Hidden Treasures of Thailand

I’m Bev, I work for Co-op Travel in Dudley and was given the chance to visit Thailand recently. When they told me I was wouldn’t be seeing any of their beautiful tropical beaches my first thoughts were… really! What else is there see and do?

But Thailand is not just about the amazing beach resorts in the South, the north offers an alternative destination stop whereby you can visit the magical temples and enchanting city of Chiang Mai or visit elephant sanctuaries in Chiang Rai and if that’s not enough you can do an excursion that takes in 3 countries on one day as Thailand boarders Myanmar (Burma) and Laos – otherwise known as the Golden Triangle – from when the Chinese used gold to pay for opium grown in these regions.

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Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai is Thailand’s fifth largest city and its origin dates back to 1296, its walled city has a “small town feel” and I see it as a laid back and much smaller version of Bangkok. Super easy to get about, tuk-tuks and taxis easily available and reasonable pricing. Tip: agree the price first prior to traveling.

During the day there are at least 30 temples to choose from to explore, whereas the evening a must to do is shop at the night Bazaar, where you can then head onto a Bar along Loi Kroh Road. The first night on the town we even caught a Thai tribute to the Beatles!

A WAT here, a WAT there, a WAT everywhere!

You can’t not make a visit to northern Thailand without seeing some of their most spectacular historical temples – otherwise called a WAT. Admittedly, one WAT does start to resemble another WAT after a while, but it’s the history and story behind them that makes each one unique. Tip; Shoulders and knees must be covered up by ladies, so be prepared in advance when visiting any temple sites. Also, never take photos of the monks unless you have permission.

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We visited several, some of my highlights include;

Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

This is one of Thailand’s most sacred temples and is 10 miles out of the town up a hillside overlooking the city. This monastery was established in 1383 by King Keu Naone to enshrine a piece of bone from Buddha. The bone was put on an elephant that wandered the jungle until it died. The monastery was then built-in that same spot where the elephant died. Tip; there are 200+ steps up to the monastery so I recommend you take the lift.

Wat Suan Dok

This temple is within Chiang Mai city and dates back to 1373, it was built for the 6th King of the Mangrai Dynasty (when stories are told by the historians they always refer to the King by number; 1, 2, 3 etc). In the main building is a bronze cast of Buddha with width of two metres and height of 3 metres and said to be the size of the 6th King himself. Big boy then!

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Wat Chedi Luang

Building started in 1391 and took almost a century to finish! By the time it was completed it was the largest structure in Chiang Mai. However, in 1545 disaster struck when a massive earthquake destroyed parts of the building, taking much off the top. All 4 sides have large staircases flanked by guardian mythical creatures.

From Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai

The distance between the two cities is 125 miles and would take just over 3 hours in total by road. The best way to break it up is with a visit to the White Temple or maybe even go and see the “long neck” Hill Tribes.

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White Temple

The White temple, officially named Wat Rong Kuan, is 5 miles outside of Chiang Rai. It is a modern Buddhist Temple which didn’t open to visitors until 1997. A local artist decided to restore this temple with his own money and wanted to document modern-day history on the inside walls with paintings representing the Twin Towers disaster and even Harry Potter. Definitely worth a visit here.

Hill Tribes

The visit to long neck Hill tribes left me with mixed emotions. These ladies wear a spiral brass coil around their necks from an age of about 5 to whenever they get married. Apparently, it’s to make them look more beautiful. They certainly “performed” for the tourist, and had plenty of craft stalls all selling the same handmade scarfs and trinkets. It’s great if you’re looking for souvenirs but if you are looking for an authentic tribal experience this isn’t the place.

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Chiang  Rai – Antara Golden Triangle Elephant Camp and Resort

This fabulous 5* hotel is set on a ridge overlooking the hills of Thailand, Myanmar and Laos. The hotel has the feel of a superior safari lodge with dark teak floors and elegant furnishings. Hotel is all-inclusive with either 1 spa treatment per day or an excursion provided by the hotel. The large pool comes with a Jacuzzi, loads of sun loungers and beautiful rural views. Be prepared for visits from the local elephants from their sanctuary at breakfast!

Antara Golden Triangle Elephant Sanctuary has been set up to help rescue elephants from Thailand’s city streets; there are about 20 currently at the camp. Walking with the elephants was such a fantastic experience and to see these gentle giants in such close proximity – WOW!  Tip; take plenty of Mosquito repellent as you go walking through the jungle.

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Golden Triangle tour

This is one of the tours included in the stay at the hotel and involves visiting 3 countries in one day. A scheduled early start takes us to the border of Thailand and Myanmar (was Burma). Bizarrely you lose ½ hour going across the border, because Myanmar wanted to be different!  There is a huge market place right on the border which offers all sorts of produce from unusual fish to cows tongue and tails. Honestly, the smell was horrendous.

The tuk-tuk experience was the highlight, taking us around the small town and to visit a working monastery teaching children.

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Back to the border and we then picked up speedboats to take us along the Mekong River. Not exactly a smooth ride, be prepared to get a little wet as they are not speedboats as we know them, more like a wooden canoe with an engine! Arriving in Laos at riverside there was another market, this time selling everything from copy handbags to dead snakes. We got back on the river again and the boats took us straight back to the hotel quayside.

Tip; This tour is a full day out, so take plenty of water and decent walking shoes. You’ll also need to cover shoulders and knees when visiting monastery in Myanmar. There is no need to exchange Thai baht as they are accepted in both Myanmar and Laos.

Bangkok

Our UK flight landed in Bangkok, so we spent some time there before the return journey. Traffic in Bangkok is horrendous, our airport transfer of only 16 miles took well over an hour. I knew Bangkok is busy but didn’t think the traffic would be this bad, so make sure you leave plenty of time just in case.

Bangkok by day

Bangkok is a huge city full of energy, crammed with bustling markets, art deco hotels and fast food stalls on every corner. The river is packed with boats and people are everywhere.  A must is to take a boat ride down the Chao Phraya river and see the famous Grand Palace. There are plenty of shopping places and the huge MBK shopping centre offers the best bargains and (bonus) it was right opposite the Lit hotel where we stayed.

Bangkok by night

Bangkok comes alive a night, with plenty of bars and fashionable restaurants around the city, along with the famous Patpong district offering the famous go-go bars. It’s totally safe to wander around and there is some interesting entertainment on offer. The shopping centres are stay open until 10pm so shopping can even continue into the evening. Taxis and tuk-tuks are plentiful – just be prepared for traffic.

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So there you have it, proof that Thailand is not just beautiful beaches. If you are after a destination which offers you a bit of everything and are okay with some additional travelling, then Thailand should be top of your list.

If you have any questions about or are interested in booking a holiday to Thailand then give Bev a call on 01384 214133, or drop her an email at dudley@cooptravel.coop

The views and opinions expressed in this blog are that of the author and not necessarily representative of Co-operative Travel or Midcounties Co-operative.

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