I went to Thailand for one reason: to work with rescued elephants. What I didn't know was that Thailand would turn out to be a dream destination. For tourists and travelers alike, there is no place quite like this. White sand beaches line the crystal-clear coast. Only a few miles away the city lights surround ornate temples. Travel into rural Thailand and replace your alarm clock with the sounds of singing monkeys. And don't get me started on the food...
Here are 9 reasons why you should book a flight to Thailand immediately:
1. Visit some of the most beautiful temples in the world
Regardless of your faith, the temples in Thailand will blow your mind. Every building is covered in gold leaf, marble, and intricate stone designs. But the opulence doesn't end there. Inside you will find flowers and other offerings around the bright Buddhas at the front of the the room. Whether it's the famous Wat Pho in Bangkok (pictured) or a random local temple in Chiang Mai, expect to be in awe of every temple you see. My favorite were the spirit houses, tiny temple shaped shrines placed outside almost every house and business in Thailand to provide shelter for spirits.
2. Sip fruity cocktails on a flawless beach while you get your tan on
I know the beach life isn't for everyone, but if you have even the slighted beach bum-like tendencies, Phuket will bring them out of you. Get comfortable in one of the shaded lounge chairs and sip (or gulp... it is vacation after all) a cocktail out of a coconut. Then enjoy the warm blue waters and pristine sand. If you are up for an adventure you can get an authentic Thai massage on the beach. For those of you who don't know, a Thai massage consists of the masseuse jumping on your back and twisting your limbs in directions you didn't know they could move. Between the massage, the cocktails, and the heat, don't be surprised if you spend most of your time in Phuket feeling a bit like jelly.
3. Savor the fresh fruit even as your face gets covered in juice
Okay, maybe not everyone is as obsessed with fruit as I am, but one taste of the mangoes in this country and you will understand where I'm coming from. And the locals know it. Every market I went to had a booth where a local Thai resident would squeeze fresh fruit juice for less than two US dollars. You can buy handfuls of fresh fruit at the markets, drink fruity cocktails out of a pineapple, or watch someone stick a straw into a coconut and drink the refreshing water inside as you explore this magnificent country.
4. Look out at the city from this famous rooftop bar
If you have seen Hangover 2, you have heard of the Sky Bar in Thailand. This high class bar offers the best view in Bangkok. If you are traveling deluxe, you can make a reservation and dine atop the roof. The food looks unbelievable. If you are a budget traveler (like myself) you will hardly be able to afford one drink, but that one drink is well worth the view. Plus, if you drink it slow enough you can say you were at the Sky Bar for hours. Though I didn't get the Hangover 2 experience, I was blown away by the Sky Bar. And unlike the characters in Hangover 2, I actually remember the place.
5. Feel like Rapunzel and send a floating lantern into the sky
Even if you aren't a Disney fan, the floating lanterns that dot the sky in Phuket are still magical. You can send your own lantern up for a few bucks. I know it's super touristy and maybe even a little bit lame, but hey, it was fun. And what's the point of travel if you aren't having fun? As you can probably tell in the above photo, my first attempt was ruined (improved?) by a sudden rain storm, but the man selling them graciously gave me a new one after the rain stopped, so I was still able to watch my lantern fly. In Thai tradition it is good luck to send a floating lantern to the sky, and we could all use a little good luck; even when we're standing barefoot on the beach.
6. Drool over the delicious Thai food
If the fruit didn't make your mouth water, the spring rolls, pad thai, and curry surely will. After almost a month in this country I thought I would get sick of it, but the day I left Thailand I was already craving Thai food. Beware, while the tourist-heavy cities have learned to make American-friendly versions of their traditional food, the rural areas serve food that will set your mouth on fire. If you are a real foodie, or simply interested in enjoying Thai food to the fullest, take a cooking class at the Thai Kitchen Cookery Centre in Chiang Mai. I'll be posting a more thorough review of this cooking class soon.
7. Get up close and personal with rescued wildlife
There are countless opportunities to work with wildlife in Thailand. Unfortunately, most of them are tourist traps where animals are mistreated. Wherever you go, keep this in mind: if a wild animal is being used in a tourist attraction (whether it is riding the elephants, petting the cheetahs, watching the monkey dance, or the circus) the animal is being abused or drugged. That is the only way to make wild animals tame enough to be completely safe around people. However, there are ways to interact with wildlife without the guilt. I spent two weeks working at the Wildlife Friends Foundation of Thailand (WFFT) and I recommend the experience to everyone. The foundation offers a day tour where you can meet the animals and see what they do, but if you have the time I highly recommend an extended stay. Volunteers at WFFT pay very little to live at the wildlife center (meals included) and get to feed, wash, and help care for the animals. Some of the animal friends you will make at WFFT include elephants, gibbons, bears, a tiger, a crocodile, otters, Freddy the goat, Sam the horse, and many more.
8. Lounge by the pool or get a spa treatment for ridiculously low rates
The Petchvarin Resort is less than 20 miles from the wildlife center and the resort does free pick-up and drop-off for WFFT volunteers. Most volunteers spend their time drinking out of a young coconut and lounging by the pool, but the resort also has a large menu of affordable spa treatments. Even if you aren't a volunteer at WFFT, this resort is worth a visit. The rooms run relatively cheap and the resort is a quiet, peaceful place surrounded by lush greenery. The food is authentic and delicious while the spa treatments are some of the best I have ever had.
9. Make new friends from around the world
One of the great things about going to a traveler's dream destination is that you meet other travelers. People come from all around the world to visit Thailand and if you are out to make travel friends, this is the country for it. In two weeks at the wildlife center, I met people from at least ten different countries. The best part about international friendships is the free lodging when you visit their home country. Some of my best friends came from my travels, but even if you don't meet lifetime friends, you will at least find a few partners in crime for the length of your trip.
What are you waiting for? Go book your ticket!
I will never be able to choose one country as my favorite place that I have ever visited, but I can tell you that Thailand is in the top 25 (okay, so I've only been to 25 countries so far... that's not the point). What makes Thailand so great is the diversity. Looking for a relaxing beach vacation? Go to Thailand. Want to tour temples and get the city experience? Go to Thailand. More interested in adventure travel and working with wildlife? You guessed it! Go to Thailand. Seriously, you won't regret it.
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d (or anywhere else) for cheap, be sure to follow my blog. I'm working on a post with tips that will cut your travel expenses in half. And who doesn't want more affordable travel?!