By Debbie Ward | June 2016 | 10 minute read
A perennial UK favourite, Thailand is garnering even more interest this year as travellers turn away from several mid-haul destinations because of safety concerns. It’s about much more than fantastic beaches – there are so many culturally interesting nooks to be discovered too.
"Offer customers a multi-centre or a lesser-known resort and you will really help maximise their experience. Bangkok, plus a beach and soft adventure gateways Chiang Mai or Chiang Rai is a classic trio. The more adventurous can explore the national parks and Khmer ruins of the lesser-trodden Isaan region in Thailand’s northeast”
DEBBIE WARD, TRAVEL WRITER
Find a bargain: Thailand’s night markets are legendary. In Chiang Mai visitors can pick up hill tribe handicrafts (weekends are best) or visit specialist makers’ villages. In Bangkok explore riverside Asiatique, or at the weekend vast Chattachuck
Become an ele-friend: Seek out reputable mahout experiences to help care for elephants once used in Thailand’s logging industry. Elephant Hills in Khao Sok National Park even has overnight stay options
Underwater exploration: Recommend world-class diving at the Surin and Similan islands, best reached on a liveaboard from Khao Lak or Phuket, or beginners’ courses in Koh Tao
Hop and flop: Take multi-stop island-hopping excursions to snorkel around and flop on pretty islands in the marine national parks of Pang Nga Bay (off Phuket and Krabi) or Ang Thong (off Samui)
Think year-round: Koh Samui is at its finest in summer – perfect for honeymooners and families – while the rest of Thailand is best the opposite seasons, though warm enough for visiting year-round
Tee off: Thailand is an excellent golf destination, with numerous quality courses (some floodlit for night play), and with great-value caddie sand green fees
Pamper heaven: Spa treatments are fantastic value in Thailand –from foot massage centres in the street to full pampering in hotels and day spas. Hua Hin has a particular reputation for serious spas
Hippy hangout: Up-and-coming Pai in Thailand’s north is an arty town with a New Age vibe and soft adventure fun, such as tubing, for young explorers
Rock and roll: Rock art and a major Buddhist temple can be seen in the caves around Krabi. Offshore, you can kayak in the hidden lagoon on Hong Island
Make a day of it: The ruins of an ancient capital at Ayutthaya, the POW-built bridge over the River Kwai and Damnoen Saduak Floating Market are all popular day trips from Bankgok
My Thailand experience
I wake to the sound of cockerels that seem to have surrounded my homestay. Heading bleary-eyed to the local café for breakfast I realise the feathered army is actually only one-strong and he’s strutting proudly around the garden.
Later, fortified with eggs from the hens in the cockerel’s harem, I take a backie on my host’s motorbike to watch the local fishermen mending their nets, with their backs to the spectacular limestone karst scenery of Pang Nga Bay. Just off hugely popular Phuket, the island of Koh Yao Noi is a world away from the bustle of Patong beach.
You can stay at the Six Senses hotel here, but I choose a homestay in the Muslim fishing community – a project helping prevent over-fishing by providing a supplementary income. I eat curry with my hosts, who also take me to see chapatis being made, and to watch the crab catch being weighed and sold on the sand.
I stop to swim among craggy islands in the national park, and enjoy a packed lunch of stir-fried chicken and a whole grilled fish. At the local floating fish farm I’m shown lobsters that are growing towards restaurant table size.
Afterwards, I get an ice cream from a motorbike vendor and sit on a pier to watch the progression of one of the best sunsets I’ve ever seen.
What the experts say
“We have a trade campaign running with Premier and Travel 2 and a consumer campaign with Kuoni. We’re continuing our Friends of Thailand agent roadshows with stops in Guildford and Tunbridge Wells the next cities up in September.”
"Right now, we’re seeing the best growth I can remember: 14% up for the first three months of 2016 on our 940,000 base. We think we’ll welcome our millionth visitor this year, so we’re excited about that.
"The new Qatar flights create some amazing multi-centre opportunities. “Offering Krabi and Chiang Mai, with travellers not having to start in Bangkok really helps.”
CHRIS LEE, HEAD OF MARKETING, TOURISM AUTHORITY OF THAILAND
“We see a range of travellers looking for spa holidays to Thailand: couples who are celebrating anniversaries, honeymooners, groups of friends and also a variety of solo travellers”
MARK MALLINSON, ASIA PRODUCT MANAGER, TRAVEL 2 K
Accommodation: Kata Sea Breeze Resort has moved to the family-run ASKARA Collection brand. A design-led sister property, the SIS Kata Resort, should open early 2017.
Layana Resort & Spa Koh Lanta has added four new Grand Garden Pavilion rooms boasting separate dining areas and large balconies with sofas and outdoor minibars.
The AVANI Riverside Bangkok Hotel recently opened with river and city views from all 251 rooms, a rooftop bar and infinity pool and ballroom with open-plan kitchen.
Veranda Resort Pattaya, from Sofitel’s smaller scale MGallery brand, opened in January on Na Jomtien beach. It has 145 rooms with a modern design.
The Siam, Bangkok has opened a studio specialising in ancient, sacred Sak Yant tattoos.
The Sarojin at Khao Lak is treating guests booking its spa suites to an hour’s free massage. Soneva Kirki in Koh Kood is offering three extra nights free for guests joining its eco- volunteer programmes.
Operators: Premier Holidays has a series of special offers for a new Thailand marketing campaign. Agents can download window posters with deals including free nights, meals, massages, tours and room upgrades.
Insider Journeys’ new Private Travel guide includes a beach stay with pink dolphin-watching in little-known Khanom.
Where to book it
Tru Travels’ 18-day Thailand Island Hopper deal costs £820pp, excluding flights. It covers Bangkok, Khao Sok National Park, the ‘party’ island of Koh Phangan, Koh Tao, Koh Nangyuan, Krabi’s Railay beach, Phuket, and the Phi Phi islands.
A multi-centre honeymoon staying at Dusit Thani in Bangkok (three days) and Hua Hin (eight days), and a night at Float House villa on the River Kwai, starts from £1,119pp with Premier Holidays, with flights, for selected dates until October.
Transindus offers the 13-day Unexplored Thailand which includes Bangkok and Ayutthaya and the Isaan region with Khao Yai National Park, Khmer temples and Surin, ending beside the Mekong. From £2,675.