Our guide to Thailand
One of the most visited of all Southeast Asian countries; Thailand is a blend of sacred spaces, refined cuisine, vibrant metropolis, incredible beaches alongside crystal waters and jungle landscape hiding ancient ruins and magnificent elephants. Formerly known as Siam, officially the Kingdom of Thailand and affectionately as the land of smiles, this is a nation that has successfully managed to maintain its identity and culture despite a vast annual influx of visitors from all over the world and political changes within. Before you contact our specialists, here is a taster of what this enchanting and exquisite country has to offer.
There is more to Thailand than just archetypal beaches pictured on postcards. However, its coastline and collection of pristine islands surrounded by azure waters are certainly exquisite and offer incredible diving and surreal views from luxury resorts and hotels. A land of contrasts, Thailand is ideal for a customized trip, offering something for guests of all ages and interests. Immerse yourself in the hustle and bustle of life in Bangkok, visit Buddhist Temples, ancient kingdoms in dense rainforest and a myriad of colorful markets. Encounter off-the-beaten-track villages in the northern mountains, waterfalls and boundless expanses of verdant rice paddies. At Scott Dunn we will endeavour to create an itinerary that will exceed expectations and really give you a feel for Thai culture in style and sophistication with some magical experiences thrown in for good measure.
When is the best time to visit Thailand?
Thailand remains tropical and humid for most of the year and overall the best time to visit is between November and February when temperatures are more manageable and rain is less common. There are three main seasons, the cool season (mentioned above) when temperatures in the North are lower for longer, the rainy season from May to October when warm humid air brought from the Indian Ocean causes the south to be wettest (low season and when fewer tourists travel) and the hot season from March to May. There are of course regional variations across the country, however generally there is little difference in temperature across the center and the south of the country, related to its proximity to the equator.
How do you get to Thailand?
Thailand is easily accessible by air from all over the world. Scott Dunn can simply arrange your flights with British Airways or Thai Airways, or even one of the Middle Eastern airlines such as Emirates, Etihad or Qatar. Once in Bangkok, onward travel to other areas of the country is quite simple. Do just let us know if you would like to combine your journey to Thailand with any other destination in Southeast Asia, as it is a straightforward and popular option.
How to get around Thailand?
Dependent on your itinerary and the duration of your time in Thailand, you can get around the country mainly by road or short domestic flights. Plane journeys between Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Phuket and Koh Samui take at most 2 hours with the option of a smaller plane journey to destinations like the little known island of Koh Kood. Shorter distances can be negotiated by road, we can arrange for you to have a private air-conditioned vehicle so that you are as comfortable as possible. This ensures everything goes smoothly for you and there’s always someone to answer your questions in English. The vehicles we use are spacious and comfortable and ideal for couples, families or larger groups of five to eight. Should your itinerary take you between Thai islands your journey may also feature boat transfers.
The national currency in Thailand is the Baht (B) and US Dollars or Sterling (GBP) are easy to exchange on arrival however ATMs/cash points are widespread throughout the country, particularly in cities.
What are the main highlights of Thailand?
Host to the impressive Grand Palace, Wat Pho (Temple of the Reclining Buddha), The Golden Mount and Wat Saket, Bangkok is a treat to spend a few days exploring. However if you want a break from gold-clad architecture, a boat ride along the infamous Klongs of Thonburi (backwater canals) is a great way to glimpse a more “behind the scenes” city. Back in plain sight, shopping is great in Thailand’s capital, you can buy almost anything, take the sky train from malls to the eclectic night and floating markets. If time allows, not far from Bangkok lies Khao Yai National Park and the ancient abandoned capital of Ayuthaya featuring temples similar to those at Angkor in Cambodia.
With white sand beaches and crystal waters fringed by forested hills and emerald paddy fields, the beaches and islands of Thailand's east coast are undoubtedly one of the country’s main draws. Most notable are Koh Samui, one of the largest and Koh Phangan synonymous with backpacker culture but home to exquisite hidden retreats away from its honeypot-beaches. Further north into the Gulf of Thailand is the decidedly more urban Hua Hin, offering golf, beaches, a fishing village and watersports. Close to Cambodia you will find the divine Koh Kood, a comparatively undiscovered and pristine island where bare-foot luxury and peace is a promise.
For some culture and calm away from Bangkok’s bustling streets, Northern Thailand offers mountains cloaked in paddy fields, traditional culture and ancient temples. Thailand’s second largest city, Chiang Mai (translating to New Town) is a great base in the north, with colorful markets both in the day and at night (on the river) and a laid back pace. For excursions into more remote corners of this province and views across to Thailand’s Indochina neighbors at the golden triangle, Chiang Rai is 3 hours north by road and home to the unique and distinguished Wat Rong Khun (White Temple).
