Phi Phi Islands (270408)
Credit: Cyril Josh Barker photos

Thailand, known as the “Land of Smiles,” is not only one of Asia’s most interesting countries to vacation in but also one of the most affordable. With a generous exchange rate, decent inexpensive hotels, beautiful sights and culture, the Southeast Asian nation should be on every world traveler’s bucket list.

I recently went on an eight-day journey to Thailand with a group friends for our “Fall Escape,” in which we annually visit an international destination. I was able to get a great flight and great hotels. We visited Bangkok and Phuket, splitting our time between the two.

Getting there

Several airlines provide great flights to Thailand; however, there are few, if any, carriers in America with direct flights. The more than 8,600-mile flight can take up to 24 hours, depending on your carrier, so you want to make sure you have a comfortable journey. I used and would recommend Chinese-based Cathay Pacific for my trip. Buying my economy-class ticket about eight months before my trip, I was able to get an affordable rate. Cathay Pacific offers comfortable seats in economy class, along with Wi-Fi and entertainment screens at every seat and some great meal options. My flight from Newark to Bangkok was a total of 18 hours, including a short layover in Hong Kong.

Where to stay

Thailand has a several affordable hotels with four- and five-star ratings. In Bangkok, I stayed at the Park Century Hotel. The four-star, 24-story hotel is around $60 to $70 a night, with spectacular views of the city, and is near public transportation, shopping and food options. The hotel includes wonderful restaurants, bars and cafes. However, the crown jewel of the hotel is the rooftop pool, which serves a relaxing escape from the hustle and bustle of Bangkok.

In Phuket, high-quality affordable hotels are near and on the islands beautiful beaches. I stayed at the Burasari Phuket Hotel, just one block away from Patong Beach. The hotel will run you approximately $100 a night and includes updated, stylish rooms. Some rooms are adjacent to the hotel’s pools, allowing guests to swim out or lounge poolside. Capturing Thailand’s rich culture in its decor, Burasari is just a short walk from food, shopping and access to popular excursions.

What to do

With only three seasons per year, hot, rainy and cool, travelers can expect warm weather on their trips, leaving options for several Thailand must-dos. During my trip, I toured Buddhist temples, including the Temple of Emerald Buddha (known as Wat Phra Kaew) and the Temple of the Reclining Buddha (known as Wat Pho). Our tours also included stops at Bangkok’s Chinatown, Flower Market and the Grand Palace.

While there are a number of great restaurants, I was able to sample some of the country’s fascinating cuisine, including the popular Pad Thai dish, which features fried noodles, chicken, tofu, vegetables and roasted peanuts. Although you are warned that you sample at your own risk, I also took in some of the street food options, including chicken and pork.

In Phuket, I went on a daylong excursion with my group to the Phi Phi Islands via speedboat. We stopped at several isolated islands, seeing beautiful flora and fauna even taking in some swimming and snorkeling in the area’s sparkling blue tropical waters. Also in Phuket, I took in some jet skiing and parasailing near the beach.

Shopping

Taking advantage of Thailand’s exchange rate was the highlight of my trip. Any Americans coming to Thailand can make their money stretch by visiting the numerous shopping options. The most popular places to shop are the outdoor night and weekend markets, where vendors sell clothes, jewelry, leather goods and souvenirs. In Bangkok, shoppers will enjoy the floating markets, where tourists can get deals and steals from a boat along the Chao Phraya River. However, my go-to shopping destination was the Chatuchak Weekend Market, Thailand’s largest. The market features more than 15,000 stalls divided into 27 sections. More than one visit will be necessary.

All in all, travelers looking for a memorable vacation to Asia must put Thailand on their bucket lists. With warm weather all year-round, great deals on flights and affordable top-rated accommodations, a great trip is almost always in season.