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Thursday, June 23, 2011

Traveling to Thailand 6.23.11

Thailand is one of those places I’ve always wanted to go to. Granted, I don’t know much about it, but it seems exotic and it’s far away. It conjures up thoughts of elephants, food stalls and crazy drivers to me, but that’s not all they have. If you’ve run out and seen Hangover 2 yet, you may be reluctant to travel to any part of Thailand, but the country is not full of mob criminals, drug dealers, dirty streets or lady boy strip clubs. I mean, sure, it probably has some of those, but so does America (assuming one can find such a strip club anywhere in the United States. I’m convinced they exist.)  There are cities in Thailand that are bustling metropolises, like Bangkok, and there are beautifully tropical cities that offer some of the most luxurious – and even affordable – resorts you’ll find anywhere. This is why Thailand is our next stop on our Frugal Vacation Series.

Thailand has a little bit of everything: mountains, beaches, plains, valleys, cities. They are the largest rice exporter in the world and the 20th largest county in terms of population, with a population the size of France or the UK. The country itself can be compared in size with California or France, so it can be easy to travel around in on a 1-2 week trip.

With approximately 30 Baht to one US Dollar, it is definitely a country that is affordable to visit and explore, and since tourism counts for 6% or more of their economy, you can be sure your money will be welcomed with an open hand and a smile. You may want to brush up on your Thai, though, or bring a translator app/book with you, as English is not spoken widely, though it is a mandatory subject for school children. With this in mind, it’s maybe a good idea to ask younger people if you need directions or other information.

So, where should you go? If you’re looking to visit a major city and see what they have to offer, you have several options. The most popular of these are going to be Bangkok and Phuket. We’ll look at Bangkok first, since it is the capital city. One thing you'll want to know is that you can stay at 3- and 4-star hotels in the country for around $25-60/night. Another thing is that dining is just as affordable. Whether you eat at fancy restaurants or food stalls, you'll save enough to buy some great souvenirs and do more things!

  •  Vimanmek Teak Mansion - The largest golden teak mansion, built without nails, has lattice walls and octagonal rooms. The mansion was built in 1868 as a retreat for Rama V. The king had it moved from its original location and used it in Bangkok as his primary residence. Take a one-hour tour of the mansion, including Rama V's personal items and antiques. There are 81 rooms in all to see, so try to get there right at opening. Admission: 100B
  • Dusit Zoo - Another property of Rama V, this was originally a botanic garden. Now it houses over 1300 animals, including some rare species. There is also a lake with paddle boats, an air raid shelter, children's playground and pop music and dance troupe. A great way to spend the day in the city for just 50B per adult.
  • Forensic Medicine Museum - While probably not for everyone, this is my kinda hot spot for a vacation, because it's totally different from anything I have at home. Peruse crime-scene evidence and the cadaver of Thailand's most notorious serial killer in this fascinating museum. Pretty interesting and also only around 50B for admission.
  • Thanon Maharat - One of Bangkok's coolest streets. There are outdoor displays of herbal remedies, pill bottles and amulets. It's a free stroll and will show you alternative medicinal practices for colds and other ailments that are still in use today.
  • Museum of Siam - Housed in the old 19th century building of the Ministry of Commerce, this museum shows the history of Thailand and its people. There are many videos and hands-on exhibits to keep both adults and children interested for quite a while. There's also a cafe and gift shop. Admission is 300B.
  • Bangkok Dinner Cruise - Enjoy a 2.5 hour cruise on the Chao Phraya River while eating a delicious Thai dinner buffet. See some of Bangkok's amazing sights, too, all for just $52 per person. 
  • Floating Markets and Bridge on the River Kwai Tour - Experience the food shopping trip of a lifetime and also visit the famous Thai landmark bridge from the movie of the same name. You'll have several other stops along the way, including lunch at a local restaurant. A bargain at just $79 per person for a 10-hour tour. 

  • Khao Lak-Lum Ru National Park - Right outside of town, the national park has beaches, sea cliffs, mountains, valleys, mangroves and estuaries. Explore on your own, take a guided trek or take a long-tail boat trip to Khlong Thap Liang estuary for an amazing scenic ride. The national park is home to native plants and animals that you may observe on your visit. Your visit will require a monetary donation of 200B per adult and 100B per child
  • Khao Phra Thaew National Park - The last of the untouched Thai rainforest can be found here. Free admission to the park where you can also see 2 beautiful waterfalls and the Phuket Gibbon Rehabilitation Center. Take a guided hike to visit both waterfalls and along the way you may see flying foxes, wild pigs, civets, monkeys or more! Guided hikes start in the morning and guides charge an average of 1000B for the day.
  • Wat Phra Thong - The Temple of the Golden Buddha is half buried. There are also 11 other Buddha images at this popular temple. Admission donation is requested. 
  • Hat Mai Khao - Phuket's longest beach beckons you with its beautiful white beaches. Between November and February, you might catch a glimpse of a sea turtle laying her eggs in the sand. There is a visitor's centre, toilets, showers and picnic tables for a great day out. On the weekdays, the beach is practically deserted, so try to hit it up in the middle of the week if you can.
  • Phuket Fantasea - Think there's nothing exciting about Thailand? This amusement park will change your mind. Experience the beauty of Thailand through exhibits, rides and awesome - if not cheesy - theatrical shows with Thai elephants. Shop the street dedicated to such things and eat a Thai feast. How much will all this cool stuff cost you? How about 1,900B for dinner and a show! That's cheaper than almost any theme park you could go to at home.
  • Laem Singh - Another great beach that boasts crazy landscape set on one of the best capes of the island. Walled in by cliffs, you'll have to walk down the path with all your stuff. Great for camping. There are also some fantastic seafood restaurants nearby.

Ready to plan your trip? For some of the best deals on airfare and hotels, check out DoHop.com and Venere.com. Both will give you the lowest rates available. Venere doesn't require most reservations to be prepaid, which means you can pay for other parts of your trip before you go!

Brendan Vacations brings you this fancy deal to stay in 4-star Phuket's Krabi Thai Village Resort for 5 nights in a deluxe room with daily breakfast and round-trip airport transfers

American Airlines has international flights from the US on sale from $61 each way. Purchase by June 30th and fly between September 6th and December 5th. 

Do you need a new camera or video recorder for your travels? How about ones that are awesome and waterproof? Great for when you go to the beach or travel in a humid climate. Kodak has 3 different fun digital options to choose from that are affordable, lightweight and come in fun colors.

The Kodak EasyShare Sport is waterproof in up to 10 feet of water, 12 MP, large display and has it's very own share button, enabling you to upload your photos right to your favorite social network sites or email. It has automatic face detection and takes VGA video.


The Kodak PlaySport digital video recorders can record in HD. They are also waterproof up to 10 feet, are easy to grip, have built-in image stabilization and takes 5MP still pictures. The difference between the Zx3 and the Zx5 is that the 5 is also shockproof and has a fancy share button, like the EasyShare Sport camera. Show everyone in your social network what you're doing RIGHT NOW! 

Get yourself a floating wrist strap for any of these 3 electronics and never worry about losing it at the bottom of the pool...or ocean.

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