To get the most out of Thailand, try to spend at least 10 days spanning the mountains up north in Chiang Mai or Chiang Rai, the beaches down south in Krabi, Koh Samui or Phuket, and the sprawling metropolis that is Bangkok. If temples are your thing, hit Chiang Mai’s mountaintop Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep Temple for one of the most sacred spots in northern Thailand. In Bangkok, don’t miss the Golden Palace or Ayutthaya. If adventure is more your style, NewNowNext 9 points out where you can snuggle up to full grown tigers or ride Asian elephants bareback through the jungle. Some people think of luxury and fine dining when they get to Thailand. Our list sets the record straight on the best hotels and directs the traveling foodie to gastronomical bliss.
Chiang Mai – Northern Thailand
1 – Puripunn
Puripunn is an intimate boutique hotel with a total of 30 rooms built in a contemporary oriental style inspired by traditional homes found in Chiang Mai. The hotel sits adjacent to local restaurants and pubs by the Ping River and within minutes walking distance to Chiang Mai’s famous Night Bazaar. The two-level main building circles the center pool and Jacuzzi while ground floor rooms open up into the courtyard with French doors onto private verandas. Upstairs suites range from modest to luxurious with huge bathrooms that include daybeds and walk-in showers. There is a business center and a fitness center for those who need to keep their hectic lives moving. Breakfast is served daily in an open air restaurant near Puripunn’s entrance.
The Thai Elephant Conservation Center is about 30 mins drive outside of Chiang Mai. Visits can range from simply learning about elephants or if you want something a bit more hands on, you can plan to spend an entire day (or a few nights) riding, feeding and bathing the elephants. If you choose to do the hands on experience, be ready for an experience you’ll never forget. Riding bareback on your own elephant through the forest, across rivers, up mountains and into the river for a bath and playtime does not compare to the other tours where you sit inside a basket for a ride. It’s more fun to do the driving! These incredible animals are part of Thailand’s efforts to rehabilitate injured ellies and to educate local people on living in harmony with the gentle giants.
3 – Tiger Kingdom
Located about a 30 min drive north of Chiang Mai, Tiger Kingdom offers a unique experience for western travelers. For a fee, you are able to visit tigers of all ages from 3 month old infants to medium and full grown.
These tigers are VERY well fed and because they are night hunters, they are quite chill during the day. The staff invites you right into the cages where the tigers roam freely. You are instructed to only approach the tiger from behind and to never touch its paws or head. MAJOR photo op!
4 – Riverside Cafe
Riverside Cafe is a great stop for local food and music and just a 5 minute walk from Puripunn Hotel. Locals and tourists alike mingle in the outdoor and indoor setting along the Ping River. Great Thai dishes and beer on tap are served up nightly.
Hailed as one of the best hotels in the world, Mandarin Oriental Bangkok has been welcoming guests along the shore of the Phraya River for over 135 years. Centrally located, the hotel is a great home base for the city of Bangkok and the surrounding sites. Our favorite is the elaborate breakfast buffet served on the patio along the river. Make sure you dine one night at Sala Rim Naam, where guests are entertained with traditional displays of Thai dance and boxing. Book in advance, then take one of the ferry boats across the river from the main hotel to the Spa for the BEST massage of your life. After a day of touring the Golden Palace in the center of Bangkok, sip a cocktail by the pool and let the heat of mid-day pass by. By dusk, walk a couple blocks to the State Tower to have a drink atop Sirocco for a breathtaking view of the city. From the hotel, you can book tickets to the nearby Calypso Cabaret for a Vegas-style ladyboy show or hitch a taxi to the Night Market near the world famous Pat Pong district. If you’re not into tourist traps, skip the floating markets that all the tour guides suggest, but DO make the trip to the Ayutthaya ruins. The markets outside the ruins were the most authentic we found throughout Thailand and the temples themselves do not disappoint.
6 – Bo.lan
For the traveling foodie, Bo.lan is a one stop shop of everything that will tickle your fancy about Asian cuisine.
Try the tasting menu for an array of all organic, locally cultivated foods. Founded on the belief that one of the best Thai restaurants should be found in Thailand, the food is heavily attached to the land and its people therefore Bo.lan follows ancient cooking rituals and incorporates geographical diversity in preparing its menu. The tasting menu serves up frech and seasonal produces including the five essential dishes; Thai salad (yum), chili relish (kreung jim), a stir-fried dish (jan phat), curry (keng) and soup (nahm keng). Bo.Lan even offers cooking classes on the weekends!
Craving an incredible sushi dinner? Head to Zuma on the groundfloor of the St. Regis Hotel. Zuma Bangkok opened in December 2011 and joins the ranks of sister restaurants spanning the globe in cities like London, Dubai, Miami and Hong Kong. Entering the restaurant is an event in itself, passing through a water garden dotted with giant tropical plants. Inside, the kitchen is open and sits on one entire side of the room. If sushi is your thing, you won’t be disappointed.
8 – Rayavadee
How do you describe what paradise looks and feels like? Well, here goes. Rayavadee is like nothing you’ll ever experience. From the private dock pick-up where you are whooshed away by speed boat to a cliff-circled island, the dream begins. When you open the door to your own private bungalow for the first time, your jaw will be permanently dropped. Rayavadee sits on the best piece of property in all of Krabi. Paths connect the bungalows through jungle and under towering limestone outcroppings out to three beaches that surround the resort. Guests can hang at the enormous infinity pool all day or spend an afternoon rock-climbing, island hopping (Koh Phi Phi is a must see!) or drinking at the beach bar. Book dinner for two at Krua Phranand, the Thai restaurant on the beach, or at Raitaly Terrace.
Built like steps down the side of a mountain, Infinity Residence is perched above Koh Samui overlooking miles of ocean and white sand beaches. Each apartment features its own private veranda and plunge pool. Our duplex, modern-designed space included a full kitchen, dining set, living room area and 2 bedrooms with separate baths. Literally a home away from home. Eat breakfast, lunch or dinner in the open-air restaurant overlooking the bay. Book an SUV rental through the front office to get out and tour around the island. Drive to the center of the island to hike up to the Wang Sanotong waterfall one day and at dusk, check out the giant Buddha on the pier off the Fisherman’s Market. The beaches of Chweng Beach are hopping during the day and at night, party down with the best of them at the many open-air beach bars.