Thailand has breathtaking beaches, colorful nightlife, and mouthwatering cuisine. But there are plenty of hidden facets to this Southeast Asian gem.
Thailand has with some of the most diverse wildlife in the world, and a visit to Chiang Mai Tiger Kingdom allows you to get up close and personal with some of these amazing creatures.
Chiang Mai is a sanctuary dedicated to the conservation some of the country's rarest beasts. Tiger hunting is a devastating trade in South East Asia --- a $6 million dollar per year industry. For around $13, you can spend 15 minutes in an enclosure with an adult tiger --- an exciting experience you will never forget.
Snap a few pictures standing next to a 500-pound tiger without worrying about being devoured. The Chiang Mai Tiger Kingdom prides itself on the ethical and humane treatment of their animals, making it an uplifting place to visit.
If you are on the hunt for an oddball and mind-boggling exhibit, a stroll around the Wang Saen Suk Hell Garden should be on your itinerary. Located in the district of Saen Suk, the garden is full of statues depicting a Buddhist conception of hell. Not for the faint of heart, these massive statues convey some rather gruesome scenarios, as one might expect! A sign that reads "Welcome to Hell" invites you to explore endless renderings of sinners atoning for their sins via imaginative forms of torture, such as boiling alive. This head-turning exhibit is a bit of a trek outside of Bangkok, but it's worth it if you're interested in Buddhism, the macabre, or the unfortunate details of the afterlife.
This soothing concoction is beginning to win a following in the United States, but its roots are firmly planted in Thailand. Derived from the Mitragyna speciosa tree (which is native to Southeast Asia) kratom tea reportedlyhas a remarkable curative effect on the human body. Drinking just a little bit boosts your nervous system and provides a jolt of energy. Consumed in larger quantities, kratom tea can apparently serve as an effective painkiller; it even helps addicts fight opioid dependency. Although it's bitter with an earthy taste, you can lighten up this brew with some honey. Kratom is worth a try for any curious traveler. Just a few sips will probably put you at ease.
A tiger gently roars in his enclosure at Chiang Mai Tiger Kingdom. libargutxi/Flickr.
Some of Thailand's most popular attractions are its vast network of photogenic beaches, but these spots can be extremely congested. You can escape the crowds on Koh Kood, an island east of the Thai Gulf. This island is said to be the most beautiful in all of Thailand, and its barely-touched, pristine beaches will have you convinced. Koh Kood is filled with secret spots just waiting to be explored. Enjoy a picnic in the sand along one the uninhabited shoreline --- this is the place to bask in sun and silence.
Thailand is blessed with an abundance of natural beauty, and Lotus Lake is one of the country's best-kept secrets. Located in the northeastern agricultural region of Tambon Chiang Haeo, Lotus Lake is comprised of wetlands covered by tall elephant grass - so it's only accessible by boat. Once you navigate through the overgrown elephant grass, you will see an abundance of bright pink lotus flowers covering the surface of the water like a flamingo-themed blanket. The best time to pay a visit to Lotus Lake is between December and February. You can even taste the lotus seed and stem - a local delicacy natives swear by!
Looking to escape the endless crowds of tourists? Tucked away in the northern part of the country is the district of Chiang Kham, which contains all the beauty that attracts travelers to Thailand. This calm rural redoubt is home to the coveted Phu Sang National Park. From limestone caves to an ark's worth of animals, Phu Sang is chock full of epic sights. Your visit isn't complete without seeing the beautiful waterfall of Chiang Kham, one of the country's hot spots for nature enthusiasts everywhere. You won't find long lines, but you will find some serious serenity.
Lotus Lake - and yes, that's the surface of the water. raichovak/Flickr.
The rich and flavorful cuisine of Thailand is most likely one of the reasons you want to visit. If so, one mysterious native fruit my intrigue you. The durian is a spiky fruit that looks like some sort of deep sea creature. But once you crack it open, you will realize why so many are apprehensive to try it. This fruit smells pretty repulsive - so much so that it's banned from some public transportation and hotels. But don't let that deter you. The durian actually tastes undeniably sweet and creamy; many say it resembles the taste of marshmallow. There is a reason the durian is known as "The King of Fruits," and your trip won't be complete without tasting ne. Just be sure to hold your nose before you take a bite!
Those craving a different kind of shopping experience have to make their way to the Maeklong Railway Market. Not only does this distinctive marketplace offer a variety of foods and trinkets from local vendors, but six times a day the market is completely disrupted --- only to return to business after just a few moments. Six times daily, a train comes flying through the heart of this bustling bazaar, giving the crowd only three minutes to make way.
Vendors must move any product or stand each time the train rolls through, giving Maeklong the fitting nickname 'umbrella pull down market.' Don't worry - there is a warning call, and the train's screaming whistle will alert you to get out of the way in time.
Unsurprisingly Maeklong has been described as one of the world's most dangerous markets. Even so, thrill-seekers of all ages can't get enough high-risk bargain hunting. Just remember to step back once you hear the warning bell!
Your top hotel picks in Thailand probably include many a beach-side retreat. But nestled along the coastal area of Ban Tai, you'll find an eccentric resort, unlike any place you've ever stayed. Banphasawan offers upscale lodging and a particularly quaint atmosphere --- each individual cabin is in the shape of a giant vegetable or fruit. Plan to stay in a larger-than-life pineapple, durian, mushroom, or dragonfruit, and enjoy the lush, serene property and comfortable accommodations. The owner of Banphasawan is dedicated to preserving and cultivating produce, making this the perfect location to sample some local delicacies --- especially the aforementioned durian fruit!
Maeklong Railway Market. amelia soo/Flickr.
If you are looking for a culinary showstopper, any cocktail containing the butterfly pea flower is bound to delight. Known to Southeast Asian as "Asian pigeonwings," this flower turns beverages a vibrant shade of blue. Add a touch of citrus and watch your beverage change color again! This magnificent flower has been used for medicinal purposes in Thailand for centuries. With a flavor profile similar to black tea, butterfly pea can help treat digestive issues, nervous system conditions, and even help prevent cancer. Relaxing with a cup of butterfly pea tea is an experience you won't soon forget.
The city of Bangkok contains many novelties, but the three abandoned airplanes sitting on the side of the road next to an auto body shop is really a sight to see. The two MD-82 jetliners and a 747 may seem out of place, but three Thai families have made these old planes their homes. The families have removed the seats and redecorated the fuselages to make them homier. These fascinating dwellings are a great addition to a day trip through Bangkok. The residents simply charge you a small fee to take a look around.
Believed to have been cursed by the Thai God Tarutao, Koh Hingham attracts visitors with the allure of its beaches lined with precious black stones. It is believed that anyone who takes a stone from the island is cursed forever by Tarutao, so be sure to place any stones back where you found them. The National Park Service of the area receives many black pebbles returned by mail every single year, proving that locals and tourists alike take this folklore extremely seriously. This uninhabited island is definitely worth the trip, unless you're extremely superstitious of Thai deities.
Butterfly Pea Flower tea. Tanya May/Wikimedia.