Thailand is a melting pot of diversity that has something for everyone and every budget. The rural areas are lined with historic sites, sacred spaces and rice paddy fields. Its capital, Bangkok, is a teeming metropolis within reach of gilded temples and palaces. The country is situated between the Andaman Sea and the Gulf of Thailand, and its two coasts are lined with postcard-perfect paradisal beaches. And wherever you travel in Thailand, there’s the food – while possibly one of the easiest countries to be a vegetarian – there’s fresh seafood, countless curries, and noodle dishes so delicious you’ll never want to return to your local Thai take-out. Your most lasting impression, however, will be the friendliness of the locals – calling Thailand the “land of smiles” may seem cliché, but it has a foundation in truth!
I was so excited when The Tourism Authority of Thailand reached out to me for a press trip. I’d never been to Thailand before and an opportunity to explore Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Pai and Koh Samui was a total dream of mine! The Tourism Authority offered a packed itinerary that included five star luxury resorts, temple visits, spa treatments, rice field walks, evening markets, cooking classes and more. Our travels took us across Thailand from the North (Chang Mai, Pai) to the South (Koh Samui, Bangkok). Thanks to Bangkok Airways, we traveled from place to place in total comfort (and I didn’t get charged extra for all my hats)!
Chiang Mai is Northern Thailand’s largest city and is an easy hour-long flight from Bangkok. It’s an absolute must-visit on your Thailand adventure. Long ago, Chiang Mai was the capital of the Lan Na Kingdom. It was capital for more than 500 years before the Kingdom became part of the Siam empire. Today, it’s the most culturally significant city in the northern part of the country. Chang Mai is a famous foodie destination and a favorite digital nomad base. Its location in the mountains surrounded by dense jungle makes it not only beautiful and serene, but also the prime place for wildlife and adventure activities in Thailand and home to one of my favorite experiences, an elephant sanctuary (full post on Patara Elephant Camp coming soon!).
Founded by British textile historian Patricia Cheesman over 20 years ago. A textile workshop collective where local weavers are trained to grow ingredients to make their own dyes, and producing beautiful handmade silk and cotton dresses, shawls, pillows and wall hangings. The communal ethos makes it ideal for visitors who are interested in experiencing local culture in a different way and who may want to take home souvenirs more meaningful than an airport shot glass.
A family run Elephant Sanctuary where you can get up close and personal with these amazing animals. Each visitor is assigned their own guide and elephant. Interact and learn about the health of elephants, how and why elephants are treated so poorly elsewhere, and what we can do to preserve these amazing creatures.
Baan Rai Kong Khing
The initiatives at Ban Rai Kong Khing have been such a success that the village now acts as an education center, sharing local knowledge about traditional Eastern medicine and herbal remedies. Most of the households in the village grow herbs and plants which are used to produce healing medicinal shampoos, bath creams, etc. The products are used locally and but are also offered for sale to visitors. The village has established herbal infused steam rooms and set up an area where traditional Thai massage techniques can be taught. Thai and overseas tourists are welcome to visit and can also experience the local hot oil fire massage known as ‘yum kang‘.
Anchan Vegetarian Restaurant- Their Motto is “Vegetarian food so delicious you won’t miss the meat” and that sure was true it was amazing. One of my favorite dishes was the butterfly pea noodles. Also listed by PETA Asia as being one of 6 vegetarian/vegan restaurants in the top ten ‘Vegan Cities’ in South East Asia!
Brand New Feel Good – Get lost in a Southeast Asian agricultural haven at this cute restaurant on what used to be a coffee plantation. Fun fact: They built the picturesque bridge to enable people to access their restaurant.
The breath-taking Veranda High Resort and Spa Mgallery By Sofitel offers a zen-like experience with 5-star hospitality. Perfect for reconnecting with nature and enjoying the slower pace of Northern Thailand.
Pai, a rollercoaster like drive from Chang Mai, the journey is scenic and famous for having 792 curves – a car ride that would make even the strongest stomach a bit queasy so bring that Dramamine!!! The hippy enclave of Pai, once considered one of Thailand’s “hidden gems” has been drawing backpackers and those of adventurous spirt for years. If you love yoga, live music, art, beautiful scenery, incredible street food, markets, and some of the best vegetairan food I have ever tasted, you absolutely must visit Pai. Surrounded by gorgeous mountains and home to amazing sights like Pai Canyon (our tour guide told us it’s considered “Thailands Grand Canyon”) and Wat Phra That Mae (White Buddha), this small town in the North literally feels like it’s come out of a fairy tale. Aside from authentic Thai food, Pai had some of the best gourmet vegetarian options I have ever experienced.
Pai Canyon – is the most popular natural attraction located in Pai. Although the name implies geological grandeur, and though formed from decades of erosion, Pai Canyon isn’t really that big. Regardless, views from the narrow trails are excellent, and sunset is a spectacular draw in the evenings.
