10 Ways Thailand Can Help You Recover from 2020
Let’s not kid ourselves — 2020 has been rough. We don’t need to list out all the gory details; they’re all over the news and taking over your dinner-table conversation.
Being under this much stress necessitates a break, both physical and mental. It’s time to go to your happy place.
For us, that’s the powder-soft beaches and tranquil temples of Thailand. That’s why we gathered 10 of our best tips on what to do and where to go in the Southeast Asian paradise to recharge. After all, there’s a reason the country’s name is practically synonymous with massage, yoga, nature retreats and spirituality.
It’s been a crazy year, and it’s barely half over. Here’s to looking ahead, to what we can experience in the future.
1. Go tropical island-hopping on a longtail boat
Thailand boasts 1,400 islands, many only accessible by boat. Imagine cruising toward a remote beach in your private vessel, a traditional wooden longtail with a protruding beam at the bow that’s adorned with confetti-coloured scarves. Speedboats are faster, but in a longtail you’re the only one being chauffeured around, so you decide how long you want to stay at each yawning stretch of white sand.
Travelzoo Tip: Bring a dry bag for your electronics. Longtails don’t come onto the shore so you typically board by wading into the warm Andaman waters.
2. Sink a fork into Michelin-starred street food
We could all use a little comfort food right now — why not make it Michelin-starred? Local joint Jay Fai stands out on the streets of Bangkok for the line of hopeful diners winding outside its door. They’ve all come to see its 75-year-old eponymous chef — always in her wool beanie and black goggles to protect from the wok’s flames — artfully rolling eggs and fresh crab into an omelette. This golden-brown puff of lusciousness is one of her most famous dishes, and part of the reason her restaurant was the first street-food eatery in Bangkok to earn the culinary world’s most coveted star.
Travelzoo Tip: Get your name on the waiting list early to save your seat — you may need to get to the seven-table restaurant as early as 8 a.m., even though it opens for lunch at 2 p.m.
3. Try (or just watch) a fire-foot massage
You may already know about traditional Thai massage, the 2,000-year-old technique in which the therapist contorts your body for a stress-erasing, full-body stretch. But we’re guessing you’ve never heard of the Yam Khang fire-foot massage. In Northern Thailand, practitioners bathe their feet in herb-infused oil, brush them against an iron bar nestled in fiery coals, then use their soles to massage tension and tautness out of customers’ muscles. Relax on a mat and enjoy the experience yourself, or just get the gist by watching someone else loosening up.
4. Practice yoga at Railay Beach
This area’s beauty practically begs you to express gratitude with a sequence of vinyasa flow. Although Railay’s on the Thai mainland, it’s only accessible by boat, leaving its turquoise waters and sugar shores feeling remote and secluded. Karst limestone towers jut out from the sea like giant statues sculpted by playful gods.
After your session, pick up your mat and walk past Last Bar along Railay East for about 10 minutes. You’ll hit Tew Lay Bar, where you can sip a sundowner on an elevated platform that extends over the Andaman Sea.
Travelzoo Tip: Looking to make yoga the centre of your Thai escape? Wellness retreats renowned for expert yogis, healthy food and comfy accommodations are everywhere in Thailand. One of our favourites is Pure Flow Yoga, tucked into the southeast shore of Koh Pha Ngan. Guests enjoy daily sessions of yoga and meditation, and drift off to sleep each night in a breezy bamboo hut. The Guardian named it one of the world’s “best yoga, mindfulness and fitness breaks” in 2018.
5. Chat with a saffron-clad monk in Chiang Mai
Want to dig deeper into the meaning of life, or discover what it’s like to truly clear your mind? Sit down for a spiritual (or casual) conversation with young Buddhist monks under the shade of a leafy tree at Wat Chedi Luang, a 15th-century temple in Chiang Mai. Monks are available to chat (in English) from 9 a.m. - 6 p.m. there every day, and it’s free, although donations are always welcome.
Travelzoo Tip: Temple etiquette applies when conversing with the monks; make sure your shoulders and knees are both covered.
6. Take in temple views as you unwind at a quiet rooftop bar
Boutique hotel Sala Rattanakosin lies across the river from Bangkok’s Temple of Dawn, Wat Arun. Grab a seat at its rooftop bar and sip a River Breeze cocktail of dark rum and Orange Curacao while you watch the temple’s white-porcelain shell blush with the afternoon sun. When night falls, Wat Arun will twinkle with golden lights that shimmer off the water.
7. Go forest-bathing in the country’s first national park
This Japanese practice of immersing oneself mindfully in the woods has been proven to relieve mental stress and improve physiological systems (International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health). It’s now a growing trend in Thailand. One of our favourite places to go forest-bathing is Khao Yai National Park, where hiking trails weave between 44 waterfalls, tropical rainforests and bamboo groves.
Travelzoo Tip: Don’t miss the Haew Su Wat - Pha Kluai Mai Waterfall Nature Trail. It starts at the park office, winds past cliffs coated with deep-red orchids, and ends at the Haew Su Wat waterfall, where Leonardo DiCaprio famously leapt in “The Beach.” (Note: Jumping is decidedly not recommended, but we do suggest wading into the refreshing water after your walk.)
8. Get in some retail therapy at one of the world’s largest open-air markets
With 15,000 stalls, the massive Chatuchak Weekend Market is almost like a Bangkok suburb in itself. Spend a day bartering over Sukhothai ceramics, handmade leather goods, Thai spice blends and a range of textiles, from silk scarves to wedding dresses. We’re partial to section 7, where local artisans sell unique paintings and wood carvings. Bring cash, and grab a market map from an information kiosk before entering the maze.
Travelzoo Tip: Take a break from the heat next door in JJ Mall. The air-conditioned food court offers everything from spicy noodles to mango sticky rice, and the washrooms there are free to use (those within the market cost 2 baht, or about $0.09).
9. Reconnect with the past in Siam's ancient capital
Walking amid the Buddhist statues and quiet ponds of Sukhothai Historic Park humbles the soul. This UNESCO-recognized site was Thailand's first capital, dating back to the 13th century. Take a moment for some mindful thought or meditation as you meander between the spires of 700-year-old ruins that feel as if they’ve been frozen in time.
Travelzoo Tip: With about 70 square kilometres to explore, rent a bike (10 baht, or $0.44) or hire an electric buggy driver (200 baht per hour, or $9) to make the most of your time there.
10. Snorkel past clownfish and sea turtles near the Surin Islands
It’s impossible not to feel relaxed among this jewel-toned cluster of islands, with its aquamarine waters and emerald trees. It’s protected as part of a marine national park, keeping the wildlife pristine and ready to entertain snorkellers and divers of all experience levels. Wave hello to angelfish (and goodbye to stress) as you swim over an underwater forest of coral.
Travelzoo Tip: Experienced divers will want to go on an overnight boat excursion here for the best chance to see that elusive gentle giant, the whale shark.