Guest blogger John Borthwick gets plenty of sand between his toes in researching the best of the Kingdom’s shoreline.
Ao Manao, Prachuap Khiri Khan. The postcard-perfect arc of Ao Manao, or “Lime Bay” — aptly named for its pale-green waters — sits just south of Prachuap Khiri Khantown. The sands are wide, the waters clear and small beachfront eateries dish up fresh soft-shell crabs and tom yam soup.
Rai Leh Beach, Krabi. Rai Leh (aka Railay) sits on isolated Phra Nang peninsula, a longtail boat ride from Ao Nang. Towering limestone heights and turquoise depths attract spider-persons who climb Rai Leh’s vertical cliffs. Meanwhile other visitors just want to wallow in the general, Andaman Sea beauty.
Ao Yai Beach, Koh Phayam, Ranong. Little Phayam Island floats off Thailand’s west coast, seemingly in the Sea of Amnesia. Its gem, Ao Yai Beach offers three km of wide, sands, an easy shorebreak and monsoon season surf. Late afternoon gets gorgeous when the cicadas and the sunset crank up their volumes.
Ba Kan Tiang Beach, Koh Lanta, Krabi. Sit below a fire-and-brimstone sunset, looking west from Ba Kan Tiang’s swoop of pure sand and water music, and you know why you came to Koh Lanta. “The island of long beaches” has many but this one also offers good accommodation plus views of the uninhabited Koh Haa islets.
ChawengBeach, Koh Samui, Surat Thani. Samui has plenty of beaches, with long, broad Chaweng and next door, the smaller Lamai being the most popular ones. The Gulf waters are clear and calm, the sands are well stocked with trinket peddlers and there are bars, restaurants and shops galore if that’s what you’ve come for.
Hat Sai Khao,Koh Chang, Trat. Also known as White Sand Beach (“Off-White Sand Beach” might be a more accurate), Hat Sai Khao is a sweeping shoreline on the country’s second largest island. With ample accommodation and commerce it is made for a seafood-eating, novel-reading, do-little sort of holiday.
Jomtien Beach, Chonburi. Jomtien is your retreat when the partying at nearby Pattaya becomes too much, or you just want more space on the sand. Five-km long Jomtien has cleaner water, whiter sands and fewer motorised aquatic dangers than its neighbour. And when the sun goes down there is much good dining at the beachfront row eateries.
Mai Khao Beach, Phuket. Stretching along the northwest coast of Phuket, and far from the clamorous Patong-Karon-Kata strip, you’ll find Mai Khao (“White Wood”) Beach. This 17-km skein of dreams is the sort of shore where beachcombing careers are made. More importantly, it is also a national park and sea turtle-nesting zone.
Na Dan Beach, Khanom, Nakhon Si Thammarat.Remember when a beach was a beach and not a shopping mall with sand? Na Dan is stilllike that — no hawkers, looning power craft or hectares of rental chairs. Remote and dreamy, it remains palm-fringed with nine km of shoreline and vast blue skies above.
Natai Beach, Phang Nga. Cross Saladan Bridge at the northern tip of Phuket and you enter another world, mainland Phang Nga province, a place of long, casuarina-shaded beaches and small rural towns. Here the empty, snoozy Andaman shore of Natai Beach is home to a turtle sanctuary, seafood stalls and tranquility.
Beach Survival Tips
— Rips. Andaman waters can appear deceptively calm but there are often currents and undertows. Fatalities happen. Almost no beaches have lifeguards.
— Jetskis. Unsuspecting tourists are frequently forced to pay for mythical “damages” by unscrupulous jet-ski hirers, notably in Pattaya and Phuket. Simply do not hire or use one.
— Speedboats. Popular beaches in Pattaya, Phuket and elsewhere are alive with transfer speedboats, parasailer tow craft, banana boats and jetskis. Injuries happen. Use a swimming enclosure with pontoons if there is one.
While visiting Thailand is still something we are dreaming about due to Covid-19 travel restrictions, Centara Hotels and Resorts is helping to bring one aspect of Thailand to you: DIY video guides showing you how to create your home version of a Thai spa, with advice straight from the health gurus.
Whether it is body scrubs, skin care routines, or massage therapy techniques, try their easy-to-make and easy-to-follow methods. If you are looking for a more active workout to stay fit, Centara has also prepared a collection of simple yet effective home workout videos and guides for you.
Bonus: they’re children-friendly! Start your Wellness at Home routine with these 5 Tips.
