Virtuoso Global June 2018 10 Things You Didn’t Know You Could Do in Thailand

10 Things You Didn’t Know You Could Do in Thailand

Tree poses off Koh Wai.
Tree poses off Koh Wai.
Photo by Tourism Authority of Thailand
Thailand’s appeal is universal, from the pulse of Bangkok and to the lush countryside of Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai, to the many beaches of the south. With 28 Virtuoso hotels throughout the country offering hospitable welcomes and easy relaxation, it’s hard to choose where to go.
 
“Thailand is a bright, colorful country and the people are warm and open,” says Virtuoso advisor Lisa Hollo, based in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California. “You get amazing architecture and ruins, royal history, a close look at Buddhism, and great shopping opportunities.”
 
Our recommendation for a week to ten days in Thailand? Start with Bangkok. Few cities make an impression like Thailand’s capital does – a delightful dual immersion in earthly pleasures and spirituality amid golden Buddhas, banyan trees, bustling nightlife, and some of the best street food you’ll ever taste.
 
Next, move north to Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai, where monasteries and temples punctuate rice paddies and dense forest.
 
Finish in the south, where the siren call of white-sand beaches, coral reefs and limestone karsts, traditional fishing villages, and jet-set beach clubs tempts travelers from Koh Kood to Phuket.
 
“Travelers love Thailand for its rich culture and lush landscape,” says New York-based Virtuoso advisor Elisabeth Brown. “From the smell of street food in Bangkok, to walking with and feeding elephants in Chiang Mai, to the turquoise surrounding the Phi Phi Islands, Thailand can be a shock to the senses in the best way.” The country’s gentle culture makes it a wonderful family-friendly destination as well, she says: “Most of our clients come home with plans to return to the region within the next year or two.”
 
Whether it’s your first visit or a return one, we found ten things you might not have known you could do in Thailand.
Fresh coconuts and produce at the Bang Khonthi District’s floating market.
Fresh coconuts and produce at the Bang Khonthi District’s floating market.
Photo by Tourism Authority of Thailand
1
Take an insider’s food tour in Bangkok
Bangkok’s culinary scene is renowned for flavorful dishes that have achieved global recognition. In fact, last year Michelin released a dining guide for Bangkok, awarding its coveted stars to 17 restaurants, including one street-food vendor.
 
To best understand the city’s vast street-food scene, we recommend touring with a local guide. Join EXO Travel, a Virtuoso tour connection, to walk and dine in the Bangrak neighborhood, which mixes towering skyscrapers and traditional culture, and get to know family-run stalls in the “real” Bangkok. Or try Trails of Indochina’s culinary experience, where you’ll learn food carving techniques, explore the Or Tor Kor fresh market to learn about native exotic fruits and vegetables, and end with a tasting at Nahm, which consistently ranks among Asia’s top restaurants.
 
Where to stay in Bangkok? Virtuoso’s hotel portfolio includes six properties in the city, all of which offer special VIP amenities to Virtuoso clients. Advisor Lisa Hollo recently had clients stay at The Siam, a 39-room riverfront hotel with an intimate location outside the city center. “They said it was one of the best hotels they have stayed in,” she reports. “They’re world travelers, not amateurs, so their recognition is particularly important.”
Bangkok’s eighteenth-century Grand Palace.
Bangkok’s eighteenth-century Grand Palace.
Photo by Tourism Authority of Thailand
2
Stop and smell the flowers
Learn how to create Siamese flower arrangements with EXO Travel’s half-day tour that delves into Thailand’s rich floral design culture, starting with the colorful Pak Klong Talad flower market and its many varieties of orchids and local flowers. Next is a guided tour of the Museum of Floral Culture, housed in a historic home with landscaped gardens and started by a famous Thai floral designer. The finale: a hands-on flower workshop to learn how to incorporate Thai design into your creations.
3
Stretch your wellness regime
Thailand’s health and wellness traditions are as old as the country itself. In cosmopolitan Bangkok, you may wish for a nature break. Abercrombie & Kent Thailand arranges early-morning workouts and yoga sessions in one of the city’s hidden gems, Princess Mother Memorial Park. Feeling adventurous? A&K offers you the chance to try high-protein insects, a low-carbon alternative to traditional farming (wellness for you and the planet). We won’t judge, regardless of your choice.
 
In the south, kick off a day of restoration with sun salutations in a forest overlooking a pristine bay high above the 64-room Anantara Rasanada on the island of Koh Phangan (near Koh Samui). Balance your chakras at Anantara Spa before stepping into a Thai herbal steam cave within natural granite boulders. Rinse in a tropical outdoor shower and repeat.
 
