Thai­land’s best-kept se­crets

KNOWN FOR ITS STRONG ARO­MATIC AND SPICE-EN­HANCED CUISINES, WORLD CLASS SPORT­ING ACHIEVE­MENTS, AND PRIS­TINE GROUNDS FOR NA­TURE AND WILDLIFE SPOT­TING, THAI­LAND HAS A LOT MORE TO OF­FER THAN JUST SHOP­PING AND TEM­PLE VISI­TA­TIONS

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Most trav­ellers to Thai­land tend to visit the same places over and over again – Bangkok for its food and shop­ping, Chi­ang Mai for a lit­tle cul­ture and his­tory, and to Krabi or Phuket for its beach re­sorts. But dis­cern­ing trav­ellers to Thai­land know that there is so much more to this South­east Asian king­dom. There are count­less things to do and we’ve hand­picked the best of what Thai­land has to of­fer in this handy guide:

THAI COOK­ING CLASSES

Beloved not just by lo­cals but the world as well, Thai cui­sine has reached far flung cor­ners of the world. It is char­ac­terised by its use of spice, fish sauce, kaf­fir limes and sugar to cre­ate dishes that in­creas­ingly whet the appetite and gets din­ers reach­ing for sec­onds and even thirds. Many might think that Thai cook­ing is com­plex or might use in­gre­di­ents that are hard to find at your lo­cal gro­cer’s but any novice cook and eas­ily pick up Thai cook­ing. Thai cook­ing classes have been around for a while and it is a pop­u­lar ac­tiv­ity for first-time vis­i­tors to Thai­land to try out.

• Blue Ele­phant Cook­ing School and Restau­rant

This school was set up by Chef Nooror and her hus­band, who both set up the pop­u­lar Blue Ele­phant restau­rants in Europe. The duo de­cided to open the Blue Ele­phant Cook­ing School and Restau­rant in hopes of de­vel­op­ing and train­ing chefs to un­der­stand Royal Thai cui­sine. Classes here in­volve a trip to a lo­cal mar­ket to learn more about lo­cal in­gre­di­ents be­fore a head chef con­ducts cook­ing demon­stra­tions back in the kitchen. Guests will then be able to try their hand at pre­par­ing the dishes they’ve learnt just

min­utes ago as well. The pop­u­lar­ity of the school in Bangkok spurred the cou­ple to open a sec­ond school in Phuket as well, which spe­cialises in Baba Phuket cui­sine – Thai food in­flu­enced by the Thai Per­anakans in the area. blueele­phant­cook­ingschool.com

• Silom Thai Cook­ing School

The classes here fol­low a sim­i­lar for­mat to that of Blue Ele­phant but the em­pha­sis is placed more on cre­at­ing the dishes from scratch so that trav­ellers can take home the recipe and add them to their reper­toire. There are seven courses to choose from that cover a di­verse va­ri­ety of fa­mil­iar Thai dishes and the ba­sics of Thai cook­ing. For those with a keen in­ter­est in cook­ing, the school also has an in­ten­sive sev­en­day course where stu­dents would have learnt a to­tal of 40 recipes by the end of the week. bangkok­thaicook­ing.com

THAI BOX­ING CLASSES

In­stead of head­ing to your ho­tel’s gym and fit­ness cen­tre to work on the same, bor­ing rou­tine, why not pick up the tra­di­tional Thai com­bat sport of Muay Thai in­stead? Known also as ‘the art of eight limbs’, the men­tal and phys­i­cal dis­ci­pline is a full body work­out that will prove stim­u­lat­ing and chal­leng­ing to all.

• Tiger Muay Thai & MMA

Con­sid­ered the Num­ber 1 train­ing fa­cil­ity in Phuket, Tiger Muay Thai has be­come the train­ing ground for the world’s most elite ath­letes. But de­spite its port­fo­lio of top Muay Thai fight­ers, Tiger Muay Thai caters to all lev­els of box­ers – for the hol­i­day­maker to pro­fes­sional fight­ers who would like to learn the ba­sics of the sport or hone their skills in the ring. The train­ers take the tra­di­tion of Muay Thai se­ri­ously and hope to im­part the same re­spect for the sport in all who join them. Tiger Muay Thai also has other MMA, fit­ness, yoga and body con­di­tion­ing dis­ci­plines as well. tiger­muaythai.com

