There’s no doubt that Thailand is rapidly becoming more desirable, accessible, and affordable. However, this increasing convenience comes at a price. So if you are looking to find an exotic hot spot before it becomes too crowded, don’t delay – book yourself a ticket today.
The best time to visit Thailand is during the winter – not only for a tropical escape from the snow, but also because the heat is not so intense that you can’t stand being outside. You will most likely arrive in Bangkok (BKK), where you must stand in line to await admittance via immigration services. Luckily, American citizens can receive a 30-day visa on arrival, making the process less painful than some other countries. Hopefully, this will go a bit faster for you than it did for me, since I was arriving from East Africa and had to undergo additional screening (thank you, proof of vaccines!). Once you receive your visa, you can exit baggage claim and grab a taxi downtown. I recommend spending 3 nights at most in Bangkok. This is enough time to check out the major temples of Wat Phra Kaew, Wat Pho, Wat Arun, Wat Saket, Wat Traimit, Wat Mahatat, Wat Suthat, Wat Benja, and Way Prayoon. You can also check out some of the local nightlife and grab a drink at Octave, or another rooftop bar, and breathe in the city lights from above. After that, I strongly suggest you get out of Bangkok and really see what Thailand has to offer.
If you’re an adventurer like me, you should get a tour guide and spend a few days trekking through the rural parts of this beautiful country. I spent 6 days trekking through the western portion of the city. We camped outside and even stayed in an isolated village where the local people spoke a totally different language from the local Thai. It was tough work hiking through the hilly landscape but, luckily, our guide let us spend some time jumping into the river and exploring a waterfall. There are a number of companies out there that offer this service, so you can do research to figure out which is right for you.
Our trek ended in Chiang Mai, which is much more relaxed than Bangkok but still buzzing with tourists. We spent our days exploring the city on motorbikes and our evenings drinking Chang beers, eating street food, and listening to live music at the Ploen Rudee Night Market. I highly recommend motorbiking to Doi Suthep Mountain to check out the temple and impressive dragon stairs. Above all, let the adventurer in you take hold and go out on your own! We even found a small hike to a tiny cave temple. I have since tried to figure out the name of this temple, but cannot find it because it is so small and local. It shall forever remain a personal adventure to me – what will yours be?
For those looking for a spiritual experience, some temples hold retreats where you can stay and learn about Buddhism, meditation, or just simply soak in the experience. I spent 10 days at Wat Prayong, living and learning with the monks. Be aware, if you cannot respect the rules of the temple, this may not be your cup of tea. Of course, all are welcome at the temple, but it is important to respect the wishes when you are a guest, especially since stays are strictly funded by voluntary donations. I was extremely fortunate that Wat Prayong had a few English speaking monks, so I could understand the rules and attend lectures offered in English. To give you an idea of a day in the life at the temple, imagine sleeping in a tent outdoors, potentially with the company of a cuddly temple cat or dog. Monks chant four times a day, with the first chant beginning at 4 a.m. From there, breakfast is served at 6 a.m. Monks cannot make or buy their own food, so the local villagers prepare and bring each meal that is eaten. After breakfast, you must complete a few hours of working meditation. I was lucky and was assigned to sweep the marble floors of the main temple; a peaceful and beautiful task. After guided meditation, we ate lunch, which is the last meal of the day. We were asked not to talk, unless in a class or chanting, to allow for quiet reflection within. After another round of chanting and meditation, it’s time to go to bed and start over again in the morning. While this lifestyle may sound strange or extreme, I found it to be rewarding, peaceful, and educational. I will never forget my time at the temple.
Finally, if you must have a beach, hop on a cheap flight to Krabi. Krabi is unique from other Thai beaches due to its enormous rocks jutting up from the sea. For about 10 baht (around US$0.25), you can take a round-trip long boat and island hop to check out all the nooks and crannies that the cliffs have to offer. We rented kayaks and spent some time paddling and swimming in the beautiful aquamarine waters.
As you can see, Thailand is a country that offers a diverse spread of rich experiences at an affordable price. Whether you prefer a 5-star resort, incredible massages, adventurous outdoor activities, or a spiritual journey, there is no doubt that Thailand can offer whatever it is that you seek.