Hot in Thailand: Drag shows, zip lines and fancy backpacker digs

Hot in Thailand: Drag shows, zip lines and fancy backpacker digs

A recent Bangkok tourism show highlighted some of Thailand's emerging travel markets and trends, cabaret revivals included

Trade fairs are generally joyless affairs.

All those meetings. The speeches. The social networking lunches. The hangover after a night of dancing in the hotel bar with that cute office supply rep.

Unless you’re hawking the world’s favorite commodity: travel.

A visit to a tourism trade fair can provide insight into the state of the travel industry and some of the options consumers will soon have when planning their own holidays.

Bangkok recently hosted the annual Thailand Travel Mart Plus (TTM Plus), which brought in more than 1,000 tourism buyers and sellers.  

We trudged up and down the aisles, row after row, to find out what's going on in Thailand travel beyond the usual repetitive marketing shtick.  

1. Zip lines are big

Treetop Adventure Park runs zip line trips through Krabi's Ao Nang rainforest. We counted three separate booths selling zip line excursions at TTM Plus. Not surprising given all the companies that have rigged up Thailand's jungles for this adventure sport.   

There's Treetop Adventure Park, which operates in Koh Chang, Pattaya and Krabi. Flight of the Gibbon runs zip line excursions in Chiang Mai and Pattaya. Also in Chiang Mai is Jungle Fliers. Koh Samui has Tree Top Tour

The activity's appeal is obvious. Zip lines are less scary than bungee jumping, but more thrilling than jungle treks.     

The way it works is you're strapped into a harness. Then you climb up to treetop level and attach your hand-held, double-pulley wheels onto a lengthy, horizontal, steel zip line. The zip lines are strung from one treetop to the next, some involving wacky stunts like tightropes and bicycling.

More on CNNGo: Treetop hopping in Krabi


2. More interest in deep south  

Koh Kradan's annual Valentine's Day underwater wedding ceremony has helped increase Trang's global notoriety. Few international travelers bother to venture further south than Phuket.

But with Thailand's largest island now quite pricey and too developed for some tastes, markets once mainly reserved for Thai travelers are starting to appeal to foreigners too.

According to a few TTM Plus vendors and TAT reps, the quiet beaches and islands off Trang and Satun, for instance, are becoming increasingly popular among those who don't want a party-filled holiday.  

Yeah, yeah, we know. Intrepid global travelers have been going to these places for years. 

But with budget carriers like AirAsia and Nok flying non-stop from Bangkok to southern cities Hat Yai and Trang, more of the world's snow birds looking for holiday alternatives are starting to take notice of islands like Koh Mook and Koh Kradan.   

More on CNNGo: Island hopping in Thailand


3. Flashpackers have it made

Buddy Oriental Riverside Pakkred was designed to look like Bangkok's historical Phra Sumen Fort. Definition of "flashpacker" --a backpacker with cash. 

Flashpackers don't want to stay in a 200-baht-a-night dive with no TV or A/C. But they do want to mingle poolside with like-minded travelers.  

Thailand is full of properties with that boutique resort feel, offering rooms in the US$25-$75 a night range. 

Among the pioneers on the flashpacker trail is Buddy Group, which has several mid-range properties in Thailand including a few on Khao San Road. Their newest is in Pak Kred, a riverside property outside Bangkok within easy access of the famed Koh Kred island on the Chao Phraya River.  

Tour companies are also targeting backpackers with a bit of extra cash.

Aussie company Nomads recently started featuring Thailand-focused accommodation and tour packages for travelers looking to hit Bangkok, Phi Phi, Phuket, Koh Tao or Samui, with rooms averaging US$30 per night. 


4. Wanted: niche travelers

Earlier this year, Pattaya's Siam Country Club hosted the Golf Honda LPGA Thailand 2012 event. The Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) is moving away from the old, reliable "we have nice beaches, good food and smiling people" strategy to focus on travelers' specific interests. 

"This year, TAT is refocusing its strategies to attract the huge number of niche-market visitors seeking holidays and experiences more in tune with their personal preferences and lifestyle," said Juthaporn Rerngronasa, TAT's deputy governor for international marketing. 

"Four of the key niche-markets showing extensive potential are golf, wedding and honeymoon, ecotourism and health and wellness."   

So go on. Get hitched at an ecofriendly resort, play a round of golf and get a Thai massage. 

More on CNNGo: Thailand's big fat wedding business


5. Drag shows make a comeback

Come August, the ladies of Bangkok's Calypso Cabaret will be performing in fancy new digs. Going to see a ladyboy cabaret show in Thailand used to be as clichéd as watching women play darts on Patpong road.   

But with Bangkok's Calypso cabaret moving into a new theater at riverside shopping and entertainment complex Asiatique in August -- Lady Gaga even checked them out during her recent concert stop -- going to see the country's hottest ladyboys shake their stuff is suddenly exciting again.

Down in Pattaya, Tiffany's has also given its show an overhaul. Taking into account the swells of Russians now making their way to Thailand's biggest sin city, organizers told us there's even a Russian-themed portion of event.

Ladies, just don't get too depressed when you notice the performers have way nicer legs than you.


6. Big brands move into Phi Phi, Koh Pha Ngan 

Santhiya's Grand Pool Villa Suite starts at 26,000 baht per night. When a Best Western moves in, it's safe to say a destination has made the full transformation from backpacker outpost to fully fledged international holiday spot.

Such is the case in Koh Pha Ngan, famed for booze-filled full moon parties, tanned young budget travelers and beautiful beaches.

In addition to the island's family-friendly Best Western Phanganburi Resort, which opened last year, Koh Pha Ngan now has several high-end options, including the Anantara Rasananda and Santhiya, both located on Thong Nai Pan beach on the northeast coast. 

Over on the Andaman Sea side of Thailand, Hawaii-based Outrigger has taken over the Phi Phi Island Beach Resort. Renovations on that hotel are now underway, set for completion in November though the resort will stay open through the process.

Outrigger is one of just a few brands of note to move into the loved and loathed Phi Phi islands. Holiday Inn took over its resort on Laem Thong Beach, a former Travelodge property, back in 2001.    

Karla is a digital producer with CNN Travel based in Bangkok, Thailand. 

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