Somehow, I made it to middle age without making it to Asia. So when the opportunity arose for a quick trip to Thailand with a friend who knew his way around, I jumped at the chance. He caught up on old haunts and friends while I gawked at the sights and sounds of an unfamiliar country, but our highlight list was identical — and would make for a great family trip.
Here were our favorite sights:
1. Watching the River Run
We stayed at the legendary Mandarin Oriental in Bangkok, which deserves its place on world’s best hotel lists thanks to luxury appointments and attentive personal service. But even if you don’t stay there, you can enjoy its prime location on the banks of the Chao Phraya River. Arrive early for drinks, then as the sun sets watch the parade of river barges (bring binoculars and you’ll see the families who make their homes on them), water taxis and gaudy party boats. The hotel also has an impressive Thai cooking school, open to non-guests, where I picked up superior pad thai making skills in a morning class.
2. Wat Pho
From the Oriental, grab a river ferry for a quick ride to Wat Pho, the oldest and largest wat (or temple) in Bangkok, notable for its gigantic reclining Buddha. Follow your visit with a trip to the Wat Pho Traditional Thai Massage school, a training center with low-cost, highly effective massages.
3. To Market
Even indifferent shoppers will love the Chatuchak weekend market … teens can find stylish alternatives to Abercrombie, silk, beads and silver abound, and even browsers will enjoy gawking at a vast landscape of stuff. The market offers live animals and an organic food market, but our three-hour visit only covered two of the dozens of sections. Westerners buy a copy of “Nancy Chandler’s Map” of the market for much-needed help. It’s overwhelming, in a good way.
4. Hit the beach
Low-cost regional carriers make it cheap and easy to escape the city and head south. Flying from Bangkok to Krabi, we headed to Railei beach and stayed at the Railei Beach Club, with large teak homes for rent that are perfect for families. No AC or TV, but you’ll wake up to the sound of jungle birds, and monkey sightings are common.
Take a break from the somewhat crowded sand and rent a manned speedboat from the Hot Rocks Climbing School for a glorious day of island-hopping and snorkeling, and be sure to hire the local chef who is available to cook home-style Thai meals at your home. The beach faces west and every sunset was lovely.
5. Play The Palace
Don’t miss the fantastic Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew. The wat contains the Emerald Buddha, a small, jade figure whose robes are changed three times a year by Thailand’s king, and the adjoining palace was the royal residence and is still in use for royal functions. Our government-licensed guide made the fantastic array of buildings, statuary and murals comprehensible.
When you’re done, stroll down the street for the amulet market, where vendors sit on the sidewalk and peddle lucky charms and tiger teeth.
One more hint
Travelers from New York, facing a 17-hour flight, will find the “premium economy” service on Thai Air makes the trip easier. For a $300 premium over economy, the airline offers more spacious seating. The flight featured solicitous (and traditionally dressed) attendants, decent Thai food and truly diverting seatback entertainment, including helpful documentaries on Thai culture, the monarchy, and food, and a great assortment of films and music.
How many trips let you catch up on “Friday Night Lights” and Bollywood features at the same time?
Lisa Green is the mother of two in New York City.
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