After visiting Hong Kong, Vietnam, and temple hopping in Cambodia, Thailand was next on my friend Tess and I’s three week Southeast Asia adventure. With a limited amount of time, we wanted to make the most of it by doing a diverse range of activities, from taking cooking classes to river rafting in the Mae Tang River. Through this post, I hope to show you how to visit Thailand in one week.
How to Visit Thailand in One Week
Tess and I flew into Bangkok International Airport, recently built in 2006, from Siem Reap, Cambodia. The flight cost $150 through Bangkok Airways. After budget traveling in our prior three countries, we decided to splurge a little on housing in Thailand because it was the last country on our trip!
We stayed at Chatrium Residence Sathorn Bangkok in a 2 bedroom apartment for $278 total for three nights. To be completely transparent, the biggest draw for us was definitely the swimming pool. Apparently there was a jacuzzi too but it was too well hidden and we were unable to find it. After a long day of flying, floating through the water while staring up at palm trees was exactly what I needed. Even though the hotel was very nice and had unexpected extras like a violinist in the lobby, I would be hesitant to recommend it because it is so far from downtown Bangkok. Going to and from the airport took about an hour and it took almost three hours in traffic. Also, there are few restaurants that are in the vicinity of the hotel. Having said that, the hotel does have a couple of restaurants and a snack bar if you are desperate for food options.
Temple of the Emerald Buddha
One of the Bangkok destinations that came highly recommended by multiple travel websites, Lonely Planet, and TripAdvisor was the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. It did not disappoint.
As you can tell, the temples all look very different. This is because the temples were constructed by different emperors, each of whom had a different architectural taste.
I am still not sure what these dragon/human statues are…but you can tell that this emperor was extremely fond of them. The ornateness and lavishness of this temple astounded me. Others were astounded too, judging from the hordes of people taking pictures of this ancient glamour.
This style was a personal favorite of mine. It actually reminded me a bit of Greece with its emphasis on white, which was complemented by deep blues. I also liked how it was more minimal than some of the other temple designs (too much gold freaks me out).
You can also visit the temple where the Emerald Buddha is located. It was extremely hot and stuffy within the temple due to the sheer amount of people, but it was well worth it to see the gold Buddha decked out with emeralds, embracing you with his knowing, gracious smile.
To get inside the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, make sure your shoulders and legs are covered! There are several shops outside of the temple that also sell pants and sarongs for both men and women.
Taling Chan Floating Market
One of the things I was highly looking forward to was visiting the floating markets in Bangkok. I had never been to one and was extremely curious to see how they cooked the seafood they caught in the river. After hearing stories of ginormous prawns , I knew I had to visit to see for myself.
The entrance to the floating market is dotted with shops, selling everything from lotus flowers to Thai snacks.
The vivid colors of this woman’s produce caught my eye. One thing I liked about the floating market was that it was a little out of the way from Bangkok, so there weren’t that many tourists. Strange, how as a tourist you don’t want to be surrounded by other tourists. I liked how you could see locals frequenting this place and it made for a more “authentic” experience.
I’m not sure exactly what this woman is cooking up, but they looked a little bit like Thai tacos! Except the shredded orange ingredient wasn’t cheese, I’m sure it’s something much healthier like carrots.
Ah, the floating market! As you can see, the live catch are grilled directly on the boat. Right next to these wooden vessels is a protected patio area where you can sit down and enjoy your freshly caught meal. It has a communal air, with folks sharing tables and collectively enjoying the experience of eating so close to where your food was caught. One thing to note for vegetarians is that there are not a lot of non-meat options, but there is still plenty to see and do at the floating market.
Khao San Road aka Backpackers’ Road
After visiting the floating market, we wrapped up the day by visiting the ever famous Backpackers’ Road aka Khao San Road. This is where tourists rule and mingle amongst vendors selling food, map patches, and fake id’s.
Having yet to try any street food due to food poisoning PTSD from Morocco, I decided to take a chance on this stall. I selected it because it followed one of my rules on how to find the best food in any city: there were lots of people getting food from there so there was high turnover and also because the guys working the stall just seemed so genuine and nice. I know, I’m a sucker for a good smile, especially when the person giving it looks so young and hardworking.
This is just a glimmer of the crowdedness and craziness of Khaosan Road. It actually looks kind of tame from this picture, but it definitely got more crowded as the night went on. There are lots of bars with expats/tourists here if that’s what you’re looking for! I feel like I’m too old and boring now, so what got me really excited wasn’t the drinking but a knockoff triangl swimsuit I got for 15 USD (they typically retail for almost 100 USD)!