Purging toxins is a pleasure at Hua Hin’s Chiva-Som International Health Resort (a two-and-a-half-hour drive from Bangkok), one of the world’s leading wellness retreats, thanks to a range of comprehensive cleansing programs and spa cuisine. The 54-room resort’s therapists, doctors, and trainers offer more than 200 treatments and wellness programs ranging from strict system flushes to introductory detox regimens.
4
Visit lesser-known islands
The islands of Koh Samui and its next-door neighbor, Koh Phangan, sport spectacular beaches, secluded bays, and wild-seeming jungle. But if you want to really get off-the-beaten track, visit Koh Chang, tucked away in Thailand’s southeastern Trat province. The island distinguishes itself with sweet rakam fruit and the Mu Ko Chang National Park. A wide range of wildlife flourishes among its coral reefs and jungle, including native birds, deer, and elephants. Traditional fishing villages and Franco-Thai War battle sites add cultural intrigue.
Koh Chang’s sublime Kai Bae Beach.
Koh Chang’s sublime Kai Bae Beach.
Photo by Tourism Authority of Thailand
To the south, near the Cambodian border, Koh Kood contends for the title of Thailand’s most beautiful island. With lovely beaches and little infrastructure, this resort destination caters to travelers seeking soft sand, clear water, and coconut palms waving in the breeze. The population of 2,000 residents is slowly transitioning from a plantation and fishing economy to a tourism-oriented one.
 
Located off well-known Phuket, satellite islands Koh Yao Noi (stay at 56-room Six Senses Yao Noi) and Koh Yao Yai are replete with natural wonders, including mountainous spines, immaculate shorelines, and a birdlife bonanza.
5
Explore Thailand’s national parks
With all the focus on food, cities, and beaches, who knew there are 127 national parks in Thailand? Twenty-two of them focus on marine life. 

For wildlife and nature lovers, “Thailand’s national parks are still somewhat ‘off-the-beaten path,’ but offer incredible experiences,” says advisor Elisabeth Brown. “One of my favorite memories is of sleeping in an overwater tent in Khao Sok National Park and waking up before sunrise to kayak across the water and watch the monkeys jumping through the rainforest.”
6
Take a hot-air balloon ride over Chiang Rai
Hot-air ballooning is famous in Albuquerque, Cappadocia, and Bagan, but less so in the Chiang Rai region, known more for elephant preservation and hiking. But the best way to take in the beauty of the country’s northernmost city and region (where Thailand, Laos, and Myanmar meet), is with a sunrise hot-air balloon ride above its forested mountains, rice paddies, and rushing rivers.
Northern Thailand’s terraced hillsides.
Northern Thailand’s terraced hillsides.
Photo by Tourism Authority of Thailand
7
Practice your golf swing
A fact often unappreciated by or just plain unknown to North Americans: Thailand is widely regarded as one of Asia’s best golfing destinations, with top-notch caddies and services beyond the game such as dining and spa treatments. The kingdom is home to more than 250 courses, many designed by leading golf pros and architects. On our short list of favorites: Amata Spring Country Club in Chonburi, which has been named “best course” on the Asian Tour the last four years in a row. We also like Alpine Golf Club in Bangkok for a city break, or Red Mountain in Phuket.
8
Take a conservation tour
If you’re visiting Phuket (or using it as a launch point for exploring smaller islands), your advisor can arrange a conservation tour with Trails of Indochina, where you’ll learn about the island’s efforts to reclaim natural resources after mass development. Visit the Gibbon Rehabilitation Project, which releases abandoned and abused gibbons back into the wild, as well as the Mai Khao Marine Turtle Foundation, which helps endangered leatherback turtles.
 
9
Cook with locals
Thai food is “an adventure for all palates,” says advisor Lisa Hollo. And you can make it as spicy (or not) as you want. The best way to take new skills home is to learn with locals. In Chiang Mai, you can be a “Thai for a Day” with EXO Travel on a tour that explores the neighborhood of Hang Dong, outside the city. You’ll meet a local family in their home, visit the food market with them, and join them in the kitchen to help prepare lunch.  
10
Go coconuts
Though Koh Samui is known for its resorts, beaches, and water, there is another side to the island: a thriving coconut industry. Abercrombie & Kent offers an in-depth, hands-on perspective on how Thais use the tropical palm seeds in daily life, from cooking to furniture making. You can make a traditional coconut dessert and learn how to use coconut leaves to create your own accessories.

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