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Maya Bay is no real secret - Leonardo DiCarprio's The Beach took care of that - but it is still one of the most naturally stunning places on earth. The old Thai longboats that settle in on the beach help add to the atmosphere too. As far as pure tourist destinations go, this is one of the best in the country.
On every trip, I try to ride my motorbike up to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, a beautiful temple on the top of the mountain just outside of town. The view of the Chiang Mai valley is breathtaking on a clear day. I go to the shrine in the back of the temple and receive a blessing from the presiding monk. —Andy Ricker Photo by whyyan/Flickr. This appeared in the May 2013 issue.
On the island of Kho Phi Phi, there is the usual town that greets you with bars, restaurant and easy-to-get lodging if you didn't plan ahead. However, if you are so inclined, on the far side of the island there is a veritable Smurf village that awaits you. You can hike 45 minutes through the trails to get there, or take a long tail boat, but either way it's worth discovering Phi Phi Relax Resort! This enchanting little gathering of hut houses is made by hand from the locals with materials only from the surrounding jungle. There is no hot water, but it's also not cold, and it's extremely refreshing after being in the sun all day and swimming in the ocean. And the electricity is only turned on at night so you can navigate your way among the village's stepping stone trails. I mean, I know we wanted 'off the grid,' but we didn't expect it to be literally. This place was green before it was cool to be green.
The old Chinese market, its shop houses painted in bright colors, is one of Bangkok’s most beautiful and fun. As you wander, let your eyes search for crowded noodle stalls, try the famous sweets, or browse stands selling fresh vegetables and seafood. It’s best to go before 1 p.m. You might see a Chinese opera performance on the stage inside the market. Thanon Nakhon Sawan at Nakhon Sawan 7 Open Mon.–Fri. This appeared in the May/June 2010 issue. Photo by Martin Westlake. See all of Tanongsak “Dtong” Yordwai’s favorite places in Dusit, Bangkok.
The place to go for curries—with lotus shoots or with crabmeat—Krua Apsorn is a favorite restaurant for me and for some members of the royal family. The decor is not very exciting, but the food is. Thanon Samsen, near the corner of Soi Samsen 9 and the National Library. This story appeared in the May/June 2010 issue. Photo by Martin Westlake. See all of Tanongsak “Dtong” Yordwai’s favorite places in Dusit, Bangkok.
Waking early to the loud morning chorus of the Thai rainforest is an amazing experience. Whooping gibbons, honking hornbills and buzzing insects compete to fill the air waves with their loud songs to the new day. The floating bungalows on Lake Chiew Lan are located in Khao Sok National Park in Surat Thani province. A night or two can be arranged through your lodging in Khlong Sok near the park entrance. In our case, we stayed at Khao Sok Rainforest Resort and prearranged a night on the water as part of our package. In addition to the morning music, you'll be joined for breakfast by nosy macaques.
Translated to mean "The Temple of the Dawn," the Wat Arun complex is a huge, active monastery. At the heart of Wat Arun are the five stupas, or towers, each pointing towards the heavens. Originally decorated with the broken china that served as ballast for river barges, the stupas are colorful and wonderfully eclectic. For the more adventurous travelers, it’s possible to climb to the top of the central stupa for amazing views of the city. The first time I visited six years ago it started raining so we sought shelter under one of the temple awnings. It was a magical moment sitting there contemplating the meticulously constructed towers. Hands down, my favorite spot in all of Bangkok is this riverside temple. Wat Arun is located on the west side of Chao Praya River opposite Tha Thien Pier. It's open from 8:00 a.m. until 5:30 p.m. and requires a nominal entrance fee.
Two of the cooks who worked with me at Nahm in London opened a dinner-only spot named Bo.lan. Bo and Dylan prepare traditional but often hard-to-find dishes, such as stir-fried chicken thighs with bamboo shoots, and red curry of pork hock. —David Thompson This appeared in the May 2013 issue.
Staircase inside of the second floor of the Erawan Museum in Bangkok, Thailand. The Erawan Museum is located in Samut Prakan Province (on the outskirts of Bangkok) and was built by Lek Viriyaphant, an eccentric Thai millionaire who was also responsible for the construction of The Ancient City (also in Samut Prakan) and the Sanctuary of Truth in Pattaya. The building is a syncretic blend of traditional Thai and European architecture and design elements and is incredibly psychedelic--it's like a church dedicated to the worship of one man's subconscious. The museum's three separate floors symbolize the universe and are designed in accordance with the three-tiered cosmology of the Hindu-Thai Buddhist concept of Tribhumi. The structure is topped by a massive 20-meter high statue of a three-headed elephant outside and many Thais come to worship on the grounds of the museum as they view the building as one of the most revered objects in the province. Not to be missed.
