This exotic and breathtaking nation has long been known for its amiable, warm, and friendly people.
However this is but one small reason. There is the outward and breathtaking beauty of the country itself. It is a land filled with glamor, intrigue, and mystery.
From the blue island dotted waters of the Andaman Sea and the Gulf of Thailand, to the tranquility of the lush, jungle covered northern mountains along the Burmese and Laotian border, the tourist, nature lover, and adventurer can find anything, and everything, to both excite and satisfy their hidden spirit of adventure, or sooth the nature lover residing within them.
Those looking to explore the silence and splendor of the deep will find some of the world’s best scuba diving in the blue waters of the Andaman Sea. This vast body of water is a part of Indian Ocean and is located to the southeast of the Bay of Bengal, west of Thailand, and south of Myanmar (Burma). Although the area boasts several hundred islands, the majority are unhabituated. The best diving is found in the area of the Similan Islands north of Phuket.
Diving in the Gulf of Thailand centers around the Andaman Islands, primarily Koh Tao, Koh Phangan, Koh Samui and Koh Lak.
Scuba divers of all experience levels will find a variety of diving adventures throughout the area with the opportunity to see, and interact with true leviathans of the deep; gentle whale sharks and graceful manta rays. It is here they will be able to take in the beauty of the underwater world, or just kick back in the welcome shade of a beach umbrella sipping a cool, satisfying beverage while watching the Long Tail boats plowing through the glassy waters. Many will follow their day with a night of dining and dancing to the beat of one of the local bands in the lively night clubs and bars of Phuket, or scattered along Chaweng Boulevard on Koh Samui.
Those into the splendor and tranquility of nature unspoiled, will head to the North Country. It is here where you will find all that and much, much, more in the lush jungle covered mountains of the Northern Provinces. The mountains of Northern Thailand will both awe and inspire you.
Northern Thailand is composed of several provinces; Chiang Mai Province, the original capital of the North, and the Lanna Kingdom, the Lanna people, and gateway to Burma and the “Golden Triangle,” the area where Burma, Thailand and Laos meet. Mae Hong Son Province; and the great Mae Hong Son loop with Pai – offering a laid-back backpacker ambiance, and a good jumping off point for many interesting and exciting trekking tours. The Northern River Valleys; mountainous valley that are yet largely unexplored, as well as Lower Northern Thailand; or the North-Central Plains, the ancient center of Thailand with the Sukhothai ruins.
The jungles, spectacular rock peaks, and rivers of the mountains offer many exciting treks and tours for the adventurous, the weekend explorer, or the day trekker. Trekking trips can last anywhere from one to seven days. Most are guided, and all-inclusive, and will take you into the lush, thick jungles in the mountains above Chiang Mai, where you’ll be able to interact with the people of the unique hill tribes, home of the famous long neck “Karen Women”. Seeing these distinctive women and girls, multitudes of brass rings around their long, slim necks, will amaze you. Although it appears their necks are elongated, they are not. It is the weight of the rings, placed around their necks starting in early childhood, which pushes their shoulders downward. And believe it or not, it causes the wearer no pain or discomfort.
Here you can spend the day among these rare and indigenous people, taking pictures, dining on food prepared by the women, or buying articles of handmade clothing and trinkets. Unfortunately the constant exposure to the outside world, the commercialism, has turned these once self-sufficient, mysterious people into a commercial enterprise, one which is slowly taking away all that made them truly unique.
Treks lasting two days or more, will provide you with the opportunity to stay overnight at one, or more, of these quiet jungle villages, sit atop an elephant for a daylong safari deep into the jungle, head down river on a bamboo raft, or simply relax with a refreshing swim in a crystal clear pool at the base of majestic “Mae Ya Falls,” the “Niagara Falls” of Thailand, and thought to be the highest in the country.
Those daring adventures into rock climbing or caving; spelunking, will find numerous places in the area surrounding Chiang Mai to “Hang above” it all, so-to-speak, or get underground, in one of Thailand’s incredible cave systems. There are several rock climbing and caving tour companies available that provide everything from equipment and experienced guides, to instruction.
Northern Thailand is world renowned as an Eco-Tourism region, and will provide those so inclined to endless hours of bird watching, or observing very rare butterflies in their natural habitat, or taking a high flying ride through the jungle canopy, tree top to tree top, on a zip line at the “Flight of the Gibbon.”
