We travel in troubling times. The outbreak of the coronavirus COVID-19 has everyone in a scramble.
It’s easy to get caught up in the microcosm of regular life and the onslaught from pretty much every quadrant of the media.
So this week we journey to Thailand and one of Asia’s truly great cities to get an understanding of what things are currently like in the wider world.
Then from the humid, busy streets of Bangkok to the brilliance and grandeur of southern Thailand’s coast, we head to the beach to check out the vibe there.
We hope you enjoy this Weekly Edition and that it sheds some light on the climate overseas.
Cheers – Jim & Christina x
As soon as we’ve checked in and had a shower, Christina and I are out on the bustling streets of Bangkok on the hunt for food.
We’ve come to the city’s Chinatown, the heartland of hawker food in Bangkok and we’re not disappointed. All the delicious things we’ve been dreaming about since the last time we were in Thailand are here and plenty more.
It’s not so busy on the Dragon Road – a byproduct of the coronavirus scare. But of those that are here, there’s a confidence in them that shows the panic hasn’t reached Bangkok yet.
You’ll see face masks on public transport and the occasional pair of latex gloves worn, but for the most part, the only effects of COVID-19 you’ll see here are bottles of hand sanitiser everywhere and smaller crowds.
After breakfast at our digs in the Well Hotel – an residence focused on health and wellness, somewhat salient in these difficult times – we head to the river.
There are several options for boat rides along the broad waters of the sea-bound Chaophraya River, but the ChaoPhraya Tourist Boat’s hop-on-hop-off service is a great option.
For 200 Baht, you can board and disembark as many times as you want for the whole day and see sights like the old Customs House building, which is now home to the Bangkok River Fire Service, float by.
Perhaps most impressive though is Wat Arun – the Temple of Dawn. This spectacular temple has its own wharf and is well worth a look around. It’s full of relics from Chinese trade ships and is decorated with pieces of porcelain thought to be the ships’ ballast.
Normally, this temple would be packed with tourists.
Today, it feels like we have the place to ourselves. This is good and bad really. It’s a luxury to have the run of the temple, but at the same time, it’s a sad testament to how few people are travelling at the moment.
From the edge of the river, we go to the edge of the world. Atop the King Power building – a fantastic piece of architecture that looks like it’s digitally disintegrating – is Mahanakhon Sykwalk and the Glass Tray Experience.
Some 310 metres above the city on the 78th floor, this huge sheet of glass lets you really feel like you’re hovering above Bangkok. It’s a heady experience but one not to be missed.
On the floor below is one of Bangkok’s finest restaurants – Mahanakhon Bangkok Skybar. Dinner here is a treat indeed, with international options and Thai classics with a modern spin. And the floor-to-ceiling windows give you views out across the glittering city.
Another great spot for views of Bangkok is Above Riva – the restaurant and bar of the beautiful riverside hotel Riva Arun. As the name suggests, this hotel is very close to Wat Arun – just across the river in fact.
As the sun goes down, the Temple of Dawn lights up, as do the other beautiful sights close to the bar.
The likes of Wat Pho, the Royal Palace, Wat Galaya and Rama VIII Bridge glow amongst the buildings of Bangkok Old Town.
We’ve got plenty to tell you about the Riva Arun and its bar, not to mention the hotel we’ve moved to now – the elegant Riva Surya nearby. Across the river is also the Supatra River House restaurant – a superb dinner spot for romance and special occasions.
Watch this space for reviews of all these places!
Another culturally significant place to visit is the Jim Thompson House. After settling in Bangkok, this American architect made a name for himself (and lots of money!) by reinvigorating the Thai silk industry.
He mysteriously disappeared in Malaysia but his executors donated his house to Thailand. You can now explore this interesting property and even see silk being spun.
Our hotel – Riva Surya – is in an amazing location, close to the flower markets of Bangkok. If you haven’t been to these markets, you have to visit them. They’re full of flowers, garlands and displays that are mostly for tributes to temples.
There’s also a fruit and vegetable market here that’s worth checking out just to experience the impressive scale of fresh produce you can get here. From stacks of chillies and sacks of fresh turmeric to coconut cream that the man squeezes fresh for you, it’s all here.
But there’s an extra level to this place – figuratively and literally…
These two dishes aren’t from a fancy Thai restaurant or even a hawker’s stall.
We made them!
With the help of the talented Tum at the Market Experience. Above the flower market, Tum and his colleagues run cooking lessons where you first forage the ingredients from the stalls below us.
You then take them back up to the kitchen and learn how to use the fresh chilli, turmeric and coconut cream to make (then eat) these delicacies.
From DIY dinners to pick-your-own lunches, we’ve travelled 80km north of Bangkok to the original capital of Thailand – Ayutthaya (pronounced ‘ay-oo-tee-ya’).
Positioned like an island caught between three connecting river systems, the fish and shellfish – especially the huge freshwater prawns – here are highly prized.
We dine extravagantly in the cafe at the back of the markets. You can pick the prawns you want from the tanks outside and the cook and serve them to you at no extra cost.
You buy the prawns by the kilo. The biggest of them are about 600 Baht a kilo… but for that you only get about three prawns!
Ayutthaya was once a thriving capital full of magnificent temples and a hub for trade throughout Asia back when Thailand was known as Siam.
