Thailand is by far the most visited country in Asia, and one of the most popular countries to attract tourists from around the world. It’s renowned for gorgeous beaches, lush jungle, interesting culture and history, and amazing street food. It’s also pretty cheap!
On my first ever backpacking trip at 18, Thailand was the first destination we landed in. I remember arriving in a sweaty, chaotic Bangkok and being almost instantly drawn in with its energy and buzz. I’ve returned several times since and I love it more every time. It helps that I adore the food too – there’s no limit to how much Pad Thai I can eat!
But Thailand is not just for backpackers. It’s for couples, families and luxury travellers. There is something for everyone – and some of the world’s best hotels to boot too. So let’s dive into this Thailand travel guide. I’ll aim to cover everything you need to know before visiting, as well as an overview of all of the best places to visit in Thailand.
To ensure this guide is comprehensive and includes all the best things to see in Thailand, I’ve enlisted the help of some fellow travel bloggers. They’ve all shared their own contributions and favourite places to visit, so read on to find out more!
History of Thailand
Thailand is particularly interesting, as unlike the majority of the countries in South East Asia, Thailand was never colonised.
Although the French and British empires attempted to exert their influence and colonise the country, they were unsuccessful. Instead, with Britain having colonised Burma and Malaysia to the west and south, and France having colonised Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam to the north, they instead agreed to keep Thailand as a neutral territory in the centre.
The Kingdom of Thailand managed to maintain its independent thanks to the tact and negotiation powers of Thailand’s monarchs through this time. Both Rama IV and Rama V were quick to come to agreements with the Europeans, as well as adopt reforms that modernised the country and achieved sovereignty for Thailand. Both Kings held strong relations with other leaders around the world.
Looking further back to the earlier history of Thailand, the Mon and Khmer people established their own kingdoms, each occupying large areas of the country. Later, the Tai people arrived from southern China and were called ‘syam’ by the Khmers, which later led to Thailand being known as the Siam, and the people the Siamese.
There were many conflicts between groups in Thailand from the 12th Century to the 18th century, with different Kingdoms rising to power through the centuries. Eventually, Bangkok was established as the new capital in 1782 by Rama I, who was made the first king of the Chakra dynasty. This is the Royal Family in Thailand now.
However, in the early-mid 1900s, Thailand’s absolute monarchy was challenged, and the country’s economy, military and political systems were reformed following a bloodless coup d’état in 1932. Today, Thailand is under democratic rule, but riots and uprising are common causing it to be fairly unstable at times. The monarchy still oversees politics in Thailand, and the King is highly revered. Both Thais and foreigners risk imprisonment for any defamation of the Royal Family, according to the Thai Criminal Code.
Thailand Travel Guide: Useful Information
How to get to Thailand?
Bangkok in Thailand is the main entry point for most overseas visitors, with dozens of international airlines arriving in Bangkok every day. British Airways and Thai Airways fly direct from London Heathrow to Bangkok. You can also connect on Emirates, Etihad, Qatar Airways, Cathay Pacific, Lufthansa, Swissair and KLM.
From the US, you cannot fly directly but the best routes are with Philippine Airlines, Japan Airlines or China Airlines.
You can also fly directly into other major air hubs, Phuket and Chiang Mai, on a couple of airlines such as Emirates or Qatar.
Dozens of cities in Thailand are also very well connected to other destinations in Asia, with AirAsia for example, offering very affordable flights to places such as Hong Kong or Singapore.
Like Malaysia and Singapore, Thailand is reasonably generous with tourist visas. British citizens can enter Thailand without a visa for stays up to 30 days. After this, you either need to apply for an extension or do a border crossing.
The same visa-free exemption also applies to citizens from Canada, the USA, several South American countries, most European and Asian countries, South Africa, Mauritius, Australia and New Zealand.
How to get around Thailand?
Thailand has an excellent transport network, which is both affordable and efficient.
Internal flights are often very cheap and frequent, connecting the country well. But as always, it is better to explore the country at ground level, where possible.
Trains also connect major cities and towns in Thailand, offering an excellent way to get around. They are often more comfortable than the buses, but tend to book up faster. One of the most popular journeys is the overnight train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai – but this is definitely one to book well in advance if you can.