Now if trekking through the jungle, or hanging by your toes off the side of a mountain doesn’t appeal to you. If you are one those that prefers the sights and sounds of the concrete jungle, are into major traffic jams, strolling along sidewalks where you’ll not only be the target of ambitious street vendors trying to sell you everything from over-priced T-shirts, knock off Rolex’s and Blackberries, to the locals on their motor bikes using the sidewalks as a secondary roadway, then you should be very comfortable in the southern metropolis of Bangkok.
Bangkok is by all means, a one of a kind city.
As any progressive city, it is chock full of modern shopping malls, a zoo and aquarium, cinemas, including a state-of-the-art IMAX Theater, a number of expansive outdoor markets, and several multi-block weekend markets. Here the bargain hunters among you will find multitudes of shops and stalls selling everything from your traditional pets, IE: cats, dogs and fish of various makes and models, to those of the exotic variety, iguanas, monkeys, cockatoos, etc. You will also find numerous shops and stalls stocked with high quality, exceptional handmade items of clothing, furniture, and jewelry. Oh, and least I forget, price haggling is expected.
And then there’s that great, and oh so very spicy, Thai Food.
Traditional Thai food is served up everywhere, from little roadside stalls, to carts being propelled along streets powered by foot, bicycle and motorcycle. Thai food comes in a few degrees of spiciness; Mouth sizzling hot, and “Ron Maak Maak;” very, very hot. In other words, most Thai food will burn your mouth, checks and gums, but the spicier versions will provide one additional benefit, it’ll bring tears to your eyes while clearing your sinuses and nasal passages. I find it far more effective at this than good ole Japanese Wasabi.
However if you are anything like me, you’ll not only find it burns on the way down, but as it exits the body as well. I have found a unique, simple and cost effective way to assist with this problem; I hold an ice cream cone in one hand, not to eat mind you, I find it works wonders if it is firmly placed against the backside once finished. Ah, the soothing, cool relief it affords one is priceless!
One, or two of the spices used in the preparation of some dishes are so “Hot”, that many times, as I am leisurely strolling past the small food stalls and open air restaurant’s, the aroma of these spices wafting through the air will actually commence to burning my eyes and throat – it certainly puts me in a jogging mode very quickly.
Now according to a chef friend of mine, there are really only seven or eight main Thai dishes, however, with the addition of various vegetables, sauces and spices; this meager selection turns in to roughly seventy.
Thai food is usually served with rice; sticky or boiled, sticky is favored in the north, fish, pork, chicken, and or beef, in one form or another. The seafood is usually done to perfection, and served in many variations.
But heaven forbid we forget the dessert; freshly cooked insects, from the small silk worms, up to, and including large roaches. Um Umm, I just can’t wait till dinner time on the street of Thailand!
Sorry, just kidding. There are several varieties of sweet cakes, cookies, ice’s, puddings and jello type delicacies sold as dessert items, but you will find fried insects sold pretty much anywhere there are outside food stalls. My suggestion, try the small crickets, not too bad actually. Just remember to take the legs off first – sorta stick in your throat if you don’t, and it looks funny sitting there with these little spiny legs sticking out the corners of your mouth.
Truthfully though, Thai food is very nutritious and healthy. I mean, how many overweight Asians do you see. Oops, I mean in the time “BMcD”, before McDonald’s, and it should be tried at least once in one’s life. I am not talking about your everyday garden variety Thai dishes served up in the five star restaurants, but that served in the little ‘mom and pop’, mainly mom, food stalls along the street. The places you find the locals gathered eating, brows covered with sweat, and the all too obvious steam swirling from their ears, noses and elsewhere.
Let’s put the spicy food behind us for a while, in a manner of speaking that is, jump in a meter taxi or a “Tuk-tuk”, and take a look at those areas designed to “spice” up your life. I’m talking about the infamous, “Red Light District”. Neighborhoods designed to not only entice, captivate, and fulfill that hidden “Animal” in you, but to lighten your wallet as well.
Got your attention now didn’t I.
In actuality not one, but three separate areas. The most prominent being the “Soi Cowboy.” Sporting forty plus clubs, and recently made all the more notorious by the Warner Brothers Pictures new release, “The Hang-over Part II”, there is a venue to fit all taste.
