The Travel & Leisure Magazine Thailand Feature


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From its gorgeous beaches and craggy karst islands to golden palaces, jungles and great shopping, it is hardly suprising Thailand is such a popular holiday spot. Debbie Ward is a Thai dyed-in-the-wool fan...
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The Travel & Leisure Magazine Thailand Feature

  1. 1. Karst away in bling and buy paradise From its gorgeous beaches and craggy karst islands to golden palaces, jungles and great shopping, it is hardly surprising Thailand is such a popular holiday spot. Debbie Ward is a Thai dyed-in-the-wool fan… “T here’s the big- paddle tour of scenic rock climbing; there’s a headed ghost” mangroves at Thailand’s cultural side – if you join said my guide, southerly resort of the monks (and the flashing the beam Krabi. My small monkeys) at the nearby of her torch into kayaking party not Tiger Cave Temple; Main photo and inset:Tourism Authority of Thailand the upper reaches only took in the “big- and, of course, there’s of the cave. I could make out a striped headed ghost cave” but some of the world’s most snake-like creature with a bulge and an eye also tunnels hung with gorgeous beaches to lie at one end. I did what any tourist would do, stalactites and leafy corri- your towel upon. I took a photo. dors where brightly-coloured I Wat Pho Buddha Low-key Krabi may not be As I was wearing flip flops and my only crabs crawled up exposed tree Thailand’s most popular resort (it means of escape was a kayak it’s just as well roots. lags in that respect behind Phuket and this was no malevolent monster but a 2,000 Krabi could be considered a small-scale Koh Samui) but if your mental image of the year-old cave painting, given its nickname showcase of the tourist appeal of whole of country is craggy limestone karst islands and by Thai fishermen. Thailand. There’s adventure – with kayak- long-tail boats decorated with ribbons in a My brush with ancient spirits came on a ing, jungle hikes to hot springs and even turquoise sea, this is where the photos you’re 6 The Travel & Leisure Magazine July/August 2009
  2. 2. getting to KNOW THAILAND recalling were mostly likely taken. The icon- ic karst islands were made famous when one I Long-tail boats and karst island off Krabi was used as a location for the villain Scaramanga’s hideout in the 1974 Bond film The Man with the Golden Gun. Now popu- larly known as James Bond Island, Koh Tapu (translating as Nail island as it is virtually vertical) is in Phang Nga Bay and can be reached on a day trip from Krabi or Phuket. Island hopping Krabi’s main strip, Ao Nang, has something of a waterborne rush hour each morning as Debbie Ward long-tails start their noisy outboard motors to whisk day-tripping tourists into karst- studded Phang Nga Bay. My partner and I joined one of the island-hopping excursions By night we enjoyed browsing the restau- By day, when we weren’t on excursions for a lazy day of sunbathing and snorkelling rants at the quieter eastern end of Ao Nang, we made shorter hops, using the long-tails on and around five beaches of increasing checking out the catch of the day displayed as a ferry service to the attractive neighbour- loveliness. Some of the places we stopped on iced trays before tucking our legs under a ing beaches of Railay and, my personal at were nothing more than sandbars but bamboo table and tucking in to three or four favourite Thai beach, Phra Nang. Here, at enterprising Thais had turned their long- colourful stir-fry or curry dishes for under one end of the cliff-framed white sand strip, tails into floating cafes serving milkshakes, £10. Afterwards we’d head for a cocktail at a I found another surprise waiting in a cave – sandwiches and fruit. bar converted from an old VW campervan. rows of brightly-painted wooden phalluses. July/August 2009 The Travel & Leisure Magazine 7
