I should really start a new business planning honeymoons to Thailand. I’ve helped 5 couples plan trips in 2013 alone. I feel like Thailand is a great place to visit (not only for honeymooners) because it’s such a welcoming country and because it can fit most budgets. Besides the beautiful beaches, amazing architecture and outstanding food, you can really immerse yourself into the Thai culture as much, or as little, as you want to.
The following ides can make anyone’s honeymoon special, but they’re also great ideas for any type of vacation you might be planning.
Today I’m focusing on what to do, tomorrow I will focus on where to stay.
Bangkok Top Three Must Sees:
1. Grand Palace & Wat Pho – both are in the Phra Nakhon district and directly next to each other. The Grand Palace was built in 1782 and is home to the Emerald Buddha. Both attractions can seriously heat up (maybe it’s all the gold) so try to go early if you can. Both are open daily until 3:30 pm and close for special observance and holidays. Check with your hotel to ensure they are open (and don’t trust anyone near the gates if they tell you it’s closed. They probably want to scam you. The area is a huge spot for tourist scams, so don’t get ripped off by people offering cheap tours, cheap tuk-tuk rides, etc..) You have to dress modestly – or rent clothing there, for a refundable deposit – long pants/skirt, no tank tops and flip-flops can be hit or miss. Sometimes you can get in with them, sometimes not. Sandals are okay.
2. Wat Arun, or Wat Chaeng, is on the bank of the Chao Phraya River. It is believed that after fighting his way out of Ayutthaya, which was besieged by a Burmese army at the time, King Taksin arrived at this temple just as dawn was breaking. He then named it Wat Chaeng – Temple of Dawn. It’s quite beautiful and also a great place to see the river. You can take a river tour, but I think they’re most a rip-off. You’ll stop at floating tourist traps and stop to feed the feed. If you really want a ride down the river, take the public boat from the Grand Palace to the Temple of the Dawn.
3. Jim Thompson House – I’ve written about it several times. This is one of the more tranquil, quite attractions in the city. If you don’t know about Jim Thompson, check out this post. Plan to visit around lunchtime and make reservations to eat at the restaurant, you won’t be disappointed. Jim Thompson revived the Thai silk trade, then a dying art, changed the the industry forever. After he mysteriously disappeared into the jungles of Malaysia, he left a legacy which is reflected through his collection of Thai art and antiques. The house itself is an amazing complex of six Thai-style teakwood houses which will leave you wanting to redecorate.
If you have more than one day in Bangkok, here are a few other ideas:
1. If you’re in the city on a weekend, you’ll have an opportunity to check out JJ market also called Chatuchak, but in Thai, Jatujak or JJ. This is one of the more famous markets in the world and worth a trip. There are over 5,000 stalls and more than 200,000 people per day visit the market. Going in the morning is your best best as it’s much cooler and fewer tourists will have descended upon it yet. You’ll find everything you can imagine at JJ including an underground for trafficking illegal and endangered species in the north west corner of the market.
3. Pak Klong Talad is the flower market on the border of Chinatown. The flower market is really an experience and the flowers – orchids, birds of paradise, lilies and more are amazing and amazingly cheap. After a walk through the flower market, head over to Yaowarat Road for some Chili Fried Crab. You won’t be sorry!
4. Sri Mariamman, on Silom Road, is the oldest Hindu Temple in Bangkok. It’s incredibly ornate and worth the trip. The Temple is devoted to the goddess Uma and has become a mecca for transsexuals. You’ve never seen anything quite like this Temple, I guarantee it. It’s amazing.
5. If you find yourself looking for something to do at night, you’ll have your pick of activities. Bangkok is known for its nightlife and there are some hidden gems as well.
- Night Market – The Patpong night market offers more than a market. It’s surrounded by the red-light district and tons of touristy bars and more authentic restaurants. It’s an amazing contrast in 2-3 blocks. One of my all time favorite restaurants is located in this area – Mango Tree is an authentic and very reasonable restaurant just around the corner from the night market. Be prepared to negotiate. The prices are about 2-3 times more than you should pay. Vendors are pushy, but don’t be intimidated and just walk away if you’re not happy with the deal – there’s about 20 other stalls with the exact same goods waiting for you.
- Soi Cowboy – this neon laden area was named after the African-American man who opened the first bar – a cowboy bar – on the street. A red-light district sprung up around the clubs and bars and became known as a party district. Be careful, prices are set for tourists and you can easily shell out Manhattan prices for cheap drinks.
- Roof Top Bars – there are dozens of these in Bangkok now. These bars range from the famous Sky Bar featured in Hangover II to flashy, trendy places to be seen. The drinks at these rooftop locations won’t be cheap, so keep that in mind.
- If you prefer something a little more low key, you could catch a movie. Yes, that’s right, go see a movie in Thailand. The theatre at Siam Paragon mall is out of this world. There’s 1 theatre sponsored by Bangkok airways which has around 32 seats and they’re lie-flat seats like you’ll find in first class on many airplanes. The experience is surreal and you’ll be treated like a star at a private screening. It’s a cool way to spend an evening in Bangkok.
