I still get a lot of questions from friends who want suggestions about Thailand and especially want to know more about the Elephant Nature Park from my trip over the summer of 2007. So here’s advice that’s been cut and pasted from various emails (with added pictures!) that has what I’d suggest to any of my friends about the land of a million smiles. I mostly spent time in Bangkok and Chang Mai with one quick trip to Koh Samet and Sukhothai, so this is what is reflected here.
In General, My Advice on Thailand:
-Mango sticky rice is a must! My favorite dish was the Thai yellow curry with pineapple, chicken and cashews. Eating from street vendors is totally safe. I ate pineapple daily! The rule of thumb is fruits with skins are okay after peeled.
-Definitely take advantage of the cheap massages!! Get a Thai foot massage or full body massage. I prefer foot massages. They’re so cheap, like 200 Baht an hour which is $6!! And they’re everywhere. There’s not one particular rule of thumb to determine a good place, but I can say that I’ve only had good experiences. Maybe ask another traveler for a suggestion if you’re not sure where to start.
-I like the “Let’s Go” guidebook for Thailand over Lonely Planet. It gives more in-depth and fewer and better recommendations that are on target.
-If you’re looking for a great hostel to stay in Bangkok, I really liked the Suck 11 hostel
) It’s really close to the subway and has a great atmosphere.
-The Chatuchak weekend market (JJ market to locals) is absolutely awesome. It’s one of the largest in the world and you can get lost in all of the stalls that have everything under the sun. Feel free to bargain respectfully in most places in Thailand. However, don’t bargain over extremely small amounts, I think its tacky and what is practically nothing for us, is a lot to the Thais (and gives backpackers a bad rep).
-The night market in Bangkok, the Suan Lum Night Bizaar, is also pretty cool with a lot of local clothing designers and artists that can’t afford their own galleries. I bought a shirt for my brother and met the guy who made it…pretty cool! There’s a stage for concerts somewhere in the middle of it and some bars around too.
–Cabbages and Condoms for dinner. It’s a restaurant with the wildest decor but some of your meal’s money (and the food is good) goes towards hiv victims, awareness and safe sex education…it’s definitely worth seeing. 10 Sukhumvit Rd, Soi 12 (Soi is the word used for streets off of main roads from what I gather but you have to walk a little down the road because buildings aren’t numbered on the Sois like addresses in the states, you just have to find them). Great food, good cause and photo material inside! You can also get to it really easily from the skytrain from the nana or asoke stops. Taxis are really cheap too if you want to go that route.
–The Grand Palace is a usual tourist stop. I went and if you have the time, it’s a nice afternoon activity. BE AWARE of scams though! Don’t listen to anyone who says its closed. It’s not, they’re just trying to scam you although they seem ligit and extremely nice. The scam is to take you on another short tour, which includes some shops and they’ll bring you back to the palace “once its open again.” Don’t believe them…and you almost want to because they stand in entrances that aren’t open to tourists so it look ligit…just keep walking until you find the real entrance.
-I’m not a big fan of Khaosan Rd, it’s a backpacker mecca and kind of hard to find from a tourist map. But a lot of people, mostly backpackers, like the bargaining and party atmosphere the place has. One afternoon pitstop was more than enough time for me.
-An amazing mall is the Siam Paragon. It has every major designer you can think of and a movie theater area that has exclusive members only seating! I caught a movie there and would roam around the stores. The exchange rate doesn’t mean much once you get to luxury items unfortunately but this place is definitely worth a stop if you want to shop/browse some cool stores. There’s also a lot of restaurants that are affordable in the mall too. Can be gotten to from the sky train at the Siam stop.
-The place I volunteered is in the north and leaves from Chang Mai. It’s called the Elephant Nature Park. It was an amazing week filled with hard work and adventures. We slept overnight in the jungle with the elephants, rode bamboo rafts down a river and even visited the local village school. The people are all awesome. I learned so much about elephants and their plight in the country…I had no idea really the extent of it. There is a fee…I think I paid around $350 USD for the week but it’s totally worth it and helps sustain the park. Plus it includes accommodation and all of your meals…and they feed you well!
-Be really careful in Chang Mai to avoid tours that exploit hill tribe communities and elephants. If you do take one that encompasses riding elephants, choose to walk beside the elephant instead…they aren’t like horses in that regard (my small activitist is coming out
-If you’re interested in another volunteering opportunity, Voluntourists without Borders is a great project that works with local communties and schools in a completely sustainable way. I volunteered with the founder for a week and love the model that VWB embraces…and really VWB is a thought-leader on voluntourism. I highly recommend checking it out.
-Chang Mai is fantastic! There’s a lot of galleries there and I got some great jewelry for a steal! I think my favorite jewelry place was off of Tha pae road near the Tha Pae gate–the city is surrounded by a moat! Also on that road is a cool art gallery that can almost be mistaken for just a jungle-covered building and that’s John Gallery 330 Tha Pae road. One cool road that I don’t think many tourists get to is called Nimmanhamin Rd and there’s tons of cute clothing and some jewelry places there. It’s a very trendy area in the city.
-One of my favorite things in Chang Mai was the “Monk Chat” at the Wat Chedi Luang (“Wat” is temple in Thai). Women can’t touch monks or hand them anything but this is an excellent opportunity to talk with monks who want to practice their English with tourists. The chat is every day…and I always stayed clear of taking pictures of them like they were a tourist attraction.
-There’s a restaurant called Just Koh Soy
that is really good. This dish is a speciality in the region.
Koh Samet – It’s an island closer to Bangkok, about 4 hours away. Definitely a nice beach get away without having to go far south. I stayed in a bungalow, kayaked to a tip of the island and rode a motorbike on the backroads when I wasn’t being a beach bum for the 4 days I was there.
Sukhothia – Thailand’s old capital city has great ruins to explore. It’s also a great overnight stop en route from Bangkok to Chang Mai if you take a bus.
You’re going to love it!!!