For many years Thailand has been a popular destination for gap year travels and voyages of self discovery. Drawn by stunning scenery, wild full moon parties or spiritual enlightenment, millions of people make the journey to South East Asia every year. Whatever your reason for visiting this intriguing anomaly of a country here are 8 fantastically unique things to do in Thailand when you get there…
Spend a day as an artisan in Chiang Mai
This is a fantastic tour with Local Alike, a community based initiative offering tours which focus on inclusiveness and responsibility. A person taking the tour can immerse themselves into daily life in the rich and diverse cultural heritage of Lanna, an Indianized state established in the 13th Century when Chiang Mai provided a cross-section of cultures on the silk road. Renowned for their skills in textiles, silver work and lacquerware as well as their unique dialect and folklore traditions, the legacy of the Lanna people is still very much alive today. As a traveller you can learn about these customs and support local craftspeople by engaging in community based tourism. Try visiting the Baan Tawai woodcarvers enclave or the Bor Sang umbrella making village to see artisans at work, or take advantage of day long courses that give you a chance to try making some of the traditional handicrafts yourself. Courses also include some delicious local food specialities and riveting folk tales from the province. See the bottom of the article for special offers on Local Alike tours.
Volunteer at Boon Lott Elephant Sanctuary
One hour’s drive from the rather picturesque airport of Sukhothai in Northern Thailand awaits a haven for animal lovers of all ages and nationalities. Founded by Katherine Connor in memory of a particularly courageous young elephant named Boon Lott the eponymous elephant sanctuary offers travellers the opportunity to volunteer for 3-5 days with these majestic creatures. Imagine waking up to the sound of elephants calling or walking beside a family of them as the flaming sun sets overhead. Here guests can stay in one of the traditional teak cottages nestled amongst banana trees and have a truly unforgettable hands-on experience whilst providing a valuable contribution to the continuance of the Sanctuary’s good work. A lovely location to visit in Thailand – be sure to book well in advance as the space for volunteers is limited and fills up quickly!
Night Golfing at Summit Windmill, Bangkok
A huge sum of money was invested into the landscaping and elegant layout of this outstanding course. Surrounded by extravagant mansions and housing a luxurious 5 star hotel, Summit Windmill is hailed by many as the best golf course in Thailand. Its innovative and well lit design provides a challenge for all golfers and a unique night-time experience for professionals and amateurs alike. Night-time golfing is incredibly popular with locals, who relish the opportunity to escape the heat of the day and enjoy their sport in the cool evening air.
Help Phuket’s street dogs (and cats) at The Soi Dog Foundation
In southern Thailand, surrounded by the Andaman Sea and sporting some of the most stunning scenery around is Phuket, the country’s largest island. Jutting peninsulas, rain-forested mountains and expansive white beaches provide havens for diving enthusiasts and outdoor adventurers whilst the vibrant night life is an irresistible draw to those who like to party. However a darker side to the island is expressed in the brutal treatment of its huge population of street dogs and stray cats. Soi Dog Foundation was set up in 2003 to protect neglected and abused animals, educate people to bring an end to the dog meat trade and set an example of how to humanely manage the growing numbers of unwanted dogs and cats through sterilization. Pet lovers can volunteer at the shelter and help socialise the animals, preparing them for adoption further down the line. It always feels good to give something back and who knows, you might even meet your new best friend!
Explore the old Bangkok
Discover lost treasures and immerse yourself in an unspoilt part of Bangkok by paying a visit to the Ban Bat and Kudeejeen communities. In Ban Bat you can watch the last remaining makers of the revered Buddhist Almsbowl at work and gain a deeper understanding of the spiritual significance of their craft. The Kudeejeen neighbourhood by the Chao Phraya River will amaze you with its melting pot of cultures exemplified in a melange of architectural delights. The rare beauty of this district is epitomised by the multiple religions co-existing harmoniously within its borders and the unique vibrancy of the food and folk you will encounter here.
Visit Bangkok’s most macabre museum
Housed in the oldest hospital in Thailand in the shadows of Bangkok’s bustling streets is The Siriraj Medical Museum. Not for the faint hearted, this is a very unusual thing to do in Thailand as the museum houses a plethora of curiosities both fascinating and freakish, displaying some of the most disturbing medical exhibits in the world. A preserved fetus and a skeleton blighted by Rickets are just some of the dastardly delights on offer. The museum also houses the mummified corpse of Uey Sae Ung a notorious serial killer who suffocated and then ate the hearts of several young boys in the 1940’s. It is not surprising that his ghost is believed to haunt this macabre gem and his name is still used to frighten Thai children into good behaviour!
Stay in the Bangkok Tree House
Sheltered by mangroves and palm trees on the small island of Bang Krachao, this 12 room unique boutique inn is one of Bangkok’s few green hotels. Bang Krachao is nicknamed the ‘Green Lung’ of Bangkok and the hotel pledges to remove 1kg of waste from the river for each booking taken. The inn nestles amidst the 6 small island communities and, surrounded by fruit trees and 200 year old Buddhist temples, it offers a tranquil and idyllic setting away from the bustle and fumes of Bangkok main. Guests stay in sun drenched nests and are treated to delicious organic food sourced from local farmers. This is the perfect place to escape from the cacophony of the city and replace it with peaceful nights ablaze with fireflies and mornings resounding with birdsong.
Visit the phallic shrine
In the grounds of the Swissotel Nai Lert Hotel in the Chidlom Ploenchit area of downtown Bangkok stands a most unusual shrine. Honouring Chao Mae Tubtim, a female fertility spirit, the shrine is positively tumescent with phalluses of varying shapes and sizes! Ladies wishing to conceive visit the shrine and place offerings of lotus flowers, jasmine and incense. If their wish comes true they return and leave a phallus in thanks. Although it might make us westerners blush the sight is really not that unusual in Thailand. Phallic imagery and fertility rituals are a common aspect of both Buddhism and Hinduism, these particular appendages in fact originate from the celebrated Hindu god Shiva. They are a talisman for good luck and protection and readily available in many markets, meaning travelling around Thailand may yield even more fun than expected!
How to stay connected in Thailand
If you’re travelling around Thailand it’s always handy to have access to maps, apps, WhatsApp messages or emails on the go and one of the best ways to do this is to buy a local SIM card for your smart phone when you arrive. AIS is the leading mobile operator on the most trusted network in Thailand.
Their local SIM cards are available at their shop in the arrivals hall (2nd floor, between gates 6 and 7) of Suvarnabhumi airport (or other retailers). Depending on the length of your trip, there are 7, 15 or 30 day options, all including unlimited internet. Also if you purchase the AIS Traveller SIM card it allows you to have access to discounts from their partner brands Local Alike (10% off), a community-based tourism marketplace and Golfdigg (100 THB voucher), a mobile golf booking service.