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Thailand – A city and beach combination

by Catherine Hudson on 19 August 2015, 15:08PM

Deciding where to go on holiday and reasoning why to choose one destination over another can feel rather like choosing your favourite ice cream. When the happy time comes to indulge you are often spoiled for choice. Budget constraints can traditionally mean sticking close to home, however, since travel is becoming much more accessible and more affordable, many people are finding they are able to travel further afield for surprisingly low prices.

Thailand has long been a dream holiday destination for plenty of Brits, (including myself), and is quickly becoming a reality for more people than ever before. With promises of picture postcard beaches, delicious food, incredible sightseeing and luxurious accommodation at comparatively low prices, it's easy to see why Thailand should be at the top of your wish list.

In a trip organised by Travelbag, I flew with Thai Airways direct from London Heathrow to Bangkok, to experience a twin centre trip: three nights at the Amari Watergate in the Pratunam area of Bangkok, and three nights at the Amari in the royal seaside town of Hua Hin.

Welcome to Bangkok

The 11-hour direct flight with Thai Airways was comfortable – and beautiful, with pink and purple décor and flight attendants wearing intricate silk outfits. We arrived in Bangkok airport late afternoon, which was ideal as it meant we slept a lot of the way. The giant, yet easy to navigate, airport is home to the city’s Skytrain, which will take you straight to the heart of the city. I would recommend taking this option, as it is clean, very cheap and avoids the inevitable long queues of traffic.

Whether travelling into town via train, taxi or hotel transfer, as you get closer to the city you will notice an abundance of intricately looped flyovers, tin metal houses at the edge of the network of canals (Bangkok is sometimes referred to as the Venice of South East Asia), and street sellers with bags of wares stacked high on their backs ride overloaded mopeds.

Busy is one word for Bangkok. It is sprawling and, like most South East Asian cities, was built with no real plan in mind, but rather around landmarks. The buzz of those crazy tuk tuks, the piping hot smells wafting from the street food stalls and herds of tourists winding their way through the markets and in and out of the numerous temples is unforgettable. It is a good idea to book your accommodation ahead as part of a package; that way you can relax in the knowledge that you have a guaranteed haven amidst all the craziness.


Where to stay

Amari Watergate Bangkok is situated in the heart of the Pratunam shopping district, towering above a road that is only 30 years old. All 569 rooms are elegantly designed and spacious, with giant windows that allow you to gaze across skyscraper-filled Bangkok. Spotting canals winding in and out of the busy roads knowing that somewhere in among the chaos are temple centuries old, is a great reminder that Bangkok is a city of intriguing contradictions.


Where to shop and where to relax

Pratunam is the place to go in Bangkok to indulge in some retail therapy. 'Designer' sunglasses, T-shirts and shoes for the equivalent of a few pounds, are on sale on stalls alongside more traditional offerings, which are well worth snapping up. There seems to be a trend for personalisation, where leather and wooden goods can be embellished with a chosen name or phrase.

The Diamond Mall, opposite the Amari Watergate hotel, has five floors of narrow corridors with small independent shops no bigger than large cupboards, all selling fashion at outstanding prices. The Bangkok malls like this one are the places that buyers from big brands come to get inspiration for things that we will be buying on British high streets next season. Alongside those 'designer' shoes and handbags, of course.

After a busy day at the local markets, it is handy to be able to pop back to the hotel for a massage in the beautiful spa before dinner. The pool, spa and gym area are on the 8th floor. I indulged in a massage at the hotel’s Breeze Spa. The incredible signature mood massages (from which I chose to feel ‘serene’) cost around £36 each, breeze-spa.com. It was my first taste of a Thai massage – but definitely not my last. Post-massage, I would recommend having pre-dinner cocktails while watching the sun set over the palm trees – a haven within one of the world’s most frenetic cities.



Where to eat

Whether at home or abroad, more often than not, I think first with my stomach. Days are often planned around what my next meal is or where it is coming from, and there is nothing more exciting to me than a friend suggesting that we try the latest food trend/truck/treat. The prospect of experiencing traditional street food has to be one of the top reasons to visit Thailand. But don’t miss out on the culinary treats to be indulged in at your hotel. There are six exciting restaurants to try at the Amari Watergate, including the exquisite Thai on Four: a traditional Siam restaurant where the kitchen is overseen by a chef who used to cook for the King. Papaya salad, tom yam goon soup, chicken satay, massaman curry and pad Thai were just a few of my personal favourites.