1. Get the Mood Just Right
Spa experiences are all about atmosphere – transform your bathroom into your own private Treatment Room. Turn on some relaxing tunes, lower the lights, light some scented candles and burn your favourite essential oil blend.
2. Preparing your skin – Face
Facial steamers are all the rage as they soften the skin, allowing deeper penetration of products. Don’t have a facial steamer? Create your own with a large bowl of boiled water (cooled enough so the steam doesn’t burn your skin) mixed with a few drops of essential oils that are refreshing and detoxing – lemon or peppermint work great. If you don’t have essential oils, simply steep lemon or peppermint tea in the water. Cover your head with a face towel and lean over the bowl for a few minutes, taking deep breathes.
3. Preparing your skin – Body
Dry Body Brushing is a fantastic way to remove dry skin (especially on the legs), improve circulation and lymphatic flow and get your whole system moving. A dry loofah works wonders – using brisk upward movements, start on your lower legs and gradually work your way up the body. Above the chest use downward movements. The process should just take a few minutes and you’ll feel great afterwards.
4. DIY Facial Masks
Making your own face masks is easy with just a few pantry essentials. Mix the following ingredients, gently spread over clean, damp skin and leave on for 5 – 10 minutes. Wash with warm water.
For Dry Skin: Mix 2 TBS avocado with 2 TBS coconut oil
For Combination Skin: warm 3 TBS uncooked oatmeal with 4 TBS milk until oatmeal has softened. Mix and let cool. Add enough honey to form a sticky, easily spreadable paste
For Oily Skin: Mix 1 egg white with 2 TBS lemon juice
5. DIY Body Scrubs
For each of the following, mix the ingredients and then rigorously rub over the body in circular movements (you may like to stand in the shower for this!). Wash off with warm water.
Coffee Coconut Scrub: Mix ¼ cup fresh ground coffee with ¼ cup coconut oil
Chocolate Sugar Polish: Mix ¼ cup brown sugar with ¼ cup cocoa powder. Add 3 TBS warm honey to form a paste
Herbal Sea Salt Scrub: Mix ¼ cup sea salt with 2 dry herbal tea bags and 7 drops of peppermint essential oil. Add enough carrier oil of your choice (jojoba, avocado or coconut) to form a paste
When it comes to Phuket, Aussies think we have a pretty good grasp of what the island offers. It’s all beautiful beaches, amazing nightlife, incredible diving and more shopping options than our return luggage allowance will allow, right? That’s not even half of it. Travel writer Chris Ashton reveals the Phuket we didn’t know… we didn’t know.
There are spiritual and historical sides to Phuket too, echoes of a not-so-distant past that can still be heard by those who listen, not to mention some stellar hidden beaches and towns too.
Ready to get off the beaten path in Phuket? Here are some great places to start.
If you’ve got a bit of time on your hands, consider renting a car or driver to explore the wider island. There are plenty of gems away from the tourist trail, like Surin and Rawai Beach, which are home to upmarket resorts but still have a relaxed and carefree vibe.
Phuket Town is another essential port of call, and not just because it’s the island’s capital. It’s seriously beautiful, with restored Sino-Portuguese shophouses and an impressive street art scene breathing new life into the old town. If you’re in town on a Sunday evening, be sure to check out the amazing Phuket Walking Street market along Thalong Road.
Though better known for beach bars and adventure sports, the spiritual side of Phuket is equally rewarding. The quickest way to discover it is by visiting one of the island’s beautiful Buddhist temples, many of which are rarely visited by other tourists.
The oldest Thai temple on the island, Wat Phra Nang Sang is believed to have been built over 500 years ago… and has been added to many times over the centuries. Nicknamed the ‘messy temple’, it’s a vast site filled with gold statues and brightly coloured murals.
The more modest Wat Suwan Khiri Khet, notable for its fusion of Chinese and Buddhist architecture, is also well worth a visit. A small market fills the temple grounds on Tuesday and Saturday afternoons, tempting you in with the fragrant smells of Thai cuisine.
If beaches are more your thing, you’re in luck. Patong may get all the attention, yet there are more than 30 other gorgeous beaches to be enjoyed. Layan and Banana Beach on the west coast, Ao Sane on the south… it all depends how adventurous you want to get.
Down on the south coast near Karon, getting to this first beach is half the fun. At the end of a dirt road and accessed via a 15-minute walk, Nui Beach is a hidden utopia. The crescent-moon shore is dotted with boulders and shaded by emerald palms, with a convenient bar where you can relax and enjoy the outlook.
