Thailand is a destination that Western travellers have been visiting for years – the perfect escape from our wet and windy winters. Although it has changed immensely over the years, Thailand still has so much to offer whether it be the bustling streets of Bangkok, ancient Buddhist temples, rich cultural tradition, stunning beaches, tropical rainforest or elephant experiences – there really is something for everyone.
After spending time in other remote parts of South East Asia, my visits to Thailand have often left me wondering about how things used to be before mass tourism kicked in. During my most recent visit I spent some time in Bangkok, with the elephants in Khao Sok National Park and also exploring Phuket.
Bangkok is an exciting city of bustling streets and markets, historic sights, mega shopping malls and nightlife – a city of contrasts with plenty of charm hiding behind the surface. The main highlight of this visit to Bangkok had to be escaping the slow moving traffic and being located on the Chao Phraya River.
Arguably the best mode of transport in the city I spent my first afternoon exploring Bangkok by boat, cruising along the Chao Phraya River and the canals (klongs) of Thonburi for a glimpse of the simple lifestyle of these riverbank dwellers – scenes at odds with the modern and bustling inner city. It was remarkable to be so close to the city but be in what felt like, an entirely different world. The tour finished up late afternoon at the magnificent historic Buddhist temples that lie along the river banks – perfect timing as most of the crowds had disappeared.
Bangkok has an incredible range of hotels throughout the city and it can be near impossible to make a decision of where to stay. The Riverside I’m afraid to say is no different and there are a wealth of fantastic properties to choose from but two that really stood out for me were Riva Surya Hotel and The Siam.
The Riva Surya is a stylish boutique hotel located on Bangkok’s riverside, just a stone’s throw from some of the city’s most treasured historic attractions. Each of the 68 rooms has been elegantly designed with contemporary furnishings, modern amenities and entertainment systems, offering guests an ideal location to explore Bangkok’s riverside without breaking the bank. I would recommend going for a Riva view room for uninterrupted views of the Chao Phraya River.
The Siam is like no other hotel I have seen in Bangkok – a true urban luxury resort. Located on the riverside at the base of the Krung Thon Bridge The Siam is an art deco inspired riverside retreat with just 39 spacious Suites & Pool Villas. Each room has been beautifully crafted and fitted with plush furnishings and luxury amenities. Butler Service and Private Shuttle boat between the hotel and Saphan Taksin central Pier is included in the nightly room rate.
After a few days in the capital it was time to bid farewell and head down South to Phuket. I covered a lot of ground here and really wanted to try and differentiate some of the resorts as there always seem to be so many to choose from. I was pleasantly surprised to find a few remaining spots of authentic tranquillity that take you back to what Thailand used to be, in particular the beautiful Island of Koh Yao Noi.
Located one hour by speed boat from Phuket (but also accessible from Krabi) this stunning, tropical island hideaway seems a world apart from the gigantic resorts and bright lights of Patong. Shortly after leaving the marina, you are presented with gorgeous ocean views and limestone formations that this region is famous for.
Koh Yao Noi is home to the exclusive barefoot luxury resort, Six Senses Yao Noi and it really doesn’t get much better than this! 55 Villas and suites lie in the most picturesque location on the Island – natural vegetation and lush landscaping provide privacy for their spacious Hideaway Villas, each offering generous space, luxury amenities and their own 18sqm private pool. For those more on a budget there is the delightful Paradise Resort located just a few km away.
There are no particular landmarks as such in Koh Yao Noi but nevertheless driving round you will discover a simple lifestyle that has changed very little in the last 20 years – wooden houses, rubber plantations and water buffalo taking mud baths in the rice paddies are typical scenes. For those who are not content with just relaxing on the beautiful beach all day with cocktail in hand, there are plenty of activities from the resorts to keep you entertained such as bike riding, kayaking, island hopping, jungle trekking, elephants, diving and rock climbing. I really couldn’t think of a more perfect spot in this region for a honeymoon but it’s not just for young couples, Koh Yao Noi is friendly, relaxed and very welcoming to all guests.
My final stop on this visit was to head into the tropical rainforest of Khao Sok national park and my gosh, I’m glad I did!
After such a hectic schedule and a couple of hours in the car from Phuket, I felt immediately relaxed and immersed in my natural surroundings when I arrived at the Elephant Hills camp. On arrival you are greeted by the team and shown to your tent before a delicious buffet lunch – It wasn’t just any old tent either, it had a proper bed, a fully functioning en suite bathroom and some lovely traditional items of furniture.
After lunch we took a scenic canoe ride down the river and eventually ended up at the Elephants area – WOW how magnificent are these animals? My first job was to prepare the elephants dinner. We mustered up a delicious feast of fruit and veg and gave a huge bucket to each elephant, passing each item one by one to their trunk. It seemed that elephants are just as fussy as humans and often they’d slyly drop the sugar cane down by their feet hoping that no one would notice they’d left it.
Once tummies were full, some of the teenage elephants jumped in the pool for a little splash around and a rub against the mud banks. Our next task was to give the elephants their daily bath – I was amazed to see these huge creatures lay down so that we could scrub their sides down and then cheekily moving round as if to say ‘this bit now’. What an amazing experience to interact with these gentle giants and see each of their personalities coming through. As you can tell from the photos it was quite a challenge for the guides to take me away at the end of the afternoon.
Elephant Hills run a series of programmes which take in the best experiences in and around the jungle, lake and rainforest. Combination tours to include their exclusive rainforest camp are also available – with just 10 Floating safari tents powered purely by wind and solar power, the rainforest camp is situated on Cheow Larn Lake surrounded by jungle and the towering Limestone Mountains of Khao Sok National Park, an experience not to be missed.
Unfortunately my time in Thailand came to an end but once again it had been another fantastic trip to South-East Asia. It was great to get back to Thailand and experience it from a slightly different and more authentic angle as well as re-visiting some of the old favourites too. I’m already eagerly anticipating my next visit back to the land of smiles.