We are going to Thailand for about two weeks. We will be in Bangkok, Chiang Rai, and Koh Samui. We’ll be staying at Sukhothai Hotel and the Four Seasons in Bangkok, and at Anantara in Koh Samui and Chiang Rai. What would you consider "don't miss" destinations? Do you have favorite restaurants or entertainment in these places?
–Molly, Pasadena, Calif.
A: Thailand is one of my favorite places, and you won’t be disappointed by your experience there.
You could spend weeks sightseeing in Bangkok alone. If you want to visit monuments and museums, there’s the Grand Palace, Wat Po temple, the National Museum, and the Democracy Monument, just to name a few. If you’d rather wander and just get a feel for the city, you can do that, too. Touring Bangkok's Old City will give you a taste of traditional Thai culture, whereas the maze-like, bustling Chinatown, just east of the Old City, will remind you that Bangkok is a city of immigrants like many others.
It is also a city of markets. Pahurat market is known for its cheap textiles and fabrics, but is almost more famous for its announcer, who creates a stampede of shoppers whenever he reveals that a particular stall is selling items at half-price. Patpong Night market, between Silom Road and Surawong Road, is known for its fake-branded goods and cheap clothes, while leather can be found at the Sukhumvit Road market and gold at Yaowarat Road market in Chinatown.
Food is everything in Bangkok, and there are hundreds of restaurants to choose from. One of my favorites is Lemon Grass, which is on Sukhumvit Road near the Emporium. Lemon Grass is an upscale, award-winning restaurant which serves well-priced Thai dishes amid antique décor. Be sure to make reservations for dinner, because it’s very popular, and don’t forget to try the signature lemon-grass iced tea. Another good one is Nai Sow, a Chinese-Thai place on Maitrichit Road, which many regulars say has the best Tom Yum Goong (spicy shrimp soup) in the city. If you want to check out a hotspot and grab a drink, try Hu'u, a new-ish bar/lounge that serves drinks, plus an eclectic menu of dinner dishes, from sashimi to cheeseburgers to fried wontons. Or for something a little more unusual, try the Bed Supper Club, a famous eatery where meals are eaten lying down. And since you're staying at the Four Seasons, check out the Oriental Barbecue Buffet at the Spice Market restaurant inside the hotel.
Chiang Rai is a good launch point for tours and treks that will introduce you to the people, culture, and environment of the Golden Triangle area. Take a hike to the temple at the top of Doi Tong, ride an elephant, or take an excursion to learn about the many fascinating hill tribes that dot this mountainous region. Anantara has one of the best restaurants in the region. Formerly known as the Opium Den Bar, the old name referred to what used to be the primary crop cultivated in Chiang Rai.
Koh Samui is a small island whose main draw, as you probably know, is its stunning beaches. Though lounging in the sun and snorkeling are the most popular activities, you can also go kayaking, zip-lining, horseback riding, or biking. Koh Samui also has some excellent restaurants, including Betelnut in Chaweng, which offers Asian-California-fusion cuisine, and Starfish and Coffee in Bophut, a fresh seafood eatery. Anantara is renowned for its luxury spa treatments, its lush private gardens, and the Full Moon restaurant, which serves excellent Italian cuisine and offers a selection of wines from its 1,500-bottle cellar.