Mr & Mrs Romance share: 10 reasons Thailand is tops for romance

Mr _ Mrs Romance - Romantic Thailand - 0 dinner on the beach
Credit: Christina Butcher, Mr & Mrs Romance

Exquisite food, fascinating culture, magnificent landscapes, exciting cities – Thailand’s repertoire for travel inspiration is enticing indeed. But when these elements combine, that’s when the romance happens. Mr & Mrs Romance, Jim and Christina Butcher, share their Top 10 reasons to pick Thailand for a romantic escape.

Every time we visit Thailand it feels more like coming home than the last. Yet, each time we arrive, it’s like we’ve unlocked a hidden room, revealing another dimension to the Land of Smiles. So, when people ask us what we love about Thailand the most, we usually start with one answer… and it very quickly becomes a list. It’s almost impossible to separate any one part of this amazing country from its sum.

Even better, joining each element with any of its counterparts means you can create potentially boundless recipes for romance, adventure and moments that will stay with you forever. While we all dream of travel, here are 10 things we love about Thailand; the things that have romanced us when we’re there and that break our hearts when we’re not.

10 Thailand travel elements that create a perfect recipe for romance

Each of these elements inspire travel, but combine one of them with at least one other, and you’ll find a sweet spot on the Venn Diagram for romance. This is what keeps us returning to Thailand time and time again.

Credit: Christina Butcher, Mr & Mrs Romance

1. The mountains

From the monolithic islands around Phuket and Krabi to the northern highlands, Thailand has plenty of dramatic rock formations. But the likes of Doi Inthanon – Thailand’s highest mountain – have real impact. Part of the foothills of the Himalayas, these northern mountains are a remarkable feature of Thailand’s landscape.

Credit: Christina Butcher, Mr & Mrs Romance

2. The temples

Thailand is home to over 40,000 temples of all shapes, sizes, colours and designs. And they’re everywhere – on mountaintops and city streets, in lush green jungles and on reflective riverbanks. Remember to walk around the main pagoda clockwise three times for good fortune and follow Buddhist etiquette when inside.

Credit: Christina Butcher, Mr & Mrs Romance

3. The history

Little of Thailand’s history before the 1300s is known, but the last 700 years have provided more than enough to enlighten, educate and entertain. One of the best places to soak up some of Thailand’s earliest history is Ayutthaya – once the ancient capital of the kingdom. Only an hour north of Bangkok, this city of ruins is truly beautiful.

Credit: Christina Butcher, Mr & Mrs Romance

4. The shopping

Whether it’s squeezing through the press and noise of Chiang Mai’s night markets that stretch through the middle of the old town or strolling through the luxurious expanses of high-end Bangkok malls like Icon Siam, shopping in Thailand is fun. Remember, shopping here isn’t just about buying things; it’s the entire experience.

Credit: Christina Butcher, Mr & Mrs Romance

5. The bars and restaurants

Eating and drinking are cornerstones to Thai culture, so it’s not surprising that there are so many incredible gastronomic experiences to have here. Sipping cocktails at rooftop bars overlooking the capital, feasting on whole spicy barbecued seabass from shacks on southern beaches or exploring the bustling food markets in every little town between, this is food paradise.

Credit: Christina Butcher, Mr & Mrs Romance

6. The beaches

With almost 3,000km of coastline, Thailand has beaches in spades. Whether it’s the calm waters of the Gulf of Thailand or the sunset-facing, white sandy beaches on the coast of the Andaman Sea, beach time beckons.

Credit: Christina Butcher, Mr & Mrs Romance

7. The spas

Nothing puts you in the mood to relax more than a spa treatment, and most spas in Thailand offer couples’ packages so you can enjoy being pampered with your partner beside you. The resorts and hotels throughout the country offer wonderful services that will leave you feeling lighter than air.

Credit: Christina Butcher, Mr & Mrs Romance

8. The sunsets

It’s always a good idea to keep an eye on the setting sun in Thailand. You’re usually up for a treat. On the west coast, the sun sinks into the ocean, but you can also catch it dipping behind palaces and pagodas in Bangkok and mountain temples in the north.

