From beaches and mountains to wildlife-rich national parks, energetic cities, and towns, Thailand offers something for everyone. Here are some of the best places around the Land of Smiles.
The frenetic Thai capital is a must-see destination, with a dazzling array of things to see and do to suit almost any taste. There are cultural and historic sights aplenty, combined with soaring skyscrapers and modern architecture, fabulous art galleries, and fascinating museums. The shopping scene offers bustling markets, unusual floating markets, and mega malls, and the dining scene is equally diverse with everything from fancy gourmet restaurants to abundant street food. Night times offer just as much fun as the day, with pulsating nightclubs, live music, incredible rooftop bars, exciting shows, and thrilling Muay Thai fights. Getting around the city is easy, thanks to the BTS sky train, MRT subway, numerous buses, taxis, and tuk tuks, and there is accommodation to suit any preference and budget.
Often referred to as the northern capital, Chiang Mai offers an intoxicating blend of culture and nature. With over 500 temples to choose from, it’s impossible for culture vultures to feel bored! Chiang Mai Night Zoo enchants children and adults alike, and activities range from hiking in lush jungles to rafting along raging rivers. Head to Thailand’s highest point at Doi Inthanon, meet ethnic hill tribes, tour numerous stunning waterfalls, and interact with magnificent elephants at an ethical sanctuary. Nightlife is low key, especially when compared with Bangkok, but that certainly doesn’t mean you need to stay indoors as soon as it goes dark. There are plenty of bars to unwind in, and the night bazaar is a top place for shopaholics to browse and buy an array of traditional Thai wares.
Thailand’s largest island and one of the country’s most popular tourist destinations, Phuket has many faces. Many first-timers head to the thronging sands of Patong, an area known for its hedonistic nightlife and many water sports, but there are beaches to suit everyone. Catch a boat to the scenic Freedom Beach, chill on Karon Beach, enjoy the views from Kathu Beach, and more. Promthep Cape provides amazing sunset vistas. Entertainment-wise, Phuket promises world-class shows, exhilarating Muay Thai fights, global cuisine in a range of eateries, and bars and clubs of every type. Hiking, go karting, ethical elephant interactions, fishing, snorkelling, and jet skiing are just a few activities to try, and Wat Chalong and the Big Buddha are two of the island’s most popular cultural sites. Don’t bypass Phuket Town — the old buildings are beautiful. For fun and giggles, Baan Teelanka (the Upside Down House)and Phuket Trick eye Museum are tough to beat.
One of Thailand’s ancient cities, the UNESCO-listed Ayutthaya is a must for fans of history. Easy to reach from Bangkok, the evocative ruins take you on a journey back in time to Siam’s golden age. Wat Yai Chai Mongkorn is particularly photogenic, with tall stupas that you can climb, surrounded by rows of saffron-clad Buddha statues. Other highlights include Wat Mahatat, with the famous stone head encased in a tree, Wat Ratchaburana, and Wat Si Samphet. The old Dutch and Portuguese areas are well worth a visit and the floating market is a great place to pick up souvenirs. Renting a bicycle or, if you’re an experienced rider, a scooter is the ideal way to appreciate Ayutthaya, though there are also plentiful tuk tuks around each corner.
One of Southern Thailand’s most popular provinces, Krabi offers a wealth of terrific experiences both on the mainland and on its islands. Koh Phi Phi is often said to be one of Thailand’s most picturesque islands; check out Maya Bay and Phi Phi Viewpoint to see why. Koh Lanta is a more laid-back island, with long, sandy beaches, chilled-out beach bars, mangroves, and a Moken (sea gypsy) community. Animal lovers can spend time volunteering at Lanta Animal Welfare for a feel-good factor and to help make a difference. Koh Jum and Koh Rok are just a couple of the province’s smaller and lesser-visited island gems. On the mainland, Railay is a rock climber’s paradise, Ao Nang is a bustling beach resort, and Krabi Town has a local vibe.
Mae Hong Son
A mountainous and remote province in Northern Thailand, Mae Hong Son shares a border with Myanmar. This has led to the area having a large proportion of people from the Shan ethnic group. While the provincial town sees few foreign tourists, the beautiful nature and architecture make it a worthy stop on your travels around the area. The province’s main draw is Pai, a popular spot for those who love nature and a laid-back life. Previously a popular hippie hangout, highlights include Pai canyon, hot springs and waterfalls, and the area offers good hiking and fun tubing along the river.
Known for its wild parties and hedonistic nightlife, especially around the time of the full moon, many visitors are surprised to find that Koh Phangan is also a nature lover’s dream. For fun and partying, Haad Rin is the place to be. Escape the crowds and discover relatively calm beaches, pristine waterfalls, and lush forests, and you’ll see that there’s much more to the infamous party island than just cocktail buckets and neon body paint. The night market is a great place to fill up on tasty Thai food for cheap and there are many cooking schools where you can learn how to replicate your favourite dishes. Uncover Koh Phangan’s spiritual heart and you’ll find meditation and yoga centres, new-age communities, retreats, workshops, and other ways to find inner balance and peace.