• Rawai Muay Thai Khao Lak

This train­ing camp that faces the An­daman Sea was set up by Tuk, who fought pro­fes­sion­ally in the spot for 15 years. Its new Khao Lak fa­cil­i­ties are best suited for se­ri­ous trainees of Muay Thai who would like to work on in­di­vid­ual moves. There are two two-hour classes daily that work on spe­cific tech­niques like Clinch­ing, Low Kick, and Wai Kru. Apart from train­ings, guests can also make use of the swim­ming pool, mas­sage and restau­rant fa­cil­i­ties for a break. rawaimuaythai.com

DIN­NER CRUISE

The Chao Phraya River is where life meets in Thai­land. The river cuts right through Bangkok and goes past some of Thai­land’s most ma­jes­tic tem­ples. It may be most well-known for its float­ing mar­kets where ven­dors on long boats sell fruits, veg­eta­bles, sou­venirs right on the boats. Ex­pe­ri­ence an­other side of the Chao Phraya River with a din­ner cruise for a re­lax­ing time of en­joy­ing the sights while tast­ing fine Thai cui­sine.

• Ap­sara Din­ner Cruise by Banyan Tree

This lux­u­ri­ous din­ing ex­pe­ri­ence by Banyan Tree Re­sort will make for an ex­tra spe­cial night out and is per­fect for cou­ples hop­ing to add ro­mance on their trip to Thai­land. Guests get to en­joy el­e­gant restau­rant cruis­ing along the river on a con­verted vin­tage rice barge through the night. The barge comes to rest in front of fa­mous sights, such as Wat Arun Tem­ple, the Grand Palace and the golden Rama VIII Bridge while guests dine on Royal Thai cui­sine pre­pared fresh on­board. banyantree.com/en/ap-thai­land-bangkok/ap­sara

• White Or­chid River Cruise

Be en­ter­tained on this two-hour evening cruise along the Chao Phraya River on­board the White Or­chid River Cruise. Feast on a Thai/western buf­fet and en­joy ‘live’ mu­sic, as well as watch per­for­mances of Thai clas­si­cal danc­ing as the boat cruises from Si Phraya Pier to­wards the Rama VIII Bridge. Guests can also head up to the open-air deck to soak in the warm at­mos­phere and catch the sun set­ting in the dis­tance. white­orchidriver­cruise.com

BIRD WATCH­ING

Bird-watch­ers new to the ac­tiv­ity should head to Thai­land to catch the many bird va­ri­eties at Thai­land’s na­tional parks. The coun­try’s di­verse cli­mates and en­vi­ron­ments, from thick jun­gles to the off­shore is­lands and cooler cli­mates up north, makes Thai­land one of the places to eas­ily catch rarer species of birds in ac­tion.

• Doi In­thanon Na­tional Park

This na­tional park in Chi­ang Mai is 300m above any other moun­tain in the coun­try, which gives it a cooler en­vi­ron­ment. There are a wide va­ri­ety of birds here and it is a favoured spot among novice bird watch­ers as birds like the Chest­nut-tailed Minla, Green-tailed Sun­bird, and Ru­fous-winged Ful­vetta are in abun­dance here and can be eas­ily spot­ted. Down the moun­tain are also the highly sought af­ter Green Co­choa and Yel­low-cheeked Tit. Nearer the rivers and wa­ter­falls are also rarer birds like the White-capped Wa­ter Red­start.

• Kheng Krachan Na­tional Park

The largest na­tional park in Thai­land can be found in Petch­aburi and Prachuab Kiri Khan prov­inces, which is just three hours from Bangkok. The for­est here is in ex­cel­lent con­di­tion and shares ground with the bor­der of Myan­mar as well, which makes it a great refuge for some of Asia’s rarest mam­mals and birds. Some of the bird species spot­ted here can of­ten not be found any­where else in Thai­land and is there­fore a place to visit for bird en­thu­si­asts. One of the rarest bird to have been spot­ted is the Gi­ant Pitta that makes an ap­pear­ance once ev­ery few years at most.

NA­TURE & WILDLIFE

The di­verse land­scape of Thai­land has cre­ated some of the most beau­ti­ful na­tional parks where rain­forests, lime­stone karsts, moun­tains and crys­tal blue lakes can be found. These make great set­tings for many dif­fer­ent types of wildlife as well. Take a day trip to these na­tional parks for a fun ac­tiv­ity for the whole fam­ily.

• Erawan Na­tional Park

Set in west Thai­land in Kan­chanaburi prov­ince is Erawan Na­tional Park. The park’s ma­jor at­trac­tion is Erawan Falls, a seven-tiered water­fall with pools at var­i­ous heights of the falls. Vis­i­tors can eas­ily climb up the water­fall to bathe in the pools to cool down in the af­ter­noon. The park also has sev­eral caves that can be ex­plored, and sev­eral trails into the for­est.

