Experiential travel, Thailand
Get up close and personal with elephants, learn kitchen secrets from a chef, hurl yourself down a snowy mountainside, paraglide into paradise – if you're after an eye-opening, mind-expanding or pulse-quickening experience, these are the hotels for you.
You’ll find to-die-for green curries and wok-fresh pad thais at every street corner, but no visit to Thailand is complete without sampling its flavourful regional cuisine and lesser-known culinary gems. Fiery papaya salads, larb laced with holy basil, salted fish straight off a charcoal grill and all manners of delicious morsels wrapped in banana leaves are there for the tasting; one notch above a street stall, Chote Chitr may well serve the best meek rob (crispy noodles) and wing bean salad in Bangkok. David Thompson’s celebrated Nahm tops every epicurean’s to-do list with treats such as jungle curry with freshwater fish. Don’t miss the rainbow of salty-sweet Thai desserts: pumpkin-steamed custards, honey mangos with sticky rice and piping hot banana roti are worth the loosening of belts.
Criss-crossed with canals, a mighty river and a handy Skytrain, Bangkok is a city of mega-malls, historic royal temples and gold-leafed pagodas. It’s also surprisingly easy going and affordable: indulge in sumptuous day spas, exquisite dining and on-the-hoof street snacks. To the north, Chiang Mai (Burmese-style temples, boho-chic boutiques and lots of elephants) and Chiang Rai (sleepy backstreets, mist-shrouded hills and, yes, elephant-packed too) are gateways to densely packed jungle, glittering waterways and local hill communities. To the south, Thailand’s party beaches, sybaritic islands and crystal-clear waters beckon: hop on a long-tail boat to under-the-radar Koh Kood, carefree Koh Samui or spectacular Phang Nga bay.
Come-hither coconut palm-fringed beaches, jagged limestone cliffs, pastel coral beds… With raw ingredients like these, Thailand is a textbook tropical playground where the intrepid can hike to Chiang Mai’s hill tribe communities, dive around the Similan Islands or clamber up Krabi’s rocks. Chiang Rai’s excellent Hall of Opium traces the history of the region’s infamous drug trade. In a more reflective mood? Festivals punctuate the year: time a visit to coincide with the beautiful festival of Loi Krathong, when candle-carrying vessels symbolising wishes illuminate local rivers and canals. A river cruise along the Chao Praya takes in ancient temples, the ancient capital of Ayutthaya and towering skyscrapers: the perfect way to admire Bangkok’s most iconic landmarks.