Around Thailand in 50 Journals

After 50 Thai journals, it is time to offer an index journal.

Thailand: the Index

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by SeenThat on April 11, 2009

Dividing and classifying we may end up loosing the big picture of a place, looking at single trees instead of at the forest. Thus, some of my journals treat Thailand as a whole. Here they are.

On the Planning Long Trips

Planning a long vacation in Thailand, or including it, can be a happy nightmare. Mountains, beaches and the exciting Thai culture are all over-receptive to the casual visitor and might cause a slight hyperventilation while trying to decide from where to begin. I presented options for such a trip in two journals.

Planning Three Months in South East Asia does not deal exclusively with Thailand, but presents the kingdom as a platform from where to explore the adjacent countries in former Indochina.

Planning One Month in Thailand is a key journal describing a recommended itinerary for exploring the kingdom in one month and providing the links to more detailed journals of specific locations.

The main idea presented in this last journal is dividing the country in four areas and allotting a week to each. That would allow a fair visit, long enough to fall in love with the country and to allow later a detailed planning of the next trip. The areas are:

Bangkok: it offers the best travel deals in South East Asia, thus it is the natural center of a trip in the area. Many attractions are in the city or within a daytrip distance.

Islands and coasts: turquoise waters, fine, yellow sand, blue skies and a few palms to balance the picture, can lead to a serious addiction; they are better kept for the end of the trip.

North: the coldest version of Thailand, the north has many of the main cultural attractions in the country and the mountainous areas. A round trip along it would allow seeing the main sights without repetitions; however, it would take a month. In a weeklong trip the main sights should be Chiang Mai, the Golden Triangle and Sukhothai.

Northeast: Isaan is the least visited area in Thailand, despite its very attractive sights. Phimai and Saingam, strange temples and great festivals, Nong Khai and the Mekong River should encourage traveling along national highway number two up to the Friendship Bridge to Laos.

On Cultural Characteristics

The Farang's Guide to Asian Languages includes an entry about the Thai language. Despite being possible to travel in Thailand without speaking one word of the language, learning its basic rules and words enriches the travel experience.

A Thai Smile: Falling in Love with a Country tells of several experiences, like the first arrival at the kingdom, the first return and a few unique travel experiences.

Thailand 2008: Fear, Guilt and Heat includes a description of Thailand in the still strained political atmosphere.

Following an Adventure

Indiana Jones and the Emerald Buddha presents the story of the Emerald Buddha and its trips in the kingdom; a true adventure inviting us to follow it.

The Emerald Buddha is a 45cm tall green jade statue that has become the talisman of the Chakri Dynasty in Thailand. Nowadays it is stored at the Wat Phra Kaew Temple within the Bangkok Grand Palace and can be visited. Its diminutive size - emphasized by its position high above the temple's floor - hides an intriguing story that seems to be the inspiration for the Indiana Jones adventures.

The temples reviewed in the journal are scattered along the kingdom: Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai and Lampang. In between, the Buddha was also in Luang Prabang and Vientiane in Laos.

Seeking Extremes

Extreme Points of Thailand describes a few locations on Thailand’s edges; sometimes hard to reach, others a bit uncomfortable, but always fascinating.

The locations reviewed include Had Lek, near the southern border with Cambodia, Mae Sai on the northernmost border cross with Myanmar, Mae Aw, a Chinese refugees settlement in the far northwest, That Phanom, a town next to the Mekong River featuring strong cultural links with Laos and the Kra River on the southern border with Myanmar.

And the missing locations? About those in my next 50 journals from the Kingdom of Smiles!

West and Central Thailand: the Index

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by SeenThat on April 11, 2009

Travelers often have different opinions on a country than the country’s denizens. While preparing this journal, I looked at the official divisions of Thailand and the classification of its provinces. Many times, my classification – based on my experiences as a traveler - diverged from the official ones; for example, Sukhothai and Phitsanulok are part of Central Thailand, though to the traveler they look as being part of the north. A visit there is often part of a trip to Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai and not of one exploring the central parts of the kingdom. My biggest surprise was to find that Hua Hin is considered as part of West Thailand, though – to me, an insignificant Marco Polo apprentice – it looks like part of the south.