Ko Ku So Bridge – The name translates to “The bridge of merit” It measures 800 meters in length and spreads along and across the nearby rice fields. It was originally built for the monks at the bamboo temple by the local villagers. Before the bridge was there, the monks had to walk over 6 km to reach the village to obtain food from the local community. Our group was fortunate enough to be brought to the Monks who live in the Bamboo Temple for offerings and blessings. Our experience there was one I will carry and cherish with me forever
White Buddha (also know as Wat Phra That Mae Yen) – Get your steps up!! Tackle the 350 steps and you will be rewarded at the top when you arrive at the giant White Buddha who commands the valley from his hilltop throne. This temple has great views of the surrounding landscape and is even visible from Pai town. This is the perfect place to watch the sunset right in front of the stairs so you can sit and admire the beautiful colorful sky.
Puripai Villa – As soon as you arrive in Puri Pai, you unintentionally let out a sigh of relief as everything about it screams relaxation. Situated on a hillside amidst lush garden landscapes, and a working rice paddy at the center of the property with a pool overlooking the mountains.
OM Garden Cafe– Set a little off the main road, this cafe is a great place to chill out in the shade while enjoying its menu stuffed with fresh salads and fruit smoothies that are to die for. Also although I was unable to try it out, there was a super cute yoga studio next door, so maybe check that out first to work up an appetite and then enjoy some amazing food.
Silhouette by Reverie Siam- Situated in the Beautiful Reverie Siam Hotel (hoping to stay there next time I make it back to Pai) with it’s charming 20’s decor, the Reverie Siam slowly takes you back in time. The smooth melodies of the era playing in the background automatically put you in the mood for enjoyment. Silhouette is a riverside lounge dining experience and we had the pleasure of having a five course tasting menu, where all items had been sourced locally from the surrounding area. It was the kind of place that makes you wish you make the night last just a few more hours. A truly unforgettable and dreamy experience.
Earth Tone Vegetarian Cafe– Earth Tone Cafe is a vegetarian and vegan paradise with its amazing salads, homemade tempeh, kombucha and raw chocolate. Everything was delicious and their bevy of home-brewed kombucha flavors on tap blew my mind. I wanted to try them all!! The restaurant focuses on local and seasonal foods and has a small shop selling natural cosmetics, gifts and original snacks & preserves.
Koh Samui is situated on an island in the Gulf of Thailand. Samui is the most significant island in the Chumphon Archipelago. Measuring some 25 km at its widest point, the island offers attractive budget travel options as well as high-end luxury resorts (See Full post on Four Seasons Koh Samui!). It’s also one of the best places in Thailand to go on a beach vacation and forget about everything else. There are endless activities like boat rides to nearby Islands with a little snorkeling on the way, or a trip to Big Buddha Temple and Na Muang Waterfall.
Learn Muay Thai – On site at our resort at the Four Seasons, I had my first opportunity to learn Muay Thai. Book a session with Aan, a professional Muay Thai fighter who will show you around a ring and help you work up a sweat doing it! The resort has its very own Muay Thai ring designed by the infamous Bill Bensley.
See A Fire Show – if you visit Koh Samui and don’t see a fire show, you are missing out. Ours was conveniently located on our own hotel property. The fire show was on the beach and accompanied a beach bbq that had every kind of food station imaginable. Scared of fire, don’t worry, the fire in a Thai fire show stays with the professionals. Kids are sure to love the show, but if they (or you if you’re a Pixar fan) Finding Nemo was playing on a large projector screen on the beach.
Take A boat trip – Hey look at me, I’m on a Boat! Hop on board a boat in the AM, and visit one or some of the many islands surrounding Koh Samui. Before you go back, make sure to jump in and snorkel!
Four Seasons Koh Samui – Located on Laem Yai Bay, the resort sits on one of the prettiest spots on the island. The property is huge, so the best way to get around is by buggy, which you can call anytime to pick you up and zip you to your desired destination. The Four Seasons has its own private beach, which is absolutely picture perfect, and, with its white hammocks over the blue water, it is a dream come true for any Instagrammer – or just anyone one wanting to relax in the sunshine. All guests have their own private villa with their own private pool. Be sure to try out the pillow concierge (yes, this exists) – my favorite option was the buckwheat pillow. I am still trying to find one here for my bed at home!
Coco Tam – Located next to The Wharf Samui in Bophut’s Fisherman Village Walking Street, Coco Tam sits along the beach offering prime views of the ocean and boats rocking on the waters. Grab a drink at the bar first, and enjoy a swing while you drink. No bar stools here, just swings! Then head on up to the Italian restaurant. I know, Italian in Thailand? Really? But I swear, it was delicious! Afterwards, catch a fire show at Coco Tam, which happen every night at 10pm!