Sompong Thai Cooking School
Let me just preface this by saying that cooking isn’t necessarily my strong point. I love eating and trying new food, but I haven’t really cooked that often. My go-to is usually rice, gochujang, and a fried egg. I might add some seaweed if I’m feeling fancy. So going to a Thai cooking class excited me because I wanted to learn how to make some of my favorite foods like pad thai and mango sticky rice. Based on TripAdvisor reviews and availability, Tess and I chose to take a class at Sompong Thai Cooking School.
At this moment, I would just like to point out how hot my teacher was. She could have been a model on the side. Anyways, not only is she beautiful, she is also an extremely talented cook. The class began by going on a field trip to the local market to purchase the ingredients we would be using to cook. For some of the ingredients, they provided background as to how it is used in Thai dishes and how it is grown. Another thing we learned was that when you buy dried shrimp, the ones that are extremely orange looking are because of orange dye. Because they are less fresh, they are usually cheaper. After learning this, I will definitely be paying more attention to the color of dried shrimp I buy (when I start buying them)… Upon returning from the local market, the teacher and her assistants quickly put us to work.
Here is Tess mashing up the red peppers for the curry paste. I tried doing this too and it was quite the arm workout! Our teacher told us that this traditional method of mashing the ingredients by hand has since been replaced with a blender (whew!). However, she wanted us to make it this way as it allowed for better flavor due to the slower release of aromas.
Here is the finished product of the cashew chicken that we made. I was extremely proud of my rose that I made out of a tomato peel. It also tasted pretty decent!
The school was incredibly accommodating of my vegetarian friend’s request to create vegetarian meals. The assistants were definitely patient when showing us how to recreate the dishes. At the end of class, they provided us with a recipe book so we could continue to recreate these dishes at home.
Being in Thailand, one of my goals was to find the best pad thai. I figured that the best pad thai in Bangkok, the capital of Thailand, would be a pretty great contender for the best pad thai in the WORLD. After doing some heavy internet research, I found Thip Samai. It was heralded as one of the best pad thai places in Bangkok. Apparently other people had the same idea and after getting there around 8pm on a weekday, we could see a huge line extending out of the restaurant. Don’t fear though, the line moves quickly and along the way, you see fellows like this one, cooking up their famous pad thai.
One of the reasons that Thip Samai is so highly regarded is their pad thai is enclosed in egg. I’m drooling just looking at it…
Thip Samai is also known for its freshly squeezed orange juice, which was delicious. It comes in such a large container that I couldn’t finish it in one sitting and had to save the rest for breakfast. If you’re waiting in line to eat here, you might as well take advantage of it and try their different offerings.
On our fourth day, we flew into Chiang Mai, a smaller city with tons of outdoor activities. Since Tess and I both enjoy hiking and the outdoors, it was the perfect destination for us. It is also really close to Bangkok, you can get there by plane in about one hour. We flew into Chiang Mai via Bangkok Airways for 75 USD.
Once we checked into Suriwongse Hotel, we began exploring the neighborhood. It is definitely less chaotic than Bangkok and has more of a local, rural feel.
I like how this picture captures the simplicity of life and the openness of street food. Also, it just looks really pretty to me.
While exploring, we stumbled onto this temple. It is not uncommon for multiple temples to dot the same block in Chiang Mai. I think there’s something crazy like 300 temples in this small city of 400,000 people. I love how the white stone has slowly turned grey due to age and how it is complemented by touches of gold and color in a mosaic fashion.
We celebrated the end of the day by visiting the night bazaar where we drank beers, picked up souvenirs for friends and family back home, and of course had ice cream. This guy is actually pretty famous for making ice cream on stone (like Cold Stone!). While the ice cream is still extremely cold and and pliable, he rolls it up like little burritos as you can see above. It was delicious and the perfect end to a day spent walking around Chiang Mai.
I was super excited for our second day in Chiang Mai because we were going river rafting! After walking around lots, I was ready for some water action. We chose to go with Siam River Adventures based on glowing TripAdvisor reviews and were extremely happy we did. The office staff were courteous, the guides were friendly, and the adventure itself was awesome. The company picked us up at our hotel and drove us to the Mae Tang River. After arriving, they fed us a deliciously prepared Thai lunch.
Pop quiz! Is Tess excited because of a) the food b) river rafting or c) all of the above? Answer is at the bottom of this post!
As you can see, the river rafting was thrilling, exciting, and gave me slight anxiety at times. I liked how there was a mix of intense moments like the one pictured above to calm moments where we drifted downriver and jumped into the water to swim. The best part of it though was our guide, he led us through tricky situations calmly and with a sense of humor. By the end of the trip, he was joking that he would visit us back in California.
After the river rafting adventure, the company gave us the option of purchasing a DVD with pictures of our adventure. It took Tess and I very little time to agree to purchase and split it.