Thailand isn’t necessarily known for its coffee, but Akha Ama is the exception. This is a very small coffee shop in Santhitham. It exclusively distributes coffee produced by the Akha people who live in the village of Mae Jan Tai in northern Thailand. They do all of the fancy café drinks like shakeratos, lattes, and mochas. They also make baked goods, such as muffins, in-house every day. —Andy Ricker 9/1 Mata Apartment Hassadhisawee Rd., Soi 3, 66(0)86-915-8600. This appeared in the May 2013 issue
In addition to the trip that writer Chris Colin took from Singapore to Bangkok, E&O carries travelers on runs of similar duration with end points in Bangkok and Chiang Mai, and Vientiane, Laos. Longer rides in the retro-styled green- and-cream carriages are offered in the Chronicles of Southeast Asia packages: Epic Thailand, Fables of the Hills, and Tales of Laos. From $2,560. (800) 237-1236. Photo courtesy of Ian Lloyd, Orient-Express Hotels, Ltd. This appeared in the June/July 2013 issue.
This a breath-taking place, the James Bond Island in Phuket, Thailand. The island got its name from featuring in the James Bond movie "The Man with the Golden Gun". This is a must-go place part of the island-hopping activity in Phuket.
To find the best pad thai stall, go out the back door of the Sri Yan market, continue past the motorbike queue, and look for an open-air restaurant painted bright pink. Or ask the locals, ‘Raan pad thai yuu tii nai?’ (Where is the place that sells pad thai?) Thanon Sri Yan, just behind the Sri Yan market. This story appeared in the May/June 2010 issue. Photo by Martin Westlake. See all of Tanongsak “Dtong” Yordwai’s favorite places in Dusit, Bangkok.
One of my favorite festivals in the world is the Loi Krathong / Yi Peng ‘festival of light’ in Thailand. Both occur at the same time and although differing slightly, both represent the cleansing of sins. Yi Peng takes place mainly in Chiang Mai in the north of Thailand, and involves mass coordinated releases of ‘Khom Loi’ (floating lanterns) into the night sky, creating an outstanding visual treat. Although releasing Khom Loi is also popular in other areas around Thailand, Chiang Mai is the place to be to see it happen. Elsewhere in Thailand, the Loi Krathong Festival is more popular. As opposed to floating lanterns into the night sky, Loi Krathong involves releasing buoyant ‘krathongs’ onto water. Krathongs are delicate floating tributes to the Goddess of Water (Phra Mae Kongka) often made using banana leaves and flowers and are lit with a small candle. Ayutthaya and Bangkok are both great places to experience the Loi Krathong festival. In Ayutthaya, the crowds gather at Bueng Phra Ram in the Historical Park while locals in Bangkok flock to the Chao Phraya River to release their sins out onto the water. It really is a spectacular sight - don’t forget to take your tripod and camera!
Chiang Mai: a city filled with creativity, craftsmanship and curry. A visit to Chiang Mai isn’t complete without getting your fill of all three. A hankering for curry is an easy fix; you can easily satiate your hunger for gigantic, fiery bowls at any restaurant a stone’s throw away. Or you can make your own bowl of khao soi or hang ley at one of the many cooking schools in town, such as the Baan Thai Cookery School. While you are going from one curry fix to the next, be sure to appreciate the fine craftsmanship and creativity of the architecture surrounding you. The city is filled with beautiful temples; the Wat Chedi Luang was perhaps one of the most impressive and is particularly stunning at dusk. To experience creativity and craftsmanship in action, look no further than the Sa Paper and Umbrella Handicraft Market, a short drive outside of Chiang Mai. Touring through the market you can watch all stages of umbrella making, from the forming of the wooden frame to the final stage when the delicate illustrations are painted. Of course the gift shop next to the workshop is filled with beautiful finished products for sale. And let’s be honest, a handmade and custom painted umbrella would be a better souvenir than the ill-fitting “Singha Beer” t-shirt that everyone else bought. Even if you have no interest in buying an umbrella, or umbrellas in general, be sure to stop by and admire the skill and creativity of the ladies at the Sa Handicraft Market.
I’m an early riser and I like to go to Talaat Meuang Mai at around 7 a.m. to see one of the most interesting and active wet markets in Thailand. You’ll find food vendors selling produce, meat, fish, poultry, and groceries. Look out for a stall selling jok and khao tom (rice porridge and rice soup, respectively), a typical Thai breakfast that is both filling and delicious but will not drag you down for the day like a typical western breakfast. —Andy Ricker Photo by Yasuo Kida/Flickr This appeared in the May 2013 issue.
After eating amazing dish after amazing dish, I knew I wanted to leave Thailand knowing how to bring some of the flavors I'd experienced into my own kitchen. Silom Thai Cooking School was the perfect place to do that. Gung, our teacher, was wonderfully charming, infectiously funny, and exceptionally knowledgeable. We started our class in a market, learning about different Thai ingredients. My knowledge about garlic alone quadrupled! We then returned to the cozy cooking school where we cooked tom yum soup, pad thai, green curry, laab gai and rubies in coconut milk. Vegetarian options were available. I think if everything was portioned out for me and I never had to do any dishes, I'd always be an amazing cook. Still, everything we created was delicious and the recipe book we were given included additional dishes and ingredient explanations. For an incredibly reasonable cost ($30, and they'll refund you for your transportation to the school), I had a really wonderful afternoon with some amazing people. It was so fun, a few of us solo travelers decided to continue exploring together and ended up at a Thai boxing match, but that's another story....