Buses ply nearly every route across the country. It’s worth researching the various bus companies as they differ in terms of comfort and safety. Crime can be bad on buses, with the staff often being the culprits – so reading around to check reviews on the bus company is important.
Within cities and towns, the best way to to get around is tuk-tuk or taxi. In Bangkok, although you’ll want the novelty of a tuk-tuk, beware there are dozens of well-known scams concerning tuk-tuks (tailored suit, anyone?)
Taxis in Bangkok are metered and air conditioned, which can be extremely pleasant whilst sitting in the stifling, never-ending Bangkok traffic. In the capital, there’s also the excellent MRT system, which offers affordable and efficient travel across the city.
When is the best time to go to Thailand?
Although Thailand is a great place to visit year-round, its main rainy season is from June to September. That being said, it really depends on where you want to go as the climate differs slightly throughout the country.
The west side (Phi Phi Islands and Krabi) receive their heaviest rains from July to October. The eastern side (Koh Tao, Koh Phangan, Koh Samui etc) of Thailand gets the heaviest rains from September to November. So generally speaking, for visiting Bangkok and the Thai Islands, December to May is the best time to go.
In the north of the country, the rainy season starts a little earlier so in Chiang Mai, May and June see the heaviest rains.
Thailand is hot all year-long, but it is considerably less humid in December and January, making it a wonderful destination for a winter break.
Currency and Budget
Thailand uses the Thai Baht (THB), which is divided into 100 satang. It often converts at 55 THB to the £1, so it’s an easy currency to work with. Many things such as street food dishes, for example, are priced at 100 THB so you know they’re approximately £2.
Your money will stretch further in the north of Thailand (Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai and Phi) than in Bangkok and the islands in the south.
Cards are fairly widely accepted throughout Thailand but for street food markets, some basic accommodation and for tuk tuks, you will definitely need to withdraw cash.
Thailand, as one of original backpacking places in the world, is home to thousands of hostels offering great value. You can find a dorm bed for as low as 200 THB a night (£5/USD $6.60) and a private room in a hostel or guesthouse can be as low as 400 THB (£10/USD $13), particularly in the north.
In Bangkok, I think it’s worth it pay a little extra for a more comfortable and safe hostel. A dorm can be closer to 500 THB per night (£12/USD $16) for somewhere with air conditioning and lockers.
On the islands, you can definitely go cheap with beach bungalows, although some of these can be very basic. These start at around 500 THB per night (£12/USD $16). But if there’s one place to splurge, I would definitely do it on the islands – some of the resorts are incredible. Prices for a mid-range resort are around 1,400 THB per night (£35/ USD $46), with stays at somewhere like the Banyan Tree Phuket creeping up nearer 12,000 THB (£300/USD $400) per night.
Street food markets serve up some of the best food in Thailand, so no matter your budget, I recommend eating at a market. If anything, it’s an experience too! Dishes at a street food market are likely to be around 25-100 THB (50p-£2/USD $0.66-$2.65).
You can also eat at local tourist restaurants, dishes cost from around 200-400 THB (£5-10/USD $6.60-$13). For fine dining, you can expect a set menu to cost around 1,500 THB per person (£38/USD $50).
Although food, transport and accommodation can all be reasonably priced throughout Thailand, activities Can be more expensive than you’d expect.
For example, to join a small group speedboat tour to visit the Phi Phi Islands away the from the crowds, a ticket per person is around 4000 THB (£100/USD $132). With tours, I’d say you get what you pay for. So you can get cheaper tours than this, on overcrowded, potentially unsafe boats and visiting at peak hours.
Museums, temples and other attractions’ entry prices are around 200-500 THB per person (£5-£12.50/USD $6.60-$16.50).
Thailand: The Best Places to Visit
So now we’ve got the basics covered, let’s jump into the best places around Thailand to visit. There’s really a huge variety of things to do and see across Thailand, so I’ve organised this blog post into sections. You’ll find firstly a section on Bangkok and the surrounding area, then Central Thailand, North Thailand, the Thai Islands before rounding off with Krabi and Railay.
Bangkok and Surrounds
One of the most intoxicating, exciting and intense cities I have visited, I adore Bangkok. It was the first place I visited when I started backpacking at 18, and for that, it will always hold a special place in my heart.