Credit: Christina Butcher, Mr & Mrs Romance

9. The culture

From food, fashion and festivals to arts and crafts, architecture, religion, and lifestyle, from the moment you arrive in Thailand, you’re immersed in its rich culture. But while Thai culture is immediately apparent, it’s also so nuanced that there’s always something new to learn, something to keep you coming back.

Credit: Christina Butcher, Mr & Mrs Romance

10. The sea

Warm and welcoming, the Gulf and the Andaman Sea are perfect for sailing, snorkelling, scuba diving, swimming and surfing. And from the deck of a boat, a whole new aspect of Thailand emerges. Little islands and atolls appear on the horizon, lagoons that would otherwise be unreachable become part of your itinerary, and seclusion from everything but the romance of Thailand is yours.

For more romantic travel ideas, head to Mr & Mrs Romance.

Amazing Thailand Trivia Challenge

Are you ready for Season II of the Amazing Thailand Trivia Challenge? Join the challenge to expand your existing knowledge of Amazing Thailand by completing all four quizzes in a row including Gastronomy, Culture & Festivals, Family Fun, and Wellness & Sport. 

The trivia contestant with the highest score on the leaderboard will WIN $500 Coles Group & Myer gift card. The next 10 will each WIN a $50 gift card. 

Are you ready to accept this challenge? Start our first quiz now!

How to play:
Step 1: Sign in to join the challenge (one entry per person only)
Step 2: Complete all four quizzes in a row. Each quiz has 10 questions. 
Step 3: Review your score

Entrants will have 240 seconds in total to complete each quiz and will be awarded 100 points per correct answer. Each second remaining will be calculated as a bonus point (1 second = 1 point). The first prize will be awarded to the entrant with the highest score. 

The competition runs from 20 May 2021 to 16 June 2021 AEST – click here to find out more.

Chat Thai Cooking Class: Stir Fry Prawns & Noodle Recipe

Palisa Anderson

Acclaimed chef, Chat Thai’s Palisa Anderson shares her recipe for Stir Fry Prawns with Glass Noodles & Ginger.

A farm-to-table chef, Palisa is best known for expanding the family business that began with her mother’s Chat Thai restaurants in Sydney to include several more eateries and stocks them all with organic produce from her Boon Luck Farm in Byron Bay.

Stir-fried Prawns with Glass Noodles & Ginger

Ingredients

  • 8 green prawns, peeled and deveined 
  • 2 tablespoons oyster sauce
  • 2 tablespoons red vinegar 
  • 2 tablespoons palm sugar, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon Pearl River premium soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon red boat fish sauce
  • 50g pork leaf lard, cut into 2cm cubes 
  • 150g dried glass noodles, soaked in cold water for 15 minutes
  • 2 stalks Chinese celery, finely sliced on the diagonal, leaves reserved
  • 3 green onions, cut into batons
  • 1 tablespoon best quality sesame oil

Method

  1. Peel the body shell off the prawns and make an incision along the back to reveal the vein, and remove it; keeping the head and tail intact.
  2. Combine oyster sauce, vinegar, palm sugar, soy sauce and fish sauce. Set aside.
  3. Once you have all the ingredients on hand, heat wok or frying pan over a high heat. 
  4. Add pork fat and heat for about 5 minutes, until fat is melted and bits of pork meat (lardons) are golden and start to float. 
  5. Remove the lardons and set them aside.
  6. Add prawns to the wok and fry for a minute or so each side, until a light golden crust forms. Set prawns aside. 
  7. Add pounded paste to the wok, reduce heat to medium, and stir-fry for a minute or 2, until fragrant and starting to turn golden.
  8. Add glass noodles and celery stalks and toss to combine thoroughly, adding a little water if it starts to look too dry or sticks. 
  9. Add oyster sauce mixture and stir to combine thoroughly, cover and cook for a further minute or so, until noodles are lovely and soft and most of the liquid has been absorbed.
  10. Add celery leaves, and green onion, remove from the heat, return prawns to the wok and toss through.
  11. Serve into shallow bowls, top with coriander leaves and reserved pork pieces and drizzle with sesame oil. 
Palisa Anderson

Columbia Pictures theme park to open in Pattaya

Sony Pictures Entertainment and Amazon Falls have joined forces to develop the world’s first Columbia Pictures Theme Park, set to open in October 2021.

