Lauren Withers recommends Thailand
Greetings from the paradise that is Thailand.
Located in Southeast Asia, this wonderful country is home to beautiful islands, urban jungles and culture. It’s the perfect destination for a relaxing, enriching holiday, from its five-star luxury hotels in Bangkok to soothing resorts on Ko Samui and in Phuket.
Those who prefer a spot of retail therapy won’t feel left out. Bangkok has mammoth shopping malls to max out credit cards and your family’s patience.
The great thing about Thailand is the range of attractions to cater for everyone’s interests, from a thriving nightlife scene to calming beaches. Whether it’s elephant trekking in Chiang Mai or chilling out in an upmarket spa, the options are endless.
The cuisine does not disappoint either, with great food at unbelievably cheap prices, The fresh seafood is extra special.
Thai culture has been shaped by many influences, including Indian, Lao, Burmese, Cambodian and Chinese, evident in the exquisite temples dotted around the country.
About five hours flying time from Oman, Thailand is a popular holiday spot for tourists looking for some downtime. While the country has recently had its fair share of troubles, the turbulent times seem to be quieting down with restrictions lifted and the welcoming arms of Thailand wide open again.
My favourite place
When visiting Bangkok, my favourite stop is MBK Centre, a large eight-storey shopping mall home to about 2,000 shops, restaurants and service outlets, including a department store. MBK is the best place to get souvenirs, gifts, clothing, gadgets, DVDs and much, much more.
I also love to visit Tiger Temple in western Thailand, where you will find the biggest, friendliest tigers. Close to the border with Myanmar, the temple is run by Buddhist monks who care for the animals. You can get your photograph taken with these sleepy big cats and even pat their soft fur.
A visit to Thailand is not complete without experiencing and admiring the breathtaking beautiful views and scenery in the rural areas and on the islands, such as Ko Samui, where the beaches are so clean and golden they leave you speechless. Samui, as it’s known to locals, is very much a free-spirited island – the famous Full Moon parties attract 15,000 visitors a month – but look beyond this and you’ll find street-side stalls, concealed Buddhist temples and traditional culture.
Alternatively, head to Koh Phi Phi, the stunning backdrop for the 2000 film The Beach starring Leonardo DiCaprio, where you can swim in crystal clear turquoise waters and laze on secluded beaches.
Phuket, Thailand’s largest island connected to the mainland by two bridges, is another popular stop for holidaymakers. Thailand can be incredibly favourable for those on a budget, with the national currency, the Thai baht, going far.
The city of Bangkok is very polluted and the traffic is always jammed. However, you can escape this by using the Skytrain (Bangkok’s elevated rapid transport system) and even walking. Poverty is also a problem here and it can be upsetting to see children begging on the streets.
Thailand is famous for its Buddhist temples and many visitors take home a small Buddha statue in their suitcase. These can be bought in a wide range of souvenir shops found in malls, on the streets and even at the airport. Bangkok’s floating markets are also popular destinations to buy souvenirs while floating on the water. The most famous floating market is Ratchaburi, known as Damnoen Saduak Floating Market. Watch prices, though, as vendors can take advantage of naïve tourists.
Where to stay
There’s an abundance of five-star hotels and resorts in Thailand to suit the high-end visitor.
In Bangkok, my personal favourite would have to be the Pathumwan Princess Hotel, with beautiful rooms and a delicious breakfast buffet. It is located right next to the MBK shopping mall, which is very handy.
You can also hop on the Skytrain from here. However, if you are searching for somewhere in a more tropical and exotic area, I would recommend Smile House Resort in Ko Samui, in the heart of Bophut Village, next to the blue sea and surrounded by coconut palms. All bungalows have air conditioning, TV, mini-bar, hot water and a private terrace. Two pools, spa facilities and a restaurant make for a relaxing and enjoyable stay.
If your budget doesn’t stretch to this, there are plenty of low-cost hostels and cheaper-end hotels or simple hut accommodation on the islands.