There’s something about Thailand holidays that draw you in and keep you coming back again and again, no matter how many times you’ve sworn you’d never drink Singha again. No matter how many times I visit Thailand, there’s always something new to discover or something familiar to relive. I found both on a trip which began in Chiang Mai and ended in Nong Khai. Here, you’ll find all my top recommendations in my Thailand travel guide.
Traversing by Bus: A Thailand Travel Guide
The odyssey began in Chiang Mai in northern Thailand, which was a far cry from the Thailand beaches in the south. Thailand’s biggest northern city is a jumble of night markets, temples, as well as charming cafes and restaurants.
I spent many afternoons wandering from temple to temple in the “walled city”, which refers to the historic centre. The Lanna architectural style, with its golden umbrellas and stupas, certainly made itself felt.
Another highlight was the night bazaars, which stretched on and on, presenting an endless array of stalls, eateries and massage pit stops. I spent many nights wandering around the night bazaar on Changklan and Tha Pae Roads, where everything from fine silk scarves to cell phone cases was on offer.
Practically every day, I devoured bowls of khao sai kai. This dish of fried noodles with chicken is typical of Chiang Mai. It offers up an intense explosion of sour and salty flavours.
To get to the next destination on my Thailand travel guide, Chiang Rai, I simply showed up at Chiang Mai Bus Station and bought an onward ticket. The ride in the air-conditioned VIP bus took about 3 to 3.5 hours and was uneventful.
At some point, it was time to leave Chiang Mai, so I headed to the bus terminal and booked an onward ticket to Chiang Rai. The ride was about 3.5 hours long.
Surprisingly enough, the main Thailand attractions in eccentric Chiang Rai were eccentric enough to attract hoards of tour buses.
Wat Rong Khun, popularly called the White Temple, is a gothic artistic masterpiece, built almost entirely in white.
Both a place of worship and contemporary art piece, the temple is fronted by a sea of grasping hands reaching desperately out of the ground. This is just one of many such unsettling sculptures.
Chiang Rai’s other big tourist attraction is the Black Temple.
Not actually a temple, it is a collection of buildings designed and furnished by Thai artists. There is a distinct gothic vibe that complements that of the White Temple, with liberal use of animal skulls and skins.
To get to my next destination, Pai, I went to the Chiang Rai Bus Station and bought a ticket the day before I wished to depart.
The journey included a stopover back in Chiang Mai, and then a dizzying ride involving lots of hairpin bends. I kept my eyes closed for most of the 3-hour ride from Chiang Mai to Pai so as not to get motion sickness.
After Chiang Rai, it was time to spend a few days of utter relaxation in hippy enclave Pai before taking the bus down south.
In Pai, I stayed in a tiny hut on stilts at the foot of the mountains. The shower was out in the open, hidden from view by a makeshift enclosure, which can be quite refreshing in the hot Thailand weather. In the morning, I awoke to the sound of quacking ducks.
There are many such rustic mountain-side bungalows in Pai, one example being Family Huts. While I stayed somewhere else, it is similar in feel to my accommodation on the trip.
At the end of my stay in Pai, I took the bus back to Chiang Mai. Later, I immediately bought another ticket to Sukhothai at the bus station.
As luck would have it, there was a bus leaving for Sukhothai that very afternoon. Because of that, I did not have to find accommodation in Chiang Mai. The ride from Chiang Mai to Sukhothai was about 5.5 hours long. The bus was quite empty so I was able to take a nap across two seats.
When I arrived at the Sukhothai bus station, I immediately booked a ticket to Bangkok for a few days later. Then, I took a tuk-tuk to New Sukhothai to search for accommodation.
Sukhothai Historical Park is one of the most captivating archaeological sites in this part of the world. Its ‘Sukhothai style’ of architecture comprises of evocative 13th and 14th-century ruins. It also provides the experience of cycling in silence through a Thai countryside peppered with remnants of the ancient capital. This is definitely one place that is deserving of a place on anyone’s Thailand travel guide.
New Sukhothai, located about 12km from the ancient capital of the same name, is a small city dotted with street stalls. There I sampled Sukhothai noodles, a steaming rice noodle soup laced with peanuts, before watching with amusement an outdoor dance class set to blaring techno.
No Thailand travel guide is complete without a stop in Bangkok The overnight bus from Sukhothai spat me out at Mochit Bus Terminal at 5 am at the end of an 8-hour ride. I was jolted awake by a cacophony of honking and the persistent calls of taxi drivers.
I checked into my hostel and got myself a few hours’ sleep. After that, I spent a day in Bangkok revisiting favourite haunts such as Sky Train Jazz Bar, the excellent Thai massage school at Wat Pho, and the food court at Platinum Mall.
The next day, I departed for Nong Khai, gateway to the Isaan region.
The trip from Bangkok to Nong Khai was another long journey which takes about 11 hours. I departed in the morning and arrived in the evening. I welcomed the chance to catch up on some reading and stare out the window. Thanks to the fact that I had once again booked a seat on a VIP bus, the ride took place in air-conditioned comfort.
Nong Khai was meant to be a mere pitstop before continuing on to Laos. But it nonetheless became a fascinating and memorable part of my trip, thanks in no small part to the wonderfully strange Sala Keoku Sculpture Park.
This park has lots of massive concrete statutes of a religious and/or mystical nature. Some of them are up to 25 metres in height. The fact that the park was quite empty when I visited contributed to the eeriness of the atmosphere.
Before departing Thailand to Laos on the other side of the Mekong, as I always do, I swore that I’d be back.