The message they want to get out is: It’s safe to travel to Thailand.

WITH THAILAND BEING such a popular traveler’s destination, it might seem strange to suggest that they’re worrying about a decrease of tourists. But that is the reality as visitors have shied from traveling there due to the recent political crisis and last year’s economic downturn.

From July 12 – 19, I was a guest of the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT), as part of what they called the “Thailand Today” Mega Fam* trip. I was actually only one of 500 writers, bloggers, and PR media in attendance. In addition to addressing the political situation, the event was held to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the TAT and Thai Airways International, both founded in 1960.

The trip started with a massive welcome dinner at which there was entertainment and a speech from the Thai Minister of Tourism and Sports, Mr. Chumphol Silpa-archa. The overriding message of the night, iterated a few times throughout, was summed up by TAT Governor Mr. Suraphon Svetasreni:

We want to show the world that our country has returned to normal and is safe for visitors.

And from what I saw during my week there, that sentiment is pretty accurate. Not just in the hospitality and friendliness of the hosts at each of our accommodations and activities, but from the Thai people on the street, in the markets, and in the rice paddies.

*Fam = Familiarization

1

Wat Pho chanting monks

We arrived at the temple early enough to watch and listen to a group of monks doing their Morning Chanting routine.

2

Entertainment at the Grand Centara Hotel

Entertainment during the welcome dinner at the Centara Grand Hotel included traditional Thai dancing.

3

Lebua at State Tower view, Bangkok

During our three-night stay in Bangkok, we were put up in the swanky Lebua at State Tower hotel. This was the view from the balcony of my 54th-floor room.

4

Wat Pho buddha statues

In Wat Pho -- known to locals as Wat Phra Chetuphon. This temple is famous for the 46-meter-long, gold-plated Reclining Buddha statue.

5

Transplanting rice

After our guide spoke with these locals who were transplanting rice, we rolled up our pants, took our shoes off, and stepped in. The ground was warm, soft, and muddy. I sank to my ankles. We helped them with the work; it was one of my favourite experiences on the trip.

6

Chiang Mai iced tea vendor

A street vendor mixes up a sweet iced tea. This particular one was so sweet, it found its way into the rubbish bin.

7

Gold leaf factory

There's a good reason these guys are ripped. Those hammers are very heavy; I lifted one myself. They are making gold-leaf by smashing little bits of gold placed within the pages of those books. They bounce rhythmically on the springy chairs, using the momentum and their weight. We visited this factory as part of our cycling tour of Thon Buri -- the old capital of Thailand.

8

Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

According to our guide, Thailand is 95% Buddhist. In Chiang Mai province, the number is 97% and there are 1,200 temples.

9

Fried winged ants

At a street market in Chiang Mai. We stopped to sample some of the insect goodies.

10

Eating a bamboo worm

This was my first time eating an insect. Just to report, not everything tastes like chicken.

11

Lunchtime

Lunch time at the street market.

12

Chased by kids

On our ox cart ride from the Lisu Lodge, we passed these boys. They ran after us, trying to score a free ride.

13

Lisu shaman

The Lisu are one of the hill tribes in Northern Thailand. We had an opportunity to sit down with the village shaman and, through an interpreter, ask him questions.

14

Riding elephants in Mae Taeng

We were taken on an hour-long elephant tour along the Mae Taeng river. Here our elephant was reaching his trunk back for a banana, which we happily obliged.

15

Thai cooking class

At the Khum Lanna lodge we were given a lesson in preparing and cooking four Thai dishes. Then we ate them for dinner. Pictured here are Ted Beatie and Angela Dollar, trying not to cut their fingers off.

16

Cycling in northern Thailand

This was our guide -- Rachet -- leading us through villages, markets, and rice fields in Northern Thailand.

17

Massage at Khum Lanna

Back at Khum Lanna lodge, before we left for the airport to begin our long journey back to the U.S., we were offered one last massage. We didn't say no.

18

Rarinjinda Spa in the Grand Centre Point Hotel

On arrival, we were treated to a massage at the Rarinjinda Wellness Spa in the Grand Centre Point Hotel. Pictured above are the foot baths where our feet were washed before heading into the rooms.