1 year, 11 months & 14 days, equivalent to 714 days. – That’s the amount of time I waited before getting on my second familiarization trip, or media/ agents trip, after stumbling upon my first opportunity (read more about my Bali/ Lombok fam trip back in November 2015 here) shortly after stepping 1 foot into the travel industry. Some people may think that is too lengthy a time to wait before second chance knocks. But I guess, everything happens for a good reason (or more). Perhaps it is to train me to be more patient & continue to sharpen my travel writing skills, take it in my stride or simply because good things are worth waiting for! 😉
Regardless of the good reason(s), I am grateful for the opportunity to visit Thailand this time round, especially because I learnt many things about the Land of Smiles through this media trip. Although Thailand is relatively near to my homeland Singapore, in the same Southeast Asian region, but I am somewhat ashamed to admit I don’t know much about the country. In fact, I have only visited Bangkok & Phuket so far, & all were short trips that I don’t remember much of. 😛 While the idea of visiting Chiang Rai last November did pop up with some friends, the trip didn’t materialise in the end. So it was somewhat like a mini-dream come true when I learnt that I would be heading to Koh Samui, Chiang Mai & Chiang Rai (yes!) for this media trip.
Here are 8 interesting facts I learnt from this Amazing Thailand media trip:
1. Thailand is about 736 times bigger than Singapore, with a total land area of about 513,120 sq km. So while it was just a short trip, we had to be prepared for distinct differences in weather between Southern Thailand (Koh Samui) & Northern Thailand (Chiang Mai & Chiang Rai). It was warm & raining cats & dogs in Southern Thailand, in fact some parts experienced bad floods, while the northern part was cooler with clear skies. Interestingly, on day 2 morning, we experienced torrential rain in Koh Samui all the way to the airport. But after about 1.5 hours when the plane landed in Chiang Mai, it was bright & sunny.
2. Present-day Northern Thailand, including parts of present-day Myanmar and Laos, used to be an Indianized state from the 13th to 18th centuries known as the Lanna Kingdom, which means Kingdom of a Million Rice Fields. It was a prosperous self-ruling kingdom and not a part of Thailand, formerly known as Siam. The capital city of the Lanna Kingdom changed 4 times over the years, with Chiang Mai, built in 1296, as its last capital city for the longest period. It was not until 1892 before the Lanna Kingdom became officially a part of Siam.
3. The Lanna culture in northern Thailand is still pretty much alive today, with key influences from Sri Lankan Theravada Buddhism, Mon Culture, Animlalism & Hindu religions, Burmese culture, Chinese culture & also influence from Sukhothai & Ayutthaya. The vibes in Chiang Mai & Chiang Rai really felt quite different compared to Bangkok (the only other Thai city I have clearer memories of haha), be it in terms of architecture, food, language or simply the way of life. It’s hard to describe the exact differences, you have to be there to experience it yourself. 🙂
4. One difference which is easier to describe in words is in terms of food offerings. In general, Lanna food does a lot more deep frying, is saltier, & uses less coconut milk compared to other parts of Thailand. We saw deep-fried dishes in every meal we had, & even when we explored the markets, we could see deep fried street food everywhere. Fresh seafood is also not common here, given the region is mostly landlocked characterised by high mountains, a central plain, and an upland plateau. That probably explains why the fish & prawns we got during meals were deep-fried most of the time. 😋
5. Another interesting difference in Northern Thailand is the fact that while the official language here is the Kham Mueang language (or Northern Thai language), it only exists in spoken form now, except in Buddhist temples, where many old sermon manuscripts still use the traditional alphabet. Nowadays, children are taught from young in schools how to write in Thai language, which somewhat resembles the Kham Mueang, except for significant differences in spelling rules. Many hill tribe people living in the surrounding mountains still speak their own tribal languages though.
6. More discovery about the Kham Mueang language. For those who may have been to Northern Thailand or read about the names of places in the region, you may have noticed that some words keep popping out repeatedly, such as “Chiang“, “Doi” & “Mae“. Firstly, let’s understand “Chiang“. It is the Lanna spelling of an old Tai word meaning town or city. Therefore places like Chiang Mai & Chiang Rai are considered cities for that matter. So what is “Mai“? It means new, so Chiang Mai = New City, which makes sense since it was founded later than Chiang Rai. (Sadly, I can’t recall if we were taught the meaning of “Rai”, & I can’t find any translation of this Tai word online too… 😑)
Secondly, for smaller places, the word “Ban” or “Baan” may be used instead, which means village or house. Thirdly, being a mountainous region, you will also come across the word “Doi” very often, which refers to the mountain. Lastly, “Mae” refers to the river. Thus Doi Tung = Tung Mountain and Mae Kok = Kok River. 😉
7. I have seen beautiful photos of the Festival of Lights in Thailand where decorated baskets are floated on a river & brightly lit lanterns rising into the sky at night prior to the night. But I had no idea the significance of this festival, especially in Northern Thailand until I went for the media trip. Loy Krathong is the formal name for the “basket-floating” ceremony, & so glad we had the opportunity to participate in the iconic festival in Chiang Rai town! I certainly didn’t know Loy Krathong was such a huge affair there till I witnessed the ceremony myself. ☺
Read more about this traditional Thai festival through my Trip101 article: Loy Krathong: Float Your Wishes For A Magical Holiday In Chiang Rai.
