Thailand is certainly the most popular destination in South East Asia, almost everybody starts exploring the region with Thailand. And it is indeed a good way to start: easy connections by air and by ground, beautiful history, majestic temples, sandy golden beaches, wild nature, delicious food. The experience in Thailand can be unforgettable and suitable to everyone. I spent around one week in Thailand and I traveled between Bangkok and Chiang Mai. I didn’t do the south of the country and its beaches because of the short time and the floods, but if you love the sea I strongly suggest you to spend some days relaxing in some of the amazing islands the country can offer.
DAY 1: VISIT BANGKOK
You cannot go to Thailand without passing through the capital city. Bangkok is quite special in its own way, you love it or hate it: I hated it. Unfortunately busy and noisy roads, traffic jams, high peaks of pollution, big crowds, are not my piece of cake. The city is under a cap of humidity, heating, smog, and cars. Although the public transportation is quite developed (you can move by skyline train, metro, buses, ferries, and cheap taxis), the main attractions might be hard to reach. Its 7 million inhabitants and the big number of tourists make the roads very packed. Nevertheless, apart these issues, Bangkok hosts paradisiac temples, and the best food markets that I have ever visited! The food tasting in Bangkok is a unique experience. The nightlife is great, with a lot of things going on everywhere. The cost of life is very cheap, you can buy food or clothes at very ridiculous prices. Apart the classical tourist traps, people are very nice and friendly and with a good English, therefore communication will be easy. Up to you now to go there and see what you think!
The first day in Bangkok can be dedicated to the most popular attractions: the Temple of Dawn, the Grand Palace, the Temple of Reclining Buddha, and the Temple of Emerald Buddha. All sites are located in the same area, which can be easily reachable by ferry boat.
Your first stop can be in the Temple of Dawn (Wat Arun). Located at the exit of Pier 8, this temple is very special not only for its beautiful location along the Chao Praya river, but also for its original design of colorfully decorated spires.
After Wat Arun, you can take the ferry again and stop in pier 9 to visit the Grand Palace. For just about 150 years, Bangkok’s Grand Palace was not only the home of the King and his court, but also the entire administrative seat of government. Within the crenelated walls were the country’s war ministry, state departments, and even the mint. Thai Kings stopped living in the palace full time around the turn of the twentieth century, but the complex remains the seat of power and spiritual heart of the Thai kingdom. Inside you will be able to admire wonderful temples, shiny golden pagodas, walls with mosaics, huge statues. The amount of colors, decoration, and gold in this area is impressive!
Inside the Grand Palace complex is also the Temple of Emerald Buddha (Wat Phra Kaew). This is a temple purpose-built to house a Buddha image carved from a large solid piece of green jadite.
Next to the Grand Palace complex, you will be able to visit also the Temple of Reclining Buddha (Wat Pho). It’s one of the largest temple complexes in the city and famed for its giant reclining Buddha that measures 46 metres long and is covered in gold leaf. It’s an easy ten minute walk between here and the Grand Palace.
The visit to these attractions will take you the entire day. In the night, you can chill out in the most popular touristic street in Bangkok, Khao San Road. Formerly a rice market, this road gets crowded in the night with people enjoying a walk, or having a drink in the several bars around, or having dinner in the restaurants or in the food stalls.
DAY 2: VISIT BANGKOK
Depending on when the 2nd day will be – whether in the week or in the weekend – you can adjust the agenda accordingly and make sure you experience something great on this day. If the second day will be during the weekend, then you must explore the floating market and the Chatuchak weekend market.
Bangkok and its surrounding are full of floating markets during the weekend. You can pick one of them and see what it looks like. Me, I opted for Talin Chan market, since it is easy to access and not too crowded. In order to get there, you need to go to Saphan Taksin ferry pier and from there negotiate for a ride with the Long Tail Boats, small cute boats that will allow you to pass through narrow canals. Make sure to be there in the morning, as the floating markets end at 2pm. The travel agents will try to rip you off, but you can manage to negotiate 3500baht in a shared boat. The boat will take you through the small canals and the old town, where you will see how locals live. You will see plenty of small houses built on the water and fishermen everywhere. Afterwards, you will stop at the floating market, where you will be able to taste delicious food sold on the boats or on the ground. Everything tastes delicious!!! The whole trip will take around 2hours.
Afterwards, you can take the BTS (skyline train) and stop at Mo Chit station (the terminus one), where you will find the Chatuchak weekend market. This is the world’s largest weekend market and it is indeed a labyrinth of 15,000 stands selling any kind of items: clothes, furniture, souvenirs, tattoos, cosmetics, and most of all tons of different food. The amazing thing when you travel throughout Asia and see these markets is the quantity of manufacturing products, you really realize that Europe is a very tiny portion of export, everything stays there and it is sold everywhere at very convenient prices (you can get a t shirt at 2 euros). You can spend the entire day walking in this market, bargaining with the sellers, tasting the huge variety of food, it will be an unforgettable experience!
