When it comes to Thailand, I can't limit myself to my usual 5 favourite experiences as this country has so much to offer.
I have been to Thailand twice in the past 3 years, covering the entire country from the ancient cities in the north to the beaches and islands of the south and everything in between and I loved absolutely everything about it.
From cycling in the beautiful countryside of Lampang to enjoying beach parties in Ko Phangan, here are the 10 things I loved about Thailand.
10. Ko Pha Ngan Nightlife
The home of the infamous full moon party as well as the half moon, quarter moon and new moon parties. Basically, Ko Pha Ngan does not need an excuse.
The economy of the island is geared towards its famous nightlife but with jungle treks and good coastline views there are other things you can also do. However there is no doubt about its most famous activities. Even if you don't manage to catch some of the big events, every night the beach is lit up with fire shows, music and locals as well as tourists laying by the beachside late into the night.
Walking down the beach itself can be quite an experience at night. One bar will be playing a certain type of music, busy with revellers all around with light and fire shows, but as soon as you walk away into the darkness you begin to see the lights of the next bar and it will be completely different music, new people and different shows.
9. Golden Buddha at Koh Samui
Koh Samui is the largest of the islands and unlike Ko Tao which is geared toward divers and Koh Pha Ngan which is geared toward revellers, the island has a diverse number of activities and sights.
The Golden Buddha is one of the islands most spectacular sights. Built on the coast, the famous statue backs onto the Gulf of Thailand. You can see the large Golden Buddha from quite a distance, but its only when you get up close to it that you really appreciate the sheer size of it. The temple also has a number of bells all around the statue that you can ring for good luck, donating as you go (or not).
At the bottom of the stupa, below the staircase, is a large market that caters to the requirements of tourists with food, drink and the usual stalls selling souvenirs.
8. Khaosan Road
The central backpacking district of Bangkok, Khaosan Road has grown a level of fame due to its cheap accommodation, large number of shops and a lively nightlife. By day the road is filled with travellers using it as a base to leave for excursions, market stalls, food shops and all manner of locals selling goods and services. This includes a group of Singh's who make their living from telling the fortune of others.
By night it becomes one large party, with groups of people spilling out onto the streets from the numerous bars and clubs around the area. There is a unique vibe about the road, unmatched anywhere else and no visit to Bangkok is complete without a visit to the Khaosan Road.
7. Cooking classes/Pad Thai
I did a couple of cooking classes and I found the experience very enlightening, and this from a guy who struggles to make cheese on toast. Most cooking groups first take you to a local market where you buy your fresh ingredients. You can then cook different types of famous Thai dishes, and the best part, you get to eat everything. Unfortunately, I didn't put my knowledge to good use when I came back home, but its still something I'd recommend.
And of course, I have to mention Pad Thai. I don't know what it is about it, but I absolutely fell in love with Pad Thai and I went a few days where I ate nothing else. Its one of those dishes that I still crave back in the UK and actively look for a restaurants that make something close to the original.
6. Snorkelling in Ko Tao
Ko Tao is the definition of paradise. Not only does the small island boast golden beaches but it also hosts the largest bar crawl in the Thai islands. However, all of this pales in comparison to its beautiful clear blue waters.
Ko Tao is famed for waters and is home to a large diving industry. For those like me, who have no previous experience in diving, there is always snorkelling.
A short boat ride from the island takes you to calm waters where you can jump into the sea and you are literally surrounded by marine animals. At one point someone said they spotted a shark, I'm not sure how true this is, but while everyone started swimming towards it to take a closer look, I put my year 5 swimming lessons to use and swam about 100 miles per hour in the opposite direction.
5. Meeting a Buddhist Monk
I was lucky enough to meet not one, but two Buddhist monks during my time in northern Thailand, one in Chiang Mai, and one in a small village just outside Lampang. My only exposure to Buddhist monks before my visit to South East Asia was either what I had read about or seen on tv so it felt like quite a big deal.
