Thailand has become one of the more popular destinations for South African Tourists. Photo: GoodFreePhotos
Thailand has been one of the top tourist locations in South East Asia for South African travellers, and it is not difficult to figure out why. 

In the beginning of the year, the Tourism Authority of Thailand said that statistics show a 2,49% year-on-year increase of South African travellers visiting Thailand. 

“Most South Africans that have been to Thailand have gone there to explore the beached and soak up the sun however there is so much more to the destination such as its stunning temples and the modern urban sprawl that is Bangkok.” says Theresa Szejwallo, MD of Trafalgar.

“Because we have seen such interest in the cultural side of Thailand and Asia, Trafalgar has for the first time ever released an Asia brochure, featuring top travel choices to Thailand and many other destinations.”

Want to explore Thailand beyond the beach, here are some top tips from Trafalgar:

 Koh Samui

Perhaps better known by backpackers and party seekers, Thailand’s second largest island, Koh Samui is located only 45 minutes by plane from Bangkok.

However, don’t be fooled into thinking that partying is all the island has to offer. The island’s unique offering of things to do and see is not only varied, but also interesting. Travellers can for example discover mummified monks Hin Ta and Hin Yai, better known as the famous grandma and grandpa rocks and waterfalls. 

Some of the most famous sites in Koh Samui are the 12-metre-high gold statue of Big Buddah housed at Wat Phra Yai temple; an 18-arm image of Guanyin - the Goddess of Mercy at Wat Plai Laem and the mummified body of Samui's most famous monk, Luang Pordaeng.

For nature-lovers, Ang Thong Marine National Park is the place to be. While it is not really a park but rather an archipelago consisting of 42 islands, Ang Thong creates a protected area for exotic wildlife and sea life. 

Some key facts:

Wondering why Luang Pordaeng’s mummified remains are on display? Well, it was Pordaeng himself who requested that his body be placed in a glass case for posterity.
If you donate some money to the Wat Phra Yai temple you will be given a bag of food to feed the fish in the lake.

Bangkok

Fact – it is definitely worth exploring Thailand’s capital city of Bangkok for more than just a few hours. 

If it is your first visit to Thailand and Bangkok, a visit to the Grand Palace is a must.  The stunning architecture and intricate detail will leave you in awe. 

Exploration is sure to leave you hungry and thirsty. Forget the restaurants and head to Chinatown’s old market instead. You will not only find some of the city's best tasting and most reasonably priced fare, but also some interesting menu choices. Peking duck, birds nest soup, roasted chestnuts and more awaits you. 
For a real sense of Thailand’s history and culture, head out on a Khlong Tour. Here you will still find people living in stilted shacks, wooden townhouses and lean-tos.

Fast facts:

Did you know that Bankok’s full name is actually Krungthepmahanakhon Amonrattanakosin Mahintharayutthaya Mahadilokphop Noppharatratchathaniburirom Udomratchaniwetmahasathan Amonphimanawatansathit Sakkathattiyawitsanukamprasit? It means “City of Angels, Great City of Immortals, Magnificent City of the Nine Gems, Seat of the King, City of Royal Palaces, Home of Gods Incarnate, Erected by Visvakarman at Indra’s Behest.
Bangkok is home to Thailand’s tallest building, the Baiyoke Tower II. It is the world's 80th tallest building at 304 metres.

Phuket

         The water theme park in Phuket. Photo: Supplied

You might be surprised that Phuket’s greatest advantage is not its beautiful beaches. As a matter of fact, there is much more to this Thai destination.

For breath-taking scenery, head out to Phang Nga via a cruise on a Chinese junk or even a canoe and explore the ‘Hongs’ or enclosed lagoons. Just keep in mind that operators generally follow strict rules to respect the surrounding nature and no loud talking, smoking or touching the natural surroundings is allowed on trips.

For a taste of the ‘real’ Phuket head to the Old Town where you will find street markets, small cafes, bakeries and eateries as well as beautiful little shop houses. It will be well worth your while to spend at least half a day on the Old Town.

Phuket is also home to Phuket Fantasea, an entertainment park located in Kamala Beach. Think bright, colourful, fun fair and shopping. Truly amazing are the onstage performances by dancers, actors and actors and beautiful Thai elephants. 

Fast facts

Not too long ago, Patong Beach was a remote village and today it’s one of Phuket’s most developed beaches.
 One of the most famous attractions in Phuket is the Phuket Big Buddha, a 45-metre-tall white marble statue, located on a hill top that offers stunning views over the south side of the island.
Phuket is paradise for the adventure-lover offering many outdoor activities such as snorkeling, scuba diving, parasailing, cave exploration, trekking and more.