Visiting Bangkok for the first time is like an assault on the senses; bright neon lights blink from buildings, cars and scooters frantically honk their horns in the never-ending traffic and the scent of freshly cooked food regularly wafts into your face. And after just minutes on Thai soil, I was hooked! Forget what you’ve seen in films, read in books and been told by people; Thailand should be explored on your own terms. Go and make your own mind up. Immerse yourself in the unique culture, discover the fascinating tourist spots and learn the ancient Thai traditions.
Sample authentic local Thai cuisine
There are several ways to plunge right into Thailand’s culture and the best way, I think, is by sampling their often-imitated world renowned cuisine. The food is as good in the five star hotel restaurants as it is from most of the food carts on the streets. Thai food expertly combines sweet, sour, bitter and salty all into one dish using age-old traditions from across Southeast Asia to create light dishes with very strong aromatic detail. Pad Thai is the most famous dish in Thailand consisting of noodles, beansprouts and ground peanuts with fish sauce, chili and sugar added to taste. Try Tom Yam Goong, shrimps with lemongrass, lime and galangal in a thick broth or maybe a spicy Geng Kheaw Wan Gai, aka Thai Green Curry, takes your fancy instead.
Cruise the Chao Phraya River and explore the Grand Palace
Head down to the fast-flowing hub of Bangkok; the Chao Phraya River (unless you’re already lucky enough to be staying at one of the big riverside hotels) and catch a longtail boat up to The Grand Palace. Visible from the shores, the Grand Palace complex has been the official home of the King of Siam from 1782 to 1925. The current King Bhumibol Adulyadej (Rama IX) lives at the Chitralada Royal Villa in Dusit. The complex features pavilions, gardens and many intricately decorated buildings over 218,400 sq. metres (2,351,000 sq. feet). The Temple of the Emerald Buddha, Wat Pra Kaew (pictured above) is also situated here and visitors are courteously requested to cover shoulders and knees throughout the complex.
Lose your inhibitions at the Koh Pha Ngan full moon party
If you time your visit with one of the many traditional festivals and events that take place across Thailand each year then you’re in for a real treat. The full moon party is a monthly dance party that celebrates the beautiful moon rising over the beaches of Koh Pha Ngan. Head to the Haad Rin Beach on Ko Pha Ngan in southeast Thailand which was made famous by backpackers from across the world. Crowds of up to 30,000 people gather together for a night of dancing, music and fireworks, followed by a chilling out whilst eating, drinking and swimming under the moonlight.
Visit the world’s largest Golden Buddha
You can’t take a trip to Thailand without visiting the world’s largest Gold Buddha statue – Phra Phuttha Maha Suwan Patimakon. The solid gold statue can be found inside the Wat Traimit Temple in the Samphanthawong district in Bangkok’s Chinatown. The temple itself is quite a sight as it resembles an ornate palace with intricate gold detailing. The Golden Buddha is thought to date back to the thirteenth century and stands in at a mighty 3 metres (9.8 feet) tall and weighs an impressive 5.5 tonnes. Based on the current prices of gold the statue is estimated to be worth around 250 million USD! Remember that this a ‘working’ temple where people do actively come to worship, so behave respectfully whilst there. Avoid wearing shorts, sleeveless shirts and shoes.
Take in the action at a Muay Thai boxing event
If you are looking for a little more action, take in a Muay Thai display which combines lethal punches, furious kicks and fierce elbow strikes. Born as a defence tactic hundreds of years ago, the Thai people learned to fight to protect their land. Today Muay Thai is governed in a similar way to boxing, with stringent safety measures in place. There are 3 main places in Thailand to watch live Muay Thai, all in Bangkok; Channel 7 Stadium at Chatuchak Park (which also has free entry), Ratchadamnoen Stadium and Lumpini Stadium on Rama IV Road. And if you fancy trying your hand, there are course available at the Muay Thai institute with professional teachers.
By Julie Bowman