By Stephanie Bonilla
Thailand, the land of smiles, will forever change your travel game. There’s a reason, after all, why so many people choose to make it their permanent residence after visiting. I know I was tempted to stay long term when I first visited! If you ever venture to this remarkable country, here are some of my favorite things to see and do…
Walk with Gentle Giants
Elephant Nature Park is a rescue and rehabilitation center for abused or orphaned elephants. Their mission is not only to provide a sanctuary for these gentle giants, but to educate visitors on the plight of this endangered species. There is a dark side to elephant tourism that most of us are unaware of. If you’re ever interested in learning why you shouldn’t ride an elephant, this is the place to visit. You’ll not regret seeing this wonderful pachyderm haven. Your entrance fee allows you to feed, bathe and play with these magical creatures, making you an elephant trainer for the day! There isn’t a more humbling experience than roaming freely alongside these magnificent animals.
Ever watch Leo DiCaprio’s movie The Beach and imagine yourself sitting on the sand, looking out into the distance at dramatic limestone cliffs peeking their heads out of glimmering turquoise waters? Yeah, we all have. So if you find yourself in Phuket, you MUST hop on a boat and explore the surrounding islands. There are island hopping tours offered all throughout the island, allowing you to live in a postcard for the day.
Dine in the Sky
Although very Hangover 2-esque, you should definitely experience one of Bangkok’s sky-high restaurants that offer guests a bird’s-eye view of this magical city. Teetering on the expensive side, this might be the most money spent on a meal during your stay. However, the amazing views and ambiance are worth the splurge. These skyscrapers are typically built to allow the restaurant to be completely exposed, with no walls or structures blocking any views. You’ll really feel on top of the world here.
Hug a Tiger
They say you can never feel more like a Disney princess than paying a visit to Magic Kingdom. Well, that may be true until you go to Tiger Kingdom in Chiang Mai. You will never feel more like Princess Jasmine than laying face to fur with a real tiger. There’s no experience more exhilarating than hanging out in a cage with 5-6 carnivorous killing machines — let alone laying with them, touching them and even playing with them. If you’re incredibly concerned about animal abuse and this just doesn’t feel right, then it probably shouldn’t be on your list. If you’re skeptical and want to see for yourself, go give a tiger a high five.
Cycle — Bangkok Style
Bangkok is a vibrant city, offering a wide range of cultural activities and historical attractions. Although this colorful metropolis is mostly known for its lively nightlife, there are plenty of daytime places to explore. One of the best and most unexpected experiences is partaking in a city bike tour. You can experience Bangkok like a true local, going off-the-beaten path into local temples, vegetable and flower markets, and surrounding slums. Activities vary by operator, but learning the proper way to enter a temple, fold a lotus flower and eat a grasshopper are some of the standard elements of each tour. You wil be traversing a city that houses over 10 million people and has one of the busiest rush hours in the world. But when in Bangkok…right?
Become a Budding Cook
Self-proclaimed Thai food lovers in the states have never truly experienced Thai food unless they’ve been to Thailand — specifically, until having taken a cooking class there. Some of the best cooking classes are offered in Chiang Mai, teaching students how to make traditional Thai dishes. You’ll shop for ingredients at local markets, cook a number of different meals, and likely get to take swigs of Thailand’s local beer as you devour it all.
Hang with Monks
No temple in Thailand lacks majesty, making it difficult to choose which ones to visit. Wat Kanlayanamit, also known as the “best friends” temple, is one temple you won’t want to miss! Unlike the more well-known temples, this house of worship has no crowds and no designated number on one of those “10 must-see temples in Thailand” lists. In fact, you will rarely find this sanctuary on any list. Visited mainly by locals, this is where you’ll get to experience the most authentic Buddhist rituals and practices. Surrounded by monks dressed in their bright orange robes, the experience will feel otherworldly. The penetrating chants will follow you long after you’ve left. It’s an indescribable event, and one you truly have to experience to understand its greatness.