• Khao Yai Na­tional Park

Khao Yai is Thai­land’s old­est re­serve. It was es­tab­lished as a na­tional park in 1962 and is just three hours from Bangkok. Khao Yai is part of Dong Phayayen-khao Yai For­est Com­plex, a UNESCO World Her­itage Site. As part of the Sankam­phaeng Moun­tain Range, the park is pop­u­lar with hik­ers and moun­tain climbers but it is also ap­peal­ing to an­i­mal lovers. Some com­mon an­i­mals that can be spot­ted in­clude ele­phants, bears, deer, ot­ters, gib­bons and macaques.

FARMS & WINER­IES

A large per­cent­age of Thais work in agri­cul­ture as farm­ing is a sig­nif­i­cant part of Thai­land’s econ­omy. The coun­try has a strong his­tory in rice pro­duc­tion, as well as trop­i­cal fruits as well. In re­cent years, Thai­land has been in­creas­ingly be­come pop­u­lar for wine pro­duc­tion too.

• Vanich Farm

De­signed to be agro-edu­tain­ment, Vanich Farm aims to teach vis­i­tors where food comes from through var­i­ous ac­tiv­i­ties and at­trac­tions. The corn farm plants many herbs and veg­eta­bles that are used in its restau­rants. Vis­i­tors who come to Vanich Farm can learn more about rice plant­ing in the farm’s paddy fields, watch corn pro­duc­tion and even train young cows to plough fields. vanich­farm.com

• Sil­ver­lake Vine­yard

Founded just 15 years ago, Sil­ver­lake Vine­yard has now be­come a des­ti­na­tion for oenophiles look­ing to try trop­i­cal wine from Thai­land. The vine­yard bears both wine and ta­ble va­ri­eties and boasts the lat­est wine mak­ing and juic­ing tech­nol­ogy from Italy. The vastly dif­fer­ent soil con­di­tions and use of pure wa­ter from the vine­yard’s lake­side has al­lowed the vine­yard to grow a num­ber of dif­fer­ent grape va­ri­eties that pro­duce wines that have a fresh edge to them with fruity and bold notes of spice and smok­i­ness. Vis­i­tors can tour the fa­cil­i­ties and have a wine tast­ing at the Cel­lar Door. sil­ver­lakevine­yard.com

MOUN­TAIN BIK­ING / TREKKING / HIK­ING

Ad­ven­ture awaits in Thai­land with its moun­tain bik­ing, trekking and hik­ing trails. Whether look­ing for a day trip or a longer one that cov­ers more ground, the un­du­lat­ing and wild land­scapes of Thai­land is sure to ex­cite the ad­ven­ture trav­eller.

• Khao Pom, Ko Sa­mui

Take a chance on the al­most un­in­hab­it­able jun­gle moun­tain, Khao Pom in Ko Sa­mui with this short trek of about four to five hours. Catered to all skill lev­els, the trek can cover walks around the is­land to a more stren­u­ous ones deep into the jun­gle and moun­tain for a fresh look of the is­land in a lush and pre­served en­vi­ron­ment. samuitrekking.com

• Cross-coun­try Down­hill Chi­ang Dao

Moun­tain bik­ers ready to cross ter­rains should def­i­nitely try this route on Chi­ang Dao, the last tooth of the Hi­malayas. The bike trek takes place mostly down­hill in a thrilling ride that goes past a 200-year-old bam­boo grove, Mae Tseng Val­ley and un­in­ter­rupted panoramic views of the moun­tain. Ele­phants in the river greet bik­ers at the last de­scent of the trip. moun­tain­bike­toursthai­land.com

• Chi­ang Mai to Mae Hong Soon

This is a hike not for the faint­hearted. This re­mark­able jour­ney that takes place over eight days will al­low hik­ers to tra­verse an an­cient trade route while in­dulging in cul­tural pro­grammes for a deeper insight into Thai­land’s rich cus­toms and his­tory. The route moves from Chi­ang Mai to Lor Cave and makes its way to var­i­ous Thai vil­lages and a truly spec­tac­u­lar stop on the high­est sum­mit in Mae Hong Soon be­fore fly­ing back to Chi­ang Mai. world­ex­pe­di­tions.com

Wat Pho Bangkok

Phuket Gov­er­nor Man­sion

Chef Som­bat Prongth­ong teach­ing the class about Phuket cui­sine

Chao Phraya River

Muay Thai

Khao Yai Na­tional Park

Doi In­thanon

Vanich Farm Vanich Farm

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