorite places and things to do/see.

 

Where to stay

Bangkok –

    Ultimate in Luxury

  • St Regis Bangkok – the St Regis is a magnificent hotel and ranks among my favorite hotels in the world.
  • Grand Hyatt Erawan Bangkok – I’ve only spent one night at the Hyatt, but I loved that 1 night! Even though I tend to stick with Starwood hotels in Thailand, I always return to the spa at the Grand Hyatt Erawan, it’s one of the best in Bangkok.
  • Mandarin Oriental – the Mandarin is the personification of grandeur and luxury within the hotel world. Even if you don’t stay at the MO, make sure you stop by for tea or for a snack at the Mandarin Oriental Shop – they have amazing chocolates.

Affordable Luxury

  • Le Meridien Bangkok – The Le Meridien in Bangkok is a modern and contemporary hotel that caters to the trendy traveler. The design reminds me of boutique hotels like Kimpton or Starwood’s own W hotels.
  • Renaissance Bangkok – a great location makes the Renaissance an even more attractive property. The hotel is in walking distance from great hotels and endless shopping. The Renaissance frequently has special rates with AAA and directly on their website making it affordable.

Mid to Upper Scale

  • Sheraton Royal Orchid – The Sheraton Royal Orchid Hotel is probably one of the best values in Bangkok and they treat SPG guests like royalty! The hotel is located on the Chao Phraya River and is just far enough away from the craziness of Bangkok.
  • Conrad Residences – The Conrad Residences are serviced apartments that are connected to the Conrad Hotel Bangkok. You pay for what you get, but the advantages are the kitchenette and its location.
  • Four Points by Sheraton Bangkok – while I haven’t personally stayed at the Four Points, a trusted advisor has highly recommended it to me – and so far, this advisor hasn’t steered me wrong (he happens to be a hotel insider). The Four Points is a new hotel in a great location.

Koh Samui –

    Ultimate in Luxury

  • I haven’t found that yet!

Luxury

  • Le Meridien Koh Samui – The Le Meridien Koh Samui offers a more traditional Thai experience with outstanding service. You have to love the outdoors if you’re going to stay at here though because all of the bathrooms are open air (some are more open than others). Don’t worry, you have complete privacy and mosquito nets are available upon request.

 

Phuket and the surrounding area

    Ultimate in Luxury

  • JW Marriott Phuket – The JW Marriott is a secluded property that provides privacy and the ultimate in relaxation. The expansive property has a private beach, a variety of restaurants, spa, and just about everything else you could ask for. A short golf cart ride will bring you to a small shopping center with a couple of bars/restaurants.
  • The Naka Island – While I haven’t been to this resort, it’s said to be one of the most unique and luxurious hotels in the area. Visitors must take a private boat to get to the island and the views are reportedly spectacular. The bathrooms are completely open air outdoors – so be prepared to share your space with little creatures. If you’re a naturalist you should check out this hotel.

Affordable Luxury

  • Westin Siray Bay – Some people will undoubtedly disagree with me on this rating of “luxury” because the Westin Siray Bay definitely caters to a particular customer. If you’re looking for the perfect beach, this isn’t the hotel for you. If you have problems with steps – lots of them – this isn’t the hotel for you (unless you want to wait for a golf cart all the time.) If you’re looking for a large property with a laid back attitude and amazing pools, this is a great property.
  • Le Meridien Khao Lak – This hotel is about 1 hour north of Phuket by car but is one of the best kept secrets in the area. The hotel offers great rates and frequently can be found offering sales through TravelZoo and other discount sites. The hotel is nice and the villas are awesome. The Le Meridien has a beautiful beach with plenty of chairs and beach front dining. The pool is also one of my favorites among Thailand pools.

