Where to go for the holidays? Bangkok is a travel hub for the region and getting away is a snap. But then again, maybe it’s better to stay home.
Judging by the traffic jam heading towards Hua Hin around the thirtieth of December every year, it is clearly evident that most Bangkokians like to get away for New Year.
Hua Hin is usually one of the most popular getaway destinations. If you are thinking of driving down there at the very end of December this year, be prepared — the journey could take you from six to eight hours! Yes, there are that many people who want to get away from Bangkok in search of fresh air and some fun at the beach.
For the past ten years, I have spent many New Year holidays in Hua Hin just like most Bangkokians. However, it has become more and more difficult to get hotel accommodation in recent years since Hua Hin has become a prominent international tourist destination. For the first time in 10 years, I was unable to get accommodation this year. Should you wish to spend New Year's Eve in Hua Hin like many Thais, I would suggest you book your accommodation six months to one year in advance.
Apart from Hua Hin, there are more destinations worthy of a trip. Khao Yai, with its mountainous scenery and cool air, has always been very popular with many Bangkokians, but luxury accommodation has been rather limited. The recent opening of the luxurious resort Kirimaya, Khao Yai has changed all that, and will undoubtedly become another sought-after destination.
If you are willing to go further afield from Bangkok, I would highly recommend a short stay in Loei, the wine-producing region of Thailand. Loei is about 520 kilometres from Bangkok. With its high hills and mountains, it is one of very few provinces in Thailand where the temperature can reach zero degrees Celsius. During late December, you can easily find yourself in need of a log fire in your room. The vineyard at Chateau de Loei is definitely worth visiting. Loei is relatively easy to get to. Bangkok Airways flies there three times a week, or you can fly to Khon Kaen with Thai Airways and then hire a car for the drive, which takes roughly two hours.
Koh Chang, the second-largest island in Thailand after Phuket, is another attractive place to consider. Koh Chang is situated in the Koh Chang National Marine Park, and the infrastructure of the place is well developed to support visitors with all tastes and budgets. Bangkok Airways flies direct to the nearby city of Trat, or alternatively you can drive there; it takes about four and half hours (approximately 300 kilometres) to get to Trat, and there is an additional car ferry ride that takes about half an hour.
European cities are usually wonderful places to go to over Christmas and New Year; however, they are a long way away and expensive to get to. If you don't want to go too far, there are plenty of fun destinations in Asia.
In my opinion, among some of the best places in Asia to visit during New Year holidays are:
Siem Reap — I think it is terribly romantic to spend New Year's Eve amidst the spectacular temples in Angkor. Bangkok Airways flies direct to Siem Reap where all the magnificent temples are located. It is barely an hour away from Bangkok. Furthermore, there are now numerous luxury resorts offering five-star accommodation.
Guilin — Guilin has been described by many as heaven on earth. Its famous picturesque limestone peaks have inspired many Chinese painters and poets over the centuries.
Luang Prabang — Situated on the banks of Mekong River, Luang Prabang is the ancient capital of Laos. The city, with its ample Buddhist temples and colonial-style mansions, can be explored easily on foot.
Bali — Bali province, comprising eight regions, has an enormous number of hotels and resort ranging from comfortable to super luxurious. It is a very popular New Year destination for many Asian visitors. Owing to competition among the many hotels there, prices can often be very reasonable, indeed some much cheaper than those in Hua Hin.
Or should you decide to stay put in Bangkok, you will have the traffic-free roads and streets to look forward to. Traditionally, the major hotels in the capital all offer magnificent fireworks displays. The best place to view all the fireworks is Sirocco restaurant.
My all-time favourite place to be on holiday is Bangkok, especially when everyone else has left. Over the New Year holidays, I have a suggestion that should be whispered between myself and anyone reading this column: stay home. Don’t let too many people know about it. They might get the same idea and ruin it for those of us who have caught on.
Bangkok is a beautiful place to be during the holidays. Traffic is light. The shopping malls aren’t packed. And, especially at this time of year, it’s nice to walk around. I actually make it a point to have dinner outside at a riverside restaurant. That seems a terribly touristy thing to do, but Bangkok is one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations. If those of us who live here don’t enjoy it, who will?
So for the holidays this year, why not stay in Bangkok? This doesn’t mean you can’t leave home. Many local hotels offer New Year’s Eve packages that are enticing merely because one needn’t drive or fly for hours before getting there. And, with the money you will have saved by not travelling far, indulge in some good meals.
If you are feeling really decadent, have a car from the hotel pick you up. Get someone else to carry your bags up to the room and then go down to the lounge and order yourself a hopelessly complicated cocktail that you could never mix at home. Have a good dinner. In fact, eat and drink to your heart’s content. If you find you’ve had a little too much, you know you can get home safely because it’s just up the lift, down the hall and into bed. If you can’t even manage that (and often some of us can’t) the hotel staff is probably happy to help you up.
But it isn’t necessary to leave home at all if you’re someone who likes sleeping in your own bed. One should simply indulge in the luxury of doing something one never gets to do because daily life consumes the day.
When I have time, as I do during the holidays, I make it a point to attend to my spiritual well-being at a temple I normally can’t get to because of traffic. I have several favourite temples where I’ll perform sanghadhana (pronounced sangkhathan in Thai). I go just as much for the beauty of the temples as I do the merit-making exercise. Of course, there are the touristy temples like the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, Wat Po and Wat Banjamaborpit, but my favourite temple in Bangkok is a bit more obscure.
Wat Somanasviharn is on the edge of the old part of Bangkok. The walls of the ubosot, or ordination hall, are painted with a depiction of the Buddha’s life but with everyone in Victorian dress. The paintings are not in great condition and it might be a good idea to see them while you can. Nevertheless, this temple has a special place in my heart because I am a Thai who is more comfortable in western clothing.
Something I always do at the end of the year is pay my respects to the Erawan shrine. While there are those who see this as a tourist stop, I am a great devotee of the god Brahma. In times of distress, I have prayed to Him and everything I have ever asked for has come to pass, often miraculously.
But holidays are not all holy days. I love to go window shopping in River City. Even if shops are closed, I still take great pleasure just looking in the windows and seeing something beautiful. This is probably the only time of year I enjoy walking outside, so markets like Chatuchak or traditional shopping districts like Sampheng and Pahurat are also great fun. Go in the early afternoon and then take the river taxi to The Oriental for some high tea.
I am not ashamed to say that I’ve reached the age where partying all night is not at the top of my priorities. Looking and feeling rested are. So I tend to celebrate New Year’s Day more than New Year’s Eve. The best thing to do nowadays is to wake up, get dressed at a leisurely pace and then pig out at a hotel buffet.
08/12/2011 - 12:39