Thailand may be famous for its glowing neon nightlife and full moon parties, but the real beauty of Thailand lies beneath all that. It’s the luscious, natural landscape, fantastic food and slower pace of life that should really put Thailand in your top five must-visit countries.
The real essence of Thailand lies in its unique culture, which has been able to absorb Western influences, whilst still retaining its rich heritage and identity. Thailand is a feast for the eyes, mind and body, awash with natural beauty and colourful traditions.
Millions of tourists fly into Thailand every year and while some may be planning a week of partying, others will be in search of Thai culture.
So if you’re after a Thai massage at Wat Pho, rather than a fish pedicure on Khao San Road, here are six great things you can do in Thailand for a more authentic experience.
1. Experience Thailand’s Rural Past at Bang Krajao (Bangkok)
If you’re staying in Bangkok and in search of more green than can be found in Lumphini Park, you may be surprised to learn that you don’t have to journey too far to find it.
Alongside the rapid urban development of Bangkok’s centre is a reminder of its rural past. In fact, just across the river from construction sites and grey expanses, lies the beautiful pocket of green that is Bang Krajao.
Within the green jungle, traditional stilt houses stand between the trees. The luscious greenery is fed by a maze of tributaries, pouring life into every corner of the jungle. Amid the green, fresh fruit adds a surprising splash of colour to the scenery, while floating markets and temples will give you a change of scene.
There are hundreds of paths leading through the jungle and many of these are on stilts above the wetland. A great way to explore this area is by bicycle – it’s around 100 baht a day and you can glide through the treetops!
How to Get There:
Travel to Klong Toei port or the riverside temple in Bang Na and pay 10 baht for the ten-minute boat ride across the water.
2. Sample Thai Cuisine at Or Tor Gor Farmers Market (Bangkok)
There’s no better way to embrace another culture than by sampling their cuisine and Or Tor Gor in Bangkok is a feast for both the eyes and the stomach! The farmers’ market is alive with colour, texture and flavour, displaying the best in Thai cuisine.
Come face to face with huge, juicy mangoes the size of your head and a vast selection of what the Thai coastline has to offer – prawns, crab and fish of all shapes, sizes and colours.
Or Tor Gor is less crowded than other markets in Bangkok and can offer visitors an authentic experience, displaying the wealth of food available. Within the market, you can sample some of the delicious food at a selection of restaurants offering freshly prepared stir-fries and curries.
If you are a travelling veggie, many places will offer tofu as a veggie alternative, so you can still savour the delicious sweet, spicy flavours of the market.
How to Get There:
Hop on the MRT to Kamphaeng Phet station and exit on the opposite side to Chatuchak. You should see a sign that reads ‘Marketing Organisation for Farmers’.
3. Learn the art of Thai Massage at Wat Pho (Bangkok)
You can’t truly experience Thailand without indulging in a famous Thai massage. Wat Pho is Thailand’s leading school of massage, but it also gives you a chance to experience a massage by the hands of an expert.
The massage school has a very relaxing and ethereal location, within the heart of a beautiful complex of Buddhist temples. Stunning ornate towers, shining gold and the relaxed smile of Buddha welcome you into this world.
The origins of the Thai massage are entwined with yogic Indian practises and reflexology from Chinese culture, so try the Thai massage and you’ll experience thousands of years’ worth of tradition.
How to Get There:
Wat Pho is located on Maharaj road and Sanam Chai road. Just a ten-minute walk from the Grand Palace
4. Discover the Beauty of the Thai Coastline With an Eco-Friendly Fishing Tour (Andaman Islands)
There’s only so much Thai culture you can experience in Bangkok, so take a trip to the coast to discover why Thailand is a firm favourite with divers worldwide.
Thailand’s coastline is alive with fish and crustaceans – the ocean has a lot to offer in this part of the world with squid, massive tuna, and marlin. In many places, the sea is akin to an aquarium full of fish and as a result many Thai people still make their living out on the sea.
Many of Thailand’s coastal spots offer eco-friendly fishing tours, but for the ultimate experience, head out to the Andaman Islands, just North West of Phuket. No commercial fishing takes place along the reef system so is the perfect place for big game fishing and spotting larger sea creatures like sharks.
Strict environmental restrictions ensure that the ocean is never over-fished, so you can enjoy your tour with peace of mind. Most tours are in traditional Thai longboats or paddle boats, letting you experience the traditionally quiet, slow pace of a fishing trip.
5. Spot Thailand’s Elephants at Boon Lott’s Sanctuary in Sukhothai (Northern Thailand)
No trip to Thailand is complete without a journey to the North and elephant trekking is a must for many tourists.
However, while the trek itself can be an incredible experience, the animals themselves aren’t always given the best care. But at Boon Lott’s Elephant Sanctuary you can experience the wrinkled beauty of these huge creatures, without worrying about their treatment.
Lovingly run by a Thai-English couple, visitors can bathe, feed and play with the elephants, letting you get up close and personal with some Thailand’s most fascinating animals.
6. Try Mango Sticky Rice
Lastly, let’s end this list with some dessert. This is one of my favourite traditional Thai dishes and it is definitely worth trying.
It is made using short-grained rice, which sticks together nicely when cooked forming a succulent base. Freshly picked, juicy mango tops the rice and the tropical sweetness is enhanced by a drizzling of coconut milk.
This classic dish is available in food markets as well as in traditional Thai restaurants and is the perfect way to end a day exploring Thai culture.
Does this leave you itching to fly over? What are you waiting for? You could head away for a relaxing solo trip, or even book a holiday with Tots too and take your entire family away!
So embrace Thai culture in a luxury hotel for a week or two and leave revitalised and full of new memories!
About the Author:Gavin Harvey is an avid traveller who’s been everywhere from Turin to Timbuktu. Now settled in Bristol he’s always eager for the next adventure!