Thailand is one of the best places for South African travellers – airfare is affordable, night markets offer bargains and you can find good food in both fancy hotels and street-side stalls. Phuket is Thailand’s largest island. You won’t have trouble getting around! I spent New Year’s Eve in Thailand once. It was fantastic because it took me totally out of my comfort zone which I loved.
There was exotic food, music, huge crowds, fireworks, a countdown on the streets and lots of dancing! We spent a week on Patong beach in Phuket and a week in Bangkok which was incredible. By night, Phuket has a bustling nightlife which includes literally hundreds of restaurants, beer bars, GoGo Bars and discos. The nightlife is centred around Soi Bangla (Bangla Road) which is a chaotic atmosphere of steaming hot streets, neon lights, tasty food and magic. By day I was on the beach and by night I was either on this street or at the famous “ladyboy” cabaret called the Simon Cabaret in the Kathu District. One of the original ladyboy cabaret with Vegas-ish routines; ladyboys primp and grin through feathered extravaganzas. To top it all off, one day I rode an elephant! Bangkok was also a feast for the eyes. Did you know it has over 9 million inhabitants? An extremely religious city, we travelled around visiting ancient temples and palaces, and made sure we went to Wat Kalayanamit (Thailand’s largest indoor sitting Buddha at 15 metres/49 feet high). I really enjoyed learning about their culture. Buddhism is the main religion in Thailand and you’ll see plenty of colourful, ornately-designed temples. Even if you aren’t Buddhist, you’re free to enter and receive blessings from the monks. Be sure to visit the Big Buddha where a monk will bless you and give you a bracelet that he made himself! We also spent a day at the Ancient Ruins of Ayutthaya and another day at The Grand Palace & Wat Prakeaw. The Grand Palace was built in 1782 by King Rama I, who established Bangkok as Thailand’s new capital. A palace of jewels and gold and splendor like never seen before in Thailand, it remained the Royal Family’s official residence from 1782 to 1946. Part of the palace compound is dedicated to a royal temple, Wat Phra Kaew. This is the most sacred temple of Thailand and home to the famous Emerald Buddha – a jade statue adorned in gold clothing. To pray before the Emerald Buddha is to make merit. Although this is an important place on any visitor’s itinerary, it’s worth remembering this is a place of worship for many visiting. If you go, be respectful and dress appropriately. Make sure you wear long pants and long blouses, otherwise it’s possible to hire clothes at the gates (you won’t be allowed entry if you aren’t dressed correctly). One more thing: under no circumstances must you point your feet at the Emerald Buddha – according to their beliefs, to do so is sacrilege! If you can’t cross your legs, avoid sitting down. If you do point your feet at the Buddha, you could be escorted out by the guards. Photography inside the Emerald Buddha Chapel is also strictly forbidden… apparently this isn’t just a requirement of the chapel; taking pictures of Buddha here is against the law. The Grand Palace and Wat Pra Kaew are in the Banglamphu area of Bangkok – the ‘Old City’. You can take a taxi or Tuk Tuk.