From the frenetic chaos of backpacker area, Khao San Road, to the fantastic historical and cultural sites throughout the city, there’s plenty of things to do in Bangkok. The Chao Phraya River also meanders throughout the city. It serves as both a crucial lifeline connecting this vast city by boat, but also a wonderful scenic route from which to see the city by river cruise.
Bangkok is also home to some spectacular hotels, and the city’s rooftop bars are some of the best in the world.
I’d say you need a minimum long weekend to soak up this crazy metropolis. This brilliant 4 day Bangkok itinerary here takes in a lot of key sites across the city and would be the ultimate first trip to Bangkok. That being said, some travellers pass through Bangkok quicker, and some like myself, head back time and time again.
Where to stay in Bangkok
Accommodation is wonderfully affordable in Bangkok, and as the likely start or end point of your trip to Thailand, it can be a great place to enjoy a luxury stay.
My absolute favourite place is the Banyan Tree Bangkok, for both fantastic rooms and the world’s most amazing rooftop. Rates here start from just £100 (USD $132) per night.
Other fantastic stays in Bangkok include:
- Mandarin Oriental (from £292/USD $386 per night)
- Waldorf Astoria Bangkok (from £194/USD $257 per night)
- Lebua at State Tower (from £92/USD $122 per night)
- InterContinental Bangkok (from £49/USD $65 per night)
Finally, for budget stays or if you’re just looking for somewhere to lay your head, I’ve had some excellent stays at NapPark, which is two roads away from Khao San.
The Grand Palace
Contributed by Trijit from budgettravelbuff.com
The Grand Palace is one of the most beautiful and busiest places in Bangkok. Located on the east side of the River Chao Phraya, this popular landmark in Bangkok attracts thousands of visitors each year. The spectacular Grand Palace was built in 1782 to accommodate the Thai King. Although the king does not live here currently, it is still the first choice for any royal ceremony. The gorgeous architecture, intricate detail, and craftsmanship of the Thai people will surely leave you awestruck. Even if you buy any local clothes as Thai souvenirs, you will see these buildings printed on t-shirts.
The Grand Palace consists of several majestic buildings including the popular Wat Phra Kaew which is also known as the ‘Temple of the Emerald Buddha’. The inside of the temple is so calm and peaceful. The statue of the big Buddha is placed on a high pedestal. It is considered the spiritual heart of Bangkok.
Please Note: A strict dress code is applied for all visitors and you must respect Thai culture while you are visiting their sacred place. Men must wear shirts with sleeves and long pants. Women are required to dress modestly. No bare shoulders or see-through clothing are allowed. If you are wearing sandals or flip-flops, make sure to wear socks.
The Grand Palace is open daily from 8.30am to 3.30pm, and the admission fee is 500 THB (£12.55/USD $16.60) which includes entry into the Abhisek Dusit Throne Hall and Vimanmek Palace.
Tip: Get in early to beat the crowds and the unbearable heat. It takes around 3-4 hours to explore The Grand Palace.
Contributed by Claire from clairesfootsteps.com
Wat Pho is a temple complex in central Bangkok, not too far from the Grand Palace, and a must for anyone’s Bangkok itinerary.
It is famous for being the home of the most popular giant reclining Buddha in Thailand. The gold leaf-covered statue is 46 metres long and 15 metres tall; it’s a bit awkward to get photos of, but it’s definitely an awe-inspiring attraction. You need to take your shoes off to enter the hall with the Buddha, and it’s always quite busy. If you want to take your time, it’s best to get there as soon as the temple opens.
Once you’ve seen the Buddha, there’s plenty more to see at the temple – and there are much fewer tourists elsewhere! It’s a vast complex, with 4 chapels and numerous other statues. You can hire a guide to tell you the full story of Wat Pho, or explore at your own leisure.
Once you’ve seen the temple, how about a massage? Wat Pho is probably the best place in Thailand to get a traditional Thai massage. It was a public university with a specialist massage school, and masseurs still have an element of prestige if they can say they were trained at Wat Pho. There is a small massage centre in the temple complex.
Wat Pho is beautiful in the day, but even more magical by night. You can do a night time tuk tuk tour that will take you around the city to various sites, including Wat Pho, for an exclusive night time visit!
