by Patricia Kaowthumrong

Beautiful-Krabi-Thailand

 

Glittering temples, gorgeous beaches and a food-focused culture are just a few reasons to add a trip to Thailand to your bucket list. Every time I travel to the “Land of Smiles,” my Colorado-born soul falls in love all over again with the country my parents emigrated from more than 35 years ago.
And while the cost of a plane ticket to Thailand may seem steep (prices can range between $800 and $2,000), everything is pretty affordable once you arrive; $1 is equal to about 30 Thai baht. There are so many things to do in Thailand, but here are a few highlights to get your started on your journey.

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1  Treat your taste buds to some of the worlds most delicious food.

One of Thailand’s greatest assets is undoubtedly its colorful cuisine; from street vendors specializing in everything from grilled meats on a stick and fried bananas to well-known chain restaurants and food halls, the country teems with opportunities to satisfy your palate.

Thais are known for snacking throughout the day, so street food is available day and night just about everywhere. Some must-eat street food dishes include noodle soup (guay teow), green papaya salad (som tam) and pad Thai; meals are prepared fresh and usually cost less than 50 baht (less than $2). Since there are so many options, ask for recommendations at your hotel, resort or hostel. In Bangkok, I recommend the Yaowarat neighborhood (Chinatown), where crafty vendors in super-narrow streets and alleyways sell everything from fresh-cut fruit and Chinese desserts to dim sum and duck with noodles.

Malls and shopping centers also offer excellent dining options, and many have food halls that serve up authentic Thai eats. Plus, the names of dishes are often listed in English!

4 Admire dazzling temples.

Because Theravada Buddhism is the country’s primary religion, Thailand has more than 40,000 temples (wats), and there are more than 400 in Bangkok alone. Each sacred temple possesses its own distinct architectural features, but most have a bell-shaped stupa, a space for shrines and Buddha images, a living area for resident monks and impressive roofs with multiple tiers.

If you’re in Bangkok, the Temple of the Emerald Buddha (Wat Phra Kaew) adjacent to the impressive Grand Palace (also worth a visit) is a must-see. Thailand’s most respected Buddha image, the Emerald Buddha (actually carved from a solid block of jade) was first discovered in 1464 in Chiang Rai, Thailand. Be sure to dress appropriately; at Wat Phra Kaew and other temples, visitors must cover their knees and shoulders. Nearby, Wat Pho houses a breathtaking 147-food long Reclining Buddha.

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7 Get pampered.

Traditional Thai massage, which often combines yoga, meditation, reflexology and acupressure, is available all over the country at varying prices. You’ll see massage parlors all over the cities, as well as masseurs and masseuses who operate in markets and on beaches.

Book a massage session at a hotel or resort spa for the ultimate pampering experience. It might be more costly (likely more than 2,000 baht versus less than 500 baht), but the facilities are usually cleaner, more luxurious and still less expensive than U.S. prices.

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2 Shop til you drop.

From gargantuan malls overflowing with brand names to bustling markets, shopping in Thailand is truly an experience — and often a bargain. Many cities, especially ones frequented by tourists, have night bazaars, where you can shop late into the evening for everything from knock-off name-brand goods to handicrafts.

My favorite shopping destinations include Bangkok’s Sampeng Market, a never-ending web of vendors selling trinkets, accessories, clothing, craft supplies, toys and more (haggle and buy in bulk for the best prices), and Central, one of the country’s largest department store chains.

3 Immerse yourself in an ancient culture.

Before the country became a unified modern state, Thailand was a series of smaller kingdoms. View the magnificent ruins of the ancient kingdoms, which date back to 12th century A.D., at various historic sites throughout the country. Sukhothai Historic Park, Thailand’s first capital (established in the late 1230s), is located in northern Thailand, while Ayutthaya Historic Park is located about 53 miles from Bangkok. The remains Ayutthaya’s large monasteries and reliquary towers evoke images of the city’s past prosperity.

5 Discover the secrets of the Venice of the East.

In Thailand’s floating markets, waterways bustle with boat loaded with fresh fruits, vegetables, meats, seafood, and ingredients to prepared signature Thai dishes right on board. While modern merchants often cater more to tourists than locals, there’s something oh-so-Thai about the floating market. Located about an hour outside of Bangkok, Damnoen Saduak is the most popular one. Plan to visit in the early morning to avoid the heat, and book a tour for the best photo opportunities.

6 Lounge on gorgeous beaches.

Thailand is blessed with a wealth of gorgeous beaches, many of which are a cheap flight from Bangkok. In photogenic Koh Samui, a small island in the country’s western gulf, you’ll discover tranquil coconut groves, celebrity-worthy resorts and crystal-clear waters. Or plan a getaway to Phuket (the “h” is silent), where white-sand beaches, welcoming folks and a lively nightlife scene will make you want to become permanent island dweller.

8 Ride an elephant.

While many nature parks and farms offer this iconic activity, some outfitters give visitors the chance to feed, ride, bathe and connect with Thai elephants. Head to the city of Chiang Mai in northern Thailand to mingle with the creatures at Blue Tao Elephant Farm in the area’s lush rainforest; or better yet, hook up with Blue Elephant Thailand Tours and learn how to ride bareback on your own.