Columbia Pictures’ Aquaverse will be located on a 14-acre property in the seaside town of Bangsaray, 20 minutes from Pattaya and 90 minutes from Bangkok, and will feature state-of-the-art rides and newly themed attractions that will bring to life characters from some of the most successful Hollywood movies including Ghostbusters, Jumanji, Bad Boys, Men in Black and Hotel Transylvania.

Catering to all ages, the park will have eight themed zones with both water and land-based attractions. There will also be live shows, immersive entertainment, interactive props, unique sets as well as themed restaurants, merchandise and retailers.

Men in Black Thrill Rides – Aquaverse’s most thrilling rides and attractions can be found here, including hair-raising water coaster rides, one of which has a 12-meter free-fall ride that sends you careening down a MIB Wormhole.

Ghostbusters Supernatural Experience – Step into the Ghostbusters portal and zip across ghost traps as you glide down a water coaster or dare to enter the world’s first and only fully-enclosed water dome on a family raft ride.

Bad Boys Raceway – Experience the thrill of the chase and put the pedal to the metal around this new outdoor go-kart track, a neon Miami themed racecourse.

Jumanji Jungle Adventure – Brave the world of Jumanji through jungle-themed water slides, visiting Jaguar Mountain while being chased by Mandrills before plunging into Jumanji’s splash pool.

Hotel Transylvania Kid-Friendly Zone – Aquaverse’s biggest water park attraction featuring over 100 water features, splash buckets and water rockets.

Surf’s Up in Surfer’s Paradise – Surf a mighty wave on the exhilarating dual Flowrider!

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs Swallow Falls River Adventure – Take a break from the day’s thrills by touring the Aquaverse along the lazy river and meet the amazing Foodimals featured in the hit film.

VIVO Wave Pool – Relax in a giant wave pool inspired by the upcoming animated musical.

More information: http://www.columbiapicturesaquaverse.com/

New Amazing Thailand Welcome Vouchers

Book your next Amazing Thailand holiday and we’ll send you a Welcome Voucher to enjoy one of three unforgettable experiences.

The Tourism Authority of Thailand Sydney Office invite you to enhance your next Thailand experience with a FREE “Amazing Thailand Welcome Voucher” to all visitors from Australia and New Zealand with valid visa, APEC Business Travel Card and Certificate of Entry (COE), travelling to Thailand before 30 April 2021.

Choose to RELAX, RE-ENERGISE or RE-BOOST with one of these FREE vouchers!

Relax

Indulge yourself with the ultimate spa experience at Oasis Spa with highly trained therapists, available in a choice of locations in Thailand.

Re-energise

Stay fit and have fun learning Muay Thai at one of the renowned Muay Thai gyms in Thailand including RSM Rajadamnern Singha Muay Thai Academy (Bangkok), MTM Academy (Bangkok), and Superpro Samui Muay (Samui).

Re-boost

Rediscover your golfing skills playing golf on one of Thailand’s renowned international golf courses.

How to Claim

Email: info@thailand.net.au to claim e-voucher with a valid visa number or COE.

Terms & Conditions

  • This offer is valid for travellers to Thailand with valid visa; Special Tourist Visa (STV), Tourist Visa (TR), Non-Immigrant Visa and APEC Business Travel Card holder with Certificate of Entry (COE) departing from Australia and New Zealand.
  • Travellers must travel to Thailand before 30 April 2021.
  • Travellers are entitled to claim only 1 e-voucher per person.
  • Vouchers available for the first 150 eligible travellers only
  • The vouchers are non-transferable, non-refundable, and not redeemable for cash.
  • The vouchers are available for use within a specific location, determined by the issuer.
  • Pre-booking is required and subject to availability.
  • The vouchers must be presented upon arrival of your selected location.

