An Unforgettable Journey From Tuk Tuks to Tigers in Thailand
As the only Southeast Asian nation to never experience European colonization, Thailand retains a uniquely preserved culture within the region. I plunged straight into the heart of this culture and its distinct variations from urban metropolis to rural jungle village, and found a place that both welcomed and challenged me in ways I will never forget.
With tourism comprising 9% of its economy in 2013, Thailand has become synonymous with backpacks and gap years, with people seeking white sandy beaches, lush ecology, a vibrant nightlife, and one of the most sought after cuisines in the world.
One of the most appealing aspects of travelling in Thailand is its navigability. Fully equipped with modern, clean and comfortable trains and buses, travelling between major cities and regions is, for the most part, hassle free, and highly enjoyable. For shorter journeys, the best way to get around, as the locals do, is by tuk tuk. Thailand is also an ideal base from which to explore other Southeast Asian countries as it shares borders with Cambodia, Laos, Burma and Malaysia.
I started my journey in the teeming metropolis of Bangkok, a city with an ancient past and a contemporary soul where beautiful ancient architecture stands side by side a modern and efficient transit system. The city is dominated by gleaming office towers, many of which have rooftop restaurants, an endless array of nightclubs, floating eateries, and the world-famous hangout spot and shopping mecca of Khaosan Road.
If Bangkok is the expressive face of Thailand, exhilarating and often overwhelming, the soul of the country rests in its history, culture and natural beauty. It is thought that indigenous peoples inhabited Thailand as far back as one million years ago, evidenced by a rich abundance of archeological sites nestled in rural hideaways around the country. It is an archaeologist’s and anthropologist’s paradise.
It’s Thailand’s wilder charm that has ushered in adventure travellers in recent years. The country is considered one of the premier destinations for diving in the world, particularly due to its lengthy coastline, abundance of rocky islands, and exceptionally clear water. Some of the best dive spots can be found at Tarutao National Park, Phuket, Krabi, Ko Lanta, Similan Islands, Khao Lak, Ko Tao and Ko Samui. Each location has plenty of tour operators to choose from who can provide training, licensing and dive excursions.
Thailand is also a hiker’s paradise for immersive jungle treks, particularly near Chiang Mai in northern Thailand. One of the most popular tour operators is Chiang Mai Jungle Trekking, with whom you can experience living with hill tribes, bamboo rafting, exploring caves, and of course, riding elephants. Getting close to nature and wildlife is so popular that the country has even spawned a new, albeit controversial, category: “elephant tourism”.
One of the striking highlights of my visit was a day trip to Kanchanaburi Province in western Thailand. The capital city, Kanchanaburi, from which the province takes its name, is the site of the classic 1957 film The Bridge on the River Kwai, about the forced labourers who constructed the Burma Railway during World War Two. There is indeed a real-life bridge that goes over the Kwai River, which allows you to take train tours of the area.
Tucked away among the low-lying mountains and lush vegetation, you can come face to face with tigers at Tiger Temple, a Buddhist temple and tiger sanctuary. As I stood a few feet from this majestic animal, part of me was excited, while the other part was so nervous that I could barely contain the tremble of my hands. The Buddhist monk who was attending to the tiger, on the other hand, was casually bottle-feeding the animal as if it were a newborn kitten and not the ferocious beast that I saw in front of me.
The demeanor of this monk was one that conveyed that characteristic Thai harmoniousness between individual and environment that has shaped the country’s culture for centuries. It was the same kind expression you seem to find all over the country from the bustling Bangkok streets to remote rural villages, a warm reminder of why so many people fall in love with Thailand.
Latest posts by Griffith Hawkins (see all)
- A History Lesson in Paradise: Riviera Maya - August 16, 2016
- An Unforgettable Journey From Tuk Tuks to Tigers in Thailand - June 23, 2015
- A Journey to the Heart of Siberia - March 10, 2015