What to eat

In Bangkok

The lists of restaurants is endless, but these are a few of my favorites

Expensive

  • L’ Appart at the Sofitel Sukhumvit – L’Appart is a modern French restaurant serving exceptional cuisine from the 47th floor of the Sofitel Sukhumvit. In addition to stunning views of the city, the restaurant is warm and welcoming. A meal will set you back about $50-60 per person without alcohol, but it’s worth the treat.
  • Grossi Trattoria at the Intercontinental – Grossi is an amazing Italian restaurant in the heart of Bangkok. You’ll find stellar service and great food. Plan to spend around $50 per person without alcohol.
  • Nahm at the Metropolitan – Nahm was ranked as one of the top 50 restaurants in the world in 2012. I’m not quite sure I would agree with that ranking, but Nahm offers one of the most up-scale Thai experiences you’ll have in Bangkok.

Moderate

  • Baan Glom Gig – this small restaurant is tucked away on a small street behind the American Embassy. You wouldn’t find it if you didn’t know it was there. They offer good service and an extensive menu. The food is reasonably priced and very traditional. Dinner will run you $12-15 without alcohol.
  • Nai Mong Hoi Thod – this restaurant was recommended by local chefs as one of the places they eat. Nai Mong Hoi Thod sells nothing but Oysters. Dinner will run you $10 – 15 dollars without alcohol.
  • Krua Apsorn – a favorite of NY Times food critics and locals alike, Krua Apsorn is most known for their crab curry and that dish has been called one of the top 50 dishes in the world by T&L magazine. Plan to spend around $10 – 12 dollars for dinner.

In Phuket

There are a ton of places to eat in Phuket and depending on where you hotel is, you might not even venture out to find local places. One restaurant I highly recommend is Raya in Phuket Town. Raya is one of the most authentic, traditional Thai meals I’ve had. The restaurant has long tables that are filled with many families, locals and a few tourists. Almost nothing is in English (there’s lots of pictures) and don’t go with special requests or complicated orders, communicating can be challenge if you don’t speak Thai.

 

What to buy

Custom Clothing – Thailand is known for their high-quality custom tailored clothing made for unbelievably low prices. The tailor I recommend in Bangkok is Raja’s Fashions. They’re located at 160/1 Sukhumvit Road between Soi 6 and 8.

Silk – Thailand has a long history with Silk and it’s an important part of the history, culture and economy in Thailand. The most well known provider of superior quality silk is Jim Thompson. I recommend taking a tour of his house to learn more about Thailand’s Silk trade and while you’re there check out his restaurant and store. There are also stores located throughout the country. I buy something there every time I’m in Thailand.

Scarves – you can buy the most amazing silk and pashmina scarves in Thailand and prices range from around $6 – 100+ depending on the brand, quality, etc.. Any of the markets will have very reasonable prices.

Thai arts & crafts – you can find many different types of local crafts from wood carvings to chop sticks to jewelry. Prices are very affordable and you’re helping a local! Check out specialty stores and markets.

 

What to see/do

Bangkok

    See

  • Temple of Dawn (Wat Arun ) – this beautiful 19th century Khmer style structure is knows for is spires. They’re very recognizable.
  • The Grand Palace – the Grand Palace is an awe-inspiring complex built in 1782. It served as the home to Thai kings for 150 years and today is open to visitors. It’s truly spectacular and something you can’t miss.
  • Wat Pho – known as the home of the reclining Buddha, Wat Pho is a large complex filled with gardens, sculptures and the college of Traditional Medicine – the home of Thai massage.
  • The Jim Thompson House – dedicated to the art of the silk trade, Jim Thompson is responsible for revitalizing a dying industry in Thailand. The complex is made up of 6 teak style buildings preserved as they were when Jim Thompson lived there. If you like a mystery, make sure you read up on the disappearance of Thompson – it still has people asking questions.

