It looks like more and more Filipinos are traveling to Thailand these days. “MNL-DMK (Ninoy Aquino International Airport to Don Mueang International Airport) now ranks number 1 in the list of preferred international destinations of AirAsia guests,” Ricardo ‘Ricky’ Isla, CEO of Air Asia in the Philippines, told media recently.
“The load factor [percentage of available seating capacity that has been filled with passengers] for MNL-DMK of AirAsia was at a high 84% and 80% in October and November, surpassing the Q4 average monthly load factor for international routes which is 71%,” he added.
AirAsia Philippines has in fact increased its flight frequency to Bangkok via DMK to 11 times weekly in November—“twice every Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Saturday—to accommodate the fast-growing Filipino foot traffic to Thailand.”
The low-cost airline is pushing this demand further by offering a one-way base fare of Php1,612 to Bangkok for bookings until January 8, 2023. Likewise, a one-way base fare of ฿1,173 is also offered for DMK-MNL bookings for travels until June 30, 2023.
Meanwhile, Tanes Petsuwan—TAT Deputy Governor for International Marketing Asia and South Pacific—encourages tourists to travel during the weekday to decongest and reduce environmental and cultural wear and tear as the country promotes a more sustainable tourism ecosystem.
ANCX was invited to tour Bangkok and Pattaya recently and here are reasons why your next trip should take you to Asia’s Land of Smiles.
1 You are guaranteed a healing massage
Thailand didn’t earn its reputation as the Spa Capital of Asia for no reason. The country’s spa history dates back to 2500 years ago, which could only mean its expertise runs deep. Air Asia and TAT brought us to the Divana Scentuara Spa in Bangkok, which turned out to be a great place to start our short but sweet wellness journey. The spa is inside a modest-looking 90-year-old Thai house with a beautiful garden. What makes it a cut above the rest are the expert hands of its therapists. This writer came in with wrist pain (a result of regularly working on the laptop), and it was gone after the two-hour session. The therapist responds well to feedback, which made for a satisfying experience. The relaxing treatment ended with a light snack comprised of a scone, fruits, and warm tea. Divana has branches all over Bangkok and offers a variety of detoxifying, anti-stress massages and skin treatments.
2 There’s always an awesome temple you haven’t seen
There are over 40,000 Buddhist temples (called “wats”) all over Thailand (95 percent of the people in this country are Buddhists). That should inspire you to check out a few of them and learn more about this philosophical tradition. It’s also always a treat to just marvel at these temples’ magnificent architecture.
We visited Wat Suthat Thepwararam, one of the oldest temples in Thailand, built between 1807 and 1847 under the instruction of King Rama I. This royal temple holds the statue of the 25-foot-tall Phra Sri Sakyamuni Buddha. Right by the entrance is the 20-meter-high red giant swing, which was used in annual Brahmanic ceremonies. History has it that young men would try to outswing each other here in order to grab a bag of gold coins. But after a number of fatal accidents, this practiced was disallowed in the 1930s.
We also went to Wat Arun Ratchawararam Ratchawaramahawihan or Wat Arun (“Temple of Dawn”), which sits on the west bank of the Chao Phraya River. Although the temple had existed since at least the 17th century, its distinctive prang (spires) were built in the early nineteenth century during the reign of King Rama II.
The Sanctuary of Truth, one of the popular landmarks in Pattaya City, is the largest wooden castle in the world. The 40-year-old museum was the brainchild of the late Thai millionaire Lek Viriyaphan. The construction of this remarkable structure started in 1981, and continues to this day. “It’s a never-ending construction because from time to time we have to restore and reconstruct the old parts,” says Loren Sim, a Filipina who works with the museum’s marketing team. Everything from top to bottom is manually carved and made of hardwood. The museum currently has 200 carvers who come from different countries like China, Korea, and the Philippines.
But more than just a physical structure to admire, the museum also seeks to guide its guests in finding answers to life’s great questions: “Who are we?” “Where are we from?” “How do we survive?” “What is our life purpose?” The answers—or the Seven Truths of Life—are exhibited thru the wooden sculptures that can be seen all over the castle.
