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Thailand. The Land of Smiles

04 July 2014


After a relatively painless 12 hour flight to Bangkok, you can shed your Winter woollies and slip into casual Thai style clothes, and shake off your workday stress in the Land of Smiles.

After a recent trip to Thailand with a group of fellow travel workers, and with compliments of the Tourism Authority of Thailand and Thai Airways, we were reacquainted with the magical destination of Thailand.

Thailand is an easy holiday pick for New Zealanders, relatively easy to fly to, albeit a 12 hour flight, and once there, the climate is fantastic, mostly in the high twenty’s early thirty’s year round. The choices of accommodation options is huge and good value for your dollar. I was pleasantly surprised at the size of the hotel rooms in Bangkok. Food, drink and shopping are all easy on your budget.

We travelled straight to Phuket, so after a quick hour and a half in Bangkok airport we were off on another one hour flight to Phuket.

Phuket is a much larger island than you think, taking about 1 hour to drive from North to South, depending on traffic, which can be quite heavy at times. The main, most famous part of Phuket is Patong Beach. This is where most of the shops, markets, and night life is, along with nearly 2km of sandy palm fringed beach. Other, quieter areas are Karon and Kata beaches, which are also big tourist areas. Phuket town, Ao Chalong and Cape Panwa, are not so popular locations to stay in, purely because they are not in the main tourist spots. Ao Chalong is where many of the boats are based for dive trips and trips to the islands.

Patong has many hotel options from being right in the centre of the action of Bangla Road, to the quieter Northern part of the beach. This is still only a cheap tuk tuk ride into the main shopping area of Patong. Patong comes alive at night, with many bars, clubs, shows and market stalls and many colourful characters parading the street for your entertainment.

During the day, there is plenty to do. Most hotels have extensive swimming pool areas, often having more than one pool option, swim up bars to enjoy an afternoon cocktail, spas for a famous Thai massage or other such pampering treatments. Markets stalls, and the one shopping centre called Jungceylon are open from 11am to 10pm daily. Days trips can take you to Phi Phi Island or the James Bond Island for a day on the water, snorkelling and swimming, or if long boat trips are not your thing, paragliding off the beach, jetskiing and the usual beach activities abound. There are many elephant trekking operations as well.

We incorporated a day long trip to the district of Phang Nga off the island of Phuket to do both elephant trekking and white water rafting at the Ton Pariwat Wildlife Sanctuary. While the trip to get there was long and windey, it was well worth feeling a little car sick. The white water rafting was exhilarating and fun. Safety equipment in the form of helmets and lifejackets and a full briefing on how to hold the paddle so it doesn’t turn into a weapon started the day. Four to an inflatable boat along with two rafting guides forward and aft helped us steer down the rapids. With a grade of only 2/3 they were very user friendly and you could opt to help paddle or just hang on. Being a stream, the locals dam it up to build up enough water flow and let it go once we started down the river. This then creates a nice little turbulent river to raft down.

Once safely back and after a cool off swim in the Ton Pariwat waterfall, a Thai lunch by the river, we were off to ride an elephant. Never having done this before , and a quiet fear of heights, I was a little apprehensive about sitting atop an elephant, which is an awful long way above the ground. Fear aside, it was fun, if not a little scary at first as the elephant trudged down a muddy slippery path in the jungle, but once we got underway and I realised she wasn’t about to go charging off, the I relaxed somewhat and enjoyed the ride. It was very pleasing to hear, and see how they care for the elephants and In fact it is a sanctuary for them. After a 2 hour ride back to Patong it was a cool off swim and a cocktail in the pool.

Bangkok, is all you would expect from a large city. Skyscrapers outline the horizon, hectic traffic and hustle and bustle of the 9 million people who live there, but exciting all the same. Bangkok is a shopper’s paradise bar none. The famous MBK shopping centre is easily accessible, as are all the shopping malls via the BTS skytrain system. Each shopping mall is a day trip in itself, so please go shopping with fellow shopaholics, as partners who don’t shop may get bored!

Aside from shopping, Bangkok has many temples, mostly Buddhist temples to visit and is built around the Chao Phraya River. Many river cruises are available as well, both dinner cruises and day trips.

Thailand is a fantastic launching destination for other South East Asia travel, and you don’t need a visa for entry for up to 30 days if flying in, or 15 days if going in overland.

Thai Airways fly 4 times a week direct to Bangkok. Also Singapore Airlines, Qantas, Air New Zealand and Cathay Pacific fly via their respective hub cities.

Bangkok Air is a great airline to use for internal flights within Thailand.

Story by: Louise Allen

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