Celebrate Lunar New Year in Thai Town Sydney

To celebrate the Year of the Ox, enjoy discounts and promotional offers from a wide range of restaurants and shops in Sydney’s Thai Town.

Explore Thai Town and surrounds during Thai Town Lunar Week, 12 to 21 February 2021 and enjoy a wide range of special offers. To take advantage of Lunar Week offers, simply save the image of the Thai Town Lunar Week ‘Special Offer Voucher’ on your phone with the list of participating restaurants, grocery stores, gift shops, Thai massage centres and beauty salons.

Thai Town Lunar Week Voucher

Present the voucher at the shops which display the Thai Town Lunar Week sticker during the celebration week 12-21 February 2021 to receive a discount or complimentary gifts.

Click here for a full list of participating restaurants, day spas and retailers.

Thai Town Lunar Week Participating Members

Travelling Thailand Page by Page

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.

Books about Thailand

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 femme fatale. “Slow Learner”could be his epitaph as well as Leather’s alternative book title.

First-Personally

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 Babylon and 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.

Happy reading!

Pattaya Grows up

Guest blogger John Borthwick checks-out Thailand’s self-described “Extreme City”.

Pattaya, Thailand’s fastest-growing resort town has many faces — sunny, templed, bawdy, raucous, delicious — but never shy. Basking on the Gulf of Thailand 150 km southeast of Bangkok, it has long outgrown its military R-and-R origins of Vietnam War-era apocalyptic partying. If there’s anything like a uniform these days in Fun City it is shorts, beach shirt and sunburn.

Many visitors add golfing gear to that fetching ensemble, thanks to the multiple nearby courses. Growing sophistication in its restaurants and resorts sees Pattaya now attract almost ten million visitors a year, not to mention Thai families, expats and retirees.

Girl in blue Pattaya hotel pool. Copyright John Borthwick
Girl in blue Pattaya hotel pool. Copyright John Borthwick

Beaches and nightlife were what it was all about some 60 years ago when a group of US Air Force men on leave discovered the balmy shore and flamboyant sunsets of snoozy Pad Tha Ya fishing village. Fast-forward six decades and the Mastercard Global Destination Cities Index for 2019 logged Pattaya as the world’s 15th most visited city, with an extraordinary 9.44 million international visitors.

Local passenger transport, known as 'songthaew' (two-seat).
Local passenger transport, known as ‘songthaew’ (two-seat).

Pattaya’s main beach is dense with deck-chairs and watercraft, so head south over the hill to Jomtien for wider, whiter sands, or north to the coves of Wong Amat. The best way (and best fun way) to move around town is on the “baht bus”, the blue pickup trucks that loop constantly along Beach and Second roads. (Their Thai name is songthaew — “two seat”.) With twin bench seats in the back, passengers hop on or off anywhere, paying a flat fare of ten Thai baht.

Pattaya Bay by dusk, looking south from Dusit Thani hotel. Copyright John Borthwick
Pattaya Bay by dusk, looking south from Dusit Thani hotel. Copyright John Borthwick

For family fun, the surrounding Chonburi province has quality theme parks such as Nong Nooch Tropical Gardens and Ramayana Water Park. Near the latter is Buddha Mountain, a 100-metre high image etched in gold on a cliff-face. Meanwhile, the most celebrated attraction is the Sanctuary of Truth at Wong Amat just north of town. This extraordinary, all-wood structure surmounted by a 105-metre spire honors an amalgam of eastern religions and mythology, and was 30 years in the making.

Copyright John Borthwick
Copyright John Borthwick

The Gulf region around Pattaya could be known as the Golf of Siam, with some 20 courses and driving ranges within an hour’s travel. Less physically exerting are the Thai-style massages available everywhere across town. The quality varies, but at under $10 an hour you can afford to sample several shops. Recommended is a skilled one at the Thai Blind Massage Institute in the Jomtien Complex shopping centre.

