Having previously been to Thailand twice before, I presumed that I had already experienced most of what the country has to offer. However, on my recent trip to the self-claimed 'nation of smiles', my presumptions were proved highly incorrect (as most often they are).
I was pleasantly surprised to discover that there is a plethora of authentic experiences to enjoy both in Phuket, Thailand's largest island whose history in international trade has impacted the its interesting culture hugely, and the capital city of Bangkok with its incredible food scene evolving every day. My trip has left me excited to return to the country once again in the future to experience even more that it has to offer. Here are some of my favourite activities that I got up to...
A walking tour of Phuket Old Town
Phuket's history as a major trading centre between India and China and as a large tin producer saw the arrival of Chinese immigrant workers in the 19th Century. Nowadays approximately 30% of Phuket's population is made up of Chinese origin. Chinese influence on the island has hugely impacted its local traditions, culture and architecture, which I learnt all about during a private guided walking tour of Phuket Town and Phuket Old Town. We ate at the country's oldest Dim Sum street food restaurant (of which we would've never known about or found without our local guide) that is run by three-generations of a family. We also walked along the historic Chinese shop houses in the beautiful streets of Phuket Old Town and enjoyed tea inside one of the traditional houses. Our local guide was hugely passionate and knowledgeable, completely making the town come to life.
Making curry paste with a local community
You'll never look at supermarket curry paste the same after spending a couple of hours with the welcoming women in the Thalang area of Phuket learning to make Thai curry paste with them, as they do every day to sell at local markets. The smell of the fresh lemongrass, tamarind and garlic being ground by hand, and by what can only be described as a huge industrial-revolution-esque mortar and pestle, is enough to get any stomach rumbling and ready for lunch. The women also take it upon themselves to protect the Thala Beach from illegal fishing boats by keeping a close eye on the bay throughout the day.
Muay Thai class
Muay Thai is a traditional Thai sport and The Siam in Bangkok is home to one of the city's best professionally equipped and luxurious gymnasiums where we were taught by Yim, a highly-acclaimed professional coach. There are few cooler ways to work off that hangover the morning after exploring Bangkok's infamous nightlife than a Muay Thai lesson at The Siam. Muay Thai uses punches, kicks, elbows and knee strikes, and as well as being a fighting sport it is also excellent for fitness and emotional wellbeing. After you've been introduced to the sport first-hand, why not spend an evening watching the experts in the ring at a local match, before a delicious Bangkok dinner at one of our many recommended restaurants?
Rum Distillery Tour and cocktail making
When I think of rum I think of Central America and the Caribbean, however, previously unknown to me, Thailand is in fact the world's fourth largest rum producer. Chalong Bay Rum Distillery uses pure home-grown sugar cane to handcraft their own rum. We enjoyed a tour of the distillery, learning how the rum is created and being shown the equipment, before enjoying some tasting of the sugarcane juice and the final product (rum), and making our own Chalong Bay Rum cocktails - enjoying the fruits of our labour.
River cruise in Bangkok
A sunset river cruise along Bangkok's Chao Phraya River is a perfect early evening experience, accompanied by a sundowner cocktail or two, before heading out to dinner along the lively and up-and-coming riverbanks. Having never discovered this exciting and more relaxing part of Bangkok before, away from the madness of the roads and high rise buildings, I was left wanting to enjoy more time here with all of the great rooftop bars overlooking the river and excellent restaurants, but alas, I had to sadly return home.
Until next time...