Kuaytiaw Tii Noi on Suthep Road has the best kuaytiaw reua, boat noodles. This restaurant is famous for having tiny bowls of either beef or pork boat noodles and I would advise getting one of each, or just order phiseht (special), which will score you a larger bowl. —Andy Ricker photo by avlxyz/Flickr. This appeared in the May 2013 issue
Accompany elephants as they make their way to a “retirement” park in Northern Thailand after careers in trekking camps. The project is an attempt both to give the elephants a more pleasant, natural life and to rebuild the bonds between the animals and the Karen people, who have traditionally worked closely with elephants. Volunteers stay in homes in Karen villages. —Kellie Schmitt Escort Elephants: $500 for one week, including food and homestays. 66/(0) 53-818754, elephantnaturepark.org. Other Trips to Help AnimalsWhales in Costa RicaSnow leopards in Central Asia Orangutans in IndonesiaMeerkats in South AfricaHorses in California Photo by Yvette Cardozo/Photolibrary. This story appeared in the November/December 2011 issue.
Or Tor Kor market, on Kamphaengphet Road, has the most beguiling array of fruit: custard apples, jackfruit, mangoes, and lychees. Thais believe desserts are the pinnacle of their cuisine, and the stalls here are a testament to this faith. Durian is my favorite. —David Thompson Photo by rpongsaj/Flickr. This appeared in the May 2013 issue.
American food journalist Jarrett Wrisley opened Soul Food Mahanakorn, a homey restaurant on the posh street, Soi Thonglor. Look for dishes such as yam makrua yao, a smoky eggplant salad topped with boiled duck eggs. —David Thompson This appeared in the May 2013 issue. Image courtesy of Soul Food Mahanakorn.
One of the activities in Phuket is kayaking in a maze of forest, and surrounded by the trees. Of course, an expert guide will row the boat through, and let you take all the pictures you want. However, some areas are under the cave, so that you have to lie down in the boat until you barely pass through.
The best dim sum is at Mei Jiang, the Cantonese restaurant located inside the Peninsula Hotel. My order typically includes the har gow [steamed prawn dumplings with ginger], the drunken chicken with jellyfish, and the snow pea pastries. —David Thompson This appeared in the May 2013 issue.
I come often to this wat, also known as the Marble Temple. It was built by King Rama V in 1899. It’s one of the loveliest in the city, but it’s less crowded with tourists than wats farther south in Bangkok. —Tanongsak “Dtong” Yordwai Near corner of Thanon Sri Ayutthaya and Thanon Rama V. This appeared in the May/June 2010 issue. Photo by Martin Westlake. See all of Tanongsak “Dtong” Yordwai’s favorite places in Dusit, Bangkok.
For my money, this is the closest thing to a postcard-perfect paradise as there is in this world. Happy little clouds (-Bob Ross), blue-green ocean, mammoth limestone peaks, longtail boats swaying in the breeze, and an unending tropical sandscape. The island of Koh Ngai is a short boat ride away from Koh Lanta, Ngai's more famous big brother. Ngai features a few restaurants and hotels set off from the beach, but it is, by and large, a throwback South East Asian hideaway - sleepy, relaxed, and unblemished by ferocious corporate development (re: there are no 7/11 shops here). If you make it out to Koh Lanta, do yourself a favour and book a day or two on Koh Ngai - but only if you're interested in chilling on the beach, drinking juice from raw coconuts, and shooting pretty pictures.
A visit to Chatachuk Market on the weekend in Bangkok is well worth it, reportedly the largest market in the world with 9,000+ stalls selling everything you could possibly imagine, and there's even a DHL right there, so you can ship whatever you buy home. And just when you can't make it down one more aisle of shops, it hits you - Cafe Ice. Tucked in Section 7 of the market, the food here is wonderful, the service friendly and the smoothies, well, hot and humid Bangkok doesn't have a chance. For under $10, you can have a full and tasty lunch, and rest your feet for another assault on the market.
Thai massage is also known as passive yoga and can be very good when done by a skilled practitioner and it is absurdly cheap by western standards. In Thailand, the blind are thought to be the best at giving nuat thai, and in Chiang Mai there are several places where this is available, but the Association Massage Chiang Mai of the Blind is your best bet. Go for at least an hour. I personally advice booking a for two-hours if you want the best experience. —Andy Ricker 9 Rajadamri Road, Chang Phuak, 66(0)/53-406-017. This appeared in the May 2013 issue
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