Another beach often overlooked by first time visitors is Nai Yang, next to Sirinath National Park and close to Phuket Airport. This golden expanse is lined with low-key bars and restaurants, with plenty of shade to escape the heat. The area itself is less developed than some other parts of the island, giving it a more authentic island feel.
Really though, no matter if it’s your first time or you’re a regular to Phuket, there’s always something new to discover. Just off the tourist trail, the real Phuket is waiting for you.
Travel writer Helen Hayes takes us on a walking tour of Bangkok’s neighbourhoods.
The way to get to know a city is to take to its heart. Bangkok is no different, its laneways full of surprising eateries, historic buildings and local shops. Not to mention, meeting local people in their neighbourhoods.
Bangkok might not seem like a great city for walking but I beg to differ. Amazing Thailand recently released 15 excellent walking tour itineraries for Bangkok, taking you to places you might never have been aware of.
To get to know the old Bangkok, take the walking tour that goes behind the old city wall. Highlights include the Baan Bat community, who have been crafting the alms bowls used by monks since the 1700s, and Trok Shanghai – founded by 40 Chinese families in the days of King Rama 1V. This community is known for its wooden furniture. Other highlights include Wat Saket with its Golden Mount containing the Buddha’s relics, the fort of Pam Mahakan and Loha Prasat – the Metal Castle.
Explore Bang Lamphu and beyond
On this walk around Bang Lamphu, explore the Bangkok Metropolitan Museum, Pipit Bang Lamphu, the Coin Museum, the Red Building, and the Tha Tian Market. Also check out the Giant Swing, which was built for the Swinging Ceremony – a Brahmin-Hindu ritual.
The area around Rattanakosin Island, is spoiled for choice. This is the historic centre of town, an artificial island rich in history. It is here you will find the Grand Palace, Wat Phra Kaew and Wat Pho. The city’s most famous landmark, the Grand Palace was built in 1782 and was home to the Thai King, the Royal Court and the government for a century and a half. Also with its grounds is Wat Phra Kaew – also known as the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. It holds the small Emerald Buddha dating back to the 4th Century. While on the island, also spend time at Wat Pho, home to the triumph that is the Reclining Buddha created in 1832.
It is not just history you will be rewarded with in this area, as it is here you’ll find some magnificent street food. The much vaunted Jay Fai is located here, a street food eatery that has a Michelin Star thanks to the incredible food delivered by Supinya Junsuta (Jay Fai is her nickname), the diminutive lady who cooks wearing ski goggles and bright red lipstick.
Another well-known place in this area is Tipsamai Phad, said to have one of best Pad Thais in the country.
Into the Dragon’s Lair
Another good walk into the soul of Bangkok is in the Yaowarat area. Known as the Dragon’s Lair, it has many shrines and temples, and tells the story of the Chinese history in Bangkok. Visit the Yaowarat Chinatown Heritage Centre, the Phra Phuttha Maha Suwan Patimakon which houses the largest solid gold Buddha image in the world, the Gold Museum, and try the Khao Man Kai (Hainanese chicken rice) at Thai Hen – they have been making it for a century.
The Thon Buri area is another wonderful place to walk the streets, with the absolute highlight being the magnificent Wat Arun – the Temple of Dawn. Located on the west bank of the Chao Phraya River, Wat Arun is revered as one of the most beautiful temples in all of Thailand. It is quite different to other temples, with its spire (prang) an impressive 70 metres high and coated with Chinese porcelain and coloured glass. As beautiful as it is during the day, it is even more spectacular at night. Book a dinner cruise on the river and enjoy a different view of the sights you have seen on your strolls in this magical of cities.
While waiting for Covid19 to go get lost, the blog’s longtime correspondent John Borthwick re-visits Thailand via some of the best writing about the Kingdom.
Thailand has been celebrated in many genres of literature from fiction and fantasy to poetry, non-fiction and sci-fi, so let’s armchair travel a few of them.
Through Thai Eyes
Jasmine Nights is a magical and poignant novel by Thai author and musical composer S.P Somtow. His semi-autobiographical romp is hailed as “the classic coming-of-age tale in Thailand of the 1960s.” Set in his aristocratic family’s time-warp enclave (“our remote little island kingdom on Sukhumvit Road”) the tale is alive with eccentric aunts, suitors, princelings and a pet chameleon. And then add sex, politics and farce.