Learning that, I gave a little thought to the issue and understood the reasons; respecting them, Hua Hin, Sukhothai and Phitsanulok were included in this review of West and Central Thailand.

The City of Angels

Krung Thep Maha Nakhon – the first syllables of Bangkok’s name in Thai – is Thailand’s focal point. Up to now, I have reviewed the City of Angels (that’s the meaning of Krung Thep) in 23 journals and created an index journal: Bangkok's 23 First Journals: the Index; a few more are in preparation.


The small town of Kanchanaburi is a bit away from the main highways crisscrossing Thailand, but it is house to two main attractions of the kingdom: the Bridge over the River Kwai and the Death Railway; a related site is the Kanchanaburi Allied War Cemetery. National parks add green color to the picture and the site’s altitude offers a cooler climate than nearby Bangkok creating thus an important added value after a while in the suffocating metropolis.

Old Capital Cities

Modern Thailand is the third Thai kingdom; Sukhothai was the first one and Ayutthaya the second. Between the Ayutthaya and the Bangkok kingdoms, the capital was shortly located in Thonburi.

Sukhothai provides one of the best historical park experiences in South East Asia; neither Angkor nor Ayutthaya manage to provide such a pleasant, uncluttered environment. Moreover, special lightning during the evenings provides unforgettable views of the temples and statues.

Phra Nakhon Si Ayutthaya (The Holy City of Ayutthaya) was once among the world's biggest cities. During the mid 17th century, foreign visitors claimed Ayutthaya was the most magnificent city they had ever see; by then it had more than a million denizens, twice as much as contemporaneous London.

At its peak, the Kingdom of Ayutthaya included tributary territories in parts of modern day Laos, Cambodia, China, Southern Vietnam and Myanmar. Ayutthaya had diplomatic relations with such remote countries as the France of Louis XIV; Dutch, Portuguese, English, Chinese and Japanese merchants traded with it.

Dharma Drama

There is no escape of this; once in a while the visa must be renewed. Usually that is done by leaving the country and returning back for a new visa on arrival; the experience provides endless opportunities for adventures, some of them of beaurocratic nature.

I reviewed two visa runs in Myanmar, one of them was performed through West Thailand, into the Burmese town of Myawaddy. Named Dharma Drama: Visa Run Karma it was for certain my most dramatic visa-run ever due to the circumstances at the time.

A Flaming Travel Hub

Home to the Flaming Buddha – the second holiest Buddha statue in the country - Phitsanulok is also an unavoidable travel hub in the kingdom, joining its central parts with the north and Isaan.

Hoo Hah, Hua Hin

Even before the first sight of the site, Hua Hin is intimidating. Among the Thai beach resorts it is unique because it began as a resort for Thais, specifically for Thai royalty. Even now it caters mainly to rich Thais. "Would the eternal pilgrim be able to afford drinking water there?" I kept asking myself for eons, until I finally stopped there and wrote a journal about the experience.

Isaan and the Thai Mekong: the Index

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by SeenThat on April 11, 2009

One of the largest areas of Thailand, Isaan is also the least popular among travelers; that assures the attractions would be accessible and uncrowded for the intrepid Marco Polos. Fearing the reputation as a semi-arid and hot area, I approached it and found that claims to be a scarecrow. The lush areas surrounding the Mekong River provided unforgettable sights that enriched my experience of Thailand; Phimai and Saingam provided cultural insights inexistent in other areas of the country and the towns along National Highway 2 were always a delightful prelude to a visit to Laos.

Along the Thai Mekong

Hiding behind a thick, cold mist during the cold season or bubbling under a sudden monsoon rain, the Mekong River is always an exciting place to visit. Traveling Along the Thai Mekong means entering deep into Isaan and getting to know the most untouched part of the Thai culture.

