As a young child I saw one of those kid’s comedy movies and although the name eludes me, the first words of the very catchy title song have stayed with me all these years.
“We are Siamese if you please, we are Siamese if you don’t please” hence the quote since it was some years later that the South-east Asian country of Siam changed its name to Thailand, a jewel in the centre of the Indochina Peninsula, stretching down to the Gulf of Thailand and border by Myanmar (Burma), Laos, Cambodia and Malaysia.
Although these parts of Asia have over time, been embroiled in wars that devastated the countries, they have risen up to become very popular tourist destination with Thailand, known for tropical beaches, opulent royal palaces, ancient ruins and ornate temples displaying figures of Buddha, one of the most visited.
Bangkok, the capital, is a city where ultramodern cityscapes rise next to quiet canal side communities and the iconic temples of Wat Arun, Wat Pho and the Emerald Buddha Temple (Wat Phra Kaew). Nearby beach resorts include bustling Pattaya and fashionable Hua. Millions of tourists visit Thailand year after year, and the country caters for most tastes in holiday activities – from sleepy northern cities to a thriving capital and pristine islands galore, the country is eager to please all visitors.
In order to boost tourism Thailand’s tourism industry is hoping that Bangkok and tourist destinations will reopen to vaccinated visitors as from November. Only Phuket and Samui islands currently waive quarantine for vaccinated tourists, as part of a pilot scheme.
What to see and where to go
Located adjacent to the Chao Phraya River in Bangkok is both the Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew. It was built next to the river strategically in order to help defend the palace from possible invasions. Construction of the palace began in 1782 during the reign of King Rama I, and was not finished until the late 1800s. Although no member of the Royal family has lived there for almost 100 years, it is one of the biggest tourist hot spots in the city. Tourists will also find the stunning temple of Wat Phra Kaew, otherwise known as the Temple of the Emerald Buddha at the same venue. The Grand Palace is one of the most frequented attractions in the world, and it is estimated that some eight million tourists visit each year.
The temple of Doi Suthep or Wat Phra That Doi Suthep is located just outside the main gates of Chiang Mai. The temple provides visitors with spectacular views of the city with the shrines, pagodas and other features providing much more to see. Though there are many markets and night bazaars located in Chiang Mai, the Sunday Walking Street Market is probably the best known. Centrally located, the kilometre road where it is found is closed to traffic allowing visitors to stroll and browse in peace.
Many of the ruins found at Ayutthaya Historical Park took some 150 years to complete. The city, which was the second capital of Siam after Sukhothai, flourished for around 400 years before it was eventually destroyed by fires with only the stone structures remaining as everything else was built of wood. These structures that still remain to this day, are themselves some of the most amazing remains in all of Southeast Asia.
Buddhism is the dominant religion in Thailand and Wat Pho Buddhist temple is one of the oldest and the largest in the capital – a necessity as it houses the 46-meter long and 15-metre high giant reclining Buddha that sits at its core. This religious relic is so awe inspiring that many visitors do city’s not go any further into the temple.
For centuries Bangkok used waterways as the main form of transportation but since roads have been built, many of the weaving waterways have been filled in to make way for the city’s urban décor. Venture outside the city centre and you will find many of these floating markets still exist. They provide visitors to Thailand with a very different shopping experience as colourful boats are filled with vibrant goods, everything from souvenirs to tasty traditional Thai food.
The seemingly never-ending Chatuchak Weekend Market in Bangkok is one of the biggest in Asia, with aisle upon aisle of vendors selling everything and anything visitors could possibly desire and definitely worth a visit.
The iconic Buddhist temple sits right along the Chao Phraya River. Also known as the Temple of the Dawn the best time to visit is sunrise or sunset. Its positioning on the banks may have been for strategic reasons when it was originally built in the early 19th century, however, now it simply adds to the temple aesthetically. The best time to visit the religious relic is either at sunset or sunrise, which is ironic enough as the temple is also known as the Temple of the Dawn.
Leaving Bangkok behind
There are many attractions away from the capital that are worth visiting. Kanchanaburi is known for its many museums and historic relics, the seven-tiered Erawan Falls is one of the main reasons why visitors frequent Erawan Park with both tourists and locals taking to the cool, emerald pools found at each level. finding refuge from Thailand’s heat.
Most tourists to Thailand usually want to include a visit to some sort of animal sanctuary. Elephant sanctuaries are found across the country, but visitors should be careful of which one they choose to visit. Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai is a picturesque animal sanctuary nestled in an emerald green valley surrounded by mountainous terrain. The sanctuary has rescued dozen of elephants since it opened in the 1990s. Another sanctuary visitors should check out is Boon Lott’s Elephant Sanctuary, or BLES. Located in Sukhothai, visitors get to spend time with the rehabilitated elephants in a responsible and safe way.
The White Temple, or Wat Rong Khun, is a Buddhist temple found in the northern city of Chiang Rai. Privately owned, the temple is renowned for being almost entirely white, with the grounds housing a meditation hall, art gallery, ubosot, religious relics, and more.
