Back in May I was lucky enough to return to Thailand after nearly three years away. And while Thailand may not be one of my favorite countries in Southeast Asia (that accolade goes to Cambodia or Vietnam), the country is still one of my favorites in the world. I was in Thailand on a group trip with OUT Adventures. If you haven’t heard of them, they’re an independent tour operator and travel agency specializing in gay tourism. I was a guest of their typical 2-week Thailand itinerary. We traveled from Bangkok to Chiang Mai to Phuket, though they have tours and services across the country.
My two weeks in Thailand were marked by a number of highlights. If you’ve followed my blog for a while, you’ll know how much I enjoy returning to destinations already visited. Coming back for a second time means you get to see more, explore more and experience more. There aren’t many places in the world where one trip is enough! From the nightlife to the food (oh! the food!), the hotels to the sights, Thailand charmed me with its many smiles and wonders once again. It’s a country I’ll always feel comfortable visiting time and time. A place I want to see and discover more of each time I visit the country. Thailand is—quite simply—amazing.
Top 5 Thailand Highlights
Thailand is a big country and even with our two-week itinerary over three separate destinations, I was hardly ready to leave the country by the time my time was up. Our OUT Adventures tour managed to squeeze in a lot of my favorite things to do in Thailand over the two weeks, but there are obviously a lot more sights to see. These were the best of the best, though—excluding all the amazing sunsets we had just about every night! Look out for individual stories and photo essays right here on my blog from each of these highlights (and more!) over the next few weeks…
Dancing all night at DJ Station in Bangkok
Upon arriving in Bangkok at the beginning of my trip, there was one absolute must-do: going to DJ Station. It’s Southeast Asia’s most famous gay club. Any gay backpacker who has passed through Bangkok at some point has inevitably found their way to DJ Station! Fridays and Saturdays are the most popular nights at DJ Station, with drag shows early in the evening (around 11pm), but the club open late. The three-floors and Bangkok’s hot & humid weather means it gets pretty hot & sweaty inside. I ended up visiting DJ Station twice while I was in Bangkok, both times were long, blurry nights :)
It’s possible to visit DJ Station alone, if you’re traveling alone. But as I was on my group tour with the guys from OUT Adventures, it was a lot more fun to already have a group of guys to hang out with in the club. We jumped around between the gay bars along Silom Soi 2, but DJ Station will forever be my favorite!
More information: dj-station.com
Cooking Class outside of Chiang Mai
No trip to Thailand is complete without eating pad thai. It’s pretty much the staple national dish of the country — easily their most exported recipe! So when I learned that my OUT Adventures tour included a cooking class at a local house outside of Chiang Mai, I was fairly confident I’d be learning a real recipe for pad thai. What I didn’t realize is I’d also pick up a handful of other amazing Thai food recipes. While the pad thai dish that I cooked myself turned out pretty well, I think my favorite dish was a spicy chicken coconut milk soup. Yummy!
The Thai culinary school we visited was definitely one of my food highlights from the group trip. It was great to learn what goes into making the most popular Thai food dishes. The friendly staff at the cooking school also gave each of us a recipe book and a small bag of spices — probably my best souvenir from Thailand!
More information: cookingathome-chiangmai.com
Sea-kayaking in Phuket
Seeing as how I was on an adventure travel / tour, I’d be amiss to not highlight my favorite adventurous activity in Thailand. I wasn’t sure what to expect before our day of sea-kayaking in Phang Nga Bay, but after the fact, this activity quickly climbed my list of favorite things to do in Thailand. I’m not always looking for adventure activities when I travel, but this day trip was probably one of the top highlights from my entire trip. Our day started with a pick-up from our hotel to the boat we’d be on all day. With home-cooked meals on the boat and three different stops where we got to go out on the sea-kayaks, it was a great mix of leisure and action. Plus we were able to go swimming and catch some sun!
The day tour included little history lessons about the region as well as discovering some truly unique geological formations. The scenery was spectacular and the day out on the sea was a fabulous way to enjoy Phuket—an otherwise less-than-stellar part of Thailand. Our tour guides were friendly (and funny!) and the food was great (and even spicy!). If you want one of the most unique experiences in Phuket, this is it!
More information: johngray-seacanoe.com
Watching Drag at Patong Beach
If there was one part of Thailand I wasn’t excited about revisiting, it was Phuket. I’d been before as a solo traveler and struggled to find anything special or cool to do. But visiting with an OUT Adventures group & guide, Phuket actually was one of my more favorite parts of Thailand on this trip. I never realized how much fun it could be — even if it’s touristic. The hotel I stayed at (The Nap Patong – recommended!) was just a short walk to Patong Beach and close to the other action happening around the city. At night, most of the action (ie, drunk backpackers) head to Bangla Road. But the real fun happens elsewhere!
The Patong gay scene takes place at Soi Paradise (what a name!). The small street has a handful of gay bars and almost all of them put on regular drag shows. Like in a lot of places in Thailand, there was a seedier side with boys for sale. But it wasn’t so obvious from what I could tell and I hardly saw anything suspicious. But what I did see was a lot of fun: drag & cabaret shows on stage and on the street. Loud music, happy crowds, people dancing and a healthy mix of locals, tourists and every type of gender! I never realized Patong could be so much fun!
Walking Food Tour in Bangkok
Are you surprised that two of my five highlights from Thailand have to do with food? You shouldn’t be! Thailand is one of the world’s best culinary destinations and besides the amazing dishes served up at street food markets and local restaurants, there are countless activities and tours focused on food. In Bangkok, one of my favorite experiences was a 4-hour walking tour with Taste of Thailand Tours. Our small group visited local markets, a spice shop, street stalls and even a trendy Bangkok restaurant during the course of the tour. With handy tips on how to find the best fruit at a Thai market, as well as a visit to a secret hideaway totally unlike anywhere else I’ve been in Bangkok, this tour was as informative as it was tasty!
More information: tasteofthailandfoodtours.org
Win a Trip to Thailand!
Want to experience a similar trip to Thailand like the one I had? The same company I traveled with, OUT Adventures, is currently hosting a giveaway to win one of two trips to Thailand! The grand prize winner gets a 10-day luxury adventure for two people and second prize is a hotel package with 7 nights at some of Thailand’s best luxury hotels. You can enter the contest on their Facebook page: facebook.com/GayAdventureTravel or learn more about it on the OUT Adventures website
Read more about my trip to Thailand with OUT Adventures here: Out in Thailand