Thailand is a fabulous short break from Singapore, whether you’re keen for Bangkok’s shops and nightlife, or sun and sand on Samui. If you’re planning a trip there in the near future, here’s what you need to know before you go – from climate to money and visas – plus some facts and trivia about the cultural side of this wonderful destination and the friendly Thai people.
What to do in Bangkok
Traveller: Anthia Chng
The Thai capital is one of my favourite places to visit. You get delicious food, amazing spas at every corner, and the shopping is great, too. Also, if you’re a fan of Muay Thai like I am, there are lots of gyms to check out.
As for where to stay in Bangkok, I really enjoyed my time at Shama Lakeview Asoke Bangkok. This serviced apartment is just 10 minutes by foot from Asoke BTS station. The Thai capital is easy to navigate via the BTS and MRT systems – similar to our MRT system in Singapore. And you get to avoid the infamous Bangkok traffic!
The apartment was clean and spacious, and the service staff hospitable and professional. Our stay was faultless. I loved how you can get your laundry done the night before you leave, so you check out with clean clothes. I think this option would be perfect for those travelling with kids!
There are a few things I need to accomplish during any trip to Bangkok. I like to check out a new café, snack on street food … and visit a Muay Thai gym! Recently, I visited the popular Roast café (Thonglor branch) for brunch with my friends. While it was on the pricier side, the food was really good. In fact, Bangkok is a must-visit for café lovers, and the brunch scene is booming.
Where to stay in Phuket
Villas in Phuket
Traveller: Lindsay Yap
During my last trip to Phuket, I stayed at Akyra Beach Club Phuket in Phang Nga. I liked that it wasn’t too far from the airport – just 20 minutes away. It’s also right by the beach. I stayed in one of the Seaview Villas, directly overlooking the pool. There was a good breakfast consisting of local and international fare, including a delicious Thai rice soup. The property also houses a Kids’ Club and the Ayurah Spa, where you can choose from massages, reflexology treatments and scrubs. Besides giving you a daily schedule of things to do within the resort, the hotel can also organise day trips such as a picnic to the nearby Wat Khao waterfall.
Just down the road from Akyra is its sister property Aleenta Phuket Resort, which has a fantastic spa (I had a facial there and it was great) along with more restaurants to check out. For larger groups, this is the ideal spot as there are villas with up to five bedrooms.
Phuket by boat
Traveller: Rebecca Bisset
I was invited for a weekend cruise off the coast of Phuket on the Merdeka 3, a custom-made wooden Indonesian phinisi (two-masted boat) that holds up to 14 people. On board, there are four double beds (all ensuite) that open up practically onto the water; it’s amazing to wake up to your own sea view! There are two berths below: these have three beds each and are better for kids. The two large living areas make the set-up feel so spacious; one of them doubles as a massage parlour, with a masseuse available around the clock to sort out those knotty areas. The top deck is great for tanning, drinking cocktails and looking out for meteorites. There are fixed itinerary cruises that visit Krabi or Phi Phi and free-flow charters where you can go wherever and whenever you like.
The islands are spectacular, with large rust-coloured walls of stone pushing up through the water. Inside these giant formations you’ll find little havens and sometimes an entire enclosed sea, while others have little islands with their own ecosystems, mangroves, bats and other interesting creatures. We took a motor dinghy to explore these places – sometimes, we had to lie flat on the bottom of the boat to get through the openings!
We also rode kayaks provided onboard, cruised along the coast and found ourselves at uninhabited beaches. There were snorkel sets for use too. As the owner Neil Dibb says, “It’s a rustic and cultural experience for people who enjoy being with nature, and who relish private time in the company of good friends and family.”
Visiting Chiang Mai & Chiang Rai
There’s plenty of adventure to be had away from Thailand’s beaches, and Scott Dunn’s Short Getaway to Northern Thailand is an action packed five-night getaway that proves just that. The fun begins in Chiang Mai where you’ll zip around the city on a Segway tour, before visiting the temples of Wat Phra Singh and Wat Pan Tao.
A drive further north brings you to the lush hills of Chiang Rai in the heart of the Golden Triangle, for a stay at the Anantara Golden Triangle Elephant Resort & Camp. Aside from relishing the resort’s stress-free vibe, you’ll also get up close and personal with rescued elephants, walking them through the bamboo jungle, bathing them, or even spending an interactive day discovering the art of being a mahout.
Next comes a trip along the Mekong River in a traditional long-tailed boat, including views of Myanmar and Laos. Or just relax and rejuvenate in nature before flying home from Chiang Rai.
3165 4050 | scottdunn.com
Koh Samui hotels and villas
Villa Blue View
One of the leading luxury villas on Koh Samui, Villa Blue View sits on a hilltop on the island’s north coast, overlooking the Gulf of Thailand. Designed by award-winning architect Gary Fell, it’s a property that features plenty of clean modern lines and open spaces. You’ll be flanked by greenery during your stay, enjoying the nature views all around, from the eagles circling above to the bluest of ocean vistas below.
