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Dian's Top Ten Things to Do in Thailand

On vacation in Thailand? Lucky you! Read Lonely Planet, Fodor’s, or any other travel guide and do take in their recommended top sites. Bangkok’s Grand Palace, Koh Samui’s beaches, and Chiang Mai’s Elephant Nature Park will not disappoint.


But if you’re a farang (a Westerner) sojourning in Thailand, you’ll want more than a checklist of photogenic sites. You’ll want experiences to nourish your body and soul. Here are my top ten Thai experiences. Enjoy!

A woman selling mango and sticky rice on boat
  1. Visit the Museum Siam: If you like the way the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History explains American society, you’ll appreciate Museum Siam’s take on Thai-ness. Exploring everything from pop culture to national identity, from clothing to language, this Bangkok museum is a great place to begin your Thai adventure and get an inkling of what makes Thailand tick.

  2. Get a Thai Massage: Your body will thank you and your wallet won’t complain, either. Avoid the studio run by Wat Pho Traditional Thai Massage School. While it’s the Harvard of training programs, it’s touristy, pricey, and inconveniently located. Instead, find a storefront massage studio with a posted menu of services. Ask for a thirty-minute Thai massage, if you’re a newbie: Next time, you’ll go for an hour-long session. You wear a loose-fitting outfit, provided by the studio, so there’s no need to be shy. First, you get a warm footbath, then you lie on a cushion on the floor, close your eyes, and let the therapist perform what you’ll come to learn is a rather choreographed set of moves. Thai massage combines deep pressure (like shiatsu) with facilitated stretches (like yoga) and a bit of energy work (like Reiki). You’ll walk out feeling like you’ve just had a great gym workout, but that someone else did all the working out for you!

  3. Eat Thai Street Food: Fearlessly. Everywhere. You might not be able to identify everything you eat, but you’ll be amazed by the aromas, textures, and tastes. Thai cooks create complex flavor profiles that combine sweet, salty, sour, and spicy. And more spicy. Thai people love chili peppers, so learn to say “mai ped” if, like me, you can’t take the heat. Though you may not see a refrigerator or a sink nearby, you don’t need to fret about food safety. Freshness is the hallmark of Thai cuisine.

  4. Ride the public ferries on the Chao Phraya River in Bangkok: Bangkok’s modern, efficient mass transit system is wonderful for getting around the main business and shopping areas in the capital. But to see the national treasures along the riverfront in their full glory, the colorful public ferries are quicker, cheaper, and much more fun.

  5. Eat, Drink, Love Mangoes: At home, I find many tropical fruits sickly sweet, pulpy, and generally unappealing. But in Thailand, they are wonderfully refreshing and delicious. The variety of flavors, colors, textures, and shapes is overwhelming, but to me, the taste of mango is the taste of Thailand. We ate them, unadorned, most days for breakfast and never grew tired of them. We drank icy mango smoothies as snacks and with meals. Thailand’s best dessert has to be mango with sticky rice and coconut cream. Indulge.

  6. Join a Muay Thai Gym, and Use It! To be honest, we weren’t able to do this in our Pathum Thani neighborhood, but, based on one workout at one gym, I wish we could have. Muay Thai is kickboxing, but it’s kickboxing with style. And it’s a great workout.

  7. Swim: I like to bike, and my husband is a runner, but Thailand’s chaotic traffic and oppressive heat made these outdoor activities seem like health hazards. Swimming, on the other hand, was a real treat. If you can find a pool, or you’re lucky enough to be near the sea, swim.

  8. Get Out of Bangkok: These unique sites are easy day trips from the capital.

    1. Ayutthaya – the ruins of one of Siam’s ancient capitals, with Khmer-style architecture, is a UNESCO World Heritage Centre

    2. MOCA Bangkok – the Museum of Contemporary Art is actually in Pathum Thani and features the best of contemporary Thai fine art

    3. National Geological Museum – also in Pathum Thani, a modern museum with a terrific dinosaur exhibit, including the local species Siamosaurus. Great for kids

    4. Wat Phra Dhammakaya – another Pathum Thani destination, Thailand’s largest Buddhist temple is famous for its million golden Buddha statues

  9. Visit Wat Pho: I stand by Tip #2, but eventually you’ll visit Wat Pho, the Temple of the Reclining Buddha, a must-see cultural icon. While you’re there, if you’ve become as addicted to Thai massage as I did, you’ll want to see what all the fuss is about at the famous massage school. Around the temple complex, you’ll marvel at the statuary depicting amazingly flexible people in incredible poses, just like you’ll be when you get your massage.

  10. Re-visit the Museum Siam: Yes, this was my first recommendation, but I hope you’ll treat yourself to one more visit before you leave Thailand. Congratulate yourself on how much more you understand about Thailand than when you first arrived. And be humbled by how much you still find a bit a bit unexpected, somewhat enigmatic, or completely inexplicable.

Buddha hand

Get my recommendations for books about Thailand at Shepherd.

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