Neon nights, Pattaya, Thailand Copyright John Borthwick
Neon nights, Pattaya, Thailand, Copyright John Borthwick

Nightlife is still Pattaya’s middle name and parts of town don’t really get going until dusk when scores of beer bars start filling up. You’ll find industrially spiced nightlife along South Pattaya’s Walking Street, a garish strip of go-go bars, buskers and wide-eyed, flag-following tour groups. Pull up a pew here at an open-air bar, order a brew and contemplate the passing circus in its extremes of beauty and bawdiness. Keep in mind as you watch that the city’s welcome archway at Jomtien Beach declares, “Pattaya the Extreme City”, as both a boast and caution.

Tiffany Show. Copyright John Borthwick
Tiffany Show. Copyright John Borthwick

Pattaya has entertainment for all, and for all three sexes. Its most glamorous transvestite cabaret, the famous Tiffany Show stars elaborately costumed kathoey (lady boys) whose high-kicking, lip-synching routines are lots of fun and family-rated, too.

Shopping comes high on the list for many visitors and Pattaya obliges with swags of bargain beachwear, shoes and luggage. For quality, brand-name goods at fixed prices, try the beachfront malls like Central Festival or Royal Garden.

Sanctuary of Truth, teak temple, Pattaya, Copyright John Borthwick
Sanctuary of Truth, teak temple, Pattaya, Copyright John Borthwick

You’re spoiled for bed choices here with major hotel brands including Holiday Inn, Sheraton, Dusit, Marriott, Hilton and Accor. There are also scores of quality, mid-budget hotels stretching from Naklua in the north, through the party zone of central Pattaya and south to Jomtien. 

© John Borthwick 2009
© John Borthwick 2009

SURVIVAL TIPS: Swim at Jomtien or Wong Amat rather than in the dubious waters of Pattaya Bay. Never rent a jetski (scams galore) nor use a camera in a go-go bar (bouncers galore). Don’t ride in a taxi without first agreeing the price. Avoid Pattaya during Thai New Year, Songkran, in mid-April, when you’ll be drenched day and night for a week in the world’s largest watertight. Fun at first, then not.

Words and photographs © John Borthwick 2020

Riding the Thai Rattler: a Kingdom of Rails

Platform and trains at Hualamphong, Bangkok central railway station. January 2018. Copyright John Borthwick
Platform and trains at Hualamphong, Bangkok central railway station. January 2018. Copyright John Borthwick

Bangkok’s grand Hualamphong terminus is at the heart of a national rail network stretching from Nong Khai to Hat Yai, and beyond. The station, with its Italianate facade and a vast, vaulted roof, was built in 1916 by the modernising ruler, King Rama V and is a throwback to the glory days of steam rail. Hualamphong lends your journey a thrill of ceremonial departure but go see it soon, before “redevelopment” occurs. Meanwhile, here are few Thailand rail samplers.

Guest blogger John Borthwick takes to the rails across the Kingdom.

Copyright John Borthwick
Copyright John Borthwick

Bangkok—Chiang Mai Express. The night express to Chiang Mai is Thailand’s classic rail journey. Step aboard for the 750-km ride and be ready to rock all night (quite literally) on the narrow, one-metre gauge track. A snappily dressed State Railways inspector checks your ticket, followed by a caterer who takes meal orders. The carriages (ex-Japan Rail) are tired but clean. Stretch out on a reserved bunk and with railroad songs humming through your head fall asleep to the heavy metal lullaby of steel wheels on rackety rails. Wake in time for breakfast in Chiang Mai. This service is so popular with foreign visitors it could be re-named the Farang Express.

Thailand 2007. John Borthwick
Thailand 2007. John Borthwick

Eastern & Oriental Express. On a train that’s a rolling work of art you can live out any “retro-Raj” fantasies (should have ‘em) during a three-night, four-day luxury rail cruise between Bangkok and Singapore, or vice-versa. To stand at the train’s rear-end, open-air viewing platform and watch Thailand and Malaysia slip away behind you, green and templed from dawn til dusk, is one of the finest perspectives anywhere in the kingdom of rails. Yes, it is both exquisite and expensive.