Bangkok Rooftop Bars
Get a perspective like no other by ascending to one of the incredible rooftop bars in Bangkok. Although many cities have bars high in the sky, none are quite like those in the Thai capital.
One of the very best is Moon Bar, and the adjacent Vertigo restaurant at Banyan Tree Bangkok. One of the most iconic rooftops in the world, non-guests are welcome to take the lift to the 61st floor where you’ll be greeted with excellent food and drinks, and phenomenal 360° views.
Another amazing rooftop bar is the Sky Bar rooftop at Lebua State Tower, also open to non-guests, but there are more than 20 epic rooftop bars to visit across the city.
Contributed by Caroline from cktravels.com
Chatuchak market in Bangkok is Thailand’s largest market and is held every weekend with over 15,000 stalls!
Covering 35 acres, this indoor and outdoor market has 30 different areas to explore selling everything you can possibly think of. You’ll find clothing, antiques, pets, furniture, souvenirs, ceramics and much more at low prices.
Chatuchak (also known locally as JJ Market) is a fun shopping experience and you could easily spend a whole day here. When you need to take a break from the crowds and escape the heat you’ll find a variety of street food stalls, outdoor restaurants and bars available.
It is also pretty easy to get lost here amongst the maze of stalls so make sure you pick up a free map of the market, available from the information kiosks. If you want to purchase some large items to take home then you can ship them back using the FedEx and DHL courier services available in the market.
Chatuchak market is a must visit for anyone visiting Bangkok and the best way to get there is to take public transportation (avoid taking a taxi as Bangkok traffic is a nightmare). The full market takes place every Friday night, and all day Saturday and Sunday.
Maeklong Railway Market
Contributed by Helen from differentville.com
If you want a true ‘only in Thailand’ moment, then a visit to this market, about 80km south-east of Bangkok should definitely be on your must-do list.
Most of the day it’s a simple local market selling fruit, vegetables, homewares etc. But, you’ll notice something strange as you walk past the stalls – there’s a rail track running right through the middle of them. And, six times a day an extremely large train comes thundering down that track!
The traders know when it’s going to happen and literally minutes before the train arrives, they remove their shade umbrellas – and any goods too close to the track – and wait. The sight is incredible to behold as you stand literally inches away from the train as it rumbles past. Then, within minutes, the whole market goes back to normal.
There are numerous tours available that will take you directly to Maeklong Railway Market – and often to one of the nearby floating markets too. But the most fun way to reach the market is to travel by train from Bangkok. This gives you the chance to go through the market yourself on the train – then turn round to find your own place to stand while it thunders back again.
Find out more on how to ride the train to Maeklong – it’s definitely one of the best things to do in Thailand.
Damnoen Saduak Market near Bangkok
Contributed by Milijana Gabrić from worldtravelconnector.com
Vibrant traditional Thai floating markets are some of the most interesting places to see in Thailand. Witnessing the traditional Thai way of selling and buying goods from boats is one of the top must-have experiences in Thailand.
Hectic and colorful Damnoen Saduak Market in the greater Bangkok area is one of the most fascinating places in Thailand. There are several floating markets near Bangkok, but the most popular is Damnoen Saduak Market. The market became world-wide known as the filming location of iconic James Bond’s The Man with the Golden Gun and Bangkok Dangerous.
Smiling Thai vendors dressed in traditional clothing and wearing traditional Tai straw hats raw their wooden boats along the market’s ‘khlongs’ (canals) and sell the goods from the boats. Damnoen Saduak Market is especially known for fresh organic vegetables, fruits, and traditional Thai dishes. The best way to experience the market is to hop onto a traditional Thai long-tail boat and cruise the market’s canals in a boat ride. And after a ride, stroll the docks and buy some delicious Thai fruits. Or enjoy a traditional Thai meal along the docks!
Be aware of touristy prices since the market is a huge tourist attraction. But then again, visiting Damnoen Saduak Market and having a traditional Thai meal on the docks of the market is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Damnoen Saduak Market is 62 miles (100 km) from Bangkok. The easiest way to reach the market is to take a tour. Therefore, one of the best things to do in Bangkok is to book a Damnoen Saduak Market tour and head to one of the most interesting places in Thailand!
Contributed by Bridget from theflashpacker.net
Visit the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Ayutthaya for serene and majestic temples and for its rich history.
