Thailand hooks in more tourists than any other country in South East Asia. From winter 2013, First Choice will be able to fly you there, too. We look at the parts of the country most worthy of your air miles.
If you’re wondering what Thailand’s got that other countries don’t, ‘khwaam pen thai’ is your answer. The phrase translates as ‘Thai-ness’. It means street food, temples known as wats, and floating markets where longtail boats stand in for stalls.
History takes credit for the country’s je ne sais quoi. Thailand is one of the only places in the world to have ever been colonised by a foreign power. It’s been invaded often enough, but no nation has ever really had enough influence to dilute its blood.
In a country of 513,000 square kilometres, it can be hard to know where to cut your Thai teeth. Even return visitors have trouble choosing their favourite place. Those that do pledge their allegiances, though, tend to do it to Phuket, Bangkok, Krabi and Khao Lak. Here’s why…
Phuket, just off Thailand’s south west coast, is corralled by more than 80 kilometres of coastline.
Patong Beach sits at one end of the spectrum. The daylight beach scene here is summed up by the phrase ‘mi pen rai’, which has a similar meaning to the Jamaican ‘no worries’. Sunbathers loaf on sunloungers while the sporty parasail in the Andaman Sea. At night, the place plugs itself into the mains, and tourists flow like an electrical current between the cocktail bars and live music pubs on Bangla Road.
Mai Khao Beach, on Phuket’s north west coast, is the reverse. A virtual vacant sign hangs over the 11-kilometre band of sand here. It always will, too. This part of the island belongs to the Sirinat National Park, so it’s protected from development.
Tempo-wise, Karon Beach and Kata occupy the middle ground. Sunloungers are spread out in Goldilocks fashion – there’s just the right amount – and palms line the sand.
The official Thai name for Bangkok is made up of 16 different words. Funnily enough, there’s nothing excessive about this stanza-length name. Thailand’s capital city is hard to summarise. In fact, entire guidebooks fail to do it justice.
Bangkok is the city of meditative wats, holy shrines and markets where humans form tides to swirl between 15,000 stalls. It’s a capital where, at night, monks pray in pin-drop silence as drinkers stream between open-air beer stands, cocktail bars and techno clubs.
Then there’s the food. You could do a master’s degree on the cuisine in this city. The street food is not to be missed. For a pocketful of change, pushcart
vendors cook up sticky rice and noodles as thick as shoe laces.
Bangkok breaks are available as part of First Choice’s new range of twin centre holidays, which means you can spend 3 nights in the capital before heading to a beach resort for a week of R&R.
Located on the mainland on Thailand’s Andaman Coast, Krabi was made for pulling vanishing acts. The 150-mile coastline here is split up into almost 100 different beaches and coves, and they’re blockaded from the rest of the world by a screen of limestone cliffs.
The sea off the Krabi coast is dotted with desert islands, which are contoured by cliffs, beaches and coconut groves. The underwater scenery is just as compelling. Manta rays and seahorses are the natural satellites of coral reefs, while glassfish and pipefish dart between the rocks.
You don’t have to be anonymous in Krabi, though. In Ao Nang, in the centre of the Krabi coast, there are plenty of restaurants and bars, offering everything from happy-hour cocktails to pan-global food. But, despite being one of Krabi’s best known resorts,
it’s not bowed to all the trappings of tourism. The 2-kilometre beach is still largely sunlounger free, and traditional Thai longtail boats bob in the waters close to the shore.
Set on Thailand’s south west coast, Khao Lak is one of the country’s quietest beach resorts. It signs its autograph in white sand – 20 kilometres to be precise. And, more often than not, it’s footprint free. Unlike some of the more southern sun-and-sea destinations, Khao Lak doesn’t accessorise its beaches with bars and restaurants. Instead, the sands here nuzzle up to three national parks. Khao Lak Lam Ru National Park alone is patterned with 125 square kilometres of tropical forest, walking trails, mangroves and waterfalls.
Even the accommodation in this part of Thailand keeps things on the QT. Most of the villa resorts and hotels have been built so they’re camouflaged from view. And lots of them offer an All Inclusive set-up, so you won’t have to stray far from your hotel if you don’t want to.
First Choice’s Thailand holidays go on sale on 15th November 2012. PICK up a copy of the new Thailand brochure in your local Thomson travel shop, or visit firstchoice.co.uk