Vikasa Life Cafe – whether you choose to skip meat for ethical reasons, or are just craving some veggies in your life. This is the place for you. Picturesque vegetarian food, surrounded in a more picturesque setting, it is truly zen instagram heaven.
Pla Pla – Conveniently located on the Four Seasons property (you really never need to leave the property if you don’t want to – it has it all!) Pla Pla presents some of the most mouthwatering Mediterranean fare on the island. Perched beside the white sand beach, the venue features unbeatable sea views and an understated yet luxurious ambiance. Also a great place to catch a sunset! I’d go for dinner!
Bangkok is Thailand’s capital. Situated along the Chao Phraya River, the city is sensory overload in the best way possible. Nearly everywhere you turn, you’ll find street vendors hawking hot plates of pad thai, tuk-tuks whizzing hurriedly past and statuesque temples looming overhead. There is no shortage of activities to do in Bangkok and my favorite was a Thai cooking class (full post on cooking class coming soon!)
Wat Pho – Also known as Wat Phra Chetuphon, Wat Pho is a temple complex in the center of the city. It’s one of the city’s most popular attractions and its main draw is its “Temple of the Reclining Buddha,” renowned for its massive 46-meter long Reclining Buddha completely gilded in gold leaf. The complex is actually much larger than just this temple, and definitely worth a couple of hours exploration if you’re into Buddhist temple architecture.
Wat Arun – The Temple of The Dawn, or Wat Arun Ratchawararam, stands on the west bank of the Chao Phraya River at Thonburi in Central Bangkok. It is almost directly opposite the Grand Palace and Wat Pho. A small shuttle ferry will take you to Wat Arun’s doorstep via Maharaj Pier. The temple catches the morning light, and its ceramic mosaic tiles accentuate the mystique and beauty of early morning perfectly. The temple is beautiful to see at night as well, as it is completely lit up!
Perception Blind Massage- An enterprise founded to provide employment for the blind and visually impaired who are trained professional massage therapists. This chicly decorated establishment provides excellent massage services at reasonable prices while simultaneously sending an important message: visually impaired people are just as capable as anyone else to excel at the delicate art of massage.
Yaowarat– The Thanon Yaowarat, better known as Yaowarat Road, is the heart of Chinatown. This approximately 1.5-kilometer-long road starts at Chinatown Gate (Paifang) and ends at Phanuphan Bridge. Take a stroll through the market and dive into a huge sea of flowers and colors. You will love the artfully crafted temple offerings and colorful bouquets made on site.
Panpuri Wellness- Purveyor of ultimate rejuvenation in the center of Bangkok. Combining uncompromising standards in its products and facilities, including two private onsen suites, five onsen pools, an Akasuri scrub room, nine treatment rooms, Thai massage room, wellness bar, wellness studio and relaxation lounge, all with the backdrop of the celebrated Bangkok city skyline.
Thai Cooking Class – One of my favorite experiences in Thailland, I took the class right in our Hotel, the Banyan Tree Bangkok. We learned to make several staples of Thai cuisine. Over a few hours, we cooked Yom Som O and a traditional Pad Thai. So fun! The first thing I did when I got back to the States was run to a market to get ingredients to make Pad Thai!
Banyan Tree Bangkok– Conveniently located in the Thai capital’s Sathon/Silom area. Banyan Tree Bangkok is a vertical resort, towering 61 stories above the bustle below, it offers some of the best views in Bangkok. The most spectacular panoramas can be enjoyed from the famous Vertigo/Moon Bar on the 61st floor, one of the most amazing hotel rooftops in the world.
Vertigo & Moon Bar– Possibly one of the most Instagrammable rooftops in Thailand! Located in the heart of Bangkok, this bar offers world class service surrounded by Thai-inspired accents and elegant decor. Vertigo gives you a spectacular dining experience on the roof terrace with a jaw-dropping view of the Bangkok cityscape.
Supanniga Eating Room Tha Tien- Each dish is inspired by the recipes of the owner’s grandmother, Khunyai Somsri. Offering the quintessential art of Thai fine dining with the glittering Chao Phraya River as a backdrop.
Jay Fai Bangkok– One of the rare street food stalls worldwide that has received a Michelin Star. People wait in line for hours just to experience Jay Fai, in her large glasses, cooking away. Led by the amazing 72-year old lady, the eponymous Jay Fai (a nickname that loosely translates to “sister mole”) restaurant was started nearly 40 years ago.
Apsara– There are lots of dinner cruises available in Bangkok, but Apsara is special because it is much smaller (,a vintage-style rice barge ) and intimate. Your’e able to experience a sence of privacy as Aspara does not cater to massive tourist groups, giving it a more exclusive feel. the dinner cruise sails along the Chao Phraya River, passing the famous Temple of Dawn (Wat Arun Ratchawararam) and the Royal Palace, and provides another way to appreciate these sights other than during the daytime. Seeing them glow at night over the river was magical.