Thailand has become one of Asia’s hottest travel destinations, attracting more than 32 million visitors a year to explore its cultural sites, luxury hotels and natural beauty. It’s nearly impossible to cover the entire country without an extended stay, but there’s plenty to bite off in a week and a half. Our guide starts in the capital city of Bangkok and continues through the culturally rich Chiang Mai before wrapping on the relaxing beaches of Krabi.
Days 1-4 in Thailand: Bangkok
STAY: Conveniently located, the five-star W Hotel Bangkok is a favorite of international travelers for its world-class spa and luxurious guest rooms. It’s also the site of the historic House on Sathorn, a renovated colonial mansion that today is a destination restaurant — on Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants List in 2017 and 2018 — serving innovative Turkish fare. Lebua Hotel, another five-star option, is famous for having the tallest rooftop bar in the world, Sky Bar, at 820 feet. If it looks familiar, it may be because you saw it in a scene in The Hangover 2.
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EAT: Along the Chao Phraya River, Tha Maharaj is a shopping area lined with Thai and Western-style restaurants in Bangkok’s Old City. The acclaimed Mango Tree on the River serves traditional Thai tapas infused with modern flavors. Cocktail enthusiasts should head to Vesper, an Italian-inspired restaurant with skillful mixologists who build classic and creative creations. Eat Me — a 20-year-old institution from an Australian owner and American head chef — celebrates regional Thai and international cuisines through sustainable ingredients.
DO: For less than $1, take a ferry ride up and down the Chao Phraya to get a feel for the pulse of the city and its 8 million inhabitants. When back on solid ground, be sure to visit at least one of Thailand’s 40,000 wats, or temples. Some of the most important ones are located in the capital city. Wat Pho is the most popular, being home to the 150-foot, gold-leafed Reclining Buddha and more than 800 images of the sage. Wat Phra Kaew, aka The Temple of the Emerald Buddha, houses a much smaller but still impressive statue: a 26-inch meditating Buddha made entirely of a green precious stone and clothed in gold. The Grand Palace, where kings Rama I to Rama V lived, is open to the public for tours.
Days 5-7: Chiang Mai
STAY: There’s no shortage of hotels in the mountains of northern Thailand. A favorite of business travelers and others wanting to stay close to the city center is Le Meridien Chiang Mai, which has top-notch dining options at the on-site Favola and Latitude 18 restaurants. For a sense of ancient Thailand, spend your vacation at the Dhara Dhevi. The 60-acre property with 64 villas will take you back to the Lanna era and palace life, complete with architecture inspired by wats.
EAT: Expand your palate beyond pad Thai at the Thai Farm Cooking School, which offers classes on an organic farm. Students first explore a large market filled with fresh vegetables, fruits, regional sauces, curries, spices, and hours-old cuts of meat and fish. Then it’s off to the farm to prepare dishes such as coconut milk curry soup, stir-fried meats and vegetables, spring rolls with glass noodles, and a sticky rice dessert colored with flowers.
DO: Experience one of nature’s most majestic creatures at the Elephant Nature Park. Founded in 1995, the sanctuary offers absolutely no elephant rides or tricks. Instead, dozens of rescued elephants bond in family units to bathe in the river, nosh on favorite fruits and vegetables, and play. There are a number of night markets throughout Thailand, and Chiang Mai’s Night Bazaar is an endless carnival of live music, food stalls, pop-up bars and shopping stalls. For a story to take home, put your feet in a tank of tiny fish, which nibble away at dead skin for a unique pedicure.
Days 8-10: Krabi
STAY: Accessible only by boat from the mainland, Krabi has made a name for itself as a relaxing beach getaway with limestone cliffs and pristine waters — and without hordes of tourists crowding the sand. Rent a private villa at the Railay Bay Resort & Spa, steps from the beach and outdoor adventures. Along the same beach is Bhu Nga Thani Resort and Spa, a peaceful resort with a serene spa, pool and al fresco dining options.
EAT: Walking through Railay Beach, guests have their pick of fresh seafood, Indian cuisine and even pizza. For a truly special dining experience, The Grotto at Rayavadee will serve you dinner inside a beach cave while the sun sets.
DO: Trek to the Railay Beach lagoon, a moderate hike that will reward you when you plop down in jade-hued water, looking up at birds flying through caves. Other nature adventures include the hidden Phranang Beach cave, with a peculiar shrine filled with phallic tributes to the princess of the cave, and Tham Phra Nang Nai, a dark and winding trail of stalagmites, stalactites and sleepy bats. It’s also easy to take a day trip by boat to nearby Phi Phi Island, Koh Samui and Koh Lanta for more beach lazing.
Thailand: If You Go
W Hotel Bangkok: whotelbangkok.com
Lebua Hotel: lebua.com
Tha Maharaj: thamaharaj.com
Eat Me: eatmerestaurant.com
Wat Pho: watpho.com
Le Meridien Chiang Mai: lemeridienchiangmai.com
Dhara Dhevi: dharadhevi.com
Thai Farm Cooking School: thaifarmcooking.net
Elephant Nature Park: elephantnaturepark.org
Railay Bay Resort & Spa: krabi-railaybay.com
Bhu Nga Thani Resort and Spa: bhungathani.com
The Grotto at Rayavadee: rayavadee.com