Thailand is one of the most visited countries in the region of South East Asia. With its close proximity to other countries as well as its vast differences between north to south and east to west, it makes for a great first stop in South East Asia for anyone who is new – or well seasoned – to the area, with the most likely first port of call being the bustling, sometimes insane city of Bangkok.
Depending what you want out of Bangkok, you’ll find it and get it. Interesting by day, hectic by night, there is something for everyone in this sprawling metropolis. From the Golden Royal Palace, to floating markets, and tourist-laden Khao San Road, and even the shifter Soi Cowboy, you will easily find enough things to do in the city to fill a day or two. Guesthouses and hotels are rampant in the city centre around Khao San, and in truth this is the tourist district. You won’t be hard pressed to find street vendors touting bracelets emblazoned with offensive slogans to fried scorpions primed for consumption and sand buckets by the dozens with any liquor you can imagine. Khao San is the perfect example of a Thai party, and a great introduction to just how crazy beach parties on the islands can be. Even if you don’t partake in any of the aforementioned spectacles, Khao San Road is worth a look, and you can find some great meals for cheap in almost any of its highly rated restaurants (although you might get approached by the lady selling scorpions if you sit on the terrace!)
The rest of Thailand is somewhat more wild than Bangkok – if you can believe it. By wild of course, I mean that it’s less populous, more local-focused and you’re more likely to find a fantastic, real travel experience. For party-seekers, the beaches of Koh Samui, Koh Phi Phi and Koh Penang are likely to be the place you’d want to head. For those who aren’t looking for an all night party, check out the quieter parts of Koh Penang and the very chilled out Koh Lanta.
Lanta is a luscious place, lined with several great beaches of white sand and some incredible places to eat, drink and relax. Mali’s restaurant was positively prime for food and the relaxed vibe, with incredible food for the price of peanuts. Check out the local animal shelter and associated guesthouse/restaurant, Time for Lime. This is a great place which helps support the shelter, Lanta Animal Welfare, which you can visit during your stay. Additionally, Time for Lime offers visitors the chance to keep a cat (or two!) with you in your bungalow overnight, but to the cats, every time of day is up for grabs so expect a furry visitor when you’re just relaxing on your balcony. They also offer dog walking opportunities with local rescues on the beach on some afternoons, and they’re always looking for volunteers to help shuttle animals on flights to specific locations across the globe to their new homes (all animal expenses provided).
So, options for leaving Thailand once you’ve had your fill? The northern jungle and mountainous areas of Chiang Mai are a great place to head for a bit of a relaxing atmosphere before you head further North East into the significantly less developed country of Laos. While Laos is experiencing some rapid development, some parts still make the wilds of Thailand look like the west, so be prepared. The land border with Myanmar is reported to be open now, so look for that for an even wilder experience than Laos. To the south, you have the border with Malaysia, which is accessible by both bus and train, and to the very east is Cambodia – again, slightly more wild than Laos (and purportedly more corrupt than Thailand).
So as you can see with the very brief introduction to the countries surrounding Thailand, it’s perhaps one of the most developed in the region, and for that reason is a perfect introduction to Asia if you haven’t been (and even if you have). It’s recommended as the gateway of East meets West and to introduce you to just what you’re in for further afield. Rest assured though, Thailand, and Asia in general leave nothing but amazing, enriching experiences to be had. So pack your bags and grab your passport – Thailand awaits.