Phuket is Thailand’s largest island, and probably the most famous with its clear blue water, excellent snorkelling and diving spots and sandy beaches. and the island rates as one of the most popular destinations in Thailand. Another reason for the island’s popularity is its climate – sunny, warm days year-round with even Monsoon season which runs from mid-May to October, only bringing rain once or twice a day. Patong is Phuket’s longest beach is a hive of activity with some great resorts.
Both Kata and Karon beaches offer a more relaxing atmosphere, with lovely beaches but swimmers need to be aware that the waters at Karon beach can be dangerous when the wind comes up as it whips up big waves that pound the completely open shoreline.
The town of Phuket lies on the south-eastern coast of the island. The influence of Chinese immigrants and a Portuguese aesthetic can be seen in the architecture which is in contrast to the more traditional Thai building seen throughout the rest of Thailand. Visit the Phuket Trickeye Museum, an interactive 3D art gallery and the Jui Tui Shrine, a colourful Chinese temple. Organised boat tours are the best way to see the surrounding islands such as Maphrao, Nakha Yai, and Nakha Noi, as well as Koh Kaeo, Racha Noi, and Racha Yai (off the southern tip), and finally little Koh Poo on the west coast off Hat Kata.
A nine-hour, guided day trip from Phuket includes a visit to the distinctive “James Bond Rocks,” while the eight-hour Phuket to Phi Phi Islands tour takes you to Koh Phi Phi and the famous Maya Bay beach from the Leonardo DiCaprio movie The Beach.
Diving and snorkelling around Phuket Island is extremely popular with warm waters and good visibility. Corals, tropical fish, seahorses, sea turtles, manta rays, and even whale sharks can be seen.
Sitting above the island at the top of Nakkerd hills between Kata and Chalong, is a 45m high monument known as the Phuket Big Buddha, one of the island’s most distinctive landmarks. Taxi or tuk-tuk rides will take you to the top of the hill but to reach the monument there is a steep flight of stairs to climb.
This is a small village that is strongly committed to it own beliefs and customs with some villagers living by the sea and others choosing a semi-nomadic life on land. The men of the village work mostly as fishermen and sometimes also as guides for sea trips. Rawai itself has a small fishing harbour and a sliver of beach covered with coconut palms, swamp oaks, and fishing boats.
The largest of Phuket’s 29 temples, it is dedicated to two highly respected monks, Luang Pho Chaem and Luang Pho Chuang. Life-size wax models of them and other figures can be seen in the exhibition home.
The Grand Pagoda protects a fragment of Lord Buddha’s bone and features murals depicting images from the Buddha’s life story. Wandering through the pagoda you can see the many golden buddhas in various poses. Please note that visitors are not allowed to wear shoes inside the temple, and women must cover their shoulders and knees.
Gibbon Rehabilitation Centre
Located within the Khao Pra Theaw Non-Hunting Area, the Gibbon Rehabilitation Centre is well worth a visit to learn more about these intelligent creatures and support important work at the same time. The centre’s mission is to rescue, rehabilitate, and return gibbons to their natural environment.
There is no entrance fee to the centre but a fee is payable on entering the park. Donations or sponsoring a gibbon is always very welcome.
Sirinat National Park
Previously called Na Yang National Park, Sinatra National Park reveals a quieter side of Ketchup Island. Largely made up of marine areas, two of the beaches, Hat Na Yang and Hat Mao Khan, are the only two in Ketchup where leather back turtles come ashore at night to lay their eggs. The best time to see them is from November to February, when locals patrol the beaches and help protect their eggs.
At Para Thong
This temple is steeped in local lore, and houses a half statue of Buddha that was broken during a Burmese invasion. Legend has it that a boy was minding a water buffalo, which he tethered to a piece of metal protruding from the ground using a hemp rope.
Suddenly the boy died, but appeared to his father in a dream and told him about the piece of metal. The father began to dig and came upon a statue of Buddha cast in pure gold. The Buddha could not, however, be completely excavated and so a temple was built on the site in 1785.
When the Burmese conquered Thalman, a second attempt was made to dig up the statue at which point it broke in two. One half disappeared, but the other still stands in the temple today.
Fresh fruits for sale at the Banzai Fresh Market
A mix of tourist attraction, street food destination, and bargaining heaven, markets are a must-visit when you’re in Ketchup.
Thailand’s climate is influenced by monsoon winds that have a seasonal character (the southwest and north-east monsoon). Most of the country is classified as Köppen’s tropical savanna climate. The majority of the south as well as the eastern tip of the east have a tropical monsoon climate. Parts of the south also have a tropical rainforest climate.
Thailand is divided into three seasons. The first is the rainy or south-west monsoon season (mid–May to mid–October), which is caused by south-western wind from the Indian Ocean. August and September are the wettest period of the year.
Winter or the north-east monsoon occurs from mid–October until mid–February. Summer or the pre–monsoon season runs from mid–February until mid–May.
Due to its inland nature and latitude, the north, north-east, central and eastern parts of Thailand experience a long period of warm weather, where temperatures can reach up to 40 °C during March to May, in contrast to close to or below 0 °C in some areas in winter.
Singapore Airlines and Qatar Airways have scheduled flights from O R Tambo to Phuket but due to the Covid-19 pandemic, flights can change at any time and it is advisable to consult a travel agency. There are frequent package deals which offer accommodation and flights at reasonable rates.