2021: A Year of Exploring Thailand

After spending most of 2020 grounded in the haven that was Thailand, my 2021 travel goals were scaled right back! Even those meagre goals were frustrated as lockdowns shut most of the country down for months, with no internal plane, bus or train services and with car travel severely limited.

Even so, I enjoyed 15 of Thailand’s 66 provinces in the weeks that travel options existed!

a map of the island

In the North, I managed a couple of trips to one of my favourite cities: Chiang Mai. The city boasts a plethora of attractions, including ancient temples, bustling markets, and serene national parks. Visitors can take a leisurely stroll through the Old City, which is home to many of Chiang Mai’s famous temples and historic landmarks. I love walking and running around the moat and enjoying locally grown coffee at one of the city’s excellent cafes.

Chiang Rai was a new place that my heart fell for. This beautiful province, filled with hot springs, waterfalls, and jungle and mountain views, is a great place to recharge. The principal city is a delight with an amazing array of galleries, cafés, parks and restaurants. I loved running along the river. Check out “Condoms and Cabbages” Restaurant, the head office of a social enterprise that has been committed to family planning for forty years.

I explored some of Thailand’s Northeastern region, also known as Isan or Easan. This is a culturally rich and diverse region of the country, consisting of twenty provinces and home to over 22 million people. I visited four of the major cities in the region: Khon Kaen, Surin, Nakhon Ratchasima, and Ubon Ratchathani.

Khon Kaen is the largest city in northeastern Thailand and one of my three favourite Thai cities (along with Chiang Mai and Hua Hin). It is a major educational, commercial, and transportation hub of the region. The city is home to many universities, including Khon Kaen University, one of the top universities in Thailand. Visitors to the city can explore the Khon Kaen National Museum to learn about the history and culture of the region, as well as enjoy the local cuisine, which includes spicy salads and grilled meats.

Surin is known for its elephant conservation center and the annual Elephant Round-up Festival, which is held every November. The festival showcases the relationship between elephants and humans in Thailand and includes a parade of decorated elephants, elephant shows, and cultural performances.

Nakhon Ratchasima, also known as Korat, is the largest city in northeastern Thailand and the gateway to the region. Korat has a rich history and has been occupied by the Khmer empire and Laos. There are many sacred and historical sites, including Prasat Hin Phimai, a well-preserved Khmer temple. It is the birthplace of the female hero Thao Suranari or ‘Ya Mo’ who escaped and fought the enemy while the city was under siege by Laotians. The Korat City Gate (Pratu Chumphon) is known as ‘Yaa Mo Entrance’ and the Thao Suranaree Monument is a pilgrimage site. In April 1981 during an attempted coup, the Thai royal family, escaped to Korat. The city also has a fascinating cafe culture and is home of of my favourite Thai coffee chains: Class Coffee. Sadly, the city has seen two tragedies. In 1993, the six storey Royal Plaza Hotel collapsed in ten seconds, killing 137 people. In 2020, an off-duty army officer shot 29 people dead at the Terminal 21 shopping centre.

Ubon Ratchathani is the easternmost province of Thailand and is known for its unique blend of Thai and Laotian cultures. Visitors to the city can explore the Wat Nong Bua, which is home to a 500-year-old Buddha statue and the Pha Taem National Park, which offers stunning views of the Mekong River and the surrounding countryside.

In the South I explored some famous tourist spots that were eerily tourist less: Krabi, Phuket, Nakhin Si Thammarat and Surat Thani.

Krabi is famous for its stunning limestone cliffs, pristine beaches, and crystal-clear waters, making it a favorite spot for snorkeling and diving enthusiasts.

Phuket, also known as the “Pearl of the Andaman,” is the largest island in Thailand and a home to beautiful beaches and adventure sports.

Nakhon Si Thammarat is a historic city known for its ancient temples and shrines, as well as its unique local customs and traditions that date back centuries.

Surat Thani, the gateway to the stunning Gulf of Thailand islands, is a bustling city that offers a glimpse into traditional Thai life, with vibrant night markets, bustling streets, and delicious local cuisine.

Have you visited any of these places? Which ones are a favourite?

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