This is Nop and I. I’m pretty sure I was still on an adrenaline high after the river rafting here. I would highly, highly recommend going on this adventure. Just seeing the pictures again makes me excited to talk about it. Even if you have never river rafted before, it is a great experience because they prep you and you have an experienced guide with you the whole time!
For dinner, we sought out “the cowboy lady.” One of my heroes, Anthony Bourdain, turned me onto her and said that her khao kha moo, or slowly stewed pork, was a MUST-TRY. As Bourdain’s recommendation to try Banh Mi Phuong in Vietnam had turned out swimmingly well, I knew I had to try this out. While it was a struggle at first to find her, her cowboy hat helped distinguish her from the other food vendors. And after trying her khao kha moo, it was well worth it. It was so good, that I had to try two (Tess can testify to this)!
We had such a good time with Siam River Adventures, I am happy to say that we booked another adventure with them. This was an all day hiking excursion deep into the mountains of Chiang Mai, with the opportunity to visit a local mountain village. Here are a couple of pictures from our day trip:
I’m a sucker for green rolling hills and this excursion fit the bill. Along the way our guide, Nop (remember him from the river rafting adventure?), taught us about different types of trees, flowers, and how the locals used them as food or entertainment.
Nop also showed us a plant that could be used to create red dye, which he then demonstrated by drawing on our faces. Tess and I took this picture after exploring the local village on our own while Nop prepared lunch for us (we were spoiled, I know).
One of the things I really enjoyed on this hike is how much water activity there was. In ninety degree weather, water was always a welcome relief, especially when it involved going down natural-made water slides. We also had the opportunity to visit a pool with three waterfalls, which was cool because you could swim out to an individual waterfall, sit under it, and get the best massage of your life. A little different from city life right?
To read more about our hiking experience and hanging out with Nop, you can click here.
On our seventh day, we flew back into Bangkok since we were flying out of Bangkok International Airport. This would mark the end of our trip as Tess was flying out to California the next day to resume her research and I would be flying out to Florida to begin my summer internship at a software firm. Knowing that it was our last night in Southeast Asia, we decided to take advantage of it by exploring more of Bangkok with what else, you guessed it, temples. This is Wat Pho, Temple of the Reclining Buddha, and one of six first class Royal temples in Thailand.
As you can see, the temple along with the pale pink hues of the fading sunset resulted in a fantastic, scenic last night in Bangkok. Wat Pho also offers some bomb massages, which unfortunately we didn’t get to enjoy as it was too late, but learn from my mistakes and go earlier!
Tess left early for her flight back to California whereas my flight to Florida wasn’t until 8:40 PM. Rather than waiting all day at the airport where I’d be super bored, I decided to take advantage of the day and go on a bike tour of Bangkok! After vetting various agencies, I chose to book the Colors of Bangkok tour with Bangkok Biking company for around 35 USD.
During the tour, we biked through the busy city streets (a feat in itself!), a slum where we visited a kindergarten, and the industrial portion of Bangkok where immigrants worked in tailoring.
After exploring Bangkok proper, we rode a longtail boat manned by a no-nonsense old-timer to an island off of Bangkok. This island acted as a respite from the chaos of the city and offered smooth bike riding among mango trees and temples. It was also fun to bond with tourists from London, who shared their tips on navigating the UK and also recommended that the best time to hit up London was during Carnaval.
The bike tour ended up going longer than expected and so the frantic race back to the airport began. After getting back to the biking agency’s office at 5pm, rather than trouble myself with a taxi in the mad traffic, one of the agency’s employees offered to give me a ride on his motorcycle. As we zoomed through the traffic, getting into several near accidents, I got a huge adrenaline rush but was also glad I wasn’t the one navigating the roads. I hurriedly grabbed my luggage and then hailed a cab to go to the airport. While the drive typically takes an hour, with evening Friday traffic the drive lasted THREE hours. The whole time I was nervously chatting with my driver and actually learned a lot about his home country, Laos. Based on multiple conversations with Bangkok drivers, it seems like many of the drivers are immigrants from other countries in Southeast Asia like Laos. It was interesting to think about how from a Western perspective, Thailand seems to be still developing, but from another less-developed country, it is a land of opportunity. Long story short, I ended up barely making it to the airport on time and ran all the way to my gate to catch my flight. While I wouldn’t necessarily recommend booking a tour so close to your flight time, if you do have the time I would highly recommend it.
After exploring Southeast Asia, the summer was off to a great start. Little did I know that going to Florida itself would be like going to another world. Read more about my experience in Florida here.
*By the way, I really hope you chose (c) to the pop quiz question. C’mon, that was really a gimme!