Do

  • Chao Phraya River Tour – take a long boat tour of the river and its canals. It’s a unique experience and will show you parts of Bangkok you wouldn’t see otherwise. Some tours stop at the floating flower market which is a nice stop if it’s open.
  • Chatuchak Weekend Market – the market is a landmark in Thailand and only open on weekends. It’s not my favorite place in the world, but it’s worth a visit if you’ve never been – at least you can say you went to the JJ Market, as locals call it. Why JJ Market? While its pronounced Chatuchak, it’s written Jatujak when translated from Thai. Hence, JJ. There are 8,000+ stalls selling everything from trinkets, foods and even animals! It’s a crazy experience.

 

Tips

  • Always insist on a metered taxi – you’ll be taken for a ride otherwise!
  • Pre-negotiate your fare if you take a Tuk-Tuk.
  • Get address in Thai whenever possible, many drives don’t speak much English.
  • Tipping has become expected in large chain hotels, but it’s not expected elsewhere. It’s appropriate to round up to the nearest baht for taxis and add an extra baht or two for excellent service at restaurants.
  • Traffic is awful, try to travel in non-peak times if you can.
  • Thailand is very safe, but be aware of pick-pockets and people looking to sell you cheap tours – they’re usually a rip off.

Do you have any insider tips? Feel free to share them!

21 Comments on "Insiders Guide to Thailand"

  1. Makes me want to go there next! 🙂

  2. Great analysis. Thoughts on sky bars?

  3. Is the Chatuchak Weekend Market the same as the Floating Market? A visit to Chinatown is also a good one. Would add the Shangri-la as an option of hotel in Bangkok. In Phuket, the Bannyan Tree, The Shore, Andara and Ayara properties are considered top in terms of luxury. Also if you are in Phuket a day trip to Phi Phi Island is a must. In terms of restaurants in Bangkok, Baan Khanitha and Lemongrass are my favorite places to eat.

  4. what about Chiang Mai?

  5. Great Analysis. As a Thai, I would like to add that another great vegetarian Thai restaurant is “Khun Churn” at the medical building off the BTS station by Sukhumvit 42. It’s all vegeratian and mostly vegan but the food is healthy, delicious and out of this world.

    You should also visit the Lumpini Thai boxing stadium if you like martial art. Suan Sam Orab (Rose Garden) about an hour from Bangkok is a great place for Thai cultural shows (sword fighting, Thai dance, elephant shows and etc.

    For clothe shopping, I recommend Pratunam, high quality and low prices. Locals and some foreigners go there for great wholesale prices

  6. I second Raya restaurant in Phuket. Highly recommend the the crab meat yellow curry with rice noodle on the side. I had that dish back in June 2010 and still thinking about it now, haha. It was spicy but it was absolutely delicious. It was so good; I’m flying back there next month. 🙂

    I also recommend Kru Suwit Seafood. It’s located on the east side of the island. It’s floating restaurant in the middle of the channel between Phuket Island and Coconut Island. They provide long tail boat to get you there and back. Nothing fancy but the food was definitely good and the setting was little bit different. Try using the restroom before you get to the restaurant.

  7. @OooO thanks for the great suggestions! I’ll try Kru Suwit Seafood out in December!
    @MileHunter – I agree, Pratunam is great, but I think it can be a little to much for tourists on a short trip. Do you agree? I will try Khun Churn in December if I can.
    @Mike – Chiang Mai? I’ve only been once, so I don’t feel like I can offer much “insider” info. Deals We Like did a great trip review on Chang Mai.

    @Santastico – no, the Chatuchak Weekend Market is not the same as the Floating Market. Thanks for the other great ideas.
    @John – Thoughts on sky bars…they’re too high up!

    @LufthansaFlyer – come visit! I’ll be there for 2 1/2 months starting Dec 1.

  8. @Stacey – Pratunam could be a little much for tourists on a short trip. But it is also a cultural experience on how locals shop and bargain. It could be fun too. If you prefer something less adventurous, there is a Pratunam Platinum mall that is air conditioned and a lot of shops have fixed prices.

