Sample the real Thailand

Hannah Gransden gives a handy guide to travel in one of the most popular destinations in the world.

Waterfall in Chiang Mai
Waterfall in Chiang Mai

From Chiang Mai’s mountain peaks and Bangkok’s skyscrapers to the nestled islands that fade into the depths of the Andaman Sea, Thailand is a wild juxtaposition of colours, tastes and aromas, a confusing mishmash of the senses.

A moment clinking glasses in Bangkok feels a world away from stepping off a gentle long-tail boat onto an island inhabited only by troublesome macaque monkeys at Ao Ling - just a short way out to sea from the electric capital. It is this nature that makes Thailand so very diversely beautiful…

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Barter in Bangkok’s markets

Boat at Monkey Island

As you fasten your seatbelt and prop up your tray you will descend onto the bustling city of Bangkok as your first port of call. The vibrant city extends into the skyline boasting slender skyscrapers, accompanied by the occasional sky train zipping by under the clouds. The maze-like streets are lined with sizzling food markets, where crowds linger throughout the humid days long into the balmy nights.

The best way to explore the busy streets is by tuk-tuk; clamber in and scour the city for trinkets and treats. Head to the buzzing restaurants and bars that line the boat-filled Chao Phraya River – a lively network of canals that flow past the opulent Grand Palace and the sacred Wat Phra Kaew Temple. A display of grand boats bobbing gently in front of a city of lights makes for the perfect backdrop to a night of authentic Thai cuisine and one or two Siam Sunray cocktails…

Sip from coconuts in Koh Phangan

When you’re ready to flip Thailand on its head, trade the city for island life. Although known foremost for its world famous full moon parties, Koh Phangan is much more than just a party island. In fact, tread the northern beaches and it would be easy to believe Koh Phangan was an entirely undiscovered island nestled secretly in the depths of the Gulf of Thailand. An island dotted with rickety beachfront huts and surrounded by tall, twisted coconut trees, Koh Phangan couldn’t bring you much closer to the natural beauty of Thailand. Water laps at the white sands and the rocky edges of the island are softened with wild greenery.

Keep an eye out for secret swings suspended from low hanging palm trees, built from an old rope and a spare plank of wood. Here you can swing gently between the warm sand and the playful tide and look out to the endless blue-on-blue landscape. Just be on the lookout for falling coconuts…

Tread the rainforest in Koh Samui

Thailand’s second largest island, Koh Samui, is known for its palm-fringed beaches, abundant coconut groves and awe-inspiring mountainous rainforest. If these tell-tale signs don’t give it away, you’ll recognise Koh Samui by its proud 12-metre tall glistening golden Buddha sitting peacefully on the islands’ eye-line. Strap yourself into an off-roader and trek the bumpy rainforest in search of coconut farms and natural waterfalls.

Of course, nearby are the beautiful islands of Koh Nang Yuan and Koh Tao should story-book island beaches steal your heart. The idyllic Koh Nang Yuan is made up of a trio of barely-there island peaks connected by a string of gentle white sand. Framed in larger than life grey boulders, the three islands poke out of the crystal ocean as if they’ve risen briefly out of the turquoise to greet the sun and could submerge into the depths once again at any moment.

Dive under the rolling waves to chase the vibrant fish gliding around the shallow waters…

Climb waterfalls in Chiang Mai

Trek to the north of the mainland for Thailand’s second largest city, Chiang Mai, for a truly cultural experience. Replace white beaches with wild rivers and lush jungles and soak up the breath-taking landscape of the city.

From creating authentic pad thai at local cooking schools to exploring the city’s elaborate Buddhist temples, Chiang Mai boasts yet another side to diamond cut Thailand. Home to hundreds of elaborate and intricate Buddhist temples, including the 14th-century Wat Phra Singh and 15th-century serpent adorned Wat Chedi Luang, Chiang Mai offers a historical, religious and cultural travel experience.

Seek out the flowing waterfalls buried in the mountainous rainforest, admire the elaborate Buddhist temples and stand above the pastel skyline at the King and Queen Pagodas at Doi Inthanon National Park for a truly breath-taking view of ‘the rose of the north.’