My trip to Thailand was such an incredible experience. While it was fun and relaxing, I also learned so much. I knew a little about Asian art and Buddhism from classes in college, but was eager to learn more. Even though I did quite a bit of reading and research before leaving, there was much to be learned from the various guides we hired and other experts at the tourist sights. It was also helpful to really read up on the cultural norms in Thailand. Two things you will read about are dressing modestly, see my Bangkok post, and speaking respectfully of the King and Queen of Thailand. Thailand is a monarchy and the power held by the Royal family is considerable. You will not see articles or hear people talk about them the same way we might about Kate and Will, for example. Some people we met did speak freely about how they felt about the monarchy, but most will not speak to tourists about this matter. Remember if you are peppering your guide with a lot of questions about the King, you may be putting him or her in a very awkward position. Conversation about politics in general is probably better to avoid for similar reasons.
I traveled to Thailand two years ago, but it remains one of my most memorable trips. Thailand has the amazing combination of history and culture, beautiful sights, warm people, and delicious food!
We stayed at the Peninsula in Bangkok. As you can see in the photos below, the grounds and pool area were all gorgeous, but the best part of the hotel was the service. Every employee we encountered was incredibly friendly and helpful. All the rooms and dining areas face the Chao Phraya River, and we enjoyed watching the non-stop activity. We made good use of the pool in the afternoons after long mornings of sight seeing. There was plenty of shade and ice water to help everyone cool off! The little boat with the green roof takes you across the river to the elevated train stop/ferry dock and other places along the river.
Working with the concierge ahead of our arrival, we booked a guide and driver for two days to see the sights in Bangkok. This allowed us to see what we wanted to see and not have to travel in a large group on a set schedule. It is totally possible to do the sightseeing on your own and take public transportation-or book a guide and travel on public transportation. However, it was extremely hot, so having the air conditioned car gave us a chance to rest up between sights. Our guide was excellent and having her tell us about each location was so interesting. She also taught us a lot about Buddhist religion and culture and how it shapes so many things in the country. We got so much more out of our visits to the temples and palaces than we would have by just reading the guidebook as we walked along. Check with the concierge desk to see what your hotel offers in the way of tours and guides. Due to the exchange rate and the generally low prices of Thailand, we found it was an extremely reasonable expense. We did tip her and the driver a small amount at the end of the second day. It is also a nice gesture to offer to buy them a bottle of water or soda as you stop for refreshments.
She helped us plan our days to include all the major sights in Bangkok, such as the Grand Palace, the Reclining Buddha, and the Golden Buddha. Take your time to examine the details in these structures-the tile work, the gilding, the small water gardens placed along the walkways. The level of detail is dizzying at times, but all incredible. Also take note of what the Buddha does with his hands as you encounter the various Buddhas around the city. The different hand positions signify different things, meaning all the Buddhas you think look the same are actually all quite different! Also look for the Chinese and Khmer influences in the architecture and decoration.