Instatrip

A Feast for the Senses in the Land of Smiles: Phuket, Bangkok, and Koh Yao Noi

by Laura Itzkowitz

If a trip to Thailand feels daunting, plan a few days in the bustling capital of Bangkok, followed by a few more on its quiet island beaches. Pin these pics to your mood board.

BANGKOK, Thailand — Between the glittering beaches, ornate Buddhist temples, tuk-tuks whizzing by, and street vendors selling pad thai, the Land of Smiles is a feast for the senses. I recently embarked on a weeklong trip to Thailand with a close friend, and while we would have loved to go north to Chiang Mai, we decided to focus on Bangkok and the islands. It turned out to be a fantastic introduction to this fascinating and picturesque Southeast Asian country. This is a great itinerary if you want to experience the hustle and bustle of Bangkok and then spend a few days relaxing on Thailand’s beautiful beaches. After a week of exploring, I can understand why Thailand is one of the most popular destinations in Asia.

I started my trip in Bangkok, a natural jumping-off point when exploring Thailand, with a half-day , a day tour company by Intrepid Travel. The day began on Bangkok’s Chao Phraya River and canals by longtail boat.

Grand Palace.
Grand Palace.

We stopped at , a must-visit in Bangkok. Originally built by King Rama I in 1782, it was embellished by subsequent kings. I was in awe of the architectural details like these colorful porcelain embellishments, gold statues, and hand-painted frescoes depicting mythological scenes.

After a couple of days in Bangkok, my friend and I hopped on a 90-minute flight to Phuket and took a 20-minute speedboat ride to Koh Yao Noi, a low-key island in the Andaman Sea with gorgeous beaches, no-frills local restaurants, and a couple of luxury hotels. We stayed at the , a member of Small Luxury Hotels oozing in beachy-chic style.

I loved doing a Thai cooking class with the Cape Kudu Hotel’s executive chef, who taught us to make spring rolls, tom yum soup with shrimp, and pad thai. I had no idea how easy it is to make the noodle dish (a cooking class is just one of many activities offered). We also went island-hopping on a longtail boat, saw rice paddies on an island tour, visited a coconut farm, had a home-style dinner at a local seafood restaurant, and got a Thai massage at the spa.

Phuket elephant sanctuary.
Phuket elephant sanctuary.

After a couple of blissful days on Koh Yao Noi, we took a speedboat back to Phuket and headed straight to , the first ethical elephant sanctuary on the island. Its mission is to rescue elephants that have been over-worked and abused in the logging or tourism industries and give them a place to roam around freely for the remainder of their lives. It’s so important to respect these highly sentient beings and never ride on their backs. At the elephant sanctuary, you can them but otherwise can’t touch them unless they approach you.

Phuket beach.
Phuket beach.

For the last two nights of our trip, we stayed at , an award-winning all-villa resort in a quiet part of Phuket, far from the island’s raucous beach parties. We went snorkeling in the Andaman Sea, relaxed in a cabana on the beach, sampled local specialties, and kayaked over to a pristine cove.

Phuket old town architecture.
Phuket old town architecture.

One of the highlights of the trip was exploring Phuket Old Town, which is characterized by Sino-Portuguese architecture similar to the shophouses in Singapore and Malaysia. Some of the shops are quite touristy, but others are filled with cute beach bags, beautiful porcelain items, hand-dyed indigo textiles, and other covetable things. There are lots of cute cafes and little restaurants, too.

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