Pira Sudham writes acclaimed novels and short stories about ordinary Thai life — no bars, spas, wannabes or five swizzle-stick resorts here — usually among the poor rural regions of Isaan, north-eastern Thailand. His best-known work Monsoon Country follows a farmer’s son journey to Bangkok and then as an overseas scholarship student — paralleling Sudham’s own path. Look too for his short story anthology It is the People.
Thailand‘s much-loved royal poet Sunthorn Phu (1786—1855) led a life of romance, scandal and banishment that is mirrored in his own works. As “the People’s Poet of Thailand” he has been compared to Shakespeare in the range and national importance of his works. His poetic saga Phra Aphai Mani traces a Byronic hero’s romantic adventures in ancient Siam. Koh Samed is the setting for one tale of a lovesick mermaid and exiled prince, which is commemorated today in the statues of the lovers on the island’s Sai Kaew Beach. Not far from Samed you can also visit the Sunthorn Phu Memorial Park in Klaeng, Ranong Province.
A Fictional Land of Smiles
Ex-Hong Kong lawyer John Burdett has written six best-selling Thailand crime novels featuring his eccentric Thai-farang police detective Sonchai Jitpleecheep. Set mostly in a Bangkok of dirty politics, bizarre murders and sometimes equally bizarre sex, these street-smart page-turners are full of gloriously bent characters, hungry ghosts and dark shots of comic relief. Start with Bangkok 8 and binge on.
Burdett’s cast of good- and evildoers is more nuanced than the penny dreadful dames and private dicks in the prolific Christopher G. Moore’s Bangkok novels. His who-dunnits like the popular Killing Smile trilogy are set in a city that seems to consist predominantly of bars and illumination by red lights. Alternatively, his short story collection Chairs isrecommended.
“Thailand is the Italy of Asia. Great food, beautiful women, joyously corrupt and totally dysfunctional,” says Jake Needham, author of half a dozen taut, intelligent thrillers set in Thailand. The Big Mango, A World of Trouble and Killing Plato are perfect stuck-in-the-airport novels. His well-informed plots are steeped in international politics, big money bastardry and the onion layers of pan-Asian corruption. (The Wall Street Journal Asianotes, “Mr. Needham seems to know rather more than one ought about these things.”) Plenty of sharp dialogue and always a rattling good pace. Needham’s work is notches above much farang-written Thailand fiction that typically comes with a G-Rating: gumshoes, girls, guns and goons.
Best-selling Nordic noir superstar Jo Nesbo penned a Bangkok crime tale way back in 1998 that was only much later translated to English. Cockroaches sees his Oslo police detective-defective Harry Hole in Bangkok investigating the murder of the Norwegian ambassador who has turned up dead in a seedy motel. As they do. Go-go bars, temples and opium dens are the by-now clichéd backdrops to Harry’s hunt.
The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi is a cyberpunk science fiction tale of gene thieves, agro-corp wickedness and a beautiful, quasi-human woman, the “windup girl” of the title. All struggling in a future, post-apocalypse Bangkok where heavily armed government departments go to war against each other. Imagine William Gibson’s Neuromancer meets Blade Runner during a GM-induced famine…
Alex Garland’s 1996 novel The Beach needs little introduction, having morphed into a 2000 Hollywood movie that then inspired cycles of devastation-by-visitation on Koh Phi Phi Leh’s formerly edenic Maya Bay. Set on a generic island (in the Gulf of Thailand, but could be anywhere), a tribe of backpackers sees their feral heaven crash to a tropical purgatory as events go troppo, psycho and then kaput! The novelhas been accurately dubbed “the Lord of the Flies for Gen X”.
Behind the Night Bazaar by Angela Savage partly subverts the paradigm, as they say, of male derring-do (or being done-to) in Thailand by at least having a female protagonist and with the action set in Chiang Mai rather than Bangkok. Savage’s private investigator is a 30-ish Australian woman facing the sometimes-comical challenge of “working undercover in a place where she can do anything but blend in.” That place is, of course, a world of murder, bent cops and exploitation.
When A Woman of Bangkok by Jack Reynolds appeared in 1956 the Asian Wall Street Journal reviewed it rather generously as “Among the ten finest novels written about Asia.” That’s a big call for the yarn of naïve Western male meets unscrupulous foreign temptress. “Love in vain” is a familiar literary trope played out to this day (and night) in much Thai-focussed, farang-penned pulp fiction; not to mention in real life — which partly explains this compelling novel’s on-going popularity.
