The Travel & Leisure Magazine Thailand Feature

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From its gorgeous beaches and craggy karst islands to golden palaces, jungles and great shopping, it is hardly suprising Thailand is such a popular holiday spot. Debbie Ward is a Thai dyed-in-the-wool fan... For more information on The Travel & Leisure Magazine visit www.tlmags.com

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1.Karst away in bling and buy paradise From its gorgeous beaches and craggy karst islands to golden palaces, jungles and great shopping, it is hardly surprising Thailand is such a popular holiday spot. Debbie Ward is a Thai dyed-in-the-wool fanTheres the big- paddle tour of scenicrock climbing; theres aheaded ghost mangroves at Thailands cultural side if you joinsaid my guide,southerly resort ofthe monks (and theflashing the beam Krabi. My small monkeys) at the nearbyof her torch into kayaking party notTiger Cave Temple;Main photo and inset:Tourism Authority of Thailandthe upper reaches only took in the big-and, of course, theresof the cave. I could make out a striped headed ghost cave but some of the worlds mostsnake-like creature with a bulge and an eye also tunnels hung withgorgeous beaches to lieat one end. I did what any tourist would do,stalactites and leafy corri-your towel upon.I took a photo. dors where brightly-colouredI Wat Pho BuddhaLow-key Krabi may not beAs I was wearing flip flops and my only crabs crawled up exposed treeThailands most popular resort (itmeans of escape was a kayak its just as well roots. lags in that respect behind Phuket andthis was no malevolent monster but a 2,000 Krabi could be considered a small-scale Koh Samui) but if your mental image of theyear-old cave painting, given its nicknameshowcase of the tourist appeal of whole of country is craggy limestone karst islands andby Thai fishermen.Thailand. Theres adventure with kayak- long-tail boats decorated with ribbons in aMy brush with ancient spirits came on a ing, jungle hikes to hot springs and even turquoise sea, this is where the photos youre6 The Travel & Leisure Magazine July/August 2009 2. getting to KNOWTHAILAND recalling were mostly likely taken. The icon- ic karst islands were made famous when oneI Long-tail boats and karst island off Krabi was used as a location for the villain Scaramangas hideout in the 1974 Bond film The Man with the Golden Gun. Now popu- larly known as James Bond Island, Koh Tapu (translating as Nail island as it is virtually vertical) is in Phang Nga Bay and can be reached on a day trip from Krabi or Phuket.Island hopping Krabis main strip, Ao Nang, has something of a waterborne rush hour each morning asDebbie Ward long-tails start their noisy outboard motors to whisk day-tripping tourists into karst- studded Phang Nga Bay. My partner and I joined one of the island-hopping excursions By night we enjoyed browsing the restau-By day, when we werent on excursions for a lazy day of sunbathing and snorkelling rants at the quieter eastern end of Ao Nang,we made shorter hops, using the long-tails on and around five beaches of increasing checking out the catch of the day displayed as a ferry service to the attractive neighbour- loveliness. Some of the places we stoppedon iced trays before tucking our legs under a ing beaches of Railay and, my personal at were nothing more than sandbars but bamboo table and tucking in to three or fourfavourite Thai beach, Phra Nang. Here, at enterprising Thais had turned their long-colourful stir-fry or curry dishes for underone end of the cliff-framed white sand strip, tails into floating cafes serving milkshakes,10. Afterwards wed head for a cocktail at a I found another surprise waiting in a cave sandwiches and fruit.bar converted from an old VW campervan. rows of brightly-painted wooden phalluses.July/August 2009The Travel & Leisure Magazine 7 3. While it may be a giggle for tourists, somelocals believe this cave contains the spirit ofa drowned princess and I kept a respectfuldistance from the devotees offering prayersbefore the unusual shrine. Friendly peopleThailands predominantly-Buddhist spiritu-ality is part of what makes it so famouslyfriendly. Thais consider it a loss of face toresort to argument and youll rarely hearraised voices. The short-lived violence at thegovernment protests of late last year was out Tourism Authority of Thailandof character in