8. Thailand is renowned for its hospitality, which is what draws millions to visit the Land of Smiles annually. But it was still a pleasant surprise to learn that Bangkok Airways (PG), the credible regional Thai airlines, goes the extra mile by making boutique lounges available to all its passengers travelling within Thailand with no additional charge or hidden fees. It is common for airlines to offer lounge services to business class or first class passengers, but I don’t think there is any like PG that provides such services to economy class passengers too.
In the lounge, passengers can help themselves to an array of snacks and beverages at the courtesy corner, enjoy free internet access at one of the computer booths or keep their young ones entertained at the kids’ corner. Business class passengers can head to the Blue Ribbons lounge for even greater comfort, which includes hot food prepared upon order, plush chairs to relax in & complimentary Wi-Fi access.
This is definitely a nice gesture, & it means it’s hard to go hungry with refreshments always available before & during flight. 😉
PG also owns & operates 3 boutique airports in Thailand, 1 of which is Samui that we flew to. The airport is pretty unique in the sense that the open-air, thatched terminal buildings blend well with the tropical gardens & coconut groves of Koh Samui. Indeed, walking around Samui Airport gave me a very resort feel!
Not too bad to have learnt about the above fun facts in the course of a 6-day period right? Below is a snapshot of my 6D5N Amazing Thailand itinerary:
Day 1: SIN – Koh Samui
Arrived at Koh Samui in the evening, where we checked into KC Resorts & Over Water Villas for the night. Before dinner hosted at the hotel, we went on a quick hotel inspection.
Day 2: Koh Samui – Chiang Mai – Chiang Rai
After breakfast in the hotel, had a quick stop at Big Buddha Temple, Koh Samui’s most famous religious landmark, despite the heavy rain. Thereafter, we flew to Chiang Mai, where we enjoyed a scrumptious lunch at Suan Paak Thai Cuisine restaurant, just 5 minutes’ drive from the airport. Then, we departed for Chiang Rai up north, with a brief comfort stop at Wiang Pa Pao Hot Springs, before continuing on the road to Chiang Rai town to join in the Loy Krathong festival. Checked in to The Mantrini Chiang Rai Resort for 2 nights.
Day 3: Chiang Rai
It was a day out of town to the mountains in Chiang Rai province. Our first stop was at the beautiful Mae Fah Luang Garden of Doi Tung, before we took the fun Tree Top Walk in the dense forest. Then we proceeded to the elegant Royal Villa for a tour of the Princess Mother’s former residence up on the hill. After lunch, we proceeded to Doi Mae Salong, where we wandered through the fields of the province’s largest tea producer – Choui Fong Tea Plantation. Following, we visited the small tourist market of the Chinese hill tribe village before heading back to town for dinner & the Chiang Rai Night Bazaar.
You may also like my Trip101 article on the eventful day: Mae Fa Luang, Chiang Rai: Cool Sights All In A Day For A Good Cause.
Day 4: Chiang Rai – Chiang Mai
After breakfast, we checked out of hotel & made our way to Wat Huai Pla Kang (9-Tiered Temple), a unique temple with Thai-Chinese architecture. Of course, a trip to Chiang Rai is not complete if we didn’t visit the province’s most famous Wat Rong Khun (White Temple). Later, it was lunch time with cool views at the biggest agro-tourism attraction in Thailand – Singha Park. Thereafter, we departed for Chiang Mai where we visited 1 of its oldest temples – Wat Umong (Tunnel Temple), followed by the Baan Kang Wat Artist Village in the foothills of Doi Suthep. Checked into IMM Hotel Thaphae Chiang Mai followed by dinner. Thereafter, we were free to roam the bustling streets of Chiang Mai Sunday Walking Street and Chiang Mai Night Bazaar just a stone’s throw from the hotel.
Day 5: Chiang Mai – Koh Samui
It was a rushed morning for us as we visited Chiang Mai’s largest market – Waroros Market & Wat Sri Suphan (Silver Temple) before heading to the airport for transfer back to Koh Samui. Supposedly, we were to depart for home that evening. But alas, perhaps it was not meant to be. Due to bad weather condition at Samui, we missed our flight to Singapore after the domestic flight was diverted to Phuket. Nonetheless, thanks to the speedy action of the organisers, there wasn’t too much delay once we touched down in Samui before we were brought to dinner, followed by check-in at Nora Beach Resort & Spa Koh Samui.
Day 6: Koh Samui – Singapore
The travel delay turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as we finally saw some sun in the morning so we could relax & enjoy views of the beautiful beach at Koh Samui in the resort. In the late morning, we departed for Samui Airport for our homebound flight that afternoon. Thankful that the gloomy weather only returned when we reached the airport, so that we could at least witness the beauty of Koh Samui with our own eyes. 🙂
Special thanks to the organisers Tourism Authority of Thailand – Singapore Branch Office and Bangkok Airways for making the trip possible. Of course, I must also thank Trip101 for granting me this opportunity to represent them this round. 😀 Hopefully, I don’t have to wait another year or 2 before I embark on the next media trip again, & that the next trip will be another fruitful one like this Amazing Thailand trip. 😅
Stay tuned on my blog for new posts to detail this trip! 😉