From Bangkok to Koh Kood: Two weeks in the Land of Smiles
A record number of tourists visited Thailand in 2018, more than 38 million lured by the promise of heavenly beaches and glorious cuisine, historic shrines and glittering temples. Even more are expected in 2019, making Thailand the most popular travel destination in Asia. If you've already visited the "Land of Smiles," you'll understand why. If you haven't, it might be time to plan your visit.
With so much to see, do and experience, it can be hard to know where to start. But to help, we've created a first-timer's guide to Thailand, covering the key places to visit over 14 glorious days.
Two days in Bangkok
Fly into Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi Airport (BKK), which sits 18 miles east of the city.
What started out as a small trading center and port on the west banks of the Chao Phraya River 200 years ago is now one of the world's most densely populated cities, a land of towering skyscrapers and gleaming temples.
Venture onto the backpackers' beloved Khaosan Road to witness east and west collide. Look beyond to The Grand Palace, the Temple of Dawn and the giant reclining Buddha of Wat Pho. Slurp noodles and coconut juice among the city's floating market stalls, get ringside seats for brutal but balletic Muay Thai, and take a tuk tuk (auto rickshaw) to the astonishing Chatuchak Weekend Market, where 8,000 market stalls sell everything imaginable and more.
And if time allows, take a tour to the infamous River Kwai Bridge in Kanchanaburi, about 80 miles to the west of Bangkok. The bridge and Kanchanaburi War Cemetery offer a poignant reminder of those who lost their lives during World War II.
Two days in Bangkok works well: fly in, shake off your jet lag and familiarize yourself with a new country. Then we suggest you escape the crowds and chaos by heading north of the city.
Two days around Phitsanulok
Take a slow-but-enjoyable train ride north to Phitsanulok, the sleepy but attractive provincial capital that sits 249 miles north of Bangkok and 186 miles south of Chiang Mai. While Phitsanulok is pleasant enough for a night, the main reason to stay here is to visit the nearby UNESCO World Heritage City of Sukhothai, an hour's drive west.
The first capital of Siam, Sukhothai was the cradle of Thai civilization and is considered to be the birthplace of Thai art, architecture and language. Today it's home to a vast array of historical sites and temple ruins that will fill your phone and Instagram feed. Eat at the homely Ban Mai, stay the night at Yodia Heritage Hotel, then fly the hour north to Chiang Mai the following morning.
If you prefer to stay in Bangkok and want a similar experience, take a day trip to Ayutthaya and the ruins of the old city in Ayutthaya Historical Park. Expect larger crowds as a result of its proximity to the capital. Upon your return to Bangkok, fly the hour north to Chiang Mai.
Three days in Chiang Mai
Around 435 miles north of Bangkok stands Thailand's second city – its name translating as 'new city'.
While Bangkok squeezes in nine million people, Chiang Mai is home to around 200,000 people, and life shuffles by at a more sedate pace here. Set in a verdant valley on the banks of the Ping River, the city was founded in 1296 as a walled city surrounded by a moat.
Today, with both city and moat remaining, past and present weave seamlessly together. The old city and temples at the city's heart retain the atmosphere of an ancient village while the new city boasts modern buildings rising up around it.
Historic temples, museums, handicraft shops and the night (and day) markets are essential stops while day-long cooking courses allow you to master several Thai specialties — and give you an excuse to slurp hot and sour soup for breakfast.
When in Chiang Mai, you really should take an adventure tour in the jungles north of the city. Elephant trekking, cycling, kayaking, white water rafting and zip-lining through the canopy of the jungle are just a few of the options, with 200-plus companies offering an adventure to suit every appetite.
After all that exertion, you may need a beach. Luckily, the paradise island of Phuket is an easy two-hour flight south.
Three days in Phuket
Thailand's largest and busiest island is joined to the mainland by a bridge that supplies a steady stream of tourists, and it's easy to see why. The "Pearl of the Andaman" is the Thai island of your imagination, with the powdery-white beaches and shimmering turquoise sea you've been dreaming of, but it's also so much more.
Phuket has it all — a six-star resort with your own private butler, designer boutiques, world-class celebrity-chef restaurants and nightlife to take you from dusk until dawn. In addition, you'll find major temples, wildlife sanctuaries and national parks. Not to mention world-class diving and snorkeling at nearby Ko Similan. Phuket ticks every box and is almost everything you'd imagine it to be.
At the heart of it all is an island of staggeringly beautiful beaches. The busiest and most developed stretch are along Phuket's southwest coast at Patong, Karon and Kata, with lower key alternatives scattered further north at Layan, Surin and Bangtao, while the hidden secrets of Banana Rock and Nui Beach reward those who venture off the beaten track.