What to do

Bangkok is where east meets west, and this melting pot attracts more than 16 million visitors per year. So as well as plentiful markets and neon lights, culture is abundant. Bangkok has more than 400 temples, so make sure you think ahead which ones you want to visit and bring long-sleeved tops and trousers, as you will need to cover up. Catching tuk-tuks is an easy, fun and cheap way of touring them all – just agree on a price before you hop in, which shouldn’t be more than 200 baht (£4) per trip. We stopped off at the incredible Grand Palace, built in 1782, and Bangkok’s most visited temple, Wat Po, to see the Reclining Buddha, the largest in Thailand. You probably will return with a Buddha-sized hangover after the sheer amount you will see. But there is no denying how beautiful these golden, big-bellied effigies are.


Life’s a beach, at Hua Hin

After sensory overload in Bangkok, we were ready for some relaxing time in Hua Hin, the country’s first established beach resort, where the Thai royal family now resides. We made the three-hour car transfer, organised by the hotel’s concierge. Thai people give high quality customer service and friendliness top priority when looking after guests. You will be asked, “Everything is fine?” on repeat, to which my response was always a very enthusiastic “Yes, absolutely!”

Where to stay

Amari Hua Hin is only about five minutes drive from the town centre, and is set back from Khao Takiab Beach. The décor is very elegant and sets a tranquil tone. We all loved the large swimming pool area that had been cleverly designed to look like a beach. I stayed in a family suite on the seventh floor, which, if it was a person, you would probably describe as ‘cool, calm and collected.’ It was certainly spacious, with sliding doors from the lounge to the bedroom and then bathroom, which housed the biggest bath I have ever seen. The hotel offers a bath service, where a maid will run your bath for you while you are out at dinner so it is ready for you to hop into on your return.


What to do

Although not located directly on the beach, it only takes a couple of minutes to ride from the Amari in a chauffeured buggy if you don’t feel like walking. The shallow water and golden sands are ideal for lots of beach play, or you can take a walk along to Khao Takiab Mountain to see the big golden Buddha and hang out with wild monkeys. Well-groomed horses are ridden along the beaches, and may offer you a ride, for a small fee. We spent a memorable evening at a BBQ at the Shoreline Beach Club, which belongs to the Amari Hua Hin. What a treat. Tables overlook the beach and you can listen to the sounds of the gentle waves as you tuck into your food and funky margarita cocktails, which are served in a teapot and glasses rimmed with sugar, salt and chilli flakes.


 What to eat

The food scene in Hua Hin is similar to Bangkok, with markets offering everything from classic Pad Thai and curries, along with roti flatbreads with banana and honey, to fried dumplings and coconut milk filled dough balls. Hua Hin is alive with a fantastic selection of morning and night markets, including the 100-year-old Chatchai food market. Primarily for locals to buy ingredients, it is well worth getting up at dawn to explore the stalls heaving with local produce including seafood, sweet treats and our favourite – mango sticky rice.

Inspired by the sights and smells on touring the markets, we signed up for a Thai cookery class at the hotel costing around £23pp. The award-winning chefs guided us through making amazing five-course meals, which included Moo ma-naow and Gaeng kiew wan gai: and we got to tuck in to all of it afterwards. It was one of the most delicious meals I ate while on my trip – testament to the brilliant Amari chefs and their prep work, rather than my cooking skills, I’m sure.



Here I go, again

They say good things come to those who wait. Well, my worst quality is impatience. So, true to form, I will be travelling back to Thailand very soon to return to my beloved Bangkok, and then journey up to Chiang Mai before heading down to the Andaman coast and the islands. Top of the list of places to stay will be the Amari Watergate in Bangkok (why change a good thing?), the Amari Vogue in Krabi, and the Amari Phuket. Watch this space…

Feeling inspired? Don’t miss…

  • Chatuchak Market This weekend market in Bangkok, one of the biggest in the world, sells everything from clothing to handicrafts. The 35-acre site features more than 8,000 stalls arranged in sections and numbered alleyways known as ‘sois’. Chatuchak.org
  • Khlongs of Thonburi tour There are a wealth of tours available to book throughout Thailand, and most will arrange to pick you up and drop you off at your hotel for an inclusive price. Consider a Khlong (canal) tour of Bangkok’s Thonburi area (once the capital city itself), to see floating vendors and for a peek into the traditional Thai way of life.
  • Hua Hin Hills Vineyard Just an hour from the Hua Hin coast is a scenic vineyard, open for delicious lunches at the Reef restaurant, Monsoon Valley wine tasting, mountain biking and jeep tours. Huahinhills.com
  • The Western Gulf islands This is where you find the Thailand you see on postcards and it’s so easy to get around the country by public transport, especially if you book ahead online. We suggest a twin-ticketed journey on a Lomprayah coach and ferry to Koh Tao, from where you can take regular ferries to Koh Phangan and Koh Samui. A single trip to Koh Tao from Hua Hin will cost from around £20 each

Catherine Hudson is content editor at Juniormagazine.co.uk, beauty and fashion editor at Prima Baby magazine, and editor of FashCatherine.blogspot.com

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