Private Dancer sees veteran Irish crime writer Stephen Leather (or at least his tragic young protagonist, Pete) tread the same Bangkok sois, shed the same tears and not learn the same lessons that Jack Reynold’s callow hero didn’t learn 50 years earlier. By the 21st century, however, everything in the Big Mango’s bar world is harder and far more sinister. Poor love-struck Pete sinks deeper into obsession with a lisssom but faithless femmefatale. “Slow Learner”could be his epitaph as well as Leather’s alternative book title.
Canadian poet-novelist-travel writer Karen Connelly knows the kingdom and its language far better than most non-Thai authors. She skips completely the template of “Thailand = erotica + exotica” by looking and living well beyond the neon demi-monde. Try her adroit, youthful account of her exchange student year in Touch the Dragon: A Thai journal. A much later book, Burmese Lessons: A true love story is a gritty, open-heart account of her journey and love relationshsip in the northern Thai jungles amid exiled Burmese resistance groups.
On a much lighter note, expat Australian humorist Neil Hutchison’s cautionary anecdotes about foreigners looking for love in all the wrong Thai places — and yet somehow, sometimes finding it — should be mandatory in-flight reading for all in-bound males between the ages of puberty and senility. Hutcho shares his own hard-won observations of the farang-out-of-his-depth in wry titles such as A Fool in Paradise and Money Number One: The single man’s survival guide to Pattaya.
Scottish-Canadian expat Jim Algie’s journalistic explorations in Bizarre Thailand are not as kinky as the book’s click-bait tagline (“Tales of crime, sex and black magic”) might suggest. It’s full of arcane local knowledge about fertility shrines, errant monks and still pervasive Thai beliefs in superstition and magic. Funny too. In a similar but more character-focused vein, also check out two well-made books by another long-time expat writer (and acclaimed biographer of Jim Morrison), American Jerry Hopkins: Bangkok Babylonand Thailand Confidential.
In his travel book Borderlines fine English writer Charles Nicholl heads north to the Golden Triangle and then Burma in search of rebels, jade, opium traders, insights and an elusive Thai friend, Katai: “Sometimes I think that it wasn’t just Katai who ‘got away’, but Thailand itself, the whole strange trip. I never really got to know where I was going, never reached my destination. Perhaps the code of the road is as simple as that. You never do get there. There is just the road, and what it reveals along the way.” Sounds familiar?
The Non-Fiction Kingdom
The Ideal Man: The tragedy of Jim Thompson and the American way of war by American Joshua Kurlantzick is a highly readable biography of the legendary Jim Thompson, the so-called “silk king”, whose crowded career(s) included soldier, spy, socialite and entrepreneur — and ultimately, disappearing man. The book’s sub-title indicates the wider context of Southeast Asian military-political affairs. The result is an informed portrait of one of the country’s most intriguing foreign players as seen against the backdrop of post–WWII Thailand’s turbulent governance.
Journalist Paul M. Handley’s unauthorised 2006 biography of the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej, The King Never Smiles is banned in Thailand but easily available in Cambodia. The author takes an unflinching look at the career of King Rama IX, the world’s longest-serving monarch (from 1946 to 2016). It’s an iconoclastic perspective on the underpinnings and achievements of the king’s reign and of Thailand’s shape-shifting democracy.
While you’re in the region, Thailand’s next-door neighbour Laos makes similarly fascinating reading. Recommended are journalist Christopher Kremmer’s investigative travels to successfully discover the fate of the last king of Laos, Sisavang Vatthana who disappeared in 1975: Stalking the Elephant Kings and The Bamboo Palace: Discovering the lost dynasty of Laos.
Some of the above titles are out of print but most can be found online or as e-books. For a scholarly perspective on it all, see Imagining Siam: A travellers’ literary guide to Thailand by Dr Caron Eastgate Dann.
Start musing about your favourite experiences in Bangkok and food will undoubtedly be high on the list. Award-winning travel writer Helen Hayes shares 10 places to try – all with Michelin stars.
R. Haan *2 Michelin Stars
Thai cuisine has a rich history, a real ‘wisdom’ that intertwines the secrets of Siam’s food traditions with modern techniques and the meshing of cultures. It is still undeniably Thai. One of the best places to experience this is R. Haan, which means “something consumed for sustenance’ in Thai. Headed up by Chumpol Jangprai, R. Haan is inspired by an old Thai poem which translates as ‘In the river, there are fish; in the rice field there is rice’. His menus are based on authentic recipes and he uses the same ingredients found in the originals.
