Things to Do in Thailand that will Surprise You
As Thailand prepares to welcome the balance of the 20.5 million international arrivals it has been targeting for 2012, it is hoping that many of those visitors will explore the long list of Thailand attractions available beyond the beaches and temples. Capitalizing on its ongoing theme of Amazing Thailand: Always Amazes You, the country has some new attractions to showcase and others to emphasize as ways visitors can get a full experience of Thailand – from its nature, to its Thainess to its breakthroughs in luxury resorts and spas.
Chiang Mai Attractions
* Take a segway tour of Chiang Mai. The new experience by the same company that created Flight of the Gibbon jungle zip line tours offers a two-hour tour of the ancient city while gliding on a Segway Personal Transporter. Each Chiang Mai “glided tour” is limited to eight participants and has a glide guide at the helm. The tours glide from such culturally significant landmarks as Wat Phra Singh, Thapae Gate, Wat Pan Tao, Wat Chedi Luang, Wat Chiang Man and Three Kings Monument in four tours offered each day, seven days per week. The full tour (including T-shirt and refreshments) runs $51 per person, although abbreviated one-hour tours run $38 pp.
* Also in Chiang Mai, you can go on the Chiang Mai Night Safari. While set up as a zoo, it’s a lot cooler to visit during the evening and, as most of the animals are nocturnal and active during this time, the tram tours through these habitats become a lot more interesting. Plus there is a nightly musical fountain and water screen Laser Light Show. The safari runs until midnight. During the day, visitors can explore a mile-long walking trail around a lake while looking at white tigers, jaguars, leopards, tapirs, monkeys, camels, miniature horses, cranes, wallabies and koalas, among others. The Savanna Safari Zone houses white rhinos, hyenas, lions, cheetahs, and other big beasts of the Great Rift Valley, plus some kangaroos, dingoes and emus. The Predator Prowl Zone has the tigers, lions, African hunting dogs, vultures, wolves, white tigers, Canadian wolf, Asiatic black bears and crocodiles. Cost is $25 for adults, half for kids.
Pattaya Parks and Museums
* South of Bangkok in the city of Pattaya find Art in Paradise, a 3D gallery opened recently with more than 100 three-dimensional paintings that are quite interactive. Guests do not just view these works, they interact with them and become a part of the bigger picture – literally right on Instagram — as art comes off the wall and takes off where surrealists, such as Renée Magritte, left off in an amusing array of confounding tableaus. The gallery is divided into ten zones with themes such as “underwater,” “wonders of the world” and “natural environment.” Entrance runs $16 for adults and about half that for children.
* Close to Pattaya in Bang Saray, Turner Broadcasting System Asia Pacific is opening the world’s first Cartoon Network-themed watermark as Thailand’s very first internationally branded water theme park.
Cartoon Network AMAZONE pays a certain homage to the lush Amazon Rainforest while infusing the world’s most popular cartoon heroes into the scene, including Ben 10, The Powerpuff Girls, Johnny Bravo and The Amazing World of Gumball. Signature attractions will include a gigantic family wave pool, a winding adventure river, speed-racing slides, family raft rides and one of the world’s largest interactive water play fortresses for kids. Bang Saray is a15-minute drive from Pattaya Beach City.
* Not to be missed during a visit to Pattaya is The Ancient City. This is a little known park that presents Thailand in miniature – a vision of its history and heritage in the form of replicated buildings and historical places throughout the country.
The park sprawls on 320 acres of land in dimensions that outline the shape of Thailand. More than 100 monuments crowd the space, many are facsimiles of places that no longer exist. Some buildings showcase traditional vernacular architecture in buildings that were scheduled to be demolished and instead were purchased by the Ancient City, dismantled and reconstructed in the park. Then there are such impressive facsimiles as Khao Pra Viharn, a mountaintop temple on the Cambodian border. Buildings dedicated to the old capital of Ayutthaya, sacked by the Burmese two centuries ago. The park features numerous examples of typical Thai houses through the centuries, often with exhibits of exquisite Thai art through those regions and periods. Guests can break for lunch at a floating village reconstructed in the park and head down the road to the Crocodile Kingdom nearby when their park visit is done. Admission to the Ancient City is $16 for adults, half for children.
