I have just returned from an amazing trip to Thailand, I visited Chang Mai, Koh Samet and Bangkok.
I flew with Thai Airways direct from Heathrow to Bangkok (approx. 11.5 hours) on an A380 aircraft. The flight was full and to be honest I didn’t notice any difference to any other wide bodied aircraft apart from individual chargers for iPhone etc. and the mood lighting. The inflight service was good; a good meal, snack and breakfast were served along with drinks. The entertainment had a good range of films/tv/music and games on individual seatback screens with a hand held controller so you didn’t keep getting jabbed from the seat behind!
After landing we cleared customs and immigration to transfer to our internal flight up to Chang Mai. Allow plenty of time for your changeover, the airport is huge and the queues are lengthy! An hour later we touched down in Chang Mai collected our cases and mage a 15 minute transfer to our hotel.
The Shangri La is an excellent 5* hotel situated within walking distance of night markets, bars, shops and restaurants. The food is fabulous and the spa and pool help to counteract the humidity, hustle and bustle and jetlag. I would recommend upgrading to a Club room. As well as upgraded amenities you get access to a lounge with a separate area for breakfast and free drinks including spirits and canapés between 530pm-630pm.
Chang Mai is a walled city and is all about temples, markets, hill tribes, adventure (river rafting, zip lining, cycling) waterfalls, elephants and food.
We ate at a riverside restaurant which was great value (dinner for 9 with drinks less than £100)
There are markets daily but the weekends have bigger (and busier!) markets featuring handicraft unique items and lots of food stalls. After an evening walking round the crowded markets we treated ourselves to a foot massage, for a few pounds you receive an excellent massage which really helps relieve tired feat!
To visit the Hill tribes we drove half an hour up to the Doi Suthep temple, then another 20 mins in a smaller truck to the tribes. The markets are cheaper but very commercialised now but you get an opportunity to see the way the hill tribes used to live over 40 years ago in their nomadic lifestyle.
We then visited Doi Suthep Temple. There are approx. 300 steps to top with great views of Chang Mai. If you don’t fancy the steps up you can take the elevator for a small supplement (thoroughly recommended in the heat!)I would recommend taking a guided excursion as the guides are very knowledgeable and can explain what the different temples are, we were lucky to receive a blessing from a Buddhist monk too.
I visited several other hotels in the city too, so please ask for more information.
After 2 nights in Chang Mai we took an hour’s flight south to Pattaya. This was followed by a 2 hour road and 25 minute speedboat transfer to the stunning island of Koh Samet.
Our first night was spent at Kai Saew Resort. The resort has a range of accommodation including bungalows a stone’s throw from the beach. There is a lovely spa and the main restaurant overlooks the white sandy beach. Nature is very important here, the hotel has been built around the trees rather than cutting them down, the rare Hornbill birds can be seen amongst other local creatures. The main beach here has a range of bars and restaurants to sample but it does get busy with daytrippers landing on the soft sands for selfies before moving onto the next island.
The following night was spent at Le Vimarn Cottages and Spa. Wow what a place! The beach is stunning, much quieter and great for snorkelling. There are sunloungers on the beach and staff will bring drinks out to you, there is an infinity edge pool and you can even get a massage by the pool and private dinner on the beach! In true James Bond style the shuttle speedboat picks you up right on the beach for your arrival / onward journey.
Accommodation is typical Thai style thatched bungalows, very comfortable. The staff are very friendly and the food is excellent. A taxi will cost around £5 to the Kai Saew area if you wanted a change of scenery. There are numerous boat trips to neighbouring islands including a turtle sanctuary. Diving is popular with several dive sites and great visibility.
We also visited The Paradee Resort, this hotel is just stunning. Cottages on the beach with private pool and outdoor whirlpool baths! The bed faces patio doors that open onto the beach, waking up to that view every day would be just wonderful! A beautiful spa, dinners on the beach by candlelight and the most stunning sunsets at the cocktail bar! This resort is secluded, very special and perfect for honeymoons or special occasions.
After a 10 minute speedboat transfer and 3 hour road trip we arrived into Bangkok. Bangkok is certainly a shock to the senses; noisy, busy, hot, crazy, delicious smells of street food and Jasmin being threaded on the streets. The river, temples and markets add culture to the old and new buildings. The shopping is fabulous too, lots of stores in the streets as well as huge department stores and markets. China town is the place to buy your gold jewellery, the shops are literally dripping in gold!
I can highly recommend the Silom Thai cooking school, for around £25 per person for a group max 10 people, it’s available every day. We walked through a local market collecting our ingredients then spent a morning learning how to make curries, soup, Pad Thai, salads and the yummy Mango with sticky rice (and we ate the dishes we prepared).
There are temples galore to choose from, Wat Arun, and Grand Palace are the most popular, and they do get busy so I’d recommend an early tour with a guide to avoid the heat and the crowds. We saw the Golden Buddha and Wat Pho. You can also take trips to see the floating markets and the bridge over River Kwai.
The nightlife in Bangkok is famous. There are lots of rooftop bars for cocktails to choose from, including the well-established Moon Bar (which was being renovated and due to re-open in January 2019) this has incredible 360 degree views over the city. The Lebua Sky Bar where the Hangover 2 was filmed is a fun visit, cocktails were double the price, but for that Instagram shot highly recommended. The rooftop bar at the Avani Hotel is also fabulous with river views, modern décor and reasonable prices.
Getting around Bangkok is easy, there’s a sky train, underground, boat shuttles across the river, there are taxis (car and motorcycle!) and of course the crazy Tuk Tuks.
I stayed at the Shangri La Hotel, a fabulous location on the riverside, often used by the rich and famous (the Thai President visited whilst we were there!) It has its own boat used for dinner cruises, I can highly recommend this night time treat. A delicious buffet is served as you glide past lit up temples and bridges, it costs around £50 per person but well worth it. I would also recommend the spa at this hotel, I spent 2 hours being pampered and felt totally relaxed at the end of it. I visited several hotels so please ask for more information. I have been to Bangkok twice now and discovered new things to see and do on each visit and still have plenty left on the ‘to do list’.
My top tips:
- Take cotton clothes and underwear- it gets very sweaty!
- Take enough cash/cards with you- ATM fees for cash withdrawals are quite high
- Barter at the markets but remember these people don’t have much so do you really need to save 30p?!
- Greet the Thai people with the greeting they give you ( hands together, bow and say “Sawadika” hello)
- Small tips are appreciated by bellboys, waiters, taxi drivers etc.
- Take plenty of midge spray
- Ensure you wear long clothes and cover shoulders at the temples, and don’t point your feet towards the Buddhas
- Try local restaurants and the local food, its delicious, you can always ask for it not too spicy