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There’s no denying that Australians have some of the most stunning and diverse destinations right here in our own backyard, and I encourage that we holiday as often as we can at home. But there’s also the desire to discover and explore outside of our beautiful nation. Most of us like to explore a different option now and then, that is only natural, and with the dollar remaining fairly strong around the world, the choice to travel abroad is still appealing.

This desire for discovery has led me to visit some of our closest neighbours, including Indonesia, Fiji, Papua New Guinea and Vanuatu. Most recently I decided to cast my travel net a little wider and visit Bangkok in “The Land of Smiles” Thailand.

Bangkok is a fantastically diverse destination with something for everyone. It’s a steamy city full of sounds and smells. A fascinating mix of street markets and modern mega-malls, beautiful old temples and quirky museums.

Bangkok also has it’s seedier side (I did say something for everyone …) but for me this city, and Thailand in general, is primarily about two things – the people and the food. And the food. Did I mention the food?

Thailand has to be one of the best places to eat on the planet and Bangkok does not disappoint. The street food here is renowned and you have to try it. There is also a fantastic selection of restaurants. I was lucky enough to be staying at The Four Seasons, home to one of Bangkok’s top Thai restaurants.

Spice Market is a treasure trove of authentic Thai tastes. Designed to resemble an old Thai spice shop, it’s cosy and charming. This place is an institution in Bangkok, popular with locals, expats and tourists in-the-know, and one of the best places to sample exquisite Thai cuisine. You can even give Thai wine a try. If you’re a little leery of the spice component dishes can be toned down, just ask the ever-helpful staff. Spice Market was recently voted “Most Delicious Thai Restaurant in Bangkok” and definitely gets my vote too.

Also worth mentioning is The Four Seasons’ restaurant Madison. You won’t find Thai food here, but every now and then a travelling Aussie needs that most elusive of meals – a good steak. I guarantee you won’t get better than the beef at Madison. The menu features a wide selection of imported steaks including U.S. Black Angus, prime Australian and Wagyu beef such as Matsuzaka and Kobe. My steak might have been from the States but I couldn’t have asked for better. Apparently the seafood is top-notch too, all served in the stylish surrounds of a New York-style steakhouse. Bangkok really serves you up delicious food, whatever you crave.

And while you’re there and enjoying all the wonderful gastronomic delights that Thailand is famous for, why not take a cooking class and master some of those delectable dishes yourself?

Amita Cooking School, on a klong (canal) of Chao Phraya River in old Bangkok is such a fun experience. Tam who runs the class is a beautiful lady, super friendly and such a great teacher. You start the day being picked up at your hotel and making you way by boat down the river to Tam’s family home. It’s an elegant collection of buildings, many of them hundreds of years old, where Tam has set up a purpose-built cooking school. It’s a hands-on experience and Tam is a wealth of culinary and cultural knowledge. The result is a delicious 4-course lunch on the verandah overlooking the klong. I definitely recommend it, with the added bonus that you can impress all your friends when you put on a Thai feast of Papaya Salad, Green Chicken Curry and Chicken Satay, all cooked from scratch, when you get home. It’s definitely encouraged me to attempt more of those Thai specialties.

The temples of Bangkok are pretty spectacular, well worth a visit. On the banks of the Chao Phraya River is Wat Pho, the Temple of the Reclining Buddha. Wat Pho is the largest, and oldest temple in Bangkok, and houses over 1000 images of Buddha including the Reclining Buddha. At 140m long, it’s a sight to behold. Near the Reclining Buddha is a small garden which contains a bodhi tree propagated from the original in India where Buddha sat awaiting enlightenment.

I also visited Wat Arun, a beautiful temple and well known Thai landmark. It has distinctive spires (prang in Thai) and each morning the first light reflects off it’s pearly mosaic surface, a magical sight if you’re up early enough. Bear in mind that many temples have a dress code.

Many of Bangkok’s sights are clustered around the river and it’s klongs. Bangkok was originally made up of hundreds of klongs. Locals used them as thoroughfares, to wash in and also to help water their crops. The inevitable reality of urban sprawl means the government has filled many of them in, otherwise Bangkok wouldn’t have many streets at all. So when you’re walking the streets of the city itself you are basically walking on water! Exploring the klongs that remain, and the river, by boat is one of Bangkok’s real treats, giving you a glimpse into the past and how locals used to live. There’s a range of options from sleek, modern luxury cruisers to converted rice barges. It’s the perfect way to get an overview of the city including temples, the Grand Palace and the beautiful 24hr flower market. It’s also a nice way to catch a breeze. Oh, and keep an eye out for the huge Monitor Lizards that call the canals home. They’re large and I’m sure at one stage were probably good eating!

Pushbike is another great way to explore the city, especially the old part. Check with your hotel concierge and they should be able to arrange it for you. Plus there are several companies offering cycling tours that take you to lesser-known parts of the city.

You can’t visit Thailand without having a a massage. Or perhaps a daily massage. In Bangkok you are spoilt for choice. Many good hotels have spa facilities but there are many other options throughout the city. The best of them (such as Oriental Spa, considered one of the world’s best) will need to be booked in advance but in a city that takes massage as seriously as they do food you’ll always find a good option. Again, ask your concierge for help.

And if the art of Thai massage intrigues you, you can even take a course at one of Thailand’s oldest massage schools, Wat Pho School of Medicine and Massage within the temple complex.

Bangkok will engage you on so many levels and leave you with all your senses buzzing. I will be returning to explore some more, that’s for sure.

MUST DO:
Thai cooking school experience. Get hands-on with this delicious cuisine.
Daily Massage. Why wouldn’t you?Canal cruise. A beautiful view of the city.
Temple visits. A glimpse into rich Thai culture.
Shopping. Bangkok has great shopping. And those malls have great aircon!
Street food and markets. Embrace the chaos.

Beware of:
Elephant treks. These are often cruel and unethical no matter how memorable for the tourist.
Tuk Tuks. Overpriced tourist trap. Many cheaper (and safer!) modes of transport available including the Skyrail.
Pick-pockets and scammers. Secure your belongings and beware of dodgy offers.

There are many tour operators that organise trips to Thailand but if you want to get a real taste of Thailand have a look at what Intrepid Travel can do for you www.intrepidtravel.com or call 1300 797 010.

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