Amidst lotus blossoms and the drifting scents of incense, I spent my last spring break in Zen with Buddhists monks in the North of Thailand and on the pristine sands of the South. Thailand is a place of rare wonders where beaches jungles, and temples abound. It is overflowing with the richness of bright turquoise waters, deep green forests, and lavish precious gems sprinkled on holy sites. But surprisingly, Thailand can be seen for a bargain. Here is why the country is a must visit spot, and all the secrets to exploring affordably.
The Weather is Ideal
Think about the amazing weather we’ve been experiencing in St Andrews over the past couple of days and just imagine how much greater it is in Thailand. It is always warm there, and with the exception of the rainy season, the days are virtually cloudless.
The Food is Always Fresh
The profusion of exotic flavours, aromatic spices and fragrant herbs will make your taste buds beg for more. The restaurants are certainly abounding with culinary flair, but the markets are also a quintessential part of the culture. They typically serve papaya salad, noodles with fish, or fried rice, stir-fried pork and barbeque – it’s quick, tasty, and very cheap.
Opulence on Every Corner
Finding the luxury will be one of the simplest tasks you’ve ever undertaken. Thai massages and other spa treatments are offered on every corner, giving even the busiest cities a sense of calm. There are gardens at every turn, full of ornamental orchids and tropical blooms, and ancient places of worship interspersed with the modern architecture; Bangkok is a mosaic of glass skyscrapers and jewelled temples. The Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew in Bangkok are incomprehensibly ornate. Cities further north are equally impressive. I would strongly suggest going to Ayutthaya, the ancient capital, as it has dozens of massive ancient ruins which in my eyes, easily rival the ruins of Rome.
Continue your tranquil vacation by heading to the islands. Those untouched by tourists are simply sublime. Koh Ngai is particularly unspoiled, with low mountains and evergreen rainforests bordering the shimmering waters. There are no roads, so the only way to get around is on foot. Moo Koh Surin is an archipelago of hilly isles and coral reefs. Khao Phing Kan and Phang Nga Bay are very popular as tourist destinations, after being featured in James Bond movies, but the limestone tower islets are really worth seeing. My favourite is Koh Tao, for the quiet and idyllic beaches. It has the best snorkelling and diving, unique beach bars, markets, and great restaurants. There are plenty of hill hikes and biking as well as other adventurous activities like paddle boarding and kayaking and scuba diving. Chiang Mai in the North is the adventure capital with bungee jumping and skydiving galore.
All of the Animals
Thailand’s landscape is primarily lush jungles, full of elephants, leopards, tigers, Asiatic wild dogs and monkeys. The animal reserves and national parks in Thailand are among the best in the world. Several years ago, I spent part of my summer volunteering in an Elephant Conservation Centre, which was a remarkable experience, as I was trained by a mahout (an elephant keeper) and got to bathe, feed, and play with the elephants daily.
Everything on a Student Budget
The best part is that all of this adventure and relaxation is easily manageable on a student’s budget, because after airfare, internal country costs are very low. Trains around the whole of the mainland will only set you back about £10 pounds, and boat trips for hopping around the islands will be about £15. You can get a private bungalow on the beach for 20 pounds a night and you can eat for under £5 pounds a day, as street food costs less than a £1. Spa treatments, like deep tissue massages and soothing facials cost between £5 and £10, a stark contrast from the Old Course treatments beginning at £110. Souvenirs for friends and family can be as little as 5p!
The World is at your Feet
You can stop in Thailand on your way to somewhere else – from Bangkok, there are inexpensive flights, three hours to Hong Kong, two hours to Singapore, four hours to Bali, and it’s halfway between Australia and Europe. Even if you weren’t planning on making this country your final destination, it is absolutely incredible value for your money, unlike anywhere else, and it holds stunning peeks into paradise and unimaginable cultural experiences of a lifetime that I guarantee you will never forget.
Images of courtesy of: Mark Fischer (goo.gl/o4WiLj); Michaela Loheit (goo.gl/5dXk5D); Padmanaba01 (goo.gl/QYIDJN) (goo.gl/6hEiX8); Thai National Parks (www.thainationalparks.com); Enshadi (www.facebook.com/enshahdiphotography); Manhhal (goo.gl/kvtVVR).