this usually-peaceful country.Buddhism also gives Thailand some of itsmost colourful sights, such as gold bell-shapedtemple stupas and saffron-robed monks. Mybeach shrine was a far cry from the countrysmore glitzy places of worship, the mostI Relxation, Thai stylerevered of which lies within Bangkoks keytourist attraction, the Grand Palace.On my visit I had my own lie down for atance are the Bridge over the River Kwai, theYou havent seen bling until youve wan-very affordable kneading at the massage so-called Death Railway built by WWII pris-dered this sprawling complex of gold leaf-school in Wat Phos grounds.oners of war, and Ayutthaya, the site ofcovered, jewel-encrusted buildings set Bangkoks other must-sees, the pottery Thailands former royal capital. At the sec-beside the citys Chao Phraya River. Despitestudded temple of dawn Wat Arun and ond of these I was charmed to discover thethe crowds its a peaceful place to be, withthe small Royal Barges Museum are close odd crumbling stone Buddha statue respect-Thais making incense and lotus blossomby and reached on a river boat tour. Just fully clothed with saffron robes or patchedofferings and kneeling before the preciousbeware of locals telling you the attraction with gold leaf among the restored templesstatue thats the focal point of the Temple ofyou seek is closed for lunch, flooded or oth- and atmospheric ruins. Most people arrivethe Emerald Buddha. Next door to theerwise unavailable and helpfully suggesting at Ayutthaya by road but its possible toGrand Palace, Wat Pho is home to a giant, alternative sights. Theyre invariably drum-make a romantic two-night, three-day jour-reclining Buddha with feet inlaid with moth-ming up business for a mate with a tuk-tuk! ney aboard a converted rice bargeer of pearl. Out of Bangkok but within day-trip dis-(www.manohracruises.com). G When visiting Bangkoks Royal Palace wear enclosedCultural tipsshoes or sandals with straps around the heels to save queuing to hire appropriate footwear.G It is considered rude to point your feet at people inG Be prepared to cover your shoulders and remove shoesThailand and especially at images of Buddha.Take care to inside temples.tuck your feet behind you when sitting on the floor, G The Thai royal family is highly-revered, so derogatoryparticularly in temples. comments about them and disrespectful treatment ofG Its also taboo to touch someones head, or to touch Baht notes bearing the kings image will not bemonks. appreciated. Tourism Authority of Thailand I The Royal Palace, Bangkok 8 The Travel & Leisure Magazine July/August 2009 4. Thai massage I Traditional Thai massage. Below left: Thai massage ingredients Thailands unique and effective form of massage combines stretches with reflexology-like stimulation of pressure points. Much attention is focused on the feet but the masseur will also pull your pyjama-clad limbs into slightly scary but ultimately muscle-easing positions, which is why this technique is sometimes called passive yoga.If youre nervous, start with a foot massage or the more gentle Thai treatments involving warm herbal poultices.Whatever you choose, your relaxation will be aided by the low cost.While youd commonly pay 1 a minute for a massage at home, 4 an hour is more typical in Thailands clean street or beachside centres (look out for the reflexology charts outside) and as little as 30 in a plush hotel spa with a range of international treatments.All photos:Tourism Authority of Thailand Cycling tourinside what looks like the belly of a bright from recycled animal feed sacks and eatingOn another visit to Bangkok, I made mywhite space ship. Glamorous skyscraper-top dinner under a chandelier hung with Barbieescape from the city on one of the capitalsbars such as Sirocco Sky Bar dolls. While not everyone will love thenew cycling tours. Thankfully this didnt (www.thedomebkk.com) at State Tower or quirkiness of this place there are severalroute me through Bangkoks traffic-choked Vertigo Grill & Moon Bar boutique hotels in the capital where the stylestreets; instead, our small group was led by(www.banyantree.com) atop the Banyan is more traditional, meaning you no longerthe guide along quiet paths through nearbyTree offer a different perspective with city have to go large for a bit of city chic.farming areas, creating our own refreshingviews that stretch to the horizon.breeze as we went. During an