Located in the west of Thailand alongside the Burmese border, Kanchanaburi has a combination of natural and wartime attractions. The Bridge Over the River Kwai is a major tourist spot, and you can take a ride on the infamous Death Railway to appreciate the stunning views and remember those who lost their lives during the railroad’s construction. There are several museums dedicated to the area’s history, along with somber wartime cemeteries. Erawan National Park, home to the multi-level Erawan Falls and Pra That Cave, is another highlight, and Sai Yok National Park is a nice place for a picnic alongside smaller falls. If you want to visit a less-crowded and more remote waterfall, however, Huay Mae Khamin is highly recommended. Get off the beaten track and head north to pretty and peaceful Sangkhlaburi to see a different side of Thailand.
Another of Thailand’s ancient capitals, Sukhothai boasts glorious ruins in various states of preservation. Sites are spread across the city, making it fairly easy to find quiet, atmospheric spots to enjoy almost by yourself. Crumbling walls, extensive foundations, impressive chedis and pagodas, Buddha images in all sizes and poses, soaring columns, and the remains of halls and other buildings are among the things you can expect to find here. Lotus-filled ponds glean in the sunshine and information boards provide plenty of information about the area’s grand past. Wat Traphang Ngoen, Wat Mahatat, Wat Si Chum, Wat Sra Si, and Wat Sorasak are just a few sites to add to your list. The nearby Si Satchanalai Historical Park is a great extension to your trip.
A popular island in the Thai Gulf, Koh Samui appeals to everyone from families and honeymooners to backpackers and solo adventurers. Beautiful beaches, like Chaweng, Lamai, and Mae Nam, surround the island, and you can visit the old fishing village at Bophut. There are several places to shop, as well as plentiful places to eat, drink, and sleep. One of the island’s more unusual spots include a temple with a mummified monk and neighbouring rock formations that look like male and female genitalia! Koh Samui boasts many high-class spas and excellent golf courses too.
A large province in Northeast Thailand, one of Nakhon Ratchasima’s major attractions is the large UNESCO-listed Khao Yai National Park. From glorious waterfalls and abundant wildlife to hiking trails of varying lengths and difficulty levels, stunning views, and tranquil campsites, it’s one of Thailand’s most sought-after natural areas. Plus, it’s pretty easy to reach from Bangkok. Elsewhere in the province, Wang Nam Khiao is celebrated for its spectacular scenery and great air quality. The province is also home to one of Thailand’s most striking temples: the fabulous Wat Ban Rai in Khun Thot District. Filled with, and surrounded by, colourful and imaginative artwork, the temple is built like an elephant and sits on its own small artificial island.
Pattaya has a huge variety of fun things to see and do make it worthy of a place on this list. While most people associate Pattaya with its notorious Walking Street and numerous go-go bars. First off, there’s the beach. It may not be the prettiest of Thailand’s beaches, but it’s nice enough for a few days of sun, sea, and sand. There are several lovely islands off the coast that offer even nicer sands and snorkelling. Attractions-wise, Pattaya definitely isn’t lacking. The huge Sanctuary of Truth, carved entirely from wood, is a jaw-dropping sight. Nong Nooch Tropical Botanical Garden is a lovely place to stroll among the well-ordered flower beds, statues, and water features, and you can sample locally produced wines at the pretty Silverlake Vineyard. Tour Thailand’s major landmarks at Mini Siam, have fun at Art in Paradise, shop at Pattaya Floating Market, feel the rush at Flight of the Gibbon, have your mind blown at Ripley’s Believe It Or Not, and enter a wintery wonderland at FROST Magical Ice of Siam.
Located off the coast of Phang Nga Province in the sparkling waters of the Andaman Sea, the Similan Islands are among the best places in all of Thailand for scuba diving and snorkeling. The waters are teeming with fascinating marine life and underwater features. While day trips are possible, diving enthusiasts often spend several days on a live-aboard vessel to really make the most of their experience. Fishing is also popular around the islands, which are attractive in themselves with dense forests, interesting rock formations, and picturesque white, sandy beaches. Do note that the islands are generally closed to visitors between mid-May and mid-October.
Often overshadowed by its more popular neighbor of Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai is in North Thailand and it shares borders with Myanmar and Laos. Indeed, you can visit the Golden Triangle, the point where the three countries meet. The province offers excellent hiking and trekking plus what some would say more authentic encounters with local hill tribe ethnic groups. Waterfalls and hot springs are other natural features to enjoy. Brave the stretching suspension bridge at Mae Fah Luang Garden before enjoying the lush gardens. Chiang Rai is home to one of Thailand’s most distinctive temples too — the gleaming White Temple, officially called Wat Rong Khun. Visit the nation’s largest statue of Guan Yin, the Chinese Goddess of Mercy for sweeping views, and wander through a collection of traditional Thai buildings at Baan Dam, or the Black House.
A fairly large island off the coast of Trat, Koh Chang offers everything that a good island should … sandy beaches, lush jungle, cascading waterfalls, lots of wildlife, soaring mountains, and varied activities to enjoy nature. Some of the best beaches include Hat Khlong Phrao, Lonely Beach, White Sand Beach, and Kai Bae Beach. Boat trips to the neighbouring islands of koh Kut and Koh Mak are popular and a traditional Thai massage is a great way to loosen up after a day of activity. As an island, seafood is fresh and delicious, though you’ll find a wide selection of food to suit diverse palates too. There are high-class luxury resorts through to beach bungalows and backpacker dorms; everyone can find their ideal accommodation here.