Both monks did a small ceremony where they tied a piece of string, like a rakhri, around my wrist. The ceremony is called Sai Sin and the string represents luck and prosperity. This was followed by being sprinkled with some water. The second monk I visited was a former Yakuza and I could still see his old gang tattoos which I thought was a little surreal but both ceremonies were very peaceful.
It's always great to explore different religions as it increases understanding and also helps you contextualise your own beliefs within a worldview.
4. Cycling in the countryside
There is nothing more relaxing than cycling through the Thai countryside, surrounded by the greenery of crops and mountain ranges in the distance.
Whilst riding through small villages and fields, I stopped at a school, a mushroom farm and a textiles factory. It was fascinating watching the farmers tend to their paddy fields. Coming from a Panjabi background, I have been to farms in India and I actually worked in a farm in England from the age of 8, my mom still works in a farm in the Midlands. But unlike England, these farms had little scorpions scurrying between the different patches of land.
As its the Thai countryside, the path would sometimes be tarmac, sometimes gravel although for the most part if was just sandy openings, however there were parts where there was no path and we would have to carry our cycles over gaps in the road.
3. Wat Phra Doi Suthep
About ten miles on the outskirts of Chiang Mai is the beautiful mountain of Doi Suthep, on top of which sits a famous Buddhist temple.
Originally founded in 1383, the temple is shrouded in legend which you can read about in my entry on Chiang Mai. Wat Phra Doi Suthep is one of the most extravagant and beautiful temples I have visited in the whole of SE Asia, from the Naga protected staircase at the foot of the temple, to the various statues of Buddha made from different precious metals.
The temple also has phenomenal views of the city of Chiang Mai from the far side of the temple which make you appreciate the mountainous north of the country with the city of Chiang Mai nestled in between them.
Its difficult to describe Bangkok, in my entry on the city I called it an assault on the senses and in certain places thats exactly what it is. There is so much going on, you could be walking through the rush of Khaosan Road and before you know it you are surrounded by stunning golden palaces and temples and as quickly as you got there you could find yourselves in modern Bangkok, surrounded by skyscrapers.
There is something for everyone, but many people have told me its hard to spend more than a couple of weeks in the city as there really is so much going on and so much to take in. It's one of the most interesting cities I have ever visited and I can't recommend it enough. It may not be everyone's cup of tea, but you will be hard pressed to find anywhere quite like it.
1. Chiang Mai cycle tour
One of my favourite experiences and memories was the cycling tour I did of Chiang Mai. Over a two hour period, we rode through the city into the surrounding countryside. Entering village after village we stopped at a couple of temples, exploring their grounds and visiting the shrines within. We also stopped at a rehabilitation centre where I saw a young boy recovering from a motorcycle accident, an immensely sobering moment.
I rode over paths, weaving around scorpions, fallen sugar cane plants and farm animals going through gorgeous rice fields, watching local farmers in action. Towards the end of the ride I had a delicious home cooked Pad Thai that has been been unmatched in taste since.
This literally is one of my favourite memories full stop, so if you go to Thailand, get yourself to Chiang Mai and book onto a cycle tour, I promise you, you won't regret it.
This is usually the part of the article where I list a couple of experiences that didn't quite make the list. Well, in a break from tradition, I'm going to enter a second "Number 1".
Nothing could have prepared me for Sukhothai when I landed in a small airport on the outskirts of the town with no clothes and luggage. Having a dog chase my bike in the middle of the night while I went out looking for a shop that sold t-shirts didn't help either, but as soon as the sun came out, I realised just how unique this ancient city was.
My favourite experience in the city was cycling (you might see a pattern here) through the Sukhothai Historical Park. Dating from the 13th century, the park has some outstanding examples of ancient Thai architecture including Wat Mahathat and Noen Prasat. You can literally turn a corner and be face to face with a giant statue of Buddha and its this process of discovery that makes the park so special.
They city also has a famous pottery and ceramics industry that is well worth checking out as they produce many of the statues for Buddhist temples in the surrounding area and further afield.
British Sikh, born in the Midlands, based in London, travelling the world seeing new cultures.