New to Do in Phuket
* In Phuket, the newest dazzling attraction can be found in the production show, Siam Niramit. Similar in scale to FantaSea, which has been operating as a grand show and park in Phuket since 1998, Siam Niramit is a multi-layered experience that includes a Thai village with floating market, a 1,200 seat buffet restaurant and a grand auditorium that houses 1,740 people. They watch a 70-minute show using a cast of 100 performers and requiring 500 costume changes. In addition, there is a fairground with games (shooting gallery, dunk girl in water, etc), and pre-shows in the courtyard (dancing, sword fighting and even human cock-fighting), plus elephant feeding and rides. It’s a perfect place for events and meetings (for up to 1,740 people but small groups are welcomed) and logos can be brandished on walls and procession-led pachyderms. Admission runs $42 to $80 pp with add-ons, such as buffet dinner and hotel transfers possible for $10.
* Bangkok may have the shopping and the dining but it also has its share of new attractions to consider. For instance, the Batman Toy Museum. Called Batcat Museum & Toys Thailand, it’s found in the Bang Kapi district of Bangkok and specializes in Batman and superhero collections. In fact there are some 50,000 items in the museum, possibly the largest of its kind in Asia. All the toys are all based on comic book and cartoon characters as well as TV shows and movies with Batman leading the charge (but there are Superman, Spiderman, Star Wars, The Avengers and Alien artifacts as well). Admission is $8 for adults, $5 for kids. (No website available for this, only Facebook reference).
* As for other odd museums attractions to open in Bangkok, the Museum of the Human Body can now be counted. This strangely entertaining and educational exhibition is now one of 11 such museums open in the world. This one is located at the Chulalongkorn University’s Faculty of Dentistry in Bangkok and displays more than 130 pieces of anatomy preserved by using a plastination technology. The Japan Medical and Dental University donated the specimens. (Chulalongkorn University 254 Phayathai Rd, Pathumwan, 02 218-8635; no website or admission details available).
* For those who cannot get to the beaches,Flow House Bangkok has opened a surfing center in central Bangkok as an attempt to inject little California lifestyle into the Land of Smiles. Located in the central district on Sukhumvit Soi, the water-focused attraction features a generous outdoor recreational area, a plunge pool and private function rooms centered around a huge wave complex that generates perfect breakers for stand-up surfing and body boarding. Some 30,000 gallons of water a minute manage flow speeds of 20 mph over a soft plastic surface (think: wrestling mat), to generate a thin, fast-moving sheet of water. Surfing runs $17 to $20 an hour, boards available for free use. “Flow” lessons can be added ($32/hr private, $16 group), often including admission rate.
* Finally, Bangkok’s newest shopping attraction opened recently on the Chao Phraya River. Asiatique attempts to pick up where Bangkok’s legendary Suan Lum Night Bazaar left off after it closed in 2011. But what Asiatique lacks in grit and authenticity it makes up for in comforts, ease and chicness. The 1,000-foot waterfront promenade is anchored by a century old archway leading and much of the architecture at the site redounds to the reign of King Rama V as original or an authentic replica.
As a night bazaar it opens at 5 pm (most night bazaars in Thailand do not get underway until 9 pm) and this may be due to the 40 international and local-style restaurants that share the space with the 1,000 or so shops (they expect it to fill with all 1,500 shop spaces by end of year). Many of the vendors are carryovers from the old night market. For visitors, it’s a great place to pick up quality souvenirs, artsy crafts and well-made fashion items.
* The spot is also the new home of the Joe Louis (Sakorn Yangkhieosod) Puppet Theatre and also the Calypso Bangkok Theatre, another casualty of the night market demise resurrected at Asiatique. Puppetry in Bangkok dates back to 1901.
Bangkok’s Anantara Riverside hotel, located right across the river from Asiatique, runs a free ferry to the attraction for guests and there are free shuttle boats from the Sheraton Pier near BTS Saphan Taksin starting at 5 pm.