  3. 3. While it may be a giggle for tourists, some locals believe this cave contains the spirit of a drowned princess – and I kept a respectful distance from the devotees offering prayers before the unusual shrine. Friendly people Thailand’s predominantly-Buddhist spiritu- ality is part of what makes it so famously friendly. Thais consider it a loss of face to resort to argument and you’ll rarely hear raised voices. The short-lived violence at the government protests of late last year was out Tourism Authority of Thailand of character in this usually-peaceful country. Buddhism also gives Thailand some of its most colourful sights, such as gold bell-shaped temple stupas and saffron-robed monks. My beach shrine was a far cry from the country’s more glitzy places of worship, the most I Relxation, Thai style revered of which lies within Bangkok’s key tourist attraction, the Grand Palace. On my visit I had my own lie down for a tance are the Bridge over the River Kwai, the You haven’t seen bling until you’ve wan- very affordable kneading at the massage so-called Death Railway built by WWII pris- dered this sprawling complex of gold leaf- school in Wat Pho’s grounds. oners of war, and Ayutthaya, the site of covered, jewel-encrusted buildings set Bangkok’s other must-sees, the pottery Thailand’s former royal capital. At the sec- beside the city’s Chao Phraya River. Despite studded temple of dawn – Wat Arun – and ond of these I was charmed to discover the the crowds it’s a peaceful place to be, with the small Royal Barges Museum are close odd crumbling stone Buddha statue respect- Thais making incense and lotus blossom by and reached on a river boat tour. Just fully clothed with saffron robes or patched offerings and kneeling before the precious beware of locals telling you the attraction with gold leaf among the restored temples statue that’s the focal point of the Temple of you seek is closed for lunch, flooded or oth- and atmospheric ruins. Most people arrive the Emerald Buddha. Next door to the erwise unavailable and helpfully suggesting at Ayutthaya by road but it’s possible to Grand Palace, Wat Pho is home to a giant, alternative sights. They’re invariably drum- make a romantic two-night, three-day jour- reclining Buddha with feet inlaid with moth- ming up business for a mate with a tuk-tuk! ney aboard a converted rice barge er of pearl. Out of Bangkok but within day-trip dis- ( G When visiting Bangkok’s Royal Palace wear enclosed Cultural tips shoes or sandals with straps around the heels to save queuing to hire appropriate footwear. G It is considered rude to point your feet at people in G Be prepared to cover your shoulders and remove shoes Thailand and especially at images of Buddha.Take care to inside temples. tuck your feet behind you when sitting on the floor, G The Thai royal family is highly-revered, so derogatory particularly in temples. comments about them and disrespectful treatment of G It’s also taboo to touch someone’s head, or to touch Baht notes bearing the king’s image will not be monks. appreciated. Tourism Authority of Thailand I The Royal Palace, Bangkok 8 The Travel & Leisure Magazine July/August 2009
  4. 4. Thai massage I Traditional Thai massage. Below left: Thai massage ingredients Thailand’s unique and effective form of massage combines stretches with reflexology-like stimulation of pressure points. Much attention is focused on the feet but the masseur will also pull your pyjama-clad limbs into slightly scary but ultimately muscle-easing positions, which is why this technique is sometimes called “passive yoga”. If you’re nervous, start with a foot massage or the more gentle Thai treatments involving warm herbal poultices.Whatever you choose, your relaxation will be aided by the low cost.While you’d commonly pay £1 a minute for a massage at home, £4 an hour is more typical in Thailand’s clean street or beachside centres (look out for the reflexology charts outside) and as little as £30 in a plush hotel spa with a range of international treatments. All photos:Tourism Authority of Thailand Cycling tour inside what looks like the belly of a bright from recycled animal feed sacks and eating On another visit to Bangkok, I made my white space ship. Glamorous skyscraper-top dinner under a chandelier hung with Barbie escape from the city on one of the capital’s bars such as Sirocco Sky Bar dolls. While not everyone will love the new cycling tours. Thankfully this didn’t ( at State Tower or quirkiness of this place there are several route me through Bangkok’s traffic-choked Vertigo Grill & Moon Bar boutique hotels in the capital where the style streets; instead, our small group was led by ( atop the Banyan is more traditional, meaning you no longer the guide along quiet paths through