A buzzing city life, tropical forests ready for exploration, exotic delicacies offered by the land, and magnificent historical structures… We visit Bangkok and Chiang Mai in Thailand, a country that is home to all this.
I half open my eyes. We are about to arrive in the city center. I’m surrounded by glittering skyscrapers, the Skytrain riding meters above the ground, youth strolling along the streets, and motored tricycles called tuk-tuks busily carrying tourists with smiles on their faces. It’s evening hours but, just like New York, Tokyo, and London, Bangkok is apparently a city that never sleeps!
My hotel is located by Chao Phraya River that gently streams through Bangkok. The moment I arrive at the hotel, I am welcomed by an impressive ceremony. The porter greets me by saying “Saw wah dee khrap!” (meaning hello), followed by a woman in a traditional costume whose hair is adorned with exotic white flowers who brings her hands together and says, “Khop khun ka” (Thank you). Although there’s no reason to thank anyone, I’ve come to learn that Thais express their kindness with this phrase.
I will end the day in the hotel garden designed like a small forest. I feel like like I am in a fairy tale as I sit and admire the giant trees, the ponds turned into paintings with lotus flowers, and the surrounding aromatic scents. After the first day, I feel endeared to Bangkok, a city which, despite being a metropolis, keeps tropical life alive.
Next morning, I start exploring the city with a river tour. There are long and short canal tours operated by wooden boats with tails. I opt for the shorter one which offers more opportunities to witness the lives of locals.
As the boat glides on, I partake in the joy of women chatting on the terraces of wooden houses built above water, fishermen, and children waving at me before jumping into the water. A huge lizard appearing on the riverbank surprises – and, of course, scares – us all. The captain tells us that the river is also home to bigger lizards and even crocodiles! This becomes another memory carved into a picture frame that unites natural and urban life.
Though I’m a bit familiar with Thai cuisine, I cannot wait to try its much-praised delicacies prepared with fresh ingredients on street stalls. Prepared with noodles, soybean sprouts, lemon balm, eggs, and onions, the famous pad thai deserves its reputation. I very much enjoy the original Thai version of shrimp soup called tom yum, which is imitated in many other countries. After a dish as inspiring as it is energizing, I delve into the renowned Chatuchak market, a colorful world painted by flashy silk fabrics, lamps with dragon figures, statuettes, and hand-painted parasols.
Bangkok also hosts the glamorous Grand Palace, built in 1782 during the reign of King Rama I. Zigzagging through the traffic, a tuk-tuk takes me to the palace, one of the finest examples of the majestic traditional architecture of Thailand. Surrounded by high walls, the palace is home to the royal residence in addition to public offices and temples. The patient artistry of Thailand is reflected in gilded structures, walls covered in glass mosaics, tall ornamented columns, reliefs depicting traditional scenes, and magnificent giant statues. Situated inside the palace complex are Wat Phra Kaew Temple and Wat Pho Temple, each of which houses famous Buddha statues, one emerald and one 46 meters in height, respectively.
Thailand is rich in terms of precious stones. After treating myself to a ring with a pink sapphire (for an affordable price!) at one of the shops inside the Jewellery Trade Center on Khwaeng Silom Street, I prepare to bid farewell to Bangkok. My next stop is Chiang Mai in northern Thailand.
As I think about Buddha’s teaching “You must learn to let go. This is the key to happiness.” towards the end of my hour-long flight, Chiang Mai appears from among the clouds as shiny as a jewel. A new fairy tale begins at the foot of the Himalayas with houses whose arched roofs are so soft they look like they were drawn by hand and temples reaching for the skies with pointy architectural details.
I stay at the hotel Yaang Come Village, built in traditional Thai architecture. The leisure activities here feed from tradition as well. Chiang Mai offers many alternatives ranging from forest tours on elephants to visiting villages to observe local life, night safaris to viewing the city from Mount Doi Inthanon at 2,500 meters.
I opt for the “Flight of the Gibbon,” meaning ziplining, which enables me to discover myself in the unparalleled nature of Thailand. As I soar between the platforms installed on trees dozens of meters high inside rainforests, I have the chance to encounter Thailand's famous yellow-colored gibbons. They both watch us with a curious gaze and fearlessly jump from one branch to another with their long arms.
I feel like I deserve a good meal after this fun test of courage in nature. We visit Thaan Aoan Restaurant and I order vegetable dumplings with sweet and sour sauce for a starter, followed by chicken in a coconut milk and red curry sauce. Brought from farm to table, every fruit and vegetable tastes delicious in Thailand.
One of the most spectacular places in Chiang Mai is the Royal Flora Rajapruek, an orchid garden 10 kilometers from the city center. This idyllic location offers a visual feast adorned with ponds, gardens that resemble landscape paintings, and colorful orchids everywhere.Unlike their high-maintenance relatives, the orchids here are both more exotic and long-lasting as a result of Thailand's climate that is conducive to their cultivation. The park guide tells us about a three-day festival held every year in February, the beginning of spring, during which streets, parks, and every inch of the city are covered in flowers. This year, the festival takes place between February 1 and 3.
I choose Jarid Thai Restaurant for dinner and order pa naeng duck lychee with fruit and tomato sauce, and mango and rice dessert. I don’t think I will ever forget the taste of Thai dishes prepared with exotic fruit!
Feeling worn to the bone is one of the natural consequences of a long trip around Thailand. I believe a foot massage is the perfect solution for this - and Thai people are experts at it!
On the flight back, I scroll through the photographs I have taken in Thailand and become lost in thought looking at a picture of the pink lotus flowers and buzzing bees. I feel that, in this picture, Thailand is telling me that the key to happiness is to leave a hasty life behind and to explore inspiring places. “Khop khun ka!” I say to myself, like a local Thai – thank you Thailand!