Sorn * 2 Michelin Stars
It is all about the south at Sorn, with chef owners Supaksorn Jongsiri (Khun Ice) and Yodkwan U-Pumpruk focusing on long lost recipes and cuisine from their home region. The restaurant is in an old house with ingredients sustainably sourced from farmers and fishermen. Most dishes are slow cooked; even the soup is double boiled over six hours.
Jay Fai *1 Star
It is not common to find a street food vendor with a Michelin star, but Jay Fai is anything but common. The lipstick wearing Jay Fai still cooks on charcoal, just like her father did, and conjures up dishes like crab curries and crab omelette while wearing ski goggles. The omelette is legendary and long queues outside the door are customary.
Canvas *1 Star
A rarity in Bangkok, Canvas is the brainchild of Chef Riley Sanders. Riley hails from Texas and his travels as a chef brought him to Bangkok in 2013. He fell in love with Bangkok and after more visits, started planning Canvas. Diners love to sit at the counter to watch the chefs in action as they prepare the nine-course tasting menus.
Table 38 *1 Star
Table 38 is a chef’s table experience with one 10-seat communal table allowing diners to watch and interact with Chef Andy Yang and his team. The goal of Table 38 is to show the possibilities of Thai cuisine – “using today’s knowledge to tell yesterday’s story”. Choose from five dining experiences from an introduction, up to the ultimate 44 course Chef Andy Yang Experience.
Sühring *2 Stars
A villa restored by German twins Mathias and Thomas Sühring has been winning rave reviews ever since it opened. The twins learned the traditional German techniques from their grandparents, and they have been brought to life with love at this now two-starred establishment. Diners choose to sit in the dining room, winter garden or at the kitchen counter.
Mezzaluna *2 Stars
You’ll be starstruck by the view from the 65th floor of the Lebua Hotel and the incredible dining experience at Mezzaluna. Chef Ryuki Kawasaki lets the fresh Japanese ingredients shine, preparing them with classic French cooking techniques. The seven-course set menu changes with the seasons, except for the ‘Exceptional Murakami’ dish, a wagyu beef dish from his hometown in Niigata Prefecture.
Upstairs *1 Star
Upstairs was first awarded a star in 2018 and has kept it since thanks to Chef Dan Bark. Dan’s delightful 10-course tasting menu is a blend of Progressive American cuisine with each dish a mixture of techniques and ingredients not restricted by geography and with no boundaries of flavour combinations. The dishes are complemented by selections of craft beer, cider, mead and wines.
Paste *1 Star
Everything about Paste is striking, from the spiral sculpture made from silk cocoons, to the beautiful curved booths and of course the food. With chef and co-owner Bongkoch “Bee” Satongun at the helm – she was crowned Asia’s Best Female Chef in 2018 – diners adore the menu of shared dishes inspired by Royal Thai cuisine using traditional cooking techniques. With Satongun’s husband, Jason Bailey, hailing from the Southern Highlands of NSW, the dynamic duo recently opened an offshoot of Paste in Mittagong.
Saawaan’ *1 Star
Meaning ‘Heaven’ in Thai, Saawaan lives up to its name. Chef de Cuisine and owner Sujia ‘Aom’ Pongmorn, takes diners on a creative journey through 10 courses of authentic Thai cuisine. Ingredients are locally sourced, including squid from a small fishermen’s village in Krabi. The dining experience is enhanced by Chef Patisserie, Arisara ‘Paper’ Chongphanitkul, who was the first Thai chef to compete in the Ladies World Pastry Championships.
Guest blogger John Borthwick skips the “superstar” temples of Bangkok and Chiang Mai and discovers fascinating alternatives across the provinces.
Wat Phumin, Nan. Some 700 km north of Bangkok, Nan Province is home to 475 Buddhist temples. The most famous one is Wat Phumin (1569) in the capital city, Nan with its vivid murals depicting not only the lives of the Buddha but also secular life in Nan during the late 19th century, including images of foreign sailing ships and European-style clothing.
Phimai Sanctuary, Nakhon Ratchasima. The elegant 10th century Khmer temple complex of Phimai sits 50 km outside Nakhon Ratchasima town (aka Khorat) in northeastern Thailand. Like a ”mini-Angkor” this sanctuary is an easily explored, human-scale collection of delicately carved stone temples. Inner and outer courtyards protect a central tower and Buddha statue, while moats and lawns surrounded it all.