It is here, males of all ages, come to be enticed by the stunning beauty of dozens of exotic bargirls dancing on a well-lit stage just above table height, each having their very own brass pole to slither around, most clad in scanty Bikinis, G-Strings, or very thin, white tops and short skirts that leave little to the imagination. Now for you lucky enough to visit one of the Cowboys top clubs, and I’ll leave it nameless for now, you will not only have a stage full of beauties to entertain and entice you, but directly overhead, on a see-through solid plexi-glass floor, is another group of lovelies, wearing short skirts, sans the G-Strings and tops, thus leaving nothing to the imagination, moving their subtle bodies to music and smiling at all those bulging eyes and hanging tongues ten feet below.
And lest we forget the notorious “Lady-Boys”, or “Katoeys”, as they are referred to in the Thai language. They’re always present and willing to entice, and take advantage of the individual that has had “One to many”. Many of these “Katoeys” are as beautiful as, or even more so, than the bar-girls keeping them company.
Following “Soi Cowboy”, are the districts of Nana and Patpong.
Soi Cowboy and Nana sit relatively close to each other, about a ten to fifteen minute stroll down Sukhumvit Road. For the single man out to have a good time, you will find this very busy boulevard full of beer bars, indoor and outside, great side street pubs, pool bars where as long as you are drinking, the pool is free, included is the service of fabulous, scantily clad young beauties ready to “rack your balls”, now there you go again, I just heard your jaws hit the floor, I’m talking about the pool balls, golly! Here you will also find numerous freelancers, both straight and Gay, hanging around the clubs and along the street offering their wares. For those first timers in Thailand, beware, many freelancers are your run of the mill, Katoeys.
You’ll also find numerous “girl friendly” hotels throughout the Nana and Cowboy district. This simply means that unlike the majority of hotels in Thailand that will charge a fee to allow a lady to frolic with you in your room, these will not.
Don’t fret if you suddenly find and urge to eat however, now get your mind out of the gutter – there are many of the well-known fast food restaurants and food carts lining the street.
The Patpong District is a short, 15 to 20 minute ride on the “BTS” Skytrain from the Cowboy and Nana, and is “Family friendly”. Over the past few years the Thai government has gone out of its way to clean up this area, and you’ll find a cornucopia of tourist that have come to shop in the night market to buy those little souvenirs, knock off purses and watches, or to dine in one of several restaurants.
Another familiar sight along the streets of Bangkok, as well as throughout the majority of cities and villages in Thailand, are the Massage Parlors.
Massage Parlors come in two flavors; those offering traditional massages; Thai, foot, oil, shoulder, neck, etc. And those that masquerade as massage parlors, but “Specialize” in massaging a certain part of the anatomy not found on the traditional massage menus. Not to say, that some of the girls that work in these parlors are not trained in massage, but it is not their discipline of choice.
However, it is fairly easy to tell the difference; the women working in a traditional massage parlor usually wear a uniform of sorts, where those in the “Specialty” parlors wear enticing short skirts or very tight short shorts. You’ll find this variety on most side streets in the heavily travelled tourist areas.
I will tell you, it is well worth the one-hundred-fifty, to three-hundred baht (five to ten USD), to treat yourself, and your body, to a relaxing and invigorating Thai body or foot massage before departing Thailand.
Now for those so inclined, a “Specialty” massage will set you back between one-thousand and fifteen-hundred baht (thirty to forty-five USD). But again, he massage is usually fabulous, and well worth the price.
A word of caution here however! Beware of freelancers, and any of those offering their services anywhere outside the confines of a bar or massage parlor.
The vast number of working girls in bars, clubs, and massage parlors, are required to have a health checkup monthly in order to be hired, and maintain their job. They can be spot checked by the police at any time to boot. They are fined heavily by the bar, or parlor if they come up positive for any STD’s. Freelancers are not bound by these rules of conduct and can be walking, talking, STD dispensaries.
But let’s get away from the hustle and bustle, jump on a bus, train, or plane, and head up north once more. This time to the city known as the “Rose of the North,” Chiang Mai.
Chiang Mai boasts a population of approximately one and a half million residents in the metro area. Of this, somewhere around twenty-six thousand are “Expats”, foreigners, from all over the globe. These individuals, and many families, have chosen to live out their lives, or retirement, in peace and harmony, while enjoying lower overall cost of living along with some of the best, yet tremendously affordable, medical and dental care found around the globe.
The city’s location in the northern mountains, allows it to escape the sweltering heat of southern Thailand, including many of the beach areas. Because of this, Chiang Mai sees day and night temperatures that are on average, ten degrees lower, and without the extreme year round humidity that is all too familiar in Bangkok.