If you’ve got 5-7 days in Thailand I’d suggest doing 1 – 2 days in Bangkok incorporating the items above. Then, you’ll have to decide if you want to spend the remaining time in the North – Chiang Mai or Chiang Rai or in the south on one of the many beautiful beaches & islands.
If you go to Chiang Mai/ Chiang Rai
1. Similar to the attraction in Singapore, Chiang Mai Night Safari features three animal zones – Savanna Safari, Predator Prowl, Jaguar Trail – which you can tour via an open-sided tram. You can see all kinds of animals up close.
2. Built sometime between 1385 and 1402, Wat Chedi Luang in Chiang Mai City complex is iconic. The pagoda structure can be seen from most places in the region. The structure was damaged in an earthquake around 1500 and is 1/2 of its original size. None the less, the architectural design and magnitude of the structure is worth seeing.
3. Go to an elephant camp – there are a lot of elephant camps in the area. Some are less animal friendly and more touristy. I’d suggest avoiding those if you can by getting recommendations from wildlife groups or friends. I would recommend Baan Chang Elephant Park as they are focused on education.
4. Cooking school is the thing to do in Thailand and Chiang Mai is a great place to do it. There are tons of options – ask your hotel for a recommendation (mainly because I can’t remember the name of the one I went to!)
5. The Night Bazaar – every city has its night markets, but this one is a little different becuase it seems to offer many more local crafts – as opposed to knock off hand bags (don’t get me wrong, you can get those there too, but you’ll find a lot of local things too.) Look for hand-woven fabrics made locally and used for shirts, hats, handbags and scarves.
If you decided to go south, to the islands, you can choose from a few areas. The two most popular are Phuket and Koh Samui are also the most touristy, in my opinion.
Koh Samui is a small island that is very heavily visited by the Aussies and can feel, at times, like you’re in Australia rather than Thailand. It is beautiful though and is a great starting point for day-trips to the national parks around the area. Many people go to the islands just to relax and spend time on the beach. The busiest beach in Koh Samui is Chaweng. If you want peace and quite, you may want to find a smaller, less known beach.
If you go to Koh Samui, here are some things you can’t miss:
1. Ang Thong National Marine Park – Koh Mae is a beautiful beach worth visiting and Thale Nai is known as the green lagoon. The water is almost an emerald green color and taking a boat tour is a great way to spend the day. You can snorkel, kayak and participate in other water activities as well. If you want to scuba dive, you’ll have to leave Koh Samui proper – the water is very murky – and head to one of the national parks or other islands with clear water. Ang Thong is a great place for divers.
2. Another great island hoping option is Koh Pha Ngan. You can take a leisurely sail out to the islands and just soak up the sun, or take a more exhilarating speed boat tour and enjoy snorkeling along the way. Just like Ang Thong, Koh Pha Ngan provides great diving.
3. Koh Samui is a great place for adventure lovers. Taking an eco-tour is a great way to see the inner island which is full of jungle and rain forest. Some of the tour stops you’ll want to make sure you catch are the Magic Buddha Garden – a very odd, yet mystical set of Buddah statues built into a stream by a local farmer. Visit an old fishing village to see what life is really like for many Thai’s. The one I went to on my tour was Tong Krut. You’ll see beach shacks, long boats and a very slow pace of life.
Phuket has become very touristy and I’d suggest you branch out to some of the smaller beaches just outside of Phuket proper or head north about 40-60 minutes to an area called Khao Lak. It’s less populated and less of a tourist attraction. You’ll also be able to find plenty of day trips. The most well known, and busiest beach is Patong Beach. Think Myrtle Beach meets Thailand. Unless you’re looking to relive your spring break days, you might want to stay away from Patong.
Some of the more local and quieter beaches you might want to consider are Karon, while it’s not Paton, Karon has plenty of hotels, bars and restaurants, so you’re not isolated. Surin beach is a local’s favorite. It’s a little more quite and laid back than many other beaches. If you really can’t stay away from Phuket, one of my favorite beaches is Mai Khao. It’s a private stretch of beach in a pretty under-developed area. The JW Marriott is the largest hotel with beach access, the hotel is also an amazing spot itself with several really great restaurants.
No trip to Phuket, or the surrounding area, would be complete without a day trip to Phi Phi Island – the place where the movie, The Beach, was filmed It’s a beautiful spot, but has become somewhat touristy. There are other islands nearby that are much more quite and somewhat deserted.
To the north, you’ll find Khao Lak. Khao Lak was devistated during the Tsunami and has slowly been rebuilt. The first time I visited Phuket, I stayed close to Phuket on one of the beaches. It was beautiful and calm. When I went back this year, it had turned into a tourist trap with water parks and all. Khao Lak, on the other hand, is what Phuket was 5 years ago. A quite, serine stretch of land where you can really get away.
No matter what you choose to do, or where you choose to visit, you’ll have a great time in Thailand. Come back tomorrow and I’ll review places you should stay (hotels, bungalows and more.) Later in the week I’ll review great places to eat in Thailand.