At this point you have a choice. Either stay as long on Phuket as your time allows before flying back to Bangkok, or fly five hours north-east to Trat, hop across to Koh Chang and turn the relaxation levels down even further.
Three days on Koh Chang
Koh Changis one of Thailand's most laid-back and relatively untouched islands. Its west coast has succumbed to development around its main beaches, but head south or along the east coast and you'll uncover a low-key experience, with small, mostly family-run hotels and guest houses, yoga and spa resorts, and traditional Thai fishing villages.
You could happily stay here forever. But if Koh Chang somehow feels too crowded, hop on a passenger-only boat to Koh Kood — a smaller, even quieter version of the island you're leaving behind. Koh Kood brings you the beaches, the mountain jungles, the low-key bungalows and the ultra-luxurious resorts, but with very few tourists to spoil your view. You won't quite have the island to yourself, it will just feel that way.
You won't want to leave, but you can't stay forever. So, to complete your vacation, we suggest you head back to where it all began.
One final night in Bangkok
If you are visiting Bangkok for the first time, returning for a night at the end of your vacation will allow you to appreciate the city without the jet lag or the sense of mild bewilderment. Enjoy one final night before flying out of Suvarnabhumi Airport.
When to visit:Aim for between November and early April, the driest period of the year and also the warmest, with temperatures in the upper 80s to mid 90s and up to nine hours of sunshine daily. Thailand's rainy months are between March and October. It's still beautifully warm, but you should expect sudden and often heavy rain showers. To avoid the crowds, visit between May and September, the quietest period of the year when temperatures and prices are a little lower.
United flies to Hong Kong, which can be a stepping stone to everything Thailand has to offer. From Hong Kong, you can fly with one of our Star Alliance member airlines. For more details and to start your adventure, visit united.comor use the United mobile app.
Following the devastating wildfires in Australia and powerful earthquakes that shook Puerto Rico last week, we're taking action to make a global impact through our international partnerships as well as nonprofit organizations Afya Foundation and ADRA (Adventist Development and Relief Agency).
Helping Puerto Rico recover from earthquakes
Last week, Puerto Rico was hit with a 5.2 magnitude earthquake, following a 6.4 magnitude earthquake it experienced just days before. The island has been experiencing hundreds of smaller quakes during the past few weeks.
These earthquakes destroyed crucial infrastructure and left 4,000 people sleeping outside or in shelters after losing their homes. We've donated $50,000 to our partner charity organization Airlink and through them, we've helped transport disaster relief experts and medical supplies for residents, as well as tents and blankets for those who have lost their homes. Funding will go towards organizations within Airlink's partner network, which includes Habitat for Humanity, Mercy Corps and Americares, to help with relief efforts and long-term recovery.
Australian wildfire relief efforts
Our efforts to help Australia have inspired others to make their own positive impact. In addition to teaming up with Ellen DeGeneres to donate $250,000 and launching a fundraising campaign with GlobalGiving to benefit those impacted by the devastating wildfires in the country known for its open spaces and wildlife, our cargo team is helping to send more than 600 pounds of medical supplies to treat injured animals in the region.
Helping us send these supplies is the Afya Foundation, a New York-based nonprofit that seeks to improve global health by collecting surplus medical supplies and delivering them to parts of the world where they are most needed. Through Airlink, the Afya Foundation will send more than $18,000 worth of materials that will be used to treat animals injured in the Australian fires.
These medical supplies will fly to MEL (Melbourne) and delivered to The Rescue Collective. This Australian organization is currently focused on treating the massive population of wildlife, such as koalas, kangaroos, and birds, that have had their habitats destroyed by the recent wildfires. The supplies being sent include wound dressings, gloves, catheters, syringes and other items that are unused but would otherwise be disposed of.
By working together, we can continue to make a global impact and help those affected by natural disasters to rebuild and restore their lives
Australia needs our help as wildfires continue to devastate the continent that's beloved by locals and travelers alike. In times like these, the world gets a little smaller and we all have a responsibility to do what we can.
On Monday, The Ellen DeGeneres Show announced a campaign to raise $5 million to aid in relief efforts. When we heard about Ellen's effort, we immediately reached out to see how we could help.
Today, we're committing $250,000 toward Ellen's campaign so we can offer support now and help with rebuilding. For more on The Ellen DeGeneres Show efforts and to donate yourself, you can visit www.gofundme.com/f/ellenaustraliafund
We're also matching donations made to the Australian Wildfire Relief Fund, created by GlobalGiving's Disaster Recovery Network. This fund will support immediate relief efforts for people impacted by the fires in the form of emergency supplies like food, water and medicine. Funds will also go toward long-term recovery assistance, helping residents recover and rebuild. United will match up to $50,000 USD in donations, and MileagePlus® members who donate $50 or more will receive up to 1,000 award miles from United. Donate to GlobalGiving.