We also got to visit the Khon Mask Museum, which is a noteworthy effort of Kampon Tansacha—owner of Nongnooch Tropical Botanical Garden—to preserve traditional Thai culture. Housed in this museum are hundreds of masks (a mix of ancient ones, those related to Thai beliefs, and characters of Ramakien, Thai’s version of the popular Asian epic, Ramayana). Not only do guests get to see a wide variety of stunning masks on display but also how they are made.
Our tour guide Net tells us the performers themselves make these masks. Before, the traditional dance-drama was only performed in royal courts, but now even ordinary folks are allowed to see the show. “The K-Pop, Japanese, and Western culture are having a huge impact on the Thai people. So this is one way to preserve the Thai tradition,” says Net.
Reminder: Wear culturally appropriate clothing on your visits to the temples and the Sanctuary of Truth. Crop tops, sleeveless shirts, short pants, and see-thru clothes are not allowed. You may add a sarong if you wish to wear a pair of shorts.
3 You can explore its rich culinary tradition by just going to one place
If you want to have an overview of Thailand’s vibrant food scene, one way to do it is by going on a gastronomic adventure at the Sook Siam food court. It’s located at the ground floor of Bangkok’s Iconsiam, one of the largest shopping malls in Asia. Imagine food from 77 provinces across Thailand spread in a 15,000 square meter space. It’s likely got all the Thai food you’d like to sample—from traditional to trendy, seafoods and meats, fruits and desserts and beverages. We even saw a stall selling exotic foods like fried crickets, worms, and scorpions. They also tried to recreate the floating market atmosphere.
If you want to combine dining and sightseeing in the city, an option would be to take the Thai Bus Food Tour. Local fare is served in a luxe double-decker bus as you get acquainted with famous tourist attractions around Bangkok. They have four different timeslots: lunch (11:30AM to 1PM); afternoon tea (2PM to 3:30PM); dinner at 5PM to 7PM; and after dinner (7:30PM to 9PM), each with its own menu.
We tried the dinner menu comprised of a welcome drink, appetizer (crispy rice crackers with peanut sauce), soup (Chinese rolled noodles soup with crispy pork), a main course (chicken Massaman curry with Jasmine rice and stir-fried Thai noodles with shrimp), dessert (sticky rice with mango) and hot tea. The set meals range from 1490 THB to 1,890 THB. Check out this link for promo offers.
Pattaya prides itself for having the freshest seafoods. And that’s the first thing we got our hands on upon arrival in this coastal city. We had dinner at Shell Tangkay Seafood, whose scenic view would give you “Hometown Cha-cha-cha” vibes. We helped ourselves to some stir-fried crabs with curry powder, oyster omelet, stir-fried crayfish with garlic and pepper, tom yum, and fried rice with crab meat.
We dined too at The Sky Gallery, a beachside restaurant also in Pattaya. Best to go before dusk so you can catch the sunset, then have some cocktails after a hearty Thai dinner. We enjoyed the deep-fried crispy seabass fillet which is eaten like a lettuce wrap, along with nuts, lime and herbs, and a spicy dip. The deep-fried shrimp cake is also a winner in our book.
At 609 Kitchen in Renaissance Pattaya Resort & Spa, we thoroughly enjoyed everything they served. Their Seafood Spicy Salad (Yum Talay), Tom Kha Gai (chicken in coconut milk soup), Sea Bass Fillet in Thick Curry Sauce Served with Jasmine Rice (Pa-Naeng Pla), Mango Sticky Rice + Mixed Fruit Salad, and Pineapple Basil Frappe are definitely worth coming back to.
Meanwhile, we’d remember The Neverending Summer in Bangkok for its Som Tum Ta Lay (seafood papaya salad), Pla Ga Pong Tod Sam Tod (fried whole barramundi with pineapple and sweet chili sauce), and Tom Kha Kai (Thai Coconut Soup with Chicken).
If you’re on the lookout for decadent desserts, head over to The Chocolate Factory in Bangkok, which offers a wide array of chocolates, cakes, and other baked goodies. It also has plenty of options if you’re buying pasalubong.