nearby Tree offer a different perspective with city have to go large for a bit of city chic. farming areas, creating our own refreshing views that stretch to the horizon. breeze as we went. During an enlightening Bangkok’s hotels also pack that wow fac- Bargain shopping day, we stopped to ask farmers the secrets of tor and nowadays size isn’t everything. I recommend hitting Bangkok last if you the famously-stinky durian fruit and called I’ve been lucky enough to stay in several can. Not only will you have shed in at a local infant school to watch an plush marble-lobbied giants on the your jetlag in a more relaxed English lesson in progress. Flinging our riverfront over the years but, on environment but you’ll mountain bikes into a boat for a short ride my last trip, I chose to down- have got to grips with up river, we ended up at Koh Kret, an island size to Reflections Rooms I Shop for haggling and the known for its pottery making and where we (, local crafts exchange rate watched freshly-moulded incense burners a bizarre and very afford- before you hit the being loaded into kilns. able establishment where a capital’s shopping While the big sights of Bangkok are about host of artists have been highlights. history, one of its other key attractions – its given free reign with the Most tourists nightlife – is bang up to date. Among the decor. I found myself beat a path to the most famous venues is Bed Supper Club crunching my way across my rather seedy streets (, where you can room on silver bubble wrap around Patpong for dance, or recline to eat and sip cocktails flooring, sitting on a sofa made the ever-popular night 10 The Travel & Leisure Magazine July/August 2009
  5. 5. to see Cambodia’s famous Angkor Wat tem- ples is another great combination. Here’s a regional round-up of Thailand’s key resorts: Andaman Sea Krabi and Phuket both front the spectacular island-studded Phang Nga Bay, a scenic playground of beautiful beaches, caves and cliffs for lazing, kayaking and snorkelling. Phuket, Thailand’s most popular resort, is by far the liveliest of the two. This is the place to come for big resort facilities, party action and international fast-food favourites. The large island, linked to the mainland by road bridge, has also gained some peace- ful and stylish retreats in recent years, par- ticularly on it’s east and north-west coasts. For divers, Phuket is the gateway to Thailand’s world-class sites of the Similan Islands, Surin Islands and Burma Banks. Quieter Khao Lak, on the mainland just above Phuket, is even closer. Classy resorts have sprung up on some of the islands in Phang Nga Bay, including Koh Lanta, Koh Racha and day-trip favourite the Phi Phi islands – famous as the filming site for The Beach. Gulf of Thailand While most of Thailand is best visited in the winter months, sheltered Koh Samui to the south of the Gulf of Thailand has an opposite season. It’s a honeymoon favourite so there’s plenty of romantic accommodation while I Elephant riding in northern Thailand family attractions like a training centre for coconut-picking monkeys are strung along the island’s loop road. Offshore, you can market. While I’ve had fun singing along to bites put paid to the mas- tour around Angthong National Marine Park Tom Jones impersonators at Radio City bar sage marathon I had or linger on neighbouring islands Koh Pha and snapping up a few bargains here in my planned on my last visit, I Ngan – famous for its full moon parties – time, for serious browsing I head to still got to make like a celebri- and Koh Tao, a top spot for beginner Chatuchak. This colossal weekend market ty by having a Bangkok tai- divers. (also known as JJs), beside the northern lor (most are concentrated Just around an hour’s drive from SkyTrain stop of Mo Chit, boasts over around Sukhumvit Road Bangkok, brash Pattaya is a party 15,000 stalls. and top hotels) run resort with big-name facilities. Its You’ll find bargain silk scarves, hand- me up silk skirts seedier side has been somewhat made candles, wood carvings and ornate and blouses to my cleaned up in recent years and it’s cutlery sets but half the fun is the spectacle. own designs. a well-established favourite with This is where Thais shop for anything from The classic families who stay at quieter furniture to pets to plastic fruit. I once even Thailand holiday