Thailand never ceases to amaze with its tropical beaches, bountiful greenery, wildlife and river safari, luxury cruise, opulent palaces, vineyard tours, delicious street food, shopping, thousands of ornate temples and cultural festivals.
TEXT & PHOTOGRAPHS BY NAMITA GUPTA
Anyone who has been to Thailand more than once and likes to wallow in its relaxed tropical beaches and buzzing nightlife cannot fail to be overwhelmed by the diversity of this Southeast Asian country. There are a lot of novel, immersive and inclusive experiences every single time you land here. So when the 2017 tourism figures were revealed, it didn’t come as a surprise that India was one of the top ten sources of visitor arrivals, a member of a small club of countries that generate more than one million visitors a year. In 2017, Thailand recorded 1.41 million visitor arrivals from India, up by 18% over 2016, generating an estimated 120 billion Rupees (62.40 billion baht) in tourism income. But the most exciting part is that Indian travellers are looking at newer avenues beyond their traditional hotspots of Bangkok and Pattaya, and exploring Chanthaburi, Chiang Rai, Rayong, Trat, Hua Hin and Samut Songkram.
After my arrival at Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok, I rushed to the visa-on-arrival counter for the visa formalities. Despite the long wait in the queue, there was a spring in my step to explore the unexplored. Open to the new shades of Thailand, my first stop was a quick meeting with the bigwigs like Thailand’s royalty, Narendra Modi, Barack Obama, Angelina Jolie, Beyonce, Madonna, Lady Gaga, Mark Zuckerberg, actor Prabas and others at Madame Tussauds. From wax statues to underwater adventure all under one roof; I strolled around the Sea Life Bangkok Ocean World for a peek at some of the most unparalleled marine life. After an action-packed day, I checked-in to the Montien Riverside Hotel Bangkok and took some time to relax in the hotel room. Post a traditional Thai dinner on the green lawns of the hotel, I was all set to take a look at the famed nightlife of Bangkok. There’s enough said and known about the unwonted night life, this capital city has to offer, so I’ll leave it all to your imagination. But if I were to sum it up in one word, I would say it was exhilarating. Now let’s leave it at that and take you to the lesser known, must-see destinations in Thailand.
The Charming Countryside of Chanthaburi
After a hearty breakfast, I set out to unravel some unconventional sights and drove to Suan Lamai, Amphoe Wang Chan. Suan Lamai or the sheep farm is a large garden and farm that grows a diverse range of fruits and flowers. We walked through a valley of flowers with the backdrop of rugged mountain wilderness and a rainbow in the sky. The panoramic view of the mountains, wild forest, farms and deep valley made it a breathtaking site. We drove to Chanthaburi, an old town on the side of Chanthaburi River, about 250 km and 3 hours drive from Bangkok and checked in to the Maneechan Resort.
A quaint luxury resort is a perfect place to unwind and is tucked away from the hustle bustle of the city life. After breakfast, we spent a few hours walking in the Old Town Chanthaboon Waterfront. Apart from the old way of life and traditional buildings, this waterfront community is also well known for having the best street food in the moon city. On the way to the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, built in 1711, I stopped by at the 150-year-old heritage home of Luang Rajamaitri which is now a boutique hotel. Another building of repute that drew my attention was the Community Learning Centre in the Old Town Chantaboon Waterfront Learning Centre. Thailand has warm weather, with beaches and lots of sun, but there can be unpredictable rain showers at any time of the day.
Ravishing Rayong and Koh Samed
My next stop was Holiday Inn, Rayong. I headed straight to their lavish lunch buffet that whipped up some of the finest sea food feast of fresh crabs, prawns, squid, shrimp, mussels and more. A quick change to beach wear and I was on my way for a boat tour to Koh Samed. The water was inviting with an endless expanse of turquoise blue sea, crescent bays, fine white sandy shores and cozy coves. I loved watching the sun set at this secluded yet busy beach with ferryloads of locals and visitors.