Talat Rom Hoop ('Closing Umbrella Market') on both sides of local train line.
Talat Rom Hoop (‘Closing Umbrella Market’) on both sides of local train line.

Mae Khlong Railway. Thailand’s shortest rail line, the 67-km Mae Khlong Railway, running between Bangkok’s Wong Wian Yai and Samut Songkhram, terminates amid the melee of a local market. Thais call the place Talat Rohm Hoop — Umbrella Pull Down Market — but foreigners know it better as the Risky Market. Why? The rail tracks run through the middle of the crowded marketplace. The morning train, a two-carriage electric service, arrives with a horn blast. Hawkers rush to pull back their awnings (“umbrellas”), with only seconds to spare. As the market parts before the train like the Red Sea before Moses, the train rumbles past, inches from your face. Risky marketing, indeed.

Antique steam train icon and caution sign, at Wang Duan, narrowest part of peninsula Thailand (10.96 km) . Copyright John Borthwick
Antique steam train icon and caution sign, at Wang Duan, narrowest part of peninsula Thailand (10.96 km) . Copyright John Borthwick

Kanchanaburi “Death Railway”. A sombre reminder of Japan’s infamous World War II Burma-Siam Railway can be visited 80-km west of Bangkok in Kanchanaburi. Tourists come to see its “Bridge on the River Kwai” (made famous in the 1956 movie of that name), although the bridge we see today is not the original structure. The “Death Railway” wasn’t named lightly. Spare a thought here for those who perished building the line — over 80,000 Thai and other Asian laborers, and 12,600 Allied POWs.

Ticket inspector checking on train, Hua Hin railway station. January 2018. Copyright John Borthwick
Ticket inspector checking on train, Hua Hin railway station. January 2018. Copyright John Borthwick

Bangkok-Vientiane Line. Aboard this train you’ll cross Thailand to the northeast and view Isaan in comfort but the service doesn’t go all the way Vientiane. At Nong Khai passengers cross the Thai-Lao border bridge on the Mekong River and then join a connecting shuttle train that terminates at Thanaleng, 20-km short of the Lao capital. This overnight trip is superior to its Bangkok—Chiang Mai cousin, having new carriages, better dining facilities and seats with their own power outlets.

'Luggage Room' sign Hua Hin railway station. January 2018. Copyright John Borthwick
‘Luggage Room’ sign Hua Hin railway station. January 2018. Copyright John Borthwick

Bangkok—Hua Hin-Surathani. Riding south you’ll pass through Hua Hin, 200 km from Bangkok. In the 1920s when a line was first pushed through to British Malaya, Hua Hin’s most important structure was its railway station. While you’re at the platform check out the historic Royal Waiting Room that looks like a cross between a Buddhist temple and a ticket office. Rolling on — blink and you’ll miss it — is tiny Wang Duan beside the Gulf of Thailand, south of Prachuap Khiri Khan. This whistle-stop (where the trains don’t whistle and rarely stop) has a claim to fame and a signboard to prove it. This pinch-point between the Gulf and the Myanmar border to the west is, as the sign proclaims, “The Narrowest of Thailand. 10.96 kilometres.” A few hours later your reach Surathani, jumping off spot for the ferry to Koh Samui.

Suratani Express train at Hua Hin railway station.9 January 2018. Copyright John Borthwick
Suratani Express train at Hua Hin railway station.9 January 2018. Copyright John Borthwick

Thai Train Travel Tips

  • Traveling in Thailand by rail is highly economical and also wise, given the country’s heavy road fatalities.
  • Reserve your seat in advance especially if travelling near public holidays or on the popular Chiang Mai service. For convenience (and a small extra fee), book through an agent.
  • With a sleeper berth, go for the slightly more expensive lower bunk; the upper one is narrower and, being near the A/C vent, colder.
  • More information see: www.thailandbytrain.com; www.seat61.com/thailand; www.12go.asia

Copyright John Borthwick
Copyright John Borthwick

Words and photographs © John Borthwick 2020