Jontiem beach and enjoy nearby spotted a monk choosing a hamster! combines Bangkok attractions such as water parks, If you prefer the air-conditioned comfort with a beach and go-karting, an Elephant Village of a mall, you’re spoilt for choice with giant sometimes a third stop and Sriracha Tiger Zoo. shopping centres catering for trendy teens to in the green and cul- Golfers flock to Pattaya, too, the well-heeled clustered around Siam tural North. The as there are several quality Square and surrounding streets. country is also courses nearby. The great thing about buying anything in often linked with Hua Hin and Cha Am, Thailand is that it’s very affordable. This is its neighbours on also within driving distance one of the few places in the world I can enjoy tours of South East of Bangkok, are quiet neigh- my favourite indulgences, cocktails and spa Asia. A Thailand hol- bouring resorts favoured by treatments, on a daily basis. While mosquito iday with a side trip the Thai royal family, while July/August 2009 The Travel & Leisure Magazine 11
  6. 6. July/August 2009 The Travel & Leisure Magazine 13
  7. 7. Chic & boutique I The funky Dusit In recent years,Thailand’s decorative cultural D2 hotel at Pattaya traditions have been given a twist and the country has become something of a hotspot for chic contemporary design – not least in its accommodation, with attractive new boutique hotels making a particular splash. Just some of the stylish offerings include: G The funky Dusit D2 brand hotels at Chiang Mai, Pattaya and, soon, Koh Samui ( G Philippe Starck-designed The Yamu, opening on Phuket this year with a chocolate room and a recording studio ( G Back-to-nature and spa-focused Soneva Kiri by Six Senses, on the island of Koh Kood in the gulf of Thailand ( G Minimalist The Racha on Koh Racha, off Phuket ( G And the cheery, oriental chintz-themed Dusit D2 Shanghai Mansion, in Bangkok’s Chinatown ( the large, up-and-coming island of Koh Thailand facts Chang offers a mountainous interior and day-trip possibilities around its 50-plus When to go: neighbouring islands. Koh Samui is best from June to September and the rest of Tourism Authority of Thailand Thailand November to March. Thailand’s North Not everything worth seeing in Thailand Visa: comes with a sea view. The country’s lush UK passport holders do not need a visa for stays up to 30 days. and mountainous North is packed full of adventure and culture. Getting there: Thailand’s second city, Chiang Mai, is the Thai Airways (, EVA Air (, gateway to the North and is famed for its night British Airways ( and Qantas ( fly direct. market, handicraft villages and sanctuaries for You can also go direct to major resorts on charter flights. elephants that once worked in the logging industry. Farther north, Chiang Rai is a small- Tour operators: er hub and close to the Golden Triangle where UK operators featuring Thailand include: Kuoni (,Travel Thailand, Laos and Burma meet in scenic 2 (, Funway Holidays (, splendour around the Mekong River. Jasmine Travel (, Premier Holidays, You can trek to visit hill tribes in the ( and Silverbird ( North though the tourist path is pretty well- worn these days. Soft-adventure experiences Getting around: like mountain biking and white-water raft- Bangkok Airways ( and Thai Airways ing are also centred in the region as are some ( have extensive domestic flight networks. good golf courses. To head North in style, Beat the gridlocked daytime traffic in Bangkok by taking the SkyTrain, take the Eastern & Oriental Express underground, or river ferries. Iconic three-wheeled tuk-tuks are fun for ( from Bangkok short trips (haggle the price beforehand) but metered taxis (check the to Chiang Mai, or, if you’d rather chill-out meter is on) are safer and more affordable.Take the less-congested toll somewhere up-and coming, consider the laid TL expressways in Bangkok. Cycling tours are offered by Bike & Travel back retreat of Pai in Mae Hong Song ( and Spice Roads ( province. Ferry services and cheap long-tail boat taxis operate to the islands. A travel journalist for over a decade, Tourist information: Debbie Ward writes for numerous Tourism Authority of Thailand: call 0870 900 2007 or visit publications. She has a wardrobe full of Thai clothing from her many Thailand visits. 12 The Travel & Leisure Magazine July/August 2009