The time stood still yet flew past before I realised. After a quick change at the hotel, I made my way to the Thanon Yomjinda Walking Street. There was a festival going on and the locals were dressed beautiful in their traditional costumes called Sabai, a long piece of silk, draped diagonally around the chest and selling locally made Thai dishes, snacks and handicrafts at the Rayong night market.
The Pleasures of Pattaya
After a quick breakfast the next morning, it was time to transfer to Pattaya. Enroute my drive from Rayong to Pattaya, I stopped at Ramayana Water Park, known to be the biggest water park in the country. It was full of adventure water rides, wave pools and endless showers. We soaked in all the fun and built an appetite for a wholesome lunch inside the water park. I drove past the image of Buddha engraved in gold into the northern face of Khao Chi Chan to browse through the Pattaya Floating Market. After a rushed tour of the floating market, I managed to reach Singha D’Luck Cinematic Theatre to enjoy the KAAN Show right on time. It was a complete visual delight and kept me glued to my seat all through.
After the show, I walked outside the theatre for a delicious dinner at Greyhound Café. The next morning I saw the Underwater World Pattaya, where you can experience the bottom of the sea through spectacular 105 m length tunnel with acrylic window. But what won me over was Art in Paradise, Pattaya. Known to be the first 3D arts museum in Thailand and the largest in the world, you will be amazed with these 3D paintings drawn by expert Korean painters and feel as if you’re a part of these paintings. The Chocolate Factory with a view of the beautiful beach for lunch was a fitting way to end my stay at Pattaya. But the best was yet to come!
On a high at Hua Hin
When I boarded my ferry from Pattaya and reached Hua Hin in one and a half hours, I knew that this was going to be fun. Hua Hin is home to some of the most beautiful beaches in Thailand with long stretches of golden sand beaches and an abundance of watersports including sailing, snorkeling, scuba diving and kite surfing. I stayed at the AVANI Hua Hin Resort & Villas Chang Wat, Phetchaburi that overlooks a secluded beach escape comprising 196 guest rooms including Standard Rooms, Pool Villas and Suites with impressive views of the garden, pool and ocean. The idyllic resort also has two restaurants, a Jazz Club, AVANISPA with nine treatment rooms including an authentic Hammam, AVANIFIT gym, AVANI Kids Club with indoor and outdoor facilities, a large lagoon style swimming pool and pool bar and a 900 square metre Ballroom, making it a perfect location for professional meetings and conferences, as well as large-scale weddings, honeymoon, family holidays, and social events.
After breakfast at STAA’s restaurant, I boarded the hotel cab and visited the Hua Hin Railway Station. Even if you’re not taking the train to anywhere, I recommend visiting this cute station that was built during the reign of King Rama VI. Hua Hin’s railway station and adjacent royal waiting room are undeniably attractive with its brightly painted wooden buildings. After a trip to nostalgia I drove to the Monsoon Valley Vineyard to discover some new latitude wines. The loamy-sand and slate terrain of Monsoon Valley Vineyards with its constant ocean breeze allows international grape varietals to thrive here, but what I really liked was the view of the picturesque winery from their restaurant where I sat for my lunch. There were a few visitors taking an elephant-ride and some biking around through the lush green vineyards. You can also visit the Mrigadayavan Palace on your trip to Hua Hin. I returned to my luxurious lagoon pool villa and relaxed in my comfortable and spacious room. I was given access to the AVANI Club lounge where I sipped on some champagne and nibbled on some cheese and quiche in the evening. My Italian dinner at Brezza al fresco sea-facing restaurant with live retro music was a perfect blend of delicate purity and rich balance. The next day and my last day in Thailand was a day steeped in luxury and losing myself in the riches of the resort. I went swimming in my private pool and was pampered at the Hammam Spa. I tried the AVANI Signature treatment that helped me relax and energised my tired muscles with a soothing full-body treatment. Bliss! As the hunger pangs kicked in it was time to indulge in some local flavours as the chefs whipped up a Thai set meal for me at STAA’s. Don’t skip the Hua Hin Night Market for some great thrift shopping, Thai artefacts and delicious fresh seafood. Thailand is truly one of the most enchanting countries with a good mix of all the ingredients required for a tranquil escape.