Between photo shoots, deadlines, and minor dilemmas, I was definitely looking forward to a breather. As it was my first trip to “The Land of Smiles,” my thoughts could be summed up in four words: Thailand, here I come!
My first day got off to a pretty rough start. Still recovering from a previous trip and let down by my cell phone, which decided to go on a coma for the entire tour, I mollified myself by making a mental checklist of things I wanted to buy.
With all the attractions to see and places to visit, however, I never did get to that list.
The Grand Palace complex, established in 1782 with four towering walls (1,900 meters in length), certainly is grand.
Covering an astounding 218,000 sqm and surrounded by lush greenery, it simply is an overwhelming sight.
Before we could be allowed past some austere-looking guards, those of us wearing above-the-knee bottoms were asked to cover up with sarongs. Even men in Bermuda shorts were required to cover up. With the throng of tourists queuing to rent sarongs in the vicinity, we decided to rent sarongs outside, across the street from the complex.
Housing the royal residence, throne halls, a number of government offices, and the renowned Temple of the Emerald Buddha, this place is sacred to the Thais, thus the strict policies. That didn’t stop us, however, from taking one photo after another like giddy schoolgirls all the while asking permission from our tour guide to make sure we weren’t breaking any rules.
I walked in the sweltering afternoon heat entranced by the gilded and embellished facades, especially by the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. Not wanting to seem like a trespasser, I knelt in one corner and admired the locals who prayed intently and watched tourists stare in amazement at the Buddha carved from a block of green jade and dressed in its winter season costume.
Another place of grandeur is The Sanctuary of Truth. Made entirely of wood, it has that old-world appeal. It provided me a cool solace from the heat.
With its groundbreaking in 1981, the objective was to build a wooden structure that would preserve and revive the ancient knowledge of Thai artists who could build a wooden structure of more than 100 meters high (a 20-story modern building). In its intricate woodwork, The Sanctuary of Truth shows the relationship between man and the universe—“the truth of being human” as Thais referred to it.
At the center of the sanctuary is an area with pillows where one could pray peacefully, no matter one’s religion. So for a few minutes, I silenced the thoughts in my head and felt a sudden sense of calm and contentment.
My visit was made even more significant when I serendipitously met the artist behind the structure’s carvings. Intrigued by his ornate wooden cane, I politely asked if I could get a photo of him and was told later on that he was actually the chief artist.
As wood naturally suffers from wear and tear, the Sanctuary of Truth, which covers an area of more than 3,200 sqm, will constantly be rebuilt to maintain its pristine condition. As our tour guide said, “its construction will never really be finished”.
We made our way from hand carved wooden sculptures to manicured lawns at the Silverlake Winery owned by Thai ex-leading actress Supansa Nuangphirom. Stepping into the 192-hectare land complete with a windmill and a reservoir was like stepping into my very own Wonderland. Grapevines, vivid flowers, and large shrubs that adorn the vast landscape and a number of charmingly decorated spots make the park perfect for photo-ops, romantic picnics, and of course, sightseeing—with a grape juice in hand, one of the vineyard’s products.
For the more adventurous, the park offers visitors the option of taking a ride on a horse-drawn carriage, on a paddleboat on the lake, on an all-terrain vehicle, or on top of an elephant.
If you haven’t had enough of elephants, Nong Nooch Garden and Resort, which also has the largest variety of orchids in Thailand (more than 670 native species), certainly has a lot of elephants to entertain you. A 37-year-old male elephant with 24 wives and 36 children was the progenitor of all the elephants in Nong Nooch. The place gets more than 2,000 visitors daily.
I watched elephants paint trees, dance, play a competitive game of basketball and bowling, and so on. A mischievous one even threw his bowling ball into another elephant’s alley and scored a strike. But the icing on the cake was when I joined in the spectacle and got a massage from an adult elephant, whose fairly light nudging and massive foot were good enough to sort out my coincidental back pain.
If you want to “meet and greet” Hollywood A-listers, Madame Tussauds’ wax figures—aided by your imagination—should do the trick. So I contented myself with one-way conversations and, of course, various photo-ops with the stars. From a coffee date with George Clooney to an interview with Oprah Winfrey, I was definitely star-struck.
One of the things I also admired about Thailand was the Thais’ adherence to their culture and profound respect for their heritage.
A perfect way to be introduced to Thailand’s art and culture is to watch Siam Niramit. With a stage recorded in the Guinness World Records as one of the highest in the world, realistic special effects, 150 performers, and 500 costumes, the musical is awesome. I caught myself gaping in awe as I watched the stage transform from one realistic setting to another: from the depths of the sea with performers impressively mimicking sea creatures to a man-made river with an actor diving into it, from a simulated storm to a simulated sunlight that had crops sprouting on the set.
Another performance to behold was the Tiffany’s Show, which has been around for over 37 years. Knowing that it was a transvestite cabaret show, we still sat there asking ourselves “Man or woman?” With their graceful movements, va-va-voom outfits, and looks that would have any red-blooded male drooling, it was definitely hard to tell.
They lip-synched to famous songs, danced, and made jokes that had everyone’s eyes glued to the stage. After the performance, we gathered outside to pose with whomever we deemed was the prettiest performer.
Shop till you drop
Of course, a trip wouldn’t be complete without hoarding pasalubongs.
Besides the famous Chatuchak Weekend Market, the Pattaya Floating Market is a must-visit place for tourists. You can pick out local delicacies or souvenir knick-knacks from sellers on boats floating nearby or enjoy other activities such as a cable ride, baby goat feeding, or water ball ride, among others.
If you’d rather do some mall hopping and grab a ton of good finds, Terminal 21, which houses some 600 shops; the Platinum Fashion Mall (like an indoor version of the Chatuchak Weekend Market), which has 2,500 shops; and the Pantip Plaza, the mother of all IT shops, should tickle your fancy.
As a thrifty shopping experience requires some good bargaining skills, here are some useful phrases for your next shopping spree: nee tao-rai (How much?), paeng maag (very expensive), phood Thai mai dai (I cannot speak Thai.), mai pen rai (never mind), sawasdee (Hello), kob koon (Thank you), and la gon (Goodbye). Make sure to use krub (male) or kaa (female) after every greeting.
With your palms together and your head bowed, you’re all set for your trip to Thailand.
Vist www.tourismthailand.org for more information about Thailand.
Where to stay:
Get some R&R after a day of shopping and sightseeing.
Garden Cliff Resort & Spa, Pattaya
Favorite feature: Breathtaking view of the secluded Crescent Moon Beach and an infinity pool that overlooks the beach’s golden sands and is directly accessible from the resort.
Grand Hyatt Erawan Hotel, Bangkok
Favorite feature: Spa Cottage—you don’t have to leave the comfort of your room (complete with spa facilities) to get your spa treatments, plus the spacious pool is a stone’s throw away.