Most notably where the international resort island of Phuket can be found, the west coast beaches and islands of Thailand are a haven for snorkeling and diving and where the typical postcard perfect images become a reality. The majority of Phuket is mountainous, forested, swathes of pale sand against turquoise waters or nearby jungle veiled national parks such as Khao Sok, hiding many elephants. Continuing up the coast from Phuket reside the beaches and villages of Khao Lak and to the east the warm sands and gin-clear waters of many dramatic karst islands with relaxed beaches including the less developed Koh Lanta, Yao Yai and Koh Yao Noi, equidistant between Phuket and Krabi.
To Thailand’s south the coastal area of Krabi offers the theatrical limestone landscape of Phang Nga Bay and islands hosting waterfalls and tropical interiors. Krabi will not disappoint, pristine and often hidden Andaman beaches like will leave you hooked.
Thailand has long been established as destination frequented by visitors, therefore there is a wide variety of accommodation is available, much of it beach orientated and ranging from superlative luxury to off-the-beaten-track boutique accommodation.
Luxury hotels in Thailand
Some of the best luxury hotels Bangkok has to offer are located on the banks of the Chao Phraya River or the “River of Kings”, The Peninsula is a significant addition to the Bangkok skyline boasting unrivalled panoramic views over the city from every room. An icon of luxury for over a century, the five star Mandarin Oriental creates a feeling of nostalgia and atmosphere of royalty and traditional Thai elegance. Similarly, to the north, Dhara Devi Hotel is set amongst rice paddies and plantation in the Chiang Mai area, its design is inspired by an ancient Lanna Kingdom Palace, creating a feeling of historical significance despite its contemporary construction.
On the east coast, Six Senses offers a rustic retreat and romantic hideaway on the peaceful northern tip of Koh Samui with private pool villas and stunning views of the Gulf of Siam. Whereas Soneva Kiri on the lush and less frequented island of Koh Kood delivers a blend of barefoot luxury and cutting edge eco-concepts and experiences. Phuket presents many well-appointed options sandwiched between the sapphire waters of the Andaman Sea and dense tropical jungle including Trisara, Anantara Mai Khao and Amanpuri. Venture further to Six Senses Yao Noi, a hidden gem from which to watch stunning sunsets over the impressive limestone towers of Phang Nga Bay and a spa lover’s paradise.
A relatively recent addition to Bangkok’s boutique offerings, The Siam sits beside the Chao Phraya River close to the ancient palaces but you would be forgiven for thinking you were staying in a hip rural retreat staying in the only private pool villas in the capital. To the north 137 Pillars House is an intimate all-suite property enveloped in a lush tropical garden in the heart of Chiang Mai. Bursting with vintage charm and within close proximity of heritage sites and pagodas it is a great boutique option.
For a boutique beach retreat, Sala Phuket is located on a pristine and protected beach with boutique pool villa accommodation, contemporary style and excellent attention to detail. In Krabi, the beach front rooms and pool villas of Tubkaak grant guests stylish yet low-key five star boutique accommodation whereas The Sarojin in Khao Lak is a modern Asian style beach property with close proximity to world class Similan Island diving. On the east coast, laid-back Anantara Rasananda offers a hideaway that sets the standard for luxury on the island of Koh Phangan, far removed from the parties the island is famous for.
Scott Dunn’s classic Thailand itineraries
Our classic itineraries begin in the capital city, discovering Bangkok's architectural gems and getting a feel for Thai culture for a few nights. Contemporary Thailand then takes you north to the second city of Chiang Mai from where bamboo rafting, cooking classes and elephant experiences are abundant. Finally this three stop itinerary ends with a restoration in heavenly Phuket. For those eager for a longer journey, our Highlights of Thailand itinerary flies from Bangkok to Chiang Rai in the heart of the golden triangle and via road to the adventure playground of Chiang Mai before ending with a relaxed boutique retreat on a Krabi beach. To find Thailand's Hidden Secrets explore the Klongs of Bangkok, stay in Khao Sok surrounded by elephants and jungle and on a quiet west coast beach in Khao Lak. Finish overlooking the picturesque limestone pinnacles of Phang Nga Bay on the idyllic Koh Yao Noi.
