Top 5 experiences – Thailand

Patong Beach
Image courtesy: Austin Bush

This extract from Lonely Planet India’s Thailand travel guide tells you about the five experiences you cannot afford to miss.

Beaching it up

The sheer range of beach activities means that there is always something for everybody. If you are well-heeled, private lagoons attached to upscale health spas in Pattaya will appeal to you. There are also those almost deserted stretches at Lamai Beach, Ko Samui where you can be at one with nature. The family travellers will enjoy riotous beaches crowded with deckchairs and cut-price resorts (Pattaya); exciting watersport destinations (Rawai, Phuket); and crystal-clear waters perfect for snorkelling and diving (Ko Tao). If you want to enjoy to your fullest, stay up to date on the weather conditions ( Thailand has had more than its fair share of unusually high waves of late.

A gastronomic journey

One of the highlights of any trip to Thailand is exploring and sampling the local cuisine. There is more to Thai cuisine that pad Thai and the red and green curries, a fact that you will find out in roadside cafes, food courts offering regional cuisines, family restaurants and upscale. So vibrant and diverse is the culinary scene that few urban Thais bother to cook at home anymore. The seafood is fresh from the Big Blue (especially if you happen to be at the Hua Hin night market) and tastes best when paired with the local Singha or Chang beer. Thai fare incorporates a diverse range of vegetables in its cuisine, so our vegetarian friends can stop worrying. However, if you are wary of the ubiquitous fish sauce, just say ‘May ow nam pla’, and the server will ensure that no fish sauce is used in your order. If you are missing home food, all you need to do is  make a short trip to to Sukhumvit or Phahurat (the Indian section of Bangkok) and you will be rewarded with Indian meals, snacks, sweets and even paan shops.

The shopping of your life

A major chunk of any vacation to Thailand is spent in the bylanes of the flea markets or scanning through cheap electronics at the shopping malls. There’s always much more to shopping in Thailand than just shopping. You could spend an afternoon walking through Chiang Mai’s weekend street markets (p253) or trawling through treasures at the flea market in Ko Pha-Ngan. Even if you’re just shopping in Bangkok, it’ll take the better part of the day just to buy your designer cotton-wear at Platinum Fashion Mall or Prathunam or stocking up on the latest gadgets at the MBK Centre.

You might need to drive a hard bargain in many of the flea markets but if you have shopped in any of the bazaars in India, you are already well trained. For the uninitiated, offer half the stated price and if the shopkeeper does not agree, walk away. More often than not, you will be called back.

What lies beneath: scuba diving in Ko Tao

You probably knew that Thailand has one of the best underwater landscapes in the world but did you know which dive sites offer you the best views?  Welcome to the islands of Ko Tao, Ko Lanta, or Ko Phi Phi. Here you can choose from a wide range of professional dive schools, all of which come with trained instructors. Enrol for a PADI open water course, or simply go snorkelling for fun amidst shoals of colourful tropical fish in crystal-clear waters – all this, without burning any holes in your pocket. For an out of this world experience, visit the Ang Thong Marine National Park whose world-renowned dive sites have made Thailand a global diving destination.

Midnight riot of colours

Bangkok’s Pak Khlong midnight wholesale flower market is something that has been witnessed by very few tourists. Every night, the stands fill up with hundreds of varieties of orchids and rows upon rows of colourful flowers, including chrysanthemums, marigolds and fragrant jasmines.  Start exploring this market just after sunset, as the flowers begin arriving in vanloads from farms around the country. Just walking around the area, watching skilled artisans thread iced jasmine buds into intricate garlands, or sculpt the most exquisite floral hampers, can almost be a spiritual experience. To top it all, those orchid bouquets can cost as little as 30B.