Please note: Donations made toward GlobalGiving's fund are only eligible for the MileagePlus miles match.
In addition to helping with fundraising, we're staying in touch with our employees and customers in Australia. Together, we'll help keep Australia a beautiful place to live and visit in the years to come.
20. Spot Giant Pandas in China
In 2016, giant pandas were removed from the endangered species list, and China would like to keep it that way. This year, the country plans to consolidate the creatures' known habitats into one unified national park system spanning nearly 10,500 square miles across Sichuan, Gansu, and Shaanxi provinces—about the size, in total, of Massachusetts. —Nicholas DeRenzo
19. Follow in James Bond's Footsteps in Jamaica
When No Time to Die hits theaters on April 8, it marks a number of returns for the James Bond franchise. The 25th chapter in the Bond saga is the first to come out since 2015's Spectre; it's Daniel Craig's fifth go-round as 007, after rumors the actor was set to move on; and it's the first time the series has filmed in Jamaica since 1973's Live and Let Die. The Caribbean island has always had a special place in Bond lore: It was the location of one of creator Ian Fleming's homes, GoldenEye (which is now a resort), and the setting for the first 007 movie, 1962's Dr. No. Looking to live like a super-spy? You don't need a license to kill—just a ride to Port Antonio, where you can check out filming locations such as San San Beach and colonial West Street. Remember to keep your tux pressed and your Aston Martin on the left side of the road. —Justin Goldman
18. See the Future of Architecture in Venice
Every other year, Venice hosts the art world's best and brightest during its celebrated Biennale. But the party doesn't stop during off years, when the Architecture Biennale takes place. This year, curator Hashim Sarkis, the dean of MIT's School of Architecture and Planning, has tasked participants with finding design solutions for political divides and economic inequality; the result, on display from May to November, is the intriguing show How Will We Live Together? —Nicholas DeRenzo
17. Celebrate Beethoven's 250th Birthday in Bonn
Catch a Beethoven concerto in Bonn, Germany, to celebrate the hometown hero's big 2-5-0.
16. Eat Your Way Through Slovenia
When Ana Roš of Hiša Franko was named the World's Best Female Chef in 2017, food lovers began to wonder: Do we need to pay attention to Slovenia? The answer, it turns out, is definitely yes. This March, the tiny Balkan nation about two hours east of Venice gets its own Michelin Guide. —Nicholas DeRenzo
15. Star- (and Sun-) Gaze in Patagonia
Come December 13 and 14, there will be no better spot for sky-watchers than northern Patagonia, which welcomes both the peak of the Geminid meteor shower and a total solar eclipse within 24 hours. —Nicholas DeRenzo
14. Explore Miami's Game-Changing New Park
About 70,000 commuters use Miami's Metrorail each day, and city planners aim to turn the unused space beneath its tracks into an exciting new public space, a 10-mile linear park aptly named The Underline. Luckily, the Magic City is in good hands: The project is being helmed by James Corner Field Operations, the geniuses behind New York's High Line. “Both projects share similarities in their overarching goals," says principal designer Isabel Castilla, “to convert a leftover infrastructural space into a public space that connects neighborhoods, generates community, and encourages urban regeneration." When finished, Miami's park will be about seven times as long as its Big Apple counterpart. The first half-mile leg, set to open this June, is the Brickell Backyard, which includes an outdoor gym, a butterfly garden, a dog park, and gaming tables that call to mind the dominoes matches you'll find nearby in Little Havana. “We envision the Underline dramatically changing the way people in Miami engage with public space," Castilla says. —Nicholas DeRenzo
13. Kick Off the NFL in Las Vegas
Former Raiders owner Al Davis was famous for saying, “Just win, baby." His son, Mark Davis, the team's current owner, is more likely to be shouting “Vegas, baby!" Swingers-style, as his team becomes Sin City's first NFL franchise, the Las Vegas Raiders. After years of threats and lawsuits, the Raiders have finally left Oakland, and this summer they're landing just across the highway from the Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino in a 65,000-seat, $1.8 billion domed stadium that will also host the UNLV football team, the next two Pac-12 championship games, and the Las Vegas Bowl. Construction is slated to be finished July 31, just in time for the NFL preseason—and just in time to lure football fans from the sportsbooks to the grandstand. —Justin Goldman
