Thailand beyond Bangkok
If you are planning a vacation to the ‘Land of Smiles’, explore it beyond the beaches and nightlife. You’ll be amazed at how diverse the country is
Thailand is a land of varied shades. A country that has been culturally vibrant and has over 4,000 years of history is bound to offer more than its pristine beaches and happening nightlife to visitors. Tourists, especially from India, often restrict their Thailand visit to Bangkok and Pattaya. These are definitely must-visit cities, however, Siam land has got umpteen experiences for every kind of traveller.
Here are five recommendations for a varied Thailand experience to indulge:
GET CLOSER TO NATURE
India and Thailand share a lot of cultural similarities and influences. However, I was surprised to learn that we share a few geographical aspects too. The southern regions of both India and Thailand are surrounded by sea while the northern part is blessed with the Himalayas. Surprised?
Well, the Doi Inthanon mountains that are in close proximity to the beautiful city of Chiang Mai, is supposedly the tapering end of the mighty Himalayas, according to local guides in Thailand. The cool climes of this region have attracted a lot of expats to come and settle in Chiang Mai — fondly called the ‘Rose of the North’, which still remains an unexplored pristine region of Thailand. Chiang Mai offers wonderful adventure sports, wildlife sightings, temple visits and natural trails apart from great shopping options. And, not-to-forget, it is a vegan’s paradise in the large meat and sea-food loving Thailand.
When in Chiang Mai, make sure to visit Bo Sang — the Umbrella village, that is famous for its handmade vibrant umbrellas that make for wonderful souvenirs. Get close and observe the making of these as well as the making of Thai silk.
ACROSS THE BORDERS
Far away from the madding crowd, Chiang Rai — a relatively laidback region of Thailand is the entry point to the infamous golden triangle of Myanmar-Thailand-Laos. Dotted with wildlife, mountains, water cascades and colourful hill tribes, Chiang Rai is slowly attracting visitors. One can even hop onto a boat and be ferried to the neighbouring country of Laos, shop at one of the village markets and have a glimpse of the colourful wine bottles that have critters seeped in them and are up for grabs for a price.
The whacky yet mesmerising White Temple (Wat Rong Khun) is a popular tourist attraction and so is the black house or Baan Dam Museum.
A UNIQUE MUSEUM
Rayong offers sparsely crowded beaches and memorable island hopping for travellers. Ko Samet is an ideal island with pristine beaches and coral reefs. When in Rayong, do taste the indigenous food at the colourful shacks and food joints run by expats and enjoy some foot-tapping live music as well.
A museum in Rayong houses over 25,000 collectibles. Kung, an antiquarian with his collection of items of everyday usage and small-town bygones at the Kru Kung Museum in Kram Klaeng District of Rayong, Thailand, is making an impact on the thought process of tourists and travellers. The place perfectly serves as an exhaustive source to impart knowledge on Thailand’s culture and history of the later part of the 20th century to the younger generation.
Do not miss tasting the many local fruits that this region has to offer across its fruit orchards at Suan Lamai. The Durian, known as the ‘king of fruits’, looks similar to the gigantic variety of jackfruit found in South India, yet, it differs in its taste and strong smell.
GEM OF A PLACE
In ancient times, together with the neighbouring province of Trat and the region around Pailin, across the border in Cambodia, Chanthaburi used to be an important source of gemstones, especially rubies and sapphires. Taking advantage of its prime location next to the Chanthaburi River, the community gradually grew from a small market into a major commercial hub where one could buy everything including gemstones and jewellery. It indeed is one of the oldest and vibrant gemstone exchange markets of the world, as buyers, sellers and brokers converge from all over, every Friday, even to this day.
With European homes, quirky cafes, vibrant street art and smiling people, the Chantaboon waterfront community in Chanthaburi can lure any visitor who loves old world charm. The statue of Mother Mary, which stands within the Cathedral of Immaculate Conception of Virgin Mary, is adorned with hundreds of rubies and 300,000 sapphires having origins in Chanthaburi and Kanchanaburi province as well as Sri Lanka. Its close proximity to Cambodia makes it an ideal pitstop for travellers. It is a perfect place to go on heritage trails, taste local Thai delicacies and interact with locals at leisure.
Located in the valley of the Chao Phraya River and filled with crumbling, yet photogenic ruins, Thailand’s ancient capital of Ayutthaya has long been frequented. The Khmers occupied this province and established a stronghold here, naming it Ayodhya after one of the holiest ancient Hindu cities of India. Just an hour away from the capital city of Bangkok, this UNESCO-listed heritage site, founded in 1350, was the second Siamese capital after Sukhothai. Ayutthaya sits at the confluence of three rivers — Chao Phraya (which flows to Bangkok and onto the sea), Lopburi and Pa Sak.
Away from the bedazzled urban scape of Bangkok, the ruins of Ayutthaya have been silent citadels to the political and historical turmoils of the ‘Land of Smiles’. Ayutthaya offers an intriguing and fascinating slice of Siamese history even in its ruins. The main attraction is the Buddha head in tree roots at Wat Mahathat. Wat Chai Wattaranam in Ayutthaya is believed to be a representation of Angkor Wat that in turn is highly influenced by Hinduism!
So, the next time you plan a vacation to Thailand, be open to experiencing new shades that the country has to offer.
(The New Delhi-based writer is a travel and lifestyle blogger at polkajunction.com)