    I think you will love the food at Khun Churn, they started off from Chiang Mai and use pesticide free organic ingredients as well. Some people used to fly to Chiang Mai from Bangkok just to try to the food. It is that great. But now it`s easy when their Bangkok locations.

  9. – Oh and if you in Bangkok on the weekend and have some time, definitely visit Chatu Chak open market, it`s the largest flea market in the world with everything Thai and foreign you can think of. You could also get cheap Thai cultural souvenirs from there as well, along with cheap clothes and etc.

  10. That was really helpful, I saved it on Evernote for future reference, thanks!

  11. @TravelBloggerBuzz – thanks! That’s a great compliment George. Hopefully I’ll make it into your blog….for good reasons 🙂

  12. Grand Hyatt Erawan yes! My first night in Bangkok is always there (often my last night as well because they let me check out late for my flight).

    Was surprised by the inclusion of the Royal Orchid Sheraton. I suppose they have to treat their SPG guests like royalty to keep them coming back as the property is pretty dated.

    Also, neither of us are particularly impressed with Nahm, why the mention? You name dropper you! 😉

  13. @Aaron – I won’t have to name drop if you meet up with us finally! Ha 🙂 I agree with you though.

  14. Great post! I will be in Bangkok Jan 8 for one night solo before friends arrive and our tour starts. Are there any moderate places to eat that are more welcoming or easy for a solo traveler in BKK for the first time? And if you are around the evening of 1/8 I’d love to get a drink!

  15. @Rebecca, thanks! I am pretty sure I’ll be in BKK that day. Small chance might fly to HKG for a few days, but I’ll know for sure next week.

    Everything is fine for solo travelers. I wouldn’t wonder down a dark ally, but as long as you stay on main streets or ones with lots of traffic you’ll be fine.
    Stacey

  16. Thanks! Let me know about the 8th! And yes, I avoid dark alleys in Boston too:)

  17. Hi Stacey,
    This is a great list! Thanks very much for putting this together. I am flying into Bangkok at 8:40pm and have a flight departing at 5:55am the next morning. Both are international flights so I am wondering which SPG property you would recommend staying at to be close to the airport. I am considering Aloft Bangkok – Sukhumvit 11 and Four Points By Sheraton Bangkok, Sukhumvit 15. Is there one you would recommend? Thanks!!

  18. @Sarah C – unfortunately, no SPG hotels are really “close” to the airport. The only nice thing, in my opinion, that is close the airport is the Novotel at the airport

    It will take you about 30-45 minutes to get from BKK to the hotel at 8:40pm or at 3am (when you’d have to leave!) I have gotten to know one of the Directors of Marketing for Starwood in Asia and suggests 4pts. They’re both pretty close to each other, so you don’t gain anything in terms of time. 4pts is newer. Aloft is for sale – so who knows how long it will remain w/Starwood.

    Good luck! Let me know what you end up going with.

  19. Stacey,
    Great advice! Thanks very much! I was hoping to get a SPG stay in but it may not be worth it to sacrifice my sleep for a SPG stay especially since I will be flying BKK-NRT-LAX-YVR before I stay over in Vancouver. Since my trip is not until March, I think I will hang tight esp. if Aloft may not be SPG by then. Novotel had rates a bit higher than I was looking to pay but since it is at the airport and I have such limited time, I am leaning towards Novotel. 4Pts is my second choice but I will wait until trip gets closer. Thank you for your help!

  20. @Sarah C – there’s a 50% off sale w/Accor now through Nov 22. //www.accorhotels.com/gb/promotion/specials/crazyprices_november.shtml You have to join Accor’s program to get the deal, but that’s free and you might even be able to get free Platinum (try this link //leclub.accorhotels.com/whitelabels/ing/ingndl.html it’s in dutch, but if you use Chrome or another browser that translates, it’s very easy…not sure if the link is still active or not, worth trying though.)

  21. Awesome! Thanks, Stacey! I am Accor Platinum via this link a few weeks ago! I didn’t see the sale but I will check it out. Thank you!!

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