12. Celebrate the Suffragettes in Washington D.C.
All eyes are on the ballot box this year, but the electorate would look quite different if not for the 19th Amendment, which was ratified 100 years ago this August. Many D.C. institutions, such as the National Archives Museum and the Library of Congress, are honoring the decades-long struggle for women's suffrage with exhibits. In particular, the National Museum of American History unveils Sarah J. Eddy's portrait of Susan B. Anthony this March, before putting on a 'zine-inspired show on girlhood and youth social movements this June. —Nicholas DeRenzo
11. Go for a Ride Through Mexico City
If you want to get somewhere quickly in Mexico City, try going by bicycle. During peak traffic, bikes average faster speeds than cars or public transportation—which might explain why ridership has gone up almost 50 percent since 2007. And riding on two wheels is getting safer and easier. In 2019, the city announced plans to invest $10 million (more than it had spent in the last six years combined) into the construction of about 50 miles of new paths and lanes. Now, you can cycle on a two-mile separated path along the Paseo de la Reforma, from Colonia Juárez and Roma to Chapultepec Park and Polanco. Future plans include a route along the National Canal between Coyoacán (where Frida Kahlo once lived) and Xochimilco (with its floating flower farms). “The goal is to finish the six-year [presidential] term with 600 kilometers of bike infrastructure," says Roberto Mendoza of the city's Secretariat of Mobility. Time to start pedaling. —Naomi Tomky
10. Consider the Mayflower's Legacy in Massachusetts and Abroad
Before they came to America in 1620, the religious separatists now known as the Pilgrims lived in England and the Netherlands. This year, the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower landing will be commemorated not only by those nations but also by a fourth: The Wampanoag, the confederation of tribes that live in New England and whose role in this world-changing event has been at best left out and at worst distorted.
“We're challenging the myths and stereotypes," says Aquinnah Wampanoag author Linda Coombs, a board member of Plymouth 400, Inc., which is planning cultural events such
as an Ancestors Walk to honor the native villages pushed aside by settlers, as well as
an indigenous history conference and powwow (plus an $11 million restoration of the replica Mayflower II).
Kerri Helme, a member of the Mashpee Wampanoag nation and cultural programs manager at Plimoth Plantation, says that “people want to hear the whole story." She notes that it's a commonly held belief that the Pilgrims were welcomed by the natives, when in fact their first encounter was violent, since the English had been stealing the Wampanoags' food.
“The Wampanoag are key players in all of this," says Charles Hackett, CEO of Mayflower 400 in the U.K. “It's a whole other aspect of this history." In England, a Mayflower trail will connect Pilgrim sites in towns such as Southampton and Plymouth, and in Leiden, the Dutch town where the Pilgrims took refuge before embarking for the New World, the ethnology museum will run an exhibit about the natives.
“The most important thing for us, as the Wampanoag people," says Paula Peters, a former Wampanoag council member, “is to be acknowledged as a vital tribe comprised of people that, in spite of everything that's happened, are still here." —Jon Marcus
9. Discover Lille's Design Scene
Previous World Design Capitals have included major cultural hubs such as Helsinki and Seoul, so it came as a shock when Lille, France's 10th-largest city, beat Sydney for this year's title. Judges cited Lille's use of design to improve its citizens' lives; get a taste for yourself at spots like La Piscine Musée d'Art et d'Industrie, a gallery in a former Art Deco swim center. —Nicholas DeRenzo
8. See Stellar Space in Rio de Janeiro, the World Capital of Architecture
Rio de Janeiro is renowned for the beauty of its beaches and mountains, but the Cidade Maravilhosa's man-made structures are as eye-catching as its natural features. For that reason, UNESCO recently designated Rio its first World Capital of Architecture, honoring a city that boasts such landmarks as the stained glass–domed Royal Portuguese Cabinet of Reading, the fairy-tale Ilha Fiscal palace, and the uber-modern Niterói Contemporary Art Museum.
