I want to start this blog post with a confession. Over the past few years, I had begun to fall out of love with Thailand a little bit. The country that had once captivated me had seemingly begun to lose its exotic charm, having it be replaced by mental images of drunk tourists ripping around the streets in Tuk Tuks, wearing Chang singlets and the whole country being over-run as a party destination. I could only picture full-moon parties and seedy bars replacing the things I had loved about Thailand so much.
When the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) invited me to explore Thailand a little deeper, as part of their 84 Perspectives of Thailand campaign, I was both excited and a bit worried. But, you guys, something pretty amazing happened; I rediscovered the parts of Thailand I fell in love with in the first place…. the history, culture and the people. What’s great about this is, now, I know how to find it. I know where to look for those wonderful parts of Thailand and how to see a country rich in tradition and natural beauty.
If like me, the thought of being caught up in a sweaty full-moon party makes your stomach curl, then I have to urge you not to let that cloud your judgement of Thailand. It is much, much more than those things. So, I wanted to share with you a few of the incredible cultural experiences you can find in Thailand. These are the best ways to really reconnect with the country and, trust me, fall back in love with Thailand and the local people too! I’m already planning my next trip back!
Visit the Queen’s Gallery in Bangkok
There’s a good chance you are picturing white-sand beaches and glistening blue water when you think of Thailand. Truth is, it’s definitely worth visiting Bangkok because there’s a tonne of history and important cultural places to discover. The Queen’s Gallery is one of these. The gallery is open 10am to 7pm daily and it only costs 50Baht to get in, that’s around $2AU.
Why visit? Well, the gallery houses incredible works of art by Thai artists. Works are hand-crafted by Thai locals and you’ll find things like huge tapestries that have been hand-sewed and taken years to complete. The gallery showcases unique works of art, traditional clothing and creation methods from different regions, so you get a sense of traditional arts, as well as life in general, from all parts of Thailand. Honestly, it’s well worth it.
Visit the Arts of the Kingdom Museum in Bangkok
The Arts of the Kingdom Museum is a must-visit if you’re in Bangkok. It houses insane works of art from all across Thailand, hand-crafted by skilled local artisans. We’re talking tapestries and wood carvings that will, honestly, blow your mind. I couldn’t quite get over how impressive (and unlike anything else I’ve seen) the works here actually are.
My favourite story to come out of our visit is of Beetlewing art. The Queen was presented with a beautiful piece of jewellery made of the most stunning, shimmering green material. When she asked what it was, she was told it was created using the bright green wings of a beetle. The Queen wanted to encourage and conserve this important cultural creation, an art form passed through the generations. So, she asked the villagers to find out what the beetle ate and made a significant donation so they could plant many more of these trees. Then, she instructed the locals not to harvest the wings of the beetle until their 90-day life cycle had ended. You can see HUGE and, honestly, unbelievably beautiful Beetlewing artworks at the museum.
Try a Thai cooking class
You’re going to eat a LOT of delicious Thai food on your trip to Thailand, but taking a cooking class is a very good way to appreciate the food of the region and just how much it reflects and captures Thai culture. There is a lot more to a green curry or Pad Thai than meets the eye, trust me. I did a cooking class and was blown away by the amount of love that goes into creating each dish. Not only this, but the recipes and methods are hundreds of years old and part of each Thai locals life. The Chef who taught us during our cooking class exclaimed that, if there were no Pad Thai in Thailand, all the Thai locals would die. That gives you an indicator of how important food is in Thailand!
See Thai dancing
We were treated to a number of incredible dance performances in Thailand and one thing stood out among them all; they performers and musicians have a huge sense of pride. It was so cool to see men and women showing off their history, culture, music and performance art and doing it with a whole lot of joy and love. There’s a good chance you’ll organically come across a Thai dance performance if you spend enough time in Thailand, but if you don’t think you will, you should definitely take the time to seek a performance out. You’ll find there are classical drama dances, which are pretty full-on productions, then there are the more low-key folk dances, which are what you’re more likely to see on your travels. Each region of Thailand is known for its own type of dance too, so expect to see variations as you move through the country.
Take a ride on a long-tail boat
If you’ve never been to Thailand before, there’s a good chance you’ve seen photos of long-tail boats. In your mind’s eye, they’ll be long wooden boats brightly adorned with ribbons and other pretty bits and pieces to fancy them up. While you’re in Thailand, you should aim to take at least one ride in one of these amazing boats. A good chance to do that is in Bangkok, but you can easily do it out along the coastline too, places like Chiang Mai, Phi Phi Islands and Koh Samui, for example.
Visit a fishing village and learn about conservation efforts
It may be easy to underestimate Thailand and assume the country doesn’t have a focus on conservation. Well, my friend, you’d be wrong! We took a trip to a fishing village and learned how the locals are working hard to conserve a valuable food source; crabs. Rather than continuing to over-fish and deplete their food resources, they’re working hard to ensure they release female crabs who are carrying eggs and force large fishing vessels to move much further away from shore. They’re also focused on rehabilitating and releasing turtles, prohibiting the capture and consumption of them too.
Try Batik painting
If you get the chance, I definitely recommend trying your hand at Batik painting. It’s a really relaxing way to spend a few hours and get hands-on experience with another cultures traditional art forms. What is it? Well, you apply a wax outline to fabric, wait for it to dry, then paint the design with dye. The closest thing I can relate it to is painting with watercolours or inks on fabric. Once your masterpiece is dry you can get crafty and sew it into a blanket or cushion, for example, or just turn into a piece of art for your home.
Learn about the King and Queen
You’ll see photos of His Majesty the King and Her Majesty the Queen all over Thailand. In fact, you’ll find a photo of the King and Queen in just about every home in Thailand. The King and Queen are loved and revered by the Thai people and, to really understand Thailand, you need to understand the history and significance of the King and Queen and why they are so loved by locals. On my trip I learned a lot about just how much the King and Queen have done for Thailand, they’ve brought a huge focus to conserving and developing Thai history and traditions, like arts and crafts, for example. Understanding the King and Queen better will help you have a much richer experience in Thailand. If you love learning more about this stuff, this is a good little history lesson.
Get a Thai Massage
Thai Massage is a unique experience unto itself. Don’t go in expecting to get nude and all oiled up by a stranger. During a Thai massage, you’ll put on some very comfy clothes and have your body moved, stretched, pushed and pulled into relaxation. At one point, you may even be ridden by another human and, trust me, it’s everything you dream it to be. Thai massage is part of the history and culture of the country, it combines Indian Ayurvedic ideals with acupressure and assisted yoga postures to release tension and heal the body, mind and spirit. Give it a whirl!
Eat street food with reckless abandon
Some of the best food in Thailand goes down on the streets, so don’t be afraid to try it. Of course, keep your wits about you and if you or your tummy get an ‘off’ vibe from anything, don’t eat it. But street food is where it’s at, especially if you’re in Bangkok (just ask Sarah of Fit Travels, she’ll tell you and anyone who will listen!) This is where you get the best, authentic food in Bangkok and it will keep your budget very, very happy too. P.S Please eat mango sticky rice at least once a day and try a Thai iced-tea! Both are amazing.
Visit the Grand Palace in Bangkok
If you find yourself in Bangkok, you absolutely must visit the Grand Palace! I would write you a big spiel about why and how, but everything you need to know about visiting the Grand Palace is already on the blog, right here!
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Phoebe is a travel writer and photographer with a love for storytelling and making people laugh. Matt is a videographer and photographer with a passion for the great outdoors and big adventures. Together we inspire big adventures through our guides, videos, vlogs and photographs. Find out more about us here.