DAY 3: VISIT AYUTTHAYA
After some busy days in Bangkok, we deserve a break and go outside the city for an interesting excursion to Ayutthaya.
Formerly capital of Thailand, this city that was founded in 1350 by King U-Thong when the Thais were forced southwards by northern neighbors. During the period of Ayutthaya being the Thai capital, 33 kings of different dynasties ruled the kingdom until it was sacked by the Burmese in 1767. The area, well conserved as a historical park, has been included in UNESCO’s list of World Heritage since 13 December 1991.
In order to get there, you can either join a shared tour leaving from Khao San Road at 7:00AM, or opt for a more flexible and cheaper option. I took option 2, which means taking the BTS till Mo Chit, and from there get the free shuttle to the North Bus Terminal station (don’t worry, you will find direction signs on site), and eventually from the bus station take a shared van. The van leaves every 30mins and takes around 1,5hrs to get there, and the price is very cheap. Once you get to Ayutthaya, you can negotiate a day tour with a tuk tuk driver ( you can negotiate 600 baht for 4 hours) who will take you to the most important temples. Make sure the driver will take you to the temples located outside the city, whereas the ones in the city can be done on foot.
The main temples to see in Ayutthaya:
- Wat Phra Mahathat is mostly famous for having a buddha’s head entwined in the roots of a banyan tree. This is of course very impressive to see, but there is more to this series of ruins than a head in a tree, despite what the photos may lead you to believe, including several prangs and many many crumbly buddha statues.
- Wat Phra Si Sanphet. The largest temple in Ayutthaya, this is one that you absolutely cannot miss. The main draw are the three enormous chedis in a row, which you will see featured as the symbol of Ayutthaya all over the place. They really are quite large, and rather photogenic.
- Wat Chaiwattaranaram. This is one of most photogenic Wat’s in Ayutthaya, featuring a large central chedi surrounded by pagodas. Normally you can climb to the top for a lovely view of the city, and it’s also a good place to watch the sunset from.
After this great day in Ayutthaya, you can chill out in W district market. This area in Phra Kanong is more like a beer garden surrounded by small shops and food vendors. Which means it’s a great place to relax with some excellent food and drink without the usual hustle and bustle of market shopping.
DAY 4: VISIT BANGKOK
On your last day in Bangkok, you can have a relaxing day and focus on easy things to do. Whether you like shopping or not, I would suggest to have a walk in the MBK Center, a gigantic shopping mall of 2,000 shops selling any kind of item.You can reach the mall by BTS, stop “National Stadium”. From the MBK center you have a direct connection to another huge shopping mall, the Siam Paragon. Differently from the MBK center, the Siam Paragon mall is more upper scale, with very famous fashion brands. Even though you don’t want to shop, the mall is interesting from an architectural design perspective.
If you want to avoid shopping malls, I can suggest a visit to the Marble Temple. The temple is a magnificent example of the Bangkok architectural style with its multi tiered roofs, elegant chofahs at the top end of the roof and the beautiful gold carvings. The white marble and the golden decorated windows give the ubosot a delightful appearance, especially in the sunlight.
For the last night in Bangkok, I would suggest a visit of the Sukhumvit area. Although popular for its red light district, the area can be still nice to enjoy a nice drink in one of the several touristic bars (touristic because there is nothing local there! restaurants and bars are western style with western food, and very overpriced).
DAY 5: VISIT CHIANG MAI
After some crazy days in one of the craziest cities I have ever seen, I have decided to head to the North of Thailand and take a flight to the beautiful Chiang Mai. The choice of your destination outside Bangkok depends on your preference of course. If you love the beach then you can head to South of Thailand, in one of the several wonderful beaches. From my point of view, I am not a fan of the beach, and I wanted to avoid very touristic places. So I took a flight and landed in Chiang Mai. To get there, you can also take a train or a bus, the distance is around 15hrs and it is very cheap. Since I did not have a lot of spare time, I took a plane, which was also very cheap (with Air Asia you can fly to 40 euros)….and after 2hrs bienvenue a Chiang Mai! Chiang Mai is a historical town in the north of the country. The area outside the walls is modern, with wide roads, hotels, and shops. The area inside the walls is the old town, with small streets, small buildings, temples, street markets, etc. On the first day, I decided to have a tour in the old town and visit the main temples, like the beautiful Wat Phra Singh and the Wat Chedi Luang. Both temples are worth being visited and admiring the golden pagodas, the colorful stones, and the great statues. Afterwards, you can have a walk in the nice streets of the town, full of restaurants and cafes. The best moment to be there is on Sunday, when the streets get crowded with food an souvenir stands of the night market. As I told you before, one of the best things in Thailand is the huge variety of street food. The night market in Chiang Mai is not an exception to it: local, creative, healthy, and cheap food everywhere.. a real pleasure for your eyes and for your mouth.