Blue View’s five spacious ensuite bedrooms are all different, each with its own views, and one with four single beds – ideal for children. A trio of permanent staff is on hand to look after your holidays needs, and a chef is available at a daily rate.
theviewisblue.com | email@example.com
InterContinental Koh Samui Resort
Formerly the renowned Baan Taling Ngam Resort – Samui’s first-ever luxury resort – the InterContinental Koh Samui Resort is tucked away on the tranquil west coast of Samui, a 45-minute drive from the airport. We can personally vouch for the views from this clifftop property – they’re extraordinary, stretching over the nearby Five Islands and the Ang Thong National Marine Park. There are four restaurants and bars, plus the award-winning Baan Thai Spa by HARNN, loads of kids’ activities at Planet Trekkers, and other fun activities for adults and kids alike.
firstname.lastname@example.org | samui.intercontinental.com
Traveller: Lindsay Yap
I’m more of a winter holiday girl but I really loved my first trip to Koh Samui two years back. Stepping out of the plane to blue cloudless skies and loads of greenery, I knew I was in for a good time.
I stayed at Santiburi Samui, a gorgeous resort along Maenam Beach in the north of the island, which is only about 20 minutes from the airport. The hotel has all sorts of rooms, from one- to two-bedroom suites to garden, pool and beachfront villas. Within the property, there’s loads to keep you occupied. Besides lounging by the beach or pool, there’s the Lén Spa (I had the collagen boost massage and it was amazing!) and the water-sports centre (I kayaked, paddle-boarded and rode a Hobie Cat). There’s also a lovely private beach along Maenam so it was great not having to jostle with the crowds.
If you’re keen on heading out, I recommend checking out the popular Fisherman’s Village. It’s packed with shops, restaurants and bars, and on Friday nights there’s a market selling all sorts of clothing, handicrafts and local food.
Visiting Khao Sok National Park
Traveller: Melinda Murphy
My girlfriends were coming from the States for an adventure in Asia. Their list of wants was long: short travel time from Singapore, natural beauty, time with animals, and the chance to rough it (but not too rough). Thailand’s Elephant Hills turned out to be the perfect place. The platform tents give the feel of glamping, right smack dab in the middle of Khao Sok, part of Southern Thailand’s largest stretch of primary rainforest.
There’s no riding the animals here. Rather, our days at this award-winning elephant sanctuary were filled with watching and feeding the gentle giants. We even got to give one a bath, which was super fun. My favourite was watching a mother and her baby – so cute! We also went kayaking through the surrounding mangroves.
One night, we boated to the sister resort, a floating raft hotel where we kayaked through the stillest water imaginable; it looked like glass. Here, we saw lots of monkeys in the trees, an absolute thrill for us all. The best part was knowing our tourism dollars were helping the very elephants we’d come to see.
Where to stay in Krabi
Traveller: Siti Shahirah
Our accommodation in Krabi was Andakiri Pool Villa. It was one of the best places we’ve stayed in, with a private pool and an amazing view. The staff were very friendly and offered great service. The only downside was that it was located on the top of a hill, so we had to take shuttles to and from the town centre.
Must-visits include the Krabi Town Night Market, a great place to get souvenirs, while being entertained by gamelan performances. There were also many stalls selling street food. It was absolutely packed, so if you can, come with a portable fan for the heat!
Another highlight is the Krabi Elephant Sanctuary. If you’re looking for what to do in Thailand, visiting an elephant sanctuary is a great idea. However, it’s important to choose one that is ethical. This one is for retired and rescued elephants who previously worked in the tourism and logging industries. It was a great experience learning about each elephant’s history and spending time with them in their natural environment. We also got to feed and walk with them. My 15-month-old specifically enjoyed the private pool at our villa and watching the elephants up close! There’s so much to see and do in Krabi; the beaches are clean and my boy had a good time!
Population: 70 million
Religion: Around 95% of the population is Buddhist
Emergency number: 191
- Thailand used to be known as Siam – and yes, Siamese cats are native to this country.
- The town of Kanchanaburi is home to the famous “Bridge Over the River Kwai”, part of the Burma-Siam railway; an estimated 80,000 to 100,000 people died constructing the project during the Second World War.
- At 127 metres high, Phra Pathommachedi in Nakhon Pathom is the tallest stupa in the world
- Thailand is the only country in Southeast Asia that has not been colonised by Europeans.
- Speaking of Europe, Bangkok was once called “the Venice of the East” due to buildings being built on stilts above the Chao Phraya River.
- It is strictly against the law to criticise the monarchy in Thailand.
- Bangkok’s full official ceremonial name is Krung Thep Mahanakhon Amon Rattanakosin Mahinthara Ayuthaya Mahadilok Phop Noppharat Ratchathani Burirom Udomratchaniwet Mahasathan Amon Piman Awatan Sathit Sakkathattiya Witsanukam Prasit.