Unlike most of Thailand, this is a relatively complicated area to travel through. Buses reach only the main towns, trucks connect those to the small villages; there are whole areas where the only way to travel is with private transport. Since the Traveling Along the Thai Mekong journal draws a semicircle through Thailand’s northeastern lobe, the traveler would never be more than a few hours away from Khon Kaen or from Udon Thani, its neighbor to the north, thus aborting the mission in the case of necessity is a breeze. The different entries in the journal give the relevant information regarding the best methods of transport in each stretch of the road.

Chiang Khan, the starting point of this trip, is one of the most beautiful river locations in Thailand and despite its tiny size it has a surprisingly developed tourism infrastructure; most probably all of it will be fully dedicated to you since very few tourist arrive here. From there you will reach Pak Chom, a delightful market within a small village by the river. Srichiangmai, the next stop, offers sights of Vientiane, the Laotian capital as well as a great promenade with a pleasant night market. Nong Khai marks midway; from here, you will cross from the western to the eastern part of your trip. The town hosts the Friendship Bridge to Laos and you can read the relevant information in a separate journal. Nakhon Phanom and Mukdahan offer two other cross points to Laos as well as several interesting locations in their vicinity; see the Mukdahan journal for details. The trip ends at Kong Chiam, where the Mun River meets the Mekong and the last enters the Laotian territory for the last time. The meeting of two big rivers doubles the reason of this river people to feast and the town offers some superb meals on boat-restaurants.

Mukdahan is featured also in another journal, named Indochina's Gate that explores that area and the connection between Thailand and former Indochina.

Along National Highway 2

National Highway 2 connects Central Thailand with Laos, crossing all of Isaan and its main cities. Khon Kaen and Udon Thani are two of these cities, and are reviewed in Dinosaurs in the Mall, together with Loei and Sakon Nakhon, two charming towns that are not far from the highway.

At its end, the highway reaches the Friendship Bridge that leads to Vientiane, Laos, near the town of Nong Khai.

Island Trees

One of the most charming locations in the kingdom, Phimai and Saingam offer views of a true Khmer temple – which resembles a miniature Angkor and a small island covered by a single tree.

Prasat Phimai is a Mahayana Buddhist Temple located in the Phimai District of the Nakhon Ratchasima province of Thailand. The name originates in the Khmer Vimai, which appears in a carved inscription at the complex gate. The complex is a rectangular one and is surrounded by a boundary wall; the principal tower at its center is called Prasat Phimai.

The main construction period was in the 11th and 12th centuries, but there were additions in the 13th one, the evidence based on the inscriptions found on the carved stones of the temples. Unlike many temples in Thailand which face the east, Phimai faces southeast the direction of Angkor, the capital of the Khmer empire.

Twenty minutes from there by bike, north from the old town, the Saingam Village hosts the biggest clusters of Banyan trees in Thailand, which are locally known as Sai Yoi (sweeping Banyans); the massive clusters cover a whole island in the Mun River. When Queen Sri Phatcharinthara visited the place in 1911, she changed the name of the place to Sai Ngarm (the "r" is not pronounced), which means "Area of the Splendid Banyans."

The Banyan is the tree under which Buddha achieved enlightenment, and thus it is considered sacred to the Thais. The oldest the tree is the more worshipped it is. Its most visible characteristics are the roots hanging from the branches, that once they reach the ground grow up to a new trunk, allowing thus to the tree to expand. This specific tree is 350 years old and has covered a full small island. Its central and original trunk, placed along the riverside closest to Phimai, among hundreds of other trunks, is wrapped with colored clothes, a typical Buddhist practice towards old and revered trees.

A truly unique sight!

South and East Thailand: the Index

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by SeenThat on April 11, 2009

Technically two different areas in Thailand, the South and the East share one characteristic: they are home to the country beaches and thus are reviewed here together.

East Thailand

East Thailand refers to the small area of Thailand east of Bangkok and west of Cambodia, and not to the northeastern lobe seen on the kingdom’s map. Its main attractions are beaches and two very convenient border crosses to Cambodia, from where visa-runs are possible. The one is in the very southern end of the area, Had Lek was reviewed in Extreme Points of Thailand. The second is the town of Aranyaprathet, in the Sa Kaeo Province, the northernmost one in East Thailand. Aranyaprathet is the best access point to Angkor.