enlighteningBangkoks hotels also pack that wow fac-Bargain shoppingday, we stopped to ask farmers the secrets of tor and nowadays size isnt everything.I recommend hitting Bangkok last if youthe famously-stinky durian fruit and calledIve been lucky enough to stay in several can. Not only will you have shedin at a local infant school to watch an plush marble-lobbied giants on the your jetlag in a more relaxedEnglish lesson in progress. Flinging ourriverfront over the years but, on environment but youllmountain bikes into a boat for a short ride my last trip, I chose to down-have got to grips withup river, we ended up at Koh Kret, an islandsize to Reflections Rooms I Shop forhaggling and theknown for its pottery making and where we (www.reflections-thai.com), local crafts exchangeratewatched freshly-moulded incense burners a bizarre and very afford-before you hit thebeing loaded into kilns.able establishment where acapitals shopping While the big sights of Bangkok are abouthost of artists have been highlights.history, one of its other key attractions its given free reign with theMost touristsnightlife is bang up to date. Among the decor. I found myselfbeat a path to themost famous venues is Bed Supper Club crunching my way across myrather seedy streets(www.bedsupperclub.com), where you canroom on silver bubble wraparound Patpong fordance, or recline to eat and sip cocktailsflooring, sitting on a sofa madethe ever-popular night10 The Travel & Leisure MagazineJuly/August 2009 5. to see Cambodias famous Angkor Wat tem- ples is another great combination.Heres a regional round-up of Thailands key resorts:Andaman Sea Krabi and Phuket both front the spectacular island-studded Phang Nga Bay, a scenic playground of beautiful beaches, caves and cliffs for lazing, kayaking and snorkelling. Phuket, Thailands most popular resort, is by far the liveliest of the two. This is the place to come for big resort facilities, party action and international fast-food favourites. The large island, linked to the mainland by road bridge, has also gained some peace- ful and stylish retreats in recent years, par- ticularly on its east and north-west coasts. For divers, Phuket is the gateway to Thailands world-class sites of the Similan Islands, Surin Islands and Burma Banks. Quieter Khao Lak, on the mainland just above Phuket, is even closer. Classy resorts have sprung up on some of the islands in Phang Nga Bay, including Koh Lanta, Koh Racha and day-trip favourite the Phi Phi islands famous as the filming site for The Beach.Gulf of Thailand While most of Thailand is best visited in the winter months, sheltered Koh Samui to the south of the Gulf of Thailand has an opposite season. Its a honeymoon favourite so theres plenty of romantic accommodation while I Elephant riding in northern Thailandfamily attractions like a training centre forcoconut-picking monkeys are strung along the islands loop road. Offshore, you can market. While Ive had fun singing along to bites put paid to the mas- tour around Angthong National Marine Park Tom Jones impersonators at Radio City bar sage marathon I had or linger on neighbouring islands Koh Pha and snapping up a few bargains here in my planned on my last visit, I Ngan famous for its full moon parties time, for serious browsing I head tostill got to make like a celebri-and Koh Tao, a top spot for beginner Chatuchak. This colossal weekend market ty by having a Bangkok tai- divers. (also known as JJs), beside the northernlor (most are concentratedJust around an hours drive from SkyTrain stop of Mo Chit, boasts over around Sukhumvit Road Bangkok, brash Pattaya is a party 15,000 stalls.and top hotels) run resort with big-name facilities. ItsYoull find bargain silk scarves, hand-me up silk skirtsseedier side has been somewhat made candles, wood carvings and ornateand blouses to mycleaned up in recent years and its cutlery sets but half the fun is the spectacle. own designs. a well-established favourite with This is where Thais shop for anything fromThe classic families who stay at quieter furniture to pets to plastic fruit. I once even Thailand holidayJontiem beach and enjoy nearby spotted a monk choosing a hamster!combines Bangkok attractions such as water parks,If you prefer the air-conditioned comfortwith a beach and go-karting, an Elephant Village of a mall, youre spoilt for choice with giantsometimes a third stopand Sriracha Tiger