4 See an epic view of the city atop one of Thailand’s tallest skyscrapers
The King Power Mahanakhon is an impressive attraction that’s got to be in a tourist’s bucket list when he or she visits Bangkok. Just riding the themed elevators was a treat in itself. But wait till you get to the outdoor observation deck—the highest in the country—at 314 meters above ground level. We were there in the evening and the view with all the glittering lights was simply breathtaking. If you don’t have a fear of heights, one activity you could do is have your photo taken on the glass floor (called the Glass Tray) at 310 meters from the 78th floor while marveling at the beautiful skyline below. To book your tickets, check this link.
5 Bring the family to amazing theme parks
Pattaya is poising itself to become the go-to family destination in Thailand with its range of theme parks. Deputy Mayor of Pattaya Titipun Pettrakul talked about Columbia Pictures Aquaverse (a movie theme park) and Ramayana Water Park during the press conference.
One we’re able to check out on our visit was Nongnooch Tropical Botanical Garden (NNTBG). It’s definitely not your average ordinary garden. It’s 655 acres of thousands of plant varieties—exotic palms, cycads, trees, shrubs, and vines collected from all over the world—plus an amazing pottery garden.
Also inside NNTBG is a Dinosaur Valley filled with 420 life-sized replicas of dinosaurs. At the garden, visitors may watch the cultural show (at 10:30AM) and elephant show (1:30PM), ride an elephant or a bike, sail a boat, or walk on its skyway to see the whole expanse of the garden. Entrance fee is 500THB for adults and 400THB for kids. An overnight stay for two, inclusive of breakfast and entrance to the garden, can set you back 2,800 THB. For more information, visit their website.
Should your family decide to check in at the newly opened Grande Centre Point Space Pattaya, Thailand’s first space-themed hotel, that gives you access to the use of its 12,000 square meter Space Water Park. It’s divided into four themed zones: Mountain Zone, which features a lazy river, cave pool and jungle jacuzzi; Flying Rock Zone, which has giant slides and a playground; Space Pirate Beach, which is an artificial white sand beach with wave; and Planet Zone, which has a mini golf, a planet pool and an amphitheatre.
6 See unique crafts from all over Thailand in one place
If you decide to go shopping at Bangkok’s Iconsiam, do check out the 4th and 5th levels, which are spaces dedicated to the best Thai crafts. It’s a good place to find souvenir items—from bags to jewelry, Thai fabric and perfume, to a variety of home knickknacks. There is place for coffee lovers, too—a zone on the 4th floor gathers coffee beans from 13 mountains all over Thailand.
7 Enjoy unique coffee experiences
Over the last few years, the café industry in Thailand has started to boom, observes Wipaporn Waleesajjakarn, marketing officer of Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT). The Land of Smiles has been coming up with unique coffee concepts, like Floral Café at Napasorn, a quaint café located at the main road of the Bangkok Flower Market. The place looks dreamy, with the stunning flower arrangement and other quirky knickknacks that adorn the space. They serve a wide variety of coffees, teas, and other beverages, plus a selection of cakes. If you must choose only one cake, we recommend the carrot cake—it’s one of the best we’ve ever tasted. If you’re up to it, you can even learn to create your own garland, which you can offer later when you visit any of the temples.
Waleesajjakarn shares with ANCX a shortlist of other must-visit cafés in Thailand:
• Divana Signature Café at the Level 2 of Central World in Bangkok.
• Veganerie which can be found several locations.
• Mother Roaster Talad Noi which has branches in Talad Noi, Pratu Phi, and Sutthisan
• Patom Organic Café in Klongtan-Neur, Wattana, Bangkok. They also have an organic farm, village, café and shop in Nakorn Pathom.
AirAsia is offering a one-way base fare of P1,612 to Bangkok for bookings until 8 January 2023. For updates on flight schedules and travel protocols, visit the airasia flysafe page
AirAsia Philippines. Guests flying to Bangkok may book via the airasia website or the airasia Super App.
Photographs taken using Fujifilm X-S10