DAY 6: VISIT CHIANG RAI
On the second day, I joined a shared tour to visit Chiang Rai. Chiang Rai is located 3hrs from Chiang Mai, but do not be discouraged by the long road, as what you will see there is absolutely fantastic! There are several tours going to Chiang Rai: there is one taking you to some temples and to the Golden Triangle, the area with the border between Thailand, Laos, and Myanmar. From my side, I was not very thrilled by seeing a border, so I took another option of excursions focused on temples, and I visited 3 masterpieces: The White Temple, the Black Temple, and the Blue Temple.
The White Temple is absolutely the most impressive, unique in its way, out of the ordinary. According to its crazy architecture, it can be considered the Sagrada Familia of Asia. The temple has been indeed designed by a very original architect who wanted to create an image of the Heaven. He managed to do this by building everything in bright white with some silver shine in the lines, with holy statues, quiet gardens, shining ponds. The construction works are not over yet, the artist is still there and keeps on building more and more in this extravagant perimeter. One of the weird things next to the temple is the toilet, considered the most luxurious in Thailand, a structure of pure gold and classy mosaics.
After visiting the “Heaven”, it is time to visit the “Hell”. The Black Temple was indeed constructed by another architect (who was the master of the architect of the White Temple), and his intent was to create a sense of dark, death, hell. The structure is formed by several temples in teak wood recalling the Japanese style, and inside are carcasses of animals, bones, crocodiles skin, dark furniture. Compared to the White Temple, the Black Temple has a more natural charm, and a great harmony with the surrounding nature.
The day will finish with the Blue Temple, a small temple built by the master of the architect of the Black Temple. Although smaller than the others, the Blue Temple is absolutely wonderful, all built in blue color, with some gold and white. Inside the columns and the walls have beautiful images.
After this long day, you can either stay longer in Chiang Rai, either go back to Chiang Mai and enjoy the nightlife in the new town.
DAY 7: VISIT CHIANG MAI
The last day in Chiang Mai was a dilemma. There are so many excursions you can do there, like trekking, cooking class, temples, safari…but they are all very expensive! So I decided to do something cheaper and not so far from the town. In the morning I went to visit an Elephant Sanctuary. Now, around Chiang Mai there are several elephant centres, where you can see the elephants, feed them, wash them, etc. All have a different pricing, all very high (more than 50 euros), but all with a different concept. The Elephant Conservation Center is the most “ethical” one, with no elephant ride. For price reasons, I went to Chai Lai, which was also sold to me as an ethical one….worst mistake ever!!! The centre is a pure circus to make Chinese people happy and to rip you off even more money from tourists! First of all you feed the elephant and take a picture with them, but of course you need to leave a tip. Then you see them being washed, which is nice. And the horror comes at the end, when everybody seats in a sort of arena and elephants do a show in which they play football, they paint, they dance. All this makes Chinese tourists excited, but from my side it was horrible, considering what elephants have to go through in order to perform this show. So if I have to suggest, visit an elephant sanctuary, but not this one!
After a disappointing morning, I needed to experience something good, and I decided to visit a great temple outside Chiang Mai, the Wat Phra That Doi Sutep. This temple is located on the top of a mountain at 30mins from Chiang Mai. You can join a shared tour, but they will rip you off. So I found another alternative: apparently outside the North Gate of Chiang Mai there are vans that take you there and back at a very low price. The down side is that the van-tuk tuk will leave only when it will be filled up with 10 people, but don’t worry, it gets filled up very quickly. Plus the roads are a little bumping, but still it could be a nice experience. I tried that and I had no issue, plus it allowed me to meet some other travellers. After 30mins ride, the van-tuk tuk will get you at the temple. This is a beautiful big temple with a central structure for praying and admiring the statues and the pagodas, and an external structure from where you will have a fantastic view on the city. Try to be there just before the sunset, when the colors of the sky will be fantastic, and the fresh breeze will help you to get rid of the high temperatures. Leaving Thailand with that view was a great memory.
This was for me the last day before taking a flight back to Bangkok and then to Brussels, but if you have more available time I would suggest you to stay longer in Chiang Mai and do some trekking in the forests around. Alternatively, if you want to experience the beach, take a flight to the South and stay in one or several paradisiac islands of this beautiful country.