When Thailand felt like a movie
Updated: Mar 21
Emblematic of southeast Asia's wonders, Thailand is one of the most colorful countries I had the chance to travel to. Through always-changing landscapes and cities, endless nuances mix together to create stunning sights to see, and sometimes make you feel as if you're walking the scenes of a movie. As individuals always in search of a perfect picture and shot-worthy adventure, we often forget to appreciate a place for the feelings and atmosphere it conveys. Whether it lies in the eerie morning silence of a river's edge, the colors of a stranger's smile, the evening flowers blooming in the middle of a street. This little something making us feel like some marvels are too simple and beautiful to be true, is everywhere.
Travel with me across Thailand to ten places and times where the country felt like a movie, in all its glorious and timeless beauty.
1. The highest mountain in Thailand
Somewhere in the green valleys of Chiang Mai in northern Thailand stands Doi Inthanon, the highest mountain of the country. I remember waking up at 5am to drive through the National Park all the way up to the highest altitude, to be there on time for the soft morning light. The jungle was still covered in the dawn's dew, the air was fresh from the rain that had fallen the night before. Above the clouds, in the quiet gardens of the King Pagoda, you can admire the view over the mountains. Everything seems out of time, as if you were stranded somewhere where none of the sorrows of the world can reach you.
2. The busy streets of Chinatown
There is something about Chinatown, in the heart of Bangkok, that makes you feel as if you've suddenly traveled all the way to China. The atmosphere is different, the street food vendors sell baozi, youtiao and chow mein in colorful little stands, there are merchants of jade and good luck charms next to red tiles temples. The large signs displaying words in Chinese ideograms are half covered by the thick cover of the trees. It's always busy, in the middle of these streets, life goes on in an almost feverish pace of passers-by trying to clear a path through the crowded markets, and yellow tuk-tuks driving by.
3. A deserted beach on Koh Lipe
The beaches on the small island of Koh Lipe, in the extreme south of Thailand, are named in all simplicity and practicality. There is sunrise beach on one side, and sunset beach on the other side. The latter is a bit farther away, one you can reach by walking on paths surrounded by the peaceful insular jungle. And sometimes, no one steps foot on the burning pinkish sand: suddenly you are all alone, clear ocean water under your feet, palm trees swaying in the afternoon breeze. On the other side of the sea, facing toward you is the large island of Koh Adang, pretty much only inhabited by monkeys and birds. It's easy to wonder if this is how being alone on a deserted island feels.
4. The floating village of Amphawa
Between wooden barks full of fresh exotic fruits, the shadow of a ngob hat across the eyes, palm tree leaves grazing the river and pink sunset dipping into the water... Amphawa looks like the setting of a Studio Ghibli animated movie. It sometimes seems to have been written by a poet, or painted by an impressionist artist. When the light of the afternoon is low below the bridges and the umbrellas of the market stalls, this floating city is bathed in a golden halo, murmur of the crickets blending with the music of little restaurants by the water.
5. Chiang Mai's fields of marigolds
In Thailand, marigolds represent the light of the sun: braided into garlands for ceremonies, hung as a symbol of luck... they are almost everywhere in the country. Nestled between the hills and mountains of Chiang Mai in the north, fields of marigolds shine under the sunny weather of a December morning. Surrounded by flowers in the middle of the countryside, silence is the only echo you can hear. Everything is quiet around the little houses standing above rice terraces and colorful little parcels where the golden flowers grow.
6. Temples made of gold in Bangkok
There is no architectural beauty comparable to the one of Buddhist Temples. Walking in between high walls adorned by sculpted flowers and little figures, and Buddha statues covered in gold from head to toe, you find yourself lost in another era, hundreds of years in the past where Kings and Queens were living in such magnificence. Wat Pho in Bangkok is one of those places where you wonder how humanly possible it is to create such splendor, shining brightly and timelessly against the blue sky.
7. White sand and turquoise water at Koh Phi Phi
Some places that exist may be visited so many times by so many people, they keep this magic making your heart beat faster when you finally get to admire them. Something about the way the sea of the southern islands, like Koh Phi Phi, wants to compete with the sky for color and clarity. Or the way high cliffs covered by lush jungle meet the almost-white sand of beaches where monkeys are kings guarding their trees. You wish you could keep this place untouched, but popularity has decided otherwise... nonetheless making up the most iconic scenery of tropical stories.
8. The train in the middle of a market
At the Maeklong Railway Market, near Bangkok, a strange (and well-orchestrated) ballet takes place. One second you're walking from one stall to another, looking between jars of chili and spices, fresh fish or dragon fruit displayed on stands covered by colorful awnings: the market is dense, dimly lit, almost chaotic. But the next second, it's time for the train to come, and it only takes a few minutes for vendors to fold and tidy their stands before the yellow and red wagons appear. Everyone presses themselves to the walls until the train is gone, and then, as quickly as it was paused, the life of the market resumes as if nothing happened.
9. Rainbow in the depths of the jungle
The jungle of the province of Chiang Mai hides many waterfalls: exploring them can be like a quest sometimes, wandering between the banyan trees and the bushes of orange bougainvillea flowers, until you hear the low rumble of the stream and the water sprinkles on your face and arms, cold drops in the heat of the tropical forest. Most waterfalls hide a rainbow in their core, somewhat like an apparition in the landscape, a fantasy vision out of a stolen moment of time.
10. The "almost" bird-of-paradise
As I walk across the temple's compound closer to the Mae Klong river, I hear a few notes, mingling with the melody of the traditional music played not so far away. A harmony, a sound I swear I heard somewhere before and that I follow mesmerized as if drawn to a treasure. Until I saw him, half-hidden in the branches of the trees in the neighboring garden: a greater racket-tailed drongo, so pretty it is often confused for a bird-of-paradise, dark blue feathers displayed as an ornament (one of the most delicate Nature made up). He stays still, singing for my ears only, and it is my very first time witnessing one in the wild: if I must admit, it feels a little like a gift.
Which stories can a place tell when we take the time to appreciate its subtleties? Which poetry, which memories?
You can see more of Thailand in the gallery of pictures I took during my trips.