Travel

Why the land of smiles will steal your heart…

Words by Nisbah Hussain

Thailand conjures up many images: sandy white beaches, culinary delights and an abundance of temples, but for Muslims the association with Thailand is sometimes less positive. Having spoken with fellow Muslim travellers, we often hear comments focusing on sun-seekers, parties, unfriendly family places and alcohol. The aim of our travels has always been to inspire other families to seek adventures and where possible to highlight the wonder in each destination we visit. In 2015 we spent several weeks in Thailand exploring, tasting and playing in a country which has such incredible variety that it is a shame it is often overlooked.

Thailand was our first long-haul with allthree little adventurers in tow and the highlight for us all was the time we spent inChiang Mai. I remember as we approached the landing strip at Chiang Mai airport, Ilooked out of the window and all I could see was thick, lush jungle in every direction; it felt like we were set for a real adventure.

Cultural activities

The hotel offered varied activities which were really different to those which we’d experienced in other hotel stays. The activities that really stood out for us were the opportunity to plant rice, yoga for adults and children, giving alms to the monks in the morning and a cultural tour of the local area.

The cultural tour was surprisingly great for families as our guide, Sirikanya, shared fun and factual information about Thai culture and traditions. It was lovely to have a real in-depth conversation with someone from the country we were visiting, as one of the reasons we travel is to educate and show our little adventurers about all the differing cultures in the world.

My personal highlight from our trip to Thailand was rice planting. We dressed in traditional farmer outfits and being in costume really brought the experience to life for our little adventurers. The hotel grounds are home to several rice fields, with the rice grown donated to local orphanages. We walked across the boundary edges to the rice fields and I was instantly taken back to our family’s crop fields in Pakistan and walking on similar field pathways as a little girl. The fact I never actually had any idea where or how rice was grown highlighted that it’s a great
learning experience for all those involved. The initial step into the rice fields will see you knee deep in water (in the case of our youngest it was abdomen-deep!). The farmer has a bunch of rice plants to bed into the water and tasked us to complete the field.

I loved that the children got stuck right in without any inhibitions or worry and started beavering away the task. We then learnt how to play traditional Lanna instruments and learnt the traditional art of lotus flower folding.

Inspiring accommodation choices

We spent our entire stay in Chang Mai in the exquisite and trulyluxurious Dhara Dhevi Hotel, and it enhanced our stay in so many ways. The hotel is designed as a standalone resort,
and yet is only 10 minutes via taxi to the heart of Chiang Mai. Our accommodation was in a twin villa which easily accommodated our extended family group of seven, and between the two buildings we had our own pool. The attention to detail in the décor both inside the villas and outside the vast grounds was unbelievable. As we drove around the grounds,we saw that every effort had been made to bring traditionalThai culture to life through the hotel. From the Nagas on the entrances, to each villa representing part of the Northern Thai culture and history, it was a great way of experiencing different aspects of the unique culture.

Family friendly activities in Chiang Mai

We loved exploring Chiang Mai and found the city to be incredible for family-focused activities, many of which are unique to the area. For animal lovers, a visit to the Elephant Sanctuary is a must. Seeing animals in the wild is an incredible experience and
the work done by the Elephant Sanctuary is inspiring. Bathing elephants should be on everyone’s bucket list! The image of seeing your children full of mud and smiling as they play with the elephants will stay with you forever! For adventurous teens, ziplining though the Thai rainforests will definitely get their adrenaline pumping. The jungles in the area are stunning, and the ziplines go through some amazing scenery, are super quick and lots of fun which will see even the most bored teen having a great time.

The two highlights of the trip for us were some of the coolest activities we have experienced anywhere in the world. The first was the Art in Paradise Museum. We spent hours inside the museum which is an interactive art gallery and it is THE way to get children excited about art. The images are optical illusions and visitors are able to become the stars of the images. It was great fun for everyone. The second and possibly the quirkiest attraction we have ever visited was the Poo Poo Paper Factory. The elephant population in Chiang Mai is vast, so a company decided to use the elephant poo in a sustainable way and produce paper with it! The attraction is small but the staff are amazing and led a tour with us through the factory, showing how elephant poo is transformed into paper. Our little adventurers were captivated. Is there anything more fun than talking about poo for a few hours?

So why should Thailand be next on your list?

Thailand is called the Land of Smiles, and you will be met at every corner with beaming faces. From the stall holders to locals you meet in the street, the country is full of smiling, pleasant people, who make it a real delight to explore with children. Aside from the initial flights to Thailand, once you are there the country is really affordable, especially when compared to the likes of Singapore. It is also incredibly cheap to fly around. We flew from Bangkok to Chang Mai for under £10 each, so you can see lots of the country very cheaply and within a few weeks. What I loved most is that whichever destination you choose in Thailand, you will be spoilt for choice with the activities to do as a family. The choices really are endless and often incredibly cool and unique.

Behind the scenes over the last few years, the Thai tourist board have made a concerted effort to attract the Muslim community and have succeeded. It is estimated the number of Muslim travellers has surged from around 25 million a year in 2000 to 117 million in 2015. The needs of Muslim travellers are also a great focus of the country, as the number of halal certified prod-ucts made in Thailand has gone from 10,000 to 160,000, with new eateries and hotels cateringfor the needs of Muslim travellers opening all thetime. During our time in Thailand, we danced in the monsoon rains, became rice farmers, stood in the feet of ancient temples, watched poo beingmade into paper, had massages every day andmade memories which will forever be forged into our memories.

Find out more about Nisbah Hussain at Five Adventurers

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