The Eastern Coast: From Pattaya to Cambodia is my main journal about the area, though the access to Cambodia was reviewed also in Planning Cambodia.

By far, the best known attraction in the area is the town of Pattaya; however, the best deals in Thailand for a vacation by the beach are hidden under a thick cover of bad PR; Pattaya became over the years a synonym for the Thai sex-industry, while reality is different. The scene is restricted to a well-delimited area and it is hard to spot unless searching for it, in Bangkok, Pukhet and Koh Samui the situation is much worse.

In fact, Pattaya is a popular family tourism spot mainly due to its gorgeous beaches and the quality of its Western-style facilities. Being open-minded and visiting the place before deciding where to spend the bulk of your vacation is a proven way to discover a charming location with amazing sunsets over the Gulf of Thailand.

South Thailand

South Thailand may seem small on the map, but that’s the result of our comparing it with the bulky areas of the north and northeast; in fact the southernmost tip of Thailand is more than a thousand kilometers away from Bangkok, significantly more than the northernmost tip.

"So Hidden" means the name of Koh Samui in my language; being one of the most popular island resorts in Thailand, choosing the Hebrew translation of the name as a title for the journal about that island was deliciously irresistible.

Koh Samui offers different environments. The western coast faces the mainland and is the arrival place to the island. It offers the best sunsets and the only sizable town, Nathon. The northern side has a few good beaches but its main role is being the access point to other islands in the area, namely to Koh Pha Ngan and Koh Tao. The eastern coast is where the star beaches, Chaweng and Lamai, are; sadly that means hyper-super-mega-overdevelopment. The southern side is rather isolated, offering the very few beaches that could be defined as undeveloped. The inner parts of the islands offer several attractions like butterfly gardens and waterfalls.

Thailand Coasts: From Ranong to Hat Yai reviews the main beaches and towns along the southern mainland coast of Thailand; namely Nakhon Sri Thammarat, Hat Yai, Ranong, Krabi and Surat Thani. An interesting characteristic is that coasts along the Andaman Sea and the Gulf of Thailand can be explored on the same day due to the mainland’s narrowness in this area.

A visa run through the Ranong-Kawthaung border cross between Thailand and Myanmar turned out being the most complex and expensive one along the allowed visa-run locations in Myanmar. There, I also witnessed a fellow traveler getting in troubles with the Burmese immigration, the experiences were described in Kawthaung: Knee Deep in Chai. The journal includes a description of tasty Burmese-style chai.

South and East Thailand

Islands in Thailand: From Koh Phi Phi to Koh Chang reviews various islands in South Thailand: Koh Samui, Phuket and Koh Phi Phi and one in East Thailand: Koh Chang.

Koh Chang – the greenest island in Thailand, offers the calmest surroundings among the main insular destinations, despite the fact that finding a free spot along its blue shores is getting harder from season to season.

Phuket – the biggest Thai island has much more than beaches to offer. Its main town, bearing the same name, is a charming Thai-Portuguese hybrid, while the island offers beaches open to the Andaman Sea and others that face the mainland and are more protected.

Koh Samui – is the island that began the tourism boom in Thailand and despite all the development, has an overwhelming beauty. Tthe ferry reaching the island crosses incredibly turquoise waters spotted with small islets of green.

Koh Phi Phi – is one of those magical places that became overcrowd once the word of its existence spread around. Nonetheless, it is worth a look and if planning the visit carefully – maybe during an off-season period – the experience would be unforgettable.

North Thailand: the Index

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by SeenThat on April 11, 2009

The third biggest attractor of the country after Bangkok and the islands, North Thailand provides a more rugged experience, with Hill Tribes, trekking paths, Chinese villages, Burmese refugees, the Golden Triangle and endless other attractions.

Main Cities

Two main cities occupy the area: Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai. The first is the largest city in the north, while the second is the access point to the Golden Triangle and the far north as well as one of the cradles of the modern kingdom.

