CHIANG RAI, THAILAND—The news of this country’s destruction has been greatly exaggerated.
While it’s true that historic flood levels have wreaked havoc on the lives and livelihoods of those in cities like Ayutthaya and Bangkok, it’s also true that there are parts of the country in which you would never know such things were happening. I know this is true because I’m here, I brought my kids and the only water I’ve seen outside of a running faucet was in the hotel swimming pool.
What we have seen is a country that depends heavily on tourism watching tourist dollars float away with news accounts and fears of would-be travelers.
I understand the concern. Before arriving in Thailand we contacted people we knew here and were nervous about what to expect on arrival. But from the moment we landed in Phuket, made our way into Khao Sok and Mae Rim before adding days to our stay in Chiang Mai, it was clear there’s still plenty of Thailand left to see.
Planning a visit soon? Here are five reasons you shouldn’t cancel your trip.
1. Elephant Hills Tented Camp: Located in the lush forests of Khao Sok, Elephant Hills is a respite from the busy streets of other locales. Expect a camp-like environment where families are welcome and activities are as exciting for the kids as the adults. Nightly cooking classes, jungle treks and evenings where you can laze away in your comfortable tent or hang with your fellow travelers over a game of Jenga in the lounge put you immediately at ease. And then there are the elephants: you’ll spend an afternoon feeding, bathing and learning about the animals and the lifetime partners they have in the Mahouts that care for them. www.elephant-hills.com
2. Sea Canoes: Off the northern tip of Phuket, you’ll find sea canoe trips that give you all the glory without any of the arm labour. Take a boat out to Phang Nga Bay before boarding your inflatable chauffeur-driven raft in and out of caves that offer everything from bat sightings to monkey-filled grottos. www.seacavecanoe.com
3. Fish Spas: The practice was recently banned in Canada but you can still get your tootsies tickled at fish spas throughout Thailand. Take your time and inspect tanks while weighing whether you are up for the unique spa treatment where garra rufa fish nibble dead skin off your toes. Even if you opt not to do it, watching someone else get the giggles while they go to work is worth a peek. Don’t expect spa-like foot caressing from your host — that’s a different treatment.
4. Night Markets: Walk the streets of cities like Chiang Mai by day and you’ll be hard pressed to find a local, but at night? Totally different story. Busy nightly bazaars offer everything from raunchy $4 T-shirts and cutesy kids clothing to leather purse knockoffs and must-have pillow coverings. You’ll quickly find that you need an afternoon siesta to really see this city.
5. Food, Glorious Food: Admire it, Cook it, Eat it. Repeat. Everything from the familiar dishes from home (Pad Thai, Green chicken Curry) to soon-to-be new favourites ( Khao Soi, papaya salad, mangos and sticky rice) can be sampled here. Cooking schools are plentiful and restaurants are clean and cheap. Expect extra weight going home — both in your bags and on your body.
Heather Greenwood Davis is on a year-long trip around the world with her husband and two children. Some of her excursions in Thailand were subsidized by www.tourismthailand.org. Reach her at www.globetrottingmama.com .