Sipping coffee in the dining car, windows down, the sun breaking through the morning mist as the ‘Jungle Express’ from Bangkok to Chiang Mai trundles through the mountains of North Thailand. This is the epitome of sabai sabai. It’s quicker to fly between Bangkok and Chiang Mai, but speed isn’t everything. Sometimes the journey is as important as the destination. And that’s a philosophy at the heart of slow travel.
The Thai phrase sabai sabai aptly sums up the joy of slow travel in Thailand. The word sabai translates as comfortable. Used twice for emphasis it can equate to saying ‘life is good’.
What is slow travel?
Slow travel can be defined in several ways. It’s a more meaningful way to travel. It can also mean a more sustainable way to travel. And even if you only have two weeks in Thailand you can still enjoy the benefits of slow travel. By simply spending more time in one destination instead of trying to cram too much into your itinerary, you are immediately embracing one of the tenets of slow travel.
Slow travel helps us look inwardly. It’s about experiencing a destination beyond Instagram and the carefully curated images of the so-called ‘influencers’ where the outfit they wear is more important to them than who they meet. Slow travel means having more meaningful connections with local people.
Get off the tourist trail
It’s understandable that if you are visiting Thailand for the first time and only have two weeks for your holiday, you want to see and do as much as possible in that time. But even on a short holiday, you can spend some time enjoying the benefits of slow travel.
In amongst your sightseeing trips, try to spend an afternoon or a day where you don’t have a fixed itinerary. Walk around the local neighbourhood where you are staying. Eat lunch at a simple, family-run restaurant. Try practising a few words in Thai. Buy some of those strange fruits and snacks you see Thai people ordering from street vendors. How often do you get a chance to eat durian, sample green mango with chilli or taste ice cream in a bun? You might not like everything you try, but the interactions with the vendors can be sanuk and you may find a new favourite dish.
For repeat visitors, consider venturing away from the main tourist destinations even if it’s only for a short trip. From Phuket, you could take the boat across to Ko Yao Noi or Ko Yao Yai for a few days. In Chiang Mai, consider spending a weekend in Lampang or head out into the mountains of Mae Hong Son.
Enjoy some of Thailand’s most scenic destinations by bicycle. Go trekking in the mountains of the north. Travel on a slow train and forget about your social media feed. Take in the views, chat with your fellow passengers. Enjoy the hubbub of food vendors boarding the carriage, see the pride of the railway employees in their crisp uniforms, and experience a side of Thailand you don’t see when you fly.
To help inspire repeat visitors to try new destinations in addition to old favourites, Fan Club Thailand is putting together a series of Itinerary Ideas. These itineraries represent a cross-section of destinations from different regions of the country to highlight the diversity of Thailand. You can also check out more ideas for where to go here:
- Itinerary ideas for repeat visitors
- Meaningful travel: Discover another side of Thailand
- Travel off the beaten track and experience ‘Unseen Thailand’
You don’t need to spend weeks or months in Thailand to enjoy slow travel. Simply spending more time in one destination is an easy way to embrace the slow travel ethos. Instead of trying to cram four or five different destinations into a two-week holiday, settle for one or two. Taking time to linger longer can result in a more relaxing and more immersive travel experience.
If you’ve spent an extended time in Thailand, you’ll already know that punctuality is flexible. While this can sometimes be frustrating, it can also be liberating when you stop being obsessed with time. The Thai mai pen rai attitude is conducive to slow travel; go with the flow and you may find the world a better place when you take time to notice the small things and don’t worry about stuff that is out of your control.
Travel with an open mind and be open to meeting new people and experiencing different cultures. Thailand is a special destination for so many reasons: fabulous food, dazzling beaches, historic sites, and incredible culture to name just a few. But it is the Thai people who make Thailand truly amazing. The welcoming wais from the hotel staff, the smiles of the fruit vendor, the cheery banter of the taxi driver. There is a reason why so many travellers return to Thailand year after year. Amazing Thailand: it begins with the people.