A popular option is island hopping by boat across the east and west coasts on a relaxing pure beach break. On the east coast we suggest twinning heavenly Koh Phangan with Koh Samui, staying in luxurious pool villa hideaways. Whereas on the west coast a rewarding option is to combine sleepy Koh Lanta and rural Khao Lak with blissful Phang Nga between November and April when the weather is best.
Thailand for families
Thailand is considered an adventure playground in itself and as such is a perfect destination for families. We have devised a number of itineraries keeping in mind what makes the perfect trip for different generations. Scott Dunn’s Essential Thailand Adventure for the family takes in some of our family favorites including Elephant Hills’, conservation-based luxury tented camp in the jungle of Khao Sok where guests with a sense of adventure and ethics can get up close with the rainforest’s mighty residents and explore the local area and villages with expert guides. Our Ultimate Family Vacation journeys from the capital to Chaing Mai and then to another of our family picks, exclusive Soneva Kiri, an enchanted retreat for all ages where meals can be served in tree-pods via zip-line and activities are abundant.
Thailand for teenagers is our signature itinerary for older children, offering an action-packed two-stop trip filled with northern elephant experiences, hill tribe villages, jungle exploration, waterfall swimming, snorkeling and relaxation on an idyllic Koh Samui beach.
It is easy to twin Thailand with another fascinating country nearby, hop across to a close neighbor in our Laos and Thailand for families itinerary which begins in charming Luang Prabang. If you wish to go slightly further, travel through both Bhutan and Thailand where children can meet a monk their own age, try traditional dress and archery and completely immerse themselves in Bhutanese culture before chilling on a Thai beach.
Thailand for honeymooners
An undeniably romantic backdrop, Thailand has the potential for many great journeys around the country. A popular option is to explore some of its dreamy islands and their luxury hideaways overlooking immaculate beaches and sapphire waters. Scott Dunn’s East Coast Island Hopping and Floating Markets to Limestone Karsts to Powdery Beaches itineraries sample some of the most heavenly resorts and retreats in the country twinned with incredible experiences and vistas including the coast of Koh Phangan, Koh Samui, Krabi’s National Marine Park, Koh Lanta and of course beguiling Bangkok to really make your once-in-a-lifetime honeymoon an unforgettable one.
For a more diverse experience, twin some of the highlights of Thailand with another country such as Bhutan or Burma where honeymooners can explore the likes of Punakha, Paro including the iconic Tiger's Nest Monastery, Yangon, Inle Lake, Mandalay and the sprawling temples of Bagan.
Alongside classic opportunities we try to include experiences beyond the obvious, alternative ways to get around and angles to view well-known and some more off the beaten track locations. In Bangkok explore the backstreets and canals with a guide who will take you on a “behind the scenes” tour of the “Venice of the East” by foot and boat. We can organize lectures from a Buddhist monk in Chiang Mai, authentic cooking classes all over the country, a sunrise breakfast or an awe-filled helicopter trip in karst-dotted Phang Nga Bay. Of course no trip to Thailand would not be complete without encountering its majestic Elephants and the jungle enveloped Elephant Hills Tented Camp is one of our favorite options, an unforgettable experience in itself. We always have something remarkable up our sleeves to cater to your specific interests and embellish your perfect itinerary with magical and unforgettable opportunities.
Offering some of the world’s most celebrated cuisine, food is undeniably a highlight and on any journey through the Kingdom of Thailand. It won’t be long before you are savouring a freshly prepared Pad Thai, Larb Gai (minced chicken with chillies, lime and mint) or Som Tam (shredded papaya with carrots and limes) washed down with a Chang or Singha beer. A bountiful medley of sweet and sour, spice, vibrant salads, sticky rice and a fusion of flavors from other Asian countries such Laos and Burma, Thai gastronomy is second to none. We offer many experiences all over the country aimed at learning more about cooking and eating in Thailand, many of them hands-on cooking classes.
Combinations with other countries
There are direct flights from Thailand all over the world; however Thailand combines particularly well with its closest neighbors Laos, Cambodia, Burma and Vietnam from its location at the center of the Indochinese Peninsula. At Scott Dunn we can adeptly create itineraries in line with your perfect trip, whether it be our Flagship Indochina Experience, A Taste of the Far East that will undoubtedly leave you wanting more or a refined twin center journey from Angkor Wat to Azure Sea. Further afield we could fuse iconic Singapore and vibrant Hong Kong with ultimate beach indulgence on Thailand's beaches in our Asian Elegance or City Stop and Beach Break itineraries.
Festivals and Public Vacations
Please see our festival guide for more information on what’s on in 2016.