When wars with Burma boiled over, the Burmese invaded, overthrew the capital and left it in burnt ruins.
The ruins of many temples still exist today, make Ayutthaya a very special destination.
At the temple ruins of Wat Mahathat, this banyan tree has all but destroyed a statue of Buddha. His face smiling serenely from the roots of the tree make for an iconic yet eerie image.
On the other side of the river from Ayutthaya proper, Wat Chai Watthanram is a stunning ruins of a temple that’s reminiscent of ancient Cambodian sites.
Although you can’t go inside this temple, exploring the grounds gives you an idea of the old splendour that must have existed here. Across the river, the regal estate of the Princess’s summer palace watches this ancient place of worship.
Next to Phra Mongkhon Bophit, the temple home of one of Thailand’s biggest Buddha statues, is Wat Phra Si Sanphet. This mind-meltingly beautiful archaeological site is a photographer’s dream – especially with a model like this in the foreground!
I think I have my new Facebook profile shot! This temple site is absolutely stunning. Once again, we have the place pretty much to ourselves.
I don’t think there’s ever been a better time to visit Thailand!
From Ayutthaya’s age-worn pathways and the busy heat of Bangkok, we travel south to the beaches and looming ocean karsts of Krabi. Once again, this usually popular tourist spot is relatively quiet for the time of year.
Our hotel – the newly built Centara Ao Nang Resort and Spa – is right on the beach and close to the action. People often get Krabi and Ao Nang mixed up. The holiday part of the area is in fact Ao Nang, not Krabi, which is more of a business area and not much fun.
The beaches and outlooks across the bay are stunning – we can’t wait to see more of this part of the Andaman coastline.
But first, we eat!
Fine dining in Thailand is all well and good, but if you want to get to know this place properly, you need to be brave, avoid big restaurants and try the basic-looking open-air eateries you see everywhere.
This place – just on a random street on the outskirts of Ao Nang – does the best fried chicken you’ll ever eat. The owners also grow their own herbs, make their own noodles and serve a kind of mini buffet of everything to your table.
By the way, the basket of hard-boiled eggs here is a common sight in this part of Thailand. They’re on every table and if you fancy one, crack it, peal it and enjoy. They’re free.
Today, we’ve taken a longtail boat out to a little island off the coast of Krabi from Khong Kha Pier. It’s called Ko Klang (meaning ‘island in the middle’ as in ‘in the middle of the mangrove forest’) and is like going back in time.
The locals on this island have kept with traditional lifestyles people in the city have long since given up. For 300 Baht, the boat will take you there and bring you back to the mainland with groups up to eight people.
There are no cars on Ko Klang though, so you have to either walk, hire pushbikes or hire a motorbike sidecar ‘taxi’.
Apart from enjoying the views, you can paint your own batiks here, try traditional tie-dye and visit a man who makes all kinds of traditional objects from wood. Models of old shrimping boats, primitive yet ingenious fire starters and even powerful weapons with wood and giant elastic bands!
If there’s a place in Thailand where you feel further from the troubles of the outside world than Ko Klang, I’d like to see it.
It’s a place of plenty, yet a haven for peace and nature, where cashew fruit hang from the trees and archer fish dance through the mangroves.
This evening, we’re up in the hills around Krabi for dinner. Ruan Mai is a beautiful restaurant and consistently popular over the years too. Food here is absolutely superb – our tip though is to ask for local dishes.
Southern Thailand has dishes all of its own, but be warned the southerners like their food spicy!
Today, we’re on a speedboat from Nopparat Thara Beach and heading out into the bay. It’s cheaper to get one of those beautiful old longtail boats, but they’re slower so you’ll spend more time on the water rather than in it. They’re also pretty noisy.
Also, ask about national park fees with your boat rental. To go to any of the islands here, you’ll be entering the marine park which costs an extra 400 Baht per person. Boat companies don’t tend to include it in their price in an attempt to stay competitive.
The water around the pretty little island of Ko Lao Lading is so clear you can see fish swimming around your feet. The sooner you get to this spot the better. It’s a popular first stop for most tour boats.
One of the largest islands in the bay, Ko Hong has a pretty good restaurant on it (our lunch here is excellent) – just make sure you order the fried chicken and the southern style red curry. You won’t regret it.
Snorkelling and swimming is a lot of fun at this beautiful beach, but it can get pretty busy.
Around the corner from the beach, this little inlet opens out into a secluded shallow bay. Our boat is just small enough to get through the gap.
Krabi has been so much more than we were expecting. Such a beautiful spot and much less touristy than the likes of Phuket on the other side of the bay.
In fact, this is exactly the reason Krabi is a travel destination at all: people escaping the mass tourism that flooded the island found Krabi and Ao Nang much more peaceful.
We hope you’ve enjoyed this travel-forward Weekly Edition and that it’s given you some confidence to keep travelling. Of course, the coronavirus epidemic is cause for concern.
People at risk – the elderly, those with pre-existing respiratory conditions and so on – have good reason to be worried.
But careful management of hygiene and the general awareness we should all put into practice when we travel – which includes choosing your destination with prudence – will keep you safe.
For other stories we’ve written on travelling to Thailand, where to eat, sleep and be merry, check out our archive library here.