Wat Phra That Su Thon Mongkhon Khiri Samakkhi Tham, Den Chai, Phrae. Den Chai town on the main rail line around 500 km north of Bangkok is home to the 13-syllable temple, Wat Phra That Su Thon Mongkhon Khiri Samakkhi Tham. The sprawling temple built in northern Lanna style is dominated by an impressive nine-metre long Reclining Buddha and sits about five km outside the town.
Phraya Nakhon Cave, Prachuap Khiri Khan. Phraya Nakhon Cave Temple sits in the forest of Khao Sam Roi Yot (“Three Hundred Peaks”) National Park, 23 km south of Hua Hin. This large, open-air cavern was visited by King Rama V in 1890 and Rama VII in 1926. A delicate, temple-like pavilion rises in the middle of the sunlit cavern.
Wat Doi Kong Mu,Mae Hong Son. You climb almost 1000 steps to reach the whitewashed pagodas and golden spires of Wat Doi Kong Mu that overlooks lovely Mae Hong Son town. It’s worth the effort to see this mountaintop marzipan castle of a temple as well as the views it offers of the jungle hills in nearby Myanmar’s Shan State.
The White Temple, Chiang Rai. The elaborate Wat Rong Khun or White Temple is a crystalline, Disney-like structure, seemingly spun from ceramics and mirrors; it has been one of Chiang Rai’s main visitor attractions since opening in 1998. While you’re in town also visit the Blue Temple (Wat Rong Seua Ten) and Black House (Baan Dam), an artist’s house.
Wat Mahathat, Ayutthaya. Ayutthaya Historical Park,north of Bangkok is home to the ruins of scores of Buddhist temples. This was Siam’s capital from 1350 to 1767 and its plain isstilldotted with tall prang reliquary towers. Among the well-preserved ruins is iconic Wat Mahathat (1374), famed for the Buddha statue face that peers out from the roots of an ancient banyan tree.
Lop Buri Monkey Temple. Hundreds of macaques live within Lop Buri city, notably around (and all over) its Khmer temple, Prang Sam Yot. There’s a famous Monkey Festival on the last Sunday of November. Now, be warned. These monkeys can be unholy monsters and will easily relieve you of any exposed item (hat, sunglasses, camera, passport, jewellery), not to mention even food that’s hidden in your pockets. They are aggressive. Carry a stick and use it. Do not feed them.
Wat Prayurawongsawat, Thonbury, Bangkok. The brilliant white stupa of Wat Prayurawongsawat soars 60-metres above its suburban surrounds. Noticing that the spire was tilting, engineers ingeniously braced it from within. Duck inside for a unique view of the hollow, brick-lined stupa. It’s a wonderfully tranquil space, and then visit the little historical museum attached.
When we think of Bangkok, shopping, temple hopping and great Thai food are generally the first things to spring to mind. But take a peak beyond the tourist trail and there’s a flourishing cafe scene that’s amongst the world’s best. Coffee culture is booming, with no shortage of places to sit and lounge with a perfectly blended brew. Travel writer Aleney De Winter explores Bangkok’s booming coffee Culture.
While Bangkok would not be the first city to spring to mind when one thinks of coffee, the city has embraced caffeine, reinventing its own inimitable style and finesse, and you’ll find more hipster chic cafés serving up artfully crafted coffees than you can you can fill an Instagram account with.
Gone are the days when a coffee in Bangkok meant calorie-packed sweet kafae boran, made with sweetened condensed milk, and cream, though they’re still popular with the locals and a must-try for visitors with a sweet tooth. But these days, with Bangkokians embracing café culture with great gusto, you’re far more likely to find an espresso or macchiato on the menu. You’re also as likely to bump into a mermaid or a unicorn as high fantasy is as highly regarded as a good foam at many of these venues.
Which does mean that many of the glamorous, smartphone wielding patrons of these cafes do have their eyes firmly on the Instagram prize, but the majority of them also boast award-winning baristas wielding the best internationally harvested and roasted beans, so the caffeinated creations aren’t all for show. If you’re keen to get caffeinated Bangkok-style, here’s a few of our favourites to get you started.
In Sukhumvit serious coffee fans head to Hands and Heart Café, as much for its modern minimal design, as its hand ground drip coffee. Equally popular is Ink & Lion,amicro-roastery café in Ekkamai, renowned for its baristas and beans.
Hidden behind the walks of Baan 2459, a boutique heritage hotel in the backstreets of Chinatown, is CHATASpecialty Coffee, a gorgeous glasshouse cafe with a crumbling red brick wall it shares with the Buddhist temple next door. Famed for its photogenic foam art and an award -winning barista, brewing only the best imported coffee beans from around the globe, this light-filled spot is popular amongst latte sipping lovelies and their harried Insta-husbands.
