Thailand’s famed beaches seem to bring the most buzz, but in Bangkok, Chiang Mai, and Sukhothai, city slickers are made to feel right at home. And, fine living can be found too. In these urban destinations, travelers get a taste of Thailand’s fresh cuisine, wellness facilities, and astounding numbers of Buddhist and Hindu temples.
Start your journey in Thailand’s largest city of Bangkok. Abstract modern design beckons you at the Metropolitan by COMO Bangkok, where space, light and textures make a play on your senses. The location on South Sathorn Road combines the advantages of the Central Business District with proximity to Bangkok’s buzzing nightlife. Those seeking to quench their thirst and fill their tummy should stop by the COMO’s The Met Bar, which serves easy-going Asian food by day. However, by night Nahm, by Australian chef David Thompson, is not to be missed as this is one of the most popular restaurants in the city, voted best in Asia in 2014.
A few steps from your hotel will land you in the colorful seat of a motorized tuk tuk. Your driver will tell you to “hold on!” as you zip you past the city’s diverse urban landscape, including its glorious monuments, skyscrapers, street markets, and fresh food stands. Be sure to try some fresh pad thai or fragrant curry noodle soup from a street vendor. Ask the tuk tuk driver to take you on a short trip to the Grand Palace of 1782, where the Thai kings resided for 150 years.
A one-hour flight from Bangkok puts you in Chiang Mai, Thailand’s second-largest city surrounded by a ring of beautiful mountains in the north of the country. Despite its name literally meaning “New City” it has weathered more than 700 years of fascinating history.
At the Four Seasons Resort Chiang Mai, an early morning start will give you a chance to help the staff give healthy food offerings to the local Buddhist monks who visit on a daily basis. Foodies will enjoy a private cooking class to cook authentic Thai specialties like kaow soi gai and tom yum goong by a Four Seasons Hotel chef and then eat each dish afterward. Designed by the award-winning Bensley Design Studios in Bangkok, the resort’s Lanna-style cooking facility celebrates northern architecture and traditional design, and guests can tour the school’s herb garden of essential Asian ingredients, like lemongrass, ginger, galangal, turmeric and garlic.
For dinner, the local favorite, Pechdoingam, offers a chance to experience authentic Chiang Mai Thai food, like succulent Pia fish, sadow, and gang ohm. The food is so fresh that the chef may place some edible leaves on your plate from outside of the restaurant.
From Chiang Mai, a one-hour drive to the Lampang Elephant Conservation Center is worth a look at these majestic, revered animals. The conservatory serves as both a sanctuary for sick or abandoned elephants, as well as entertainment for visitors who take guided rides on elephants through the forest and lake.
After the excitement and adventure of Chiang Mai, you take a one-hour flight to Sukhothai. Founded in the 13th century, Sukhothai means “Dawn of Happiness” and was the first truly independent Thai Kingdom. The golden age under King Ramkhamhaeng gave birth to the creation of the Thai alphabet. Much of the fun in Sukhothai starts in its airport. The small airport is a zen oasis with elephant fountains and landscaped gardens, built next to a free zoo. Stand next to a masai giraffe while waiting for your luggage, or see the squirrel monkeys, desert foxes and giant tortoises. Once you pull yourself away from the exotic flora and fauna of the airport, the boutique Lotus Village awaits you. The tucked away hotel is abundant with plants, trees, and flowers casting a heavy shade on the individual suites. A morning tour of the superb temples and monuments of this city have been lovingly restored and will transport you back in time. The Sukhothai Historical Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a must-see for all travelers.
A Thailand city tour does not have to mean overcrowded streets and pollution; they are a place for relaxation, wellness and fresh cuisine. The beach can be fun, but appreciating the hundreds of temples in these three cities is worth being fully clothed. If this does not convince you, step into a massage parlor and allow your therapist to turn your protests to jelly.