Chiang Mai lies roughly two hundred kilometers south of the Burmese border, and is surrounded by lush, green, tropical forest and jungle. Directly to the north of the city are thousands of working rice fields. The Mae Ping River, known to the locals as “The Lifeline of the Province”, is 569 Km. long, winds its way from the Burmese border, dissecting the city on its way south. The Mae Ping provides Chiang Mia Province with much of the water and nutrients needed in the areas agriculture.
History abounds here.
History buffs will be elated to find the moat that has surrounded the Old City district of Chiang Mai for seven-hundred years, still intact and well maintained. Running along the moat in many areas, are sections of the original brick wall fortification, a few sections having been reconstructed.
The wall was originally built to protect the inhabitants of the Old City from unwanted guest, and has five gates leading in or out. Four of these face the directions of the compass, while a separate gate, the “Suan Prung Gate”, is still utilized today as it was hundreds of years ago, to transport the dead from the city for cremation.
You will find several open air markets within the city boundaries, the most famous of which, the “Kalare Night Bazaar”. It is open from seven in the evening, to twelve midnight seven days a week. The Bazaar area contains numerous roadside stalls selling an abundance of handmade items. The serious souvenir and bargain hunter will find everything from T-shirts, jewelry, knock off watches and purses, to pirated copies DVD’s of all the latest movies and TV series, and all at negotiable prices. The two main plaza areas have several sit down restaurants and a large food court sporting Thai, Indian, Vietnamese, and Japanese cuisine. It is here you will be able to take in a wonderful hour long traditional dance show at no cost starting at eight every night, so bring your cameras.
Looking for a little exotic and erotic excitement? Chiang Mai offers up its own version of Bangkok’s “Soi Cowboy.” The area is small, and encompasses approximately twenty bars. However, the women offering their companionship here are known for their light complexions and extraordinary beauty, and are said to be some of the most stunning women in Thailand. And I for one have to heartily agree.
Chiang Mai holds yet another distinction, it is known as the capital of the Lady-boy, or “Katoey”, world in Thailand.
The City has for decades, been known as the top spot for Asian tourist from Japan, China and Korea, as well as the upper crust from Bangkok looking to escape not only the hustle and bustle, but the heat and humidity the Asian summer brings on.
However over the last couple of decades, the area has seen a growth surge in the “Farang” populace. Individuals and families from the USA, Canada, and Europe are coming to work, and live out their lives in the comfort, and beauty of the “Rose of the North”.
Now that said, I am sure many of you are asking, “But how easy is it to lease or own real estate in Thailand?”
Foreigners are not allowed to own property outright within the Kingdom of Thailand. They can purchase a house outright; however they have to lease the land the house sits upon. The initial lease period is for thirty years, with and automatic thirty year extension. When this expires, they may file for an additional thirty years, for a grand total of ninety years. There is one exception; condominiums. Expats are allowed to purchase condominiums outright.
You will find many expats will join with a Thai National through marriage or a business arrangement to buy real-estate. In this manner the Expat will own the house, and forty-nine percent of the land itself.
Homes and condos can be found in both Thai and Western design styles. And depending on the developer and location, can run from simple single family residences starting around three million Thai Baht (100,000 USD), to exquisite six thousand square foot executive homes complete with large yard and pool, in the twenty-six million Baht (887,000 USD) range, and built by one of the area’s top home builders.
Most home and condo buyers will be surprised at not only at the beauty and quality of the home itself, but the excellence of design and craftsmanship in the interiors. The majority of the homes are of solid concrete construction, have tile roofs, ceramic floors and bathroom walls, and granite counter tops in kitchen and bath. Teakwood abounds in many of these homes. You will find Teak paneling, handmade Teak kitchen and bath cabinets, Teak crown and baseboard molding, and Teak furniture in most bedrooms.
Homes matching this quality in most western countries would be three to four times the cost, if not more, and would lack the same quality of workmanship.
So to sum it all up, despite the headaches that can be encountered with obtaining a tourist visa, the political unrest of the past few years, the corruption found at many levels in the Thai government, as well as a lackadaisical attitude towards “Farang’s”, overall, Thailand has a lot to offer – friendly people, great food, excellent and extremely affordable dental and medical care, and some of the most amiable, desirable, and beautiful women in the world.
See you in Thailand, The Land of Smiles!
Buy property in Thailand from Don through his website.