Zoo. shopping centres catering for trendy teens to in the green and cul-Golfers flock to Pattaya, too, the well-heeled clustered around Siam tural North. Theas there are several quality Square and surrounding streets. country is also courses nearby.The great thing about buying anything in often linked with Hua Hin and Cha Am, Thailand is that its very affordable. This isits neighbours onalso within driving distance one of the few places in the world I can enjoytours of South Eastof Bangkok, are quiet neigh- my favourite indulgences, cocktails and spa Asia. A Thailand hol- bouring resorts favoured by treatments, on a daily basis. While mosquitoiday with a side trip the Thai royal family, whileJuly/August 2009 The Travel & Leisure Magazine 11 6. July/August 2009 The Travel & Leisure Magazine 13 7. Chic & boutique I The funky Dusit In recent years,Thailands decorative culturalD2 hotel at Pattaya traditions have been given a twist and the country has become something of a hotspot for chic contemporary design not least in its accommodation, with attractive new boutique hotels making a particular splash. Just some of the stylish offerings include: G The funky Dusit D2 brand hotels at Chiang Mai, Pattaya and, soon, Koh Samui (www.dusit.com). G Philippe Starck-designed The Yamu, opening on Phuket this year with a chocolate room and a recording studio (www.theyamu.com). G Back-to-nature and spa-focused Soneva Kiri by Six Senses, on the island of Koh Kood in the gulf of Thailand (www.sixsenses.com). G Minimalist The Racha on Koh Racha, off Phuket (www.theracha.com). G And the cheery, oriental chintz-themedDusit D2 Shanghai Mansion, in Bangkoks Chinatown (www.shanghaimansion.com). the large, up-and-coming island of Koh Thailand factsChang offers a mountainous interior and day-trip possibilities around its 50-plusWhen to go:neighbouring islands.Koh Samui is best from June to September and the rest of Tourism Authority of ThailandThailand November to March.Thailands North Not everything worth seeing in ThailandVisa:comes with a sea view. The countrys lushUK passport holders do not need a visa for stays up to 30 days.and mountainous North is packed full of adventure and culture.Getting there:Thailands second city, Chiang Mai, is theThai Airways (www.thaiairways.co.uk), EVA Air (www.evaair.com),gateway to the North and is famed for its nightBritish Airways (www.ba.com) and Qantas (www.qantas.com) fly direct. market, handicraft villages and sanctuaries forYou can also go direct to major resorts on charter flights.elephants that once worked in the logging industry. Farther north, Chiang Rai is a small-Tour operators:er hub and close to the Golden Triangle whereUK operators featuring Thailand include: Kuoni (www.kuoni.co.uk),TravelThailand, Laos and Burma meet in scenic2 (www.travel2.com), Funway Holidays (www.funwayholidays.co.uk), splendour around the Mekong River.Jasmine Travel (www.jasmineholidays.co.uk), Premier Holidays, You can trek to visit hill tribes in the(www.premierholidays.co.uk) and Silverbird (www.silverbird.co.uk). North though the tourist path is pretty well- worn these days. Soft-adventure experiencesGetting around:like mountain biking and white-water raft-Bangkok Airways (www.bangkokair.com) and Thai Airwaysing are also centred in the region as are some(www.thaiairways.co.uk) have extensive domestic flight networks. good golf courses. To head North in style,Beat the gridlocked daytime traffic in Bangkok by taking the SkyTrain, take the Eastern & Oriental Expressunderground, or river ferries. Iconic three-wheeled tuk-tuks are fun for (www.orient-express.com) from Bangkokshort trips (haggle the price beforehand) but metered taxis (check the to Chiang Mai, or, if youd rather chill-outmeter is on) are safer and more affordable.Take the less-congested tollsomewhere up-and coming, consider the laidTLexpressways in Bangkok. Cycling tours are offered by Bike & Travel back retreat of Pai in Mae Hong Song(www.cyclingthailand.com) and Spice Roads (www.spiceroads.com).province.Ferry services and cheap long-tail boat taxis operate to the islands.A travel journalist for over a decade,Tourist information:Debbie Ward writes for numerousTourism Authority of Thailand: call 0870 900 2007 or visitpublications. She has a wardrobe full of Thaiclothing from her many Thailand visits.www.tourismthailand.co.uk 12 The Travel & Leisure Magazine July/August 2009