"Rio is an old city by New World standards, having been founded in the mid–16th century," says architectural photographer Andrew Prokos, who took this shot. "So the city has many layers of architectural styles, from Colonial and Rococo to Art Nouveau, Modernist, Brutalist, and contemporary." In the case of this museum, which was designed by perhaps Brazil's greatest architect, Pritzker Prize winner Oscar Niemeyer, Prokos was intrigued by how the 24-year-old building interacts with its surroundings. "The upward slope of the museum complements the slope of the Pão de Açúcar across the bay," he says, "so the two are speaking to each other from across the water." – Tom Smyth
7. Join the Avengers at Disneyland
This summer, Disney California Adventure unveils its Marvel-themed Avengers Campus, with a new Spider-Man attraction, followed later by an Ant-Man restaurant and a ride through Wakanda. If the hype surrounding last year's debut of Disney+ is any indication, Comic-Con types are going to lose their fanboy (and -girl) minds. —Nicholas DeRenzo
6. Listen to Jazz in Cape Town
Cape Town's natural wonders draw visitors from all over the world, but there's a hidden gem beyond the mountains, beaches, and seas: music. Much as jazz was born from America's diverse peoples, Cape jazz combines the traditions and practices of the city's multiethnic population, creating genres such as goema (named after a type of hand drum) and marabi (a keyboard style that arose in the townships). Cape Town has hosted an International Jazz Festival for
20 years (the 21st edition is this March 27–28), and now UNESCO is giving the Mother City its musical due by naming it the Global Host City of International Jazz Day 2020. The theme of the event—which takes place on April 30, features an All Star Global Concert, and is the climax of Jazz Appreciation Month—is “Tracing the Roots and Routes of African Jazz." During the dark days of slavery and apartheid, music became an outlet through which repressed people could express their struggle for freedom. What better way to mark a quarter century of democracy here than with a celebration of that most free style of music? —Struan Douglas
5. Take a Walk Around England
Many hikers love walking around England—but how many can say that they've truly walked around England? When it's completed, the England Coast Path will be the longest managed seaside trail in the world, completely circumnavigating the coastline, from the fishing villages of Cornwall and the beaches of Nothumberland to the limestone arches of the Jurassic Coast and the sandy dunes of Norfolk. Much of the trail is already waymarked (the 630-mile South West Coast Path is particularly challenging and beautiful), with new legs set to open throughout the year. If you want to cross the whole thing off your bucket list, be warned that it's no walk in the park: At around 2,795 miles, the completed route is 605 miles longer than the Appalachian Trail and about the same as the distance between New York and Los Angeles. —Nicholas DeRenzo
4. Get Refreshed in the Israeli Desert
Six Senses resorts are known for restorative retreats in places like Fiji, Bali, and the Maldives. For its latest location, the wellness-minded brand is heading to a more unexpected locale: the Arava Valley, in the far south of Israel. Opening this spring, the Six Senses Shaharut will offer overnight camel camping, off-roading in the surrounding desert, and restaurants serving food grown in the resort's gardens or sourced from nearby kibbutzim. While the valley is said to be near King Solomon's copper mines, the Six Senses is sure to strike gold. —Nicholas DeRenzo
3. Say konnichiwa on July 24 at the opening ceremonies of the Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo, which plays host for the first time since 1964.
The Japanese capital plays host for the first time since 1964. This year, softball and baseball will return after being absent since 2008, and four new sports—karate, sport climbing, surfing, and skateboarding—will be added to the competition for the first time. Say konnichiwa at the opening ceremonies on July 24, which will be held at renowned architect Kengo Kuma's New National Stadium. – Nicholas DeRenzo
2. Score Tickets to Euro 2020
Still feeling World Cup withdrawal? Get your “football" fix at the UEFA European Championship. From June 12 to July 12, 24 qualifying national teams will play games in stadiums from Bilbao to Baku, culminating in the semi-finals and final at London's hallowed Wembley Stadium. Will World Cup champion France bring home another trophy? Will Cristiano Ronaldo's Portugal repeat its 2016 Euro win? Will the tortured English national team finally get its first title? Or will an upstart—like Greece in 2004—shock the world? —Justin Goldman
1. Soak Up Some Culture in Galway
Galway has long been called “the cultural heart of Ireland," so it's no surprise that this bohemian city on the country's wild west coast was named a 2020 European Capital of Culture (along with Rijeka, Croatia). The title puts a spotlight on the city (population 80,000) and County Galway, where more than 1,900 events will take place throughout the year. Things kick off in February with a seven-night opening ceremony featuring a fiery (literally) choreographed celebration starring a cast of 2,020 singing-and-drumming locals in Eyre Square. “This is a once-in-a-generation chance for Galway," says Paul Fahy, a county native and the artistic director of the Galway International Arts Festival (July 13–26). “It's a huge pressure. There's a heightened sense of expectation from audiences, not just from here but from all over the world." Art lovers will no doubt enjoy Kari Kola's illuminating work Savage Beauty, which will wash the Connemara mountains in green light to coincide with St. Patrick's Day, or the Druid Theatre Company's countywide tour of some of the best 20th-century one-act Irish plays. Visitors would also be wise to explore the rugged beauty of Connemara on a day trip with the charismatic Mairtin Óg Lally of Lally Tours, and to eat their way across town with Galway Food Tours. But beware, says Fahy: “Galway has a reputation as a place people came to 20 years ago for a weekend and never left." —Ellen Carpenter