At the northern edge of Chinatown, where the heritage streets of Koh Rattanakosin (or Old Town) straddle the Chao Phraya River, are some of Bangkok’s most revered cultural landmarks including The Grand Palace and Wat Pho, but it’s also home to a cluster of hipster bars and too cool cafes.
Whimsical Oneday Wallflowers, nestled in a down a side lane on the edge of Rattanakosin, or Old Town, in what used to be a kombucha brewery, is a favourite. At street level a divine bespoke flower shop, while up its rustic spiral staircase amidst a jumble of trinkets and flowers, you’ll find delightful rustic cakes and artisan coffees that are as photogenic as the surroundings.
Tucked down another Rattanakosin alley, Blue Whale Maharaj Café, a glorious three-story shophouse serving up too-pretty to drink indigo lattes made with butterfly-pea flowers that leave patrons swooning. And Old Town’s Gallery Drip is a cafe and roaster boasting retro vibes and a focus on single origin beans, but it is the Shrek, a coffee jelly topped with milk foam and green tea ice cream, that’s made it Insta-famous.
Speaking of which, Bangkok offers a rainbow-hued abundance of cute cafés designed for just that purpose. Dive into the Mermaid Castle Cafe at Siam Square where two floors of sparkly mermaid fashion and collectibles lead to Mermaid tail cupcakes at the café.Or escape reality Unicorn Café at Sathorn where you can don a Unicorn onesie to sip your coffee in a unicorn smattered, pastel paradise.
At the enchanting Mocking Tales in Thonglor, patrons slurp fairy tale concoctions amongst spell books and magic potions. And for anime fans, in the Sukhumvit district there’s Ghibli galore at May’s Garden House, a My Neighbor Totoro themed café with a menu inspired by Ghibli films.
The last decade has been one of huge change for Phuket, with both government and private enterprise coming together to redefine and protect the destination for years to come. Travel writer Chris Ashton shares insights on how to be a responsible traveller in Phuket.
A little slice of tropical perfection in the Andaman Sea, Phuket welcomes almost 10 million visitors each year. With such high visitation, the small island has grappled with the effects of over tourism for years, yet that could be a thing of the past as the island looks to reinvent itself as one of the most sustainable destinations in Thailand.
There’s the No Foam No Plastic campaign which has been encouraging hotels and retail outlets to swap single use plastics for more sustainable options since early 2019. A ban on smoking on beaches has also helped to reduce the number of butts making their way into the environment, as well as make beaches a more enjoyable place for all visitors.
In the hotel space, a collaboration between JW Marriott Phuket Resort and Minor Hotels (Anantara, Avani) is working to fund environmental programs that support fragile marine life, such as leatherback turtles which return to nest on the beaches of Mai Khao.
How can you make a difference as a visitor to Phuket? By being conscious of your impact on the community and environment, by choosing to stay at hotels and resorts that take green initiatives seriously, and by seeking out ethical, sustainable activities wherever possible.
Keen to know more? Here’s a conscious travellers’ guide to Phuket.
Where to stay
If there’s one industry with the power to create a more sustainable Phuket, it’s hospitality.
Resorts such as five-star Keemala in the island’s west understand this responsibility, with a strong commitment to environmental and ethical practices. From the villa design to the landscaping, everything has been carefully considered to help ensure a greener future.
Farm to plate dining is so hot right now, and Phuket is not immune to its charm. Knowing and understanding where our food comes from, where it’s grown and sourced, and the passion that goes into every dish adds to the experience. It can also be a lot of fun.
The Michelin-star rated PRU Restaurant, which stands for “plant, raise, understand”, at Trisara Resort is a big advocate of the farm to plate ethos. Around 60-70% of the fruit and vegetables used within the 18-seater restaurant comes from their own 100-hectare farm.
They’re not alone either. Local Phuket restaurant and caterer Jampa has a zero waste, locally sourced approach to cooking, and they’re never far away from a wood fire. Sustainability is at the forefront of their minds and their menus – and it shows.
What to do
When not lounging on a deserted beach or visiting the Big Buddha at Nakkerd Hill, cycling and walking tours are a fun way to get a more local perspective of the island, visiting smaller villages and contributing to communities.
Wherever you stay or whatever you do, being conscious of your impact on the environment can help ensure Phuket remains an island paradise worth falling in love with.