Thailand, my favorite country so far, is definitely no off beat path. Its popularity among backpackers isn’t questionable because it’s easy to see why. It attracts not only young millennials, but travel lovers of all ages too. There’s something for everyone, and when that’s the case, crowds and tourists are expected. The thing with Thailand’s tourist spots is that you can’t really snub them off your list because they’re famous for a reason. All you can really do is know what to expect, and how to hack the shit out of it.
1.) THE GRAND PALACE
Whatever you have on your Thailand itinerary, you simply can’t come to Bangkok without witnessing the over the top frostings of The Grand Palace. It’s like southeast Asian luxury on crack. I mean come on, a temple made out of jade exteriors?! Luxurious af. Consisting of different temples and obviously a palace decked out in shiny bling and intricate patterns from floor to ceiling, it’s clear to see why tourists swarm this attraction and why it’s become such a famous tourist spot to begin with. It’s like Disneyland, filled with tourists any time of the year, and it’s up to you on how you’ll make the best of it.
Frankly, you shouldn’t miss it. To make the best of it, just forget everyone else and mind your own business. Take your time and inhale the majestic architecture because trust me when I say that this isn’t anything like you’ve seen before. Except tons of tourists. Hire a tour guide because the history and story of the palace is incredible. There are walls with hand paintings depicting a story/epic and hearing it from a local is pretty interesting. Don’t forget to cover your shoulders and knees because it’s required to go inside!
2.) DAMNOEN SADUAK FLOATING MARKET
Fancy an authentic local cruise in Thailand’s largest and busiest floating market? Well, brace yourself because it’s not as authentic as it may seem. When the proportion of tourists to locals doesn’t quite add up, it falls on the tourist trap category. But you wouldn’t want to miss it either because it’s still a pretty awesome experience. Okay sure, there are lots of floating markets in Thailand itself, but Damnoen Saduak is worth the trip. Especially if you love food like I do. (READ: Thailand Tourist Trap: Damnoen Saduak Floating Market)
The boat traffic will mostly consist of tourists instead of locals, but that’s okay. Focus on the food because man there’s a loooot to choose from. Sample as much as you can, as much as your interest sparks, and as much as your stomach will allow. Hop off and explore the market inside if you can. This is mostly a good trip if anything. Make the most of it, because really, why would you deny an opportunity to sample as much Thai food as you can?!
3.) UMBRELLA MARKET
It’s a market set up right on the railroad. I don’t mean in a building right by the railroad. When I said side, I meant literally on the rails. By the time the train passes by, vendors move their stuff away just a few inch away from the rails. Expect being caught in a claustrophobic position between the side of the rail and well, the train. You’ll see the domino in reverse effect as umbrellas begin to pop back out the instant the train passes by. It’s a fun thing to witness. If you can get over the fact that you’re surrounded by many tourists like you, you’ll absolutely enjoy it.
You don’t really need a hack on how to enjoy yourself here if you’re easily amused. It’s fun, alright, but the tourists blocking your way as the railroad fills up can spoil this experience for you. Getting there early is pointless, unless you find yourself time to befriend a local vendor and get invited in their comfortable spot to give you a nice VIP front show with no tourists blocking your way. Other than that, get ready for selfie sticks in your face.
4.) MAYA BEACH
Thanks to Leonardo Dicaprio popularizing this beach in the early 2000’s, Maya Beach is a popular stop among hundreds of tourists daily. It’s not hard to see why if you’ve ever seen his movie, The Beach. Pristine blue waters and white blinding sands in a hidden lagoon sure does sound like paradise, and trust me, it is. Up until endless numbers of boats block your actual view and take over the beach itself.
Packed, crowded, and almost an overrated stop while island hopping, Maya Beach is beautiful but definitely flawed. It just doesn’t feel like paradise when you’re surrounded by so many tourists and that kinda kills the moment we’re all looking for. But if you can get past that, your hour here might just be as heavenly as you imagine. But did you know that you can experience this island during the quiet hours prior to annoying tour groups invading the shores? Arranged overnight tours are possible which will give you a chance to experience it the way Leo did. Not entirely, but a quiet Maya Beach is a rarity, so why not? I personally haven’t done it myself but if I would have known, there would have been no questions asked.
5.) KHAO SAN ROAD
Aka backpacker’s district, damn right Khao San Road is touristy AF. But sometimes, that’s not always a bad thing. There are times we wanna just connect with fellow travelers and hear each other’s stories while getting drunk on cheap bucket drinks, because why not? Filled with bars, booths selling goodies, hostels, fried insects, and random sightings such as monkeys and lemurs (not wild ones, don’t you worry), Khao San Road is a riot. It’s one of the most interesting places to go people watching and it beats Vegas strip for me anytime.
As cliche as it is to party here, it’s truly a fun place. If you’re after a legit backpacker nightlife experience, Khao San Road will give you a night to remember. You don’t really need tips on how to make the best of it because you’ll definitely have a good time. And if I may just remind you about Hangover part 2?!
6.) ANIMAL “SANCTUARIES”
You might have been imagining riding an elephant as a way to culturally immerse in Thailand. But the truth is, there is nothing authentic or cultural about the experience you’ll be getting in most camps. It’s an extreme cliché, aimed to attract tourists and to lure them into believing that this will be an original experience when in reality, you’re doing it with hundred others that are basically doing it for the gram. It’s a very controversial topic, and personally, I recommend doing a little research before deciding where you stand. Here’s a confession though, I did ride an elephant once (READ: I Rode An Elephant And I’m Not Proud Of It) and quite frankly, my ignorance about the issue doesn’t exempt me from any of it. At the end of the day, you’ll do what you want, but please, do educate yourself before you do.
So how do you really enjoy it? I mean, how can you seriously enjoy something knowing some animals have suffered (or continue to suffer) to give you those 20 minutes of your so called cultural immersion? These operators will tell you that no animals are harmed or no tigers are sedated, but all it takes is a little bit research and a dash of common sense. Ask yourself, is an Instagram picture really worth it? Does a photo with a drugged up tiger really give a cultural experience? Because as far as I know, there’s nothing authentic about that.
Tip: If your aim is to be close to the elephants, there are actual responsible sanctuaries that allows you to spend a day with these gentle giants without harming them. I believe there’s one in Chiang Mai. A little research goes a long way.
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