- 13 to 17 April: Songkran Festival. The Thai New Year is celebrated in boisterous fashion (put it this way: you will get wet!).
- 13 October: The anniversary for the passing of King Bhumibol Adulyadej. Thailand’s much-loved king of 70 years died in 2016, aged 88.
Hot spots and itineraries
Hot spots include Bangkok, Phuket, Krabi, Chiang Mai, Koh Samui, Koh Phi Phi and Hua Hin. There are five World Heritage Sites in Thailand, including the historic towns of Ayutthaya and Sukhothai.
- Beach Break: Bangkok – Koh Samui – Koh Phangan – Phuket
- Highlands: Bangkok – Lopburi – Sukhothai – Chiang Mai – Chiang Rai
- Heartland: Bangkok – Kanchanaburi – Ayuthaya
Staying safe and healthy
The usual mosquito-borne diseases are common enough in Thailand, so make sure you’ve sprayed and covered up. Also be aware of cutaneous larva migrans; it’s a rash caused by dog hookworm that’s sometimes contracted on Thailand’s beaches (sounds awful, but it’s very easily treated with medication!). There are snakes around – we’ve seen some ourselves – so tread carefully when you’re off the beaten track. Finally, be sure to check the latest COVID restrictions and requirements.
While you’re there, please don’t…
- Wear your shoes into a temple or someone’s home.
- Raise your voice unnecessarily; anger and aggression are signs of disrespect in Thailand.
- Touch a Thai person on the head.
- Use your feet to point at anything.
Before you go, read …
- Sightseeing by Rattawut Lapcharoensap – short stories by a young award-winning Thai-American author
- A Child of the Northeast by Kampoon Boontawee – written in 1976 and set in the 1930s, this book tells of a family from the Isan region of Thailand.
- Bangkok 8 by John Burdett – the seamier side of Thailand is represented here (namely, the bars and brothels) but it’s a suspenseful and entertaining read.
Before you go, watch …
- Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives – winner of the Palme d’Or at Cannes, this film centres around the last days of the title character.
- The Legend of Suriyothai – the story of Queen Suriyothai who died in courageous fashion in 1548 in a battle against Burmese invaders.
- The Big Boss – if you’re a martial arts fan, you’ll love this Bruce Lee flick, which was filmed entirely in Thailand.
They said it…
“In Thailand’s history there have been dissensions from time to time, but in general, unity has prevailed.” – Bhumibol Adulyadej, King of Thailand (1946-2016)
“Bangkok is a rejuvenating tonic; the people seem to have found the magic elixir. Life, a visitor feels, has not been wasted on the Thais.” – Bernard Kalb, author
“Sanuk is the Thai word for fun, and in Thailand anything worth doing, even work, should have some element of sanuk. This doesn’t mean Thai people don’t want to work or strive. It’s just that they live more in the moment, and do their best to enjoy it.” – Anonymous
Do I need a visa?
Passport holders from over 60 countries, including Singapore, Australia, the UK, the US and Canada, do not require a visa for stays not exceeding 30 days. See the official visa website here.
How long will it take me to get there?
Flights are 2 hours (Phuket), 2.5 hours (Bangkok) and 3 hours (Chiang Mai) from Singapore. Thailand is 7 hours ahead of GMT and 1 hour behind Singapore.
What’s the money situation?
The official currency of Thailand is the Thai baht (THB). Foreign currency and travellers cheques can be exchanged at banks and Thai baht withdrawn at ATMs throughout the country. Credit cards are also widely accepted.
When’s the best time to visit?
The weather in Thailand is generally hot and humid across most of the country throughout most of the year. Avoid Bangkok and the inland areas in April when the weather is scorching. Beach lovers should be aware that the weather varies on the east and west coasts. On the west coast (Phuket, Phi Phi and Krabi), the southwest monsoon brings heavy storms from April to October. On the east coast (Koh Samui, Koh Phangan), most rainfall is between September and December.
What’s the lingo?
Thai is the official language, but most locals have at least a rudimentary understanding of English. Here are some phrases to get you started:
- Hello: Sawadee ka (female) / Sawadee krab (male)
- What is your name? Khun cheu arai?
- My name is __: Di-chan chuh __ (female) / Pom chuh __ (male)
- How much? Tao rai ka? (female) / Tao rai krub? (male)
- Thank you: Khorb khun ka (female) Khorb khun krab (male)
- Yes: Chi
- No, thank you: Mai ao ka (female) / Mai ao krab (male)
Last but not least
Is there anything I should know about meeting the locals?
To say hello in Thai, perform a wai: place your hands together close to your chest and dip your head in a slight bow.
What’s a must-try dish?
Pad Thai: rice noodles stir-fried with eggs and chopped firm tofu, flavoured with tamarind pulp, fish sauce, dried shrimp, garlic or shallots, red chillies, palm sugar, and served with lime wedges and chopped roasted peanuts. But there are so many other options!
What should I buy as a souvenir?
Thai silk, spa products, Thai cookbooks.
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