The former capital of the One Million Elephants Kingdom became in the last generation the City of the One Million Guesthouses. Due to its old status as the Lanna Kingdom capital, it houses many temples in a variety of styles - including Lanna and Burmese - and this define its shape and spirit.

Other attractions include the Old Chiang Mai Cultural Center containing traditional Northern artifacts and the Chiang Mai National Museum which hosts exquisite specimens of northern Thai art as well as a fine collection of Hill Tribes art and crafts.

Markets are an integral part of the Thai culture; the Night Bazaar, the Kuang Singh Market and the Warorot Market offer excellent opportunities to get acquainted with this tasty part of the local culture.

Near Thailand’s northern edge, Chiang Rai offers trekking activities, visits to Hill Tribes and Myanmar and access to the Golden Triangle.

The town is rich in memorials of King Mengrai; most of them are near downtown and are easily accessible. King Mengrai was the ruler of Nakhon Hiran Ngoen Yang (now known as Chiang Saen) before Chiang Rai was established as his administrative centre in 1262. He consolidated his power by merging the different city-states in the North and founded the Lanna Thai Kingdom in 1296 with Chiang Mai as the capital. Moreover, in 1390 AC, the Emerald Buddha was hidden here in a temple; it was discovered only in 1434. These facts transform this little town into a powerhouse of special temples and monuments.

Far Northwest

North of Chiang Mai is a journal dedicated to several attractions in the area; namely the Golden Triangle, Mae Hong Son, Pai and the Hill Tribes.

Mae Hong Son Do It Yourself explores this charming town in the far northwest, while explaining how to do that as an independent traveler.

Mae Hong Son is the steepest green spot in the country. It offers inexpensive treks, a charming centre, traditional Thai teak houses, a relaxing atmosphere and a fascinating ethnic mix.

Its enchanting centre was built around the beautiful Jong Kham pond, which some claim that it was constructed as an elephants’ bathing pool. At its southern shore there are two beautiful Burmese pagodas, Wat Chong Klang and Wat Chong Kham; the multi-tiered roofs and spires of their viharns are decorated with tin ornaments in the Burmese fashion. Fish in the pond expect the visitors to feed them.

Better than Gold

Few places have such a potential to stir our imagination as the Golden Triangle: dense jungles, wide, low-flowing rivers, soft light through green branches, opium smugglers and Burmese Pagodas. Reality is nowadays different, the jungle gave way to an opium museum and boats take the intrepid traveler to a tourists’ market in Laos serving Nescafe.

The towns of Mae Sai and Tachilek are the Thai-Burmese interface in the area; it is possible to renew the Thai visa, join the Thais shopping in the market across the border and get an awesome view of the area from the Scorpion Temple.

Ban Sop Ruak is the closest point to the triple border, from there it is possible to take a boat to tour the Mekong River and to reach the Don Sao Market in Laos. For the traveler visiting Laos for the first time, the market is an impressive experience taking him back in time to a place of basic huts, undersized farm animals and hand made souvenirs.

The Opium Museum is in Ban Sop Ruak and provides an intriguing look into that dark part of the area past. Chiang Saen played a key roll as a fort during the endless wars between the Thais and the Burmese. Nowadays its ruins can be enjoyed, especially its wonderful circular gate. From the port, China can be reached through the Mekong River.

Other Towns

The journal South and West of Chiang Mai reviews four important towns in that area: Lampang, Mae Sariang, Mae Sot (from where visa runs through Myawaddy in Myanmar are possible) and Sukhothai, the last was the capital city of the first modern Thai kingdom, and was later reviewed in a special journal.

Not technically belongs but...

The Indiana Jones and the Emerald Buddha journal presents the story of the Emerald Buddha and its trips in the Thai Kingdom; a true adventure inviting us to follow it. Three of the temples reviewed in the journal are in northern Thailand: Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai and Lampang.

A Scoop

Finally, I want to end the entry with a small scoop: my next journal would deal also with Northern Thailand, this time from an unusual angle. Its name? On Refugees and Hill Tribes.

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