Founded in the 14th Century, Ayutthaya flourished as the second capital of Siam, before being burnt to the ground by the Burmese in 1767. Although these fires destroyed the city’s wooden palaces, its brick and stone temples survived.
And these temples are magnificent. Built in the graceful Sri Lankan and Khmer architectural styles, they will be instantly recognisable if you have visited Angkor in Cambodia. The beautiful Wat Phra Mahathat features dozens of red brick spires, leaning at precarious angles, and don’t miss the serene Buddha head cradled in the roots of a Bodhi tree.
Although many people visit Ayutthaya as a long day trip from Bangkok, stay overnight to enjoy the serenity of the sites once the day trippers have left and the laid-back vibe of the friendly modern city. If you are planning to visit the city’s six main temples, buy a pass that covers admission to all of these temples and will save you time and money.
Finally, take a late-afternoon boat trip to visit Ayutthaya’s riverside temples to watch the sun set behind Wat Chai Watthanaram, an unforgettable sight.
Contributed by De Wet & Jin from museumofwander.com
Kanchanaburi can easily be visited from Bangkok on a day trip, but it’s a much better idea to stay for a few days and really enjoy this great provincial town. History and outdoor fans will love Kanchanaburi.
Kanchanaburi sits on the banks of the River Kwai, and the infamous bridge across the River Kwai can be seen in the centre of town. During World War II Kanchanaburi was at the centre of Japan’s campaign into South East Asia. In order to complete a railway line linking Thailand to Burma, the Japanese established several POW camps in Kanchanaburi. It was these unfortunate prisoners who built the River Kwai Bridge. This railway line is also known as the Death Railway.
The immaculately kept Kanchanaburi War Cemetery is also worth a visit to pay tribute to the more than 7,000 Allied soldiers who lost their lives here in the prisoner camps.
But it’s not all doom and gloom. The town is very relaxed and spending a few days in town relaxing at the various riverside bars and cafes, or even staying over at a floating guesthouses is just grand.
Erawan Falls National Park is also nearby and getting a scooter for a day makes for a nice little road trip. The road to Erawan passes through stunning forests and you could even stop at an elephant camp along the way.
Several buses a day run between Bangkok and Kanchanaburi, or you could choose take a (very slow) train on the original Death Railway.
Contributed by Bec from wyldfamilytravel.com
Located just outside of Kanchanaburi, Hellfire Pass is a place that has to be seen to be believed. It is a place of hardship, a place of mourning, a place of remembrance and a place where pure bravery was shown by so many in a dire situation.
Hellfire Pass, or Konyu Cutting as it was known to the Japanese, is a part of the Death Railway. It was hand-cut from solid rock by prisoners of war during World War II and got its name, Hellfire Pass, from the prisoners that worked there. They said it was like looking down into Dante’s Inferno like into hell itself, as their fellow prisoners worked by candlelight in the night.
As you approach Hellfire Pass, it is hard to believe this was made with bare hands and little to no tools. With the extreme heat, the blaring sun and the thousands of tropical bugs, it is difficult to comprehend how any one could live through this situation.
In the 1980s, the Australian Government in conjunction with the Thai Government, set up a memorial and museum at the site. Today, a visit to the Hellfire Pass Museum is one that will both educate and shock you. The walls are lined with photos depicting the forced labour, the terrible conditions and the atrocities endured by the prisoners, and you can also hear the first-hand experiences from survivors. There’s also the opportunity to understand how the railway affected the local Thai people too.
To get to Hellfire Pass, you can either go as a day trip from Bangkok or you can choose to stay a few days in Kanchanaburi.
Contributed by Cecilie from wowiwalkers.com
Erawan Waterfall is an incredible place to visit in Thailand. The waterfall is located deep within the lush jungle of Erawan National Park, and is a popular place to spend an afternoon. Erawan Waterfall is unique because of its 7 tiers, which you can visit by venturing deeper into the jungle.
All of the 7 waterfalls are just beautiful. They all have the same emerald blue colour that gives a magical feel to the place. Yet all the waterfalls are very different in the way they are formed, making it worthwhile to go on a jungle hike and explore all of them.
You’re allowed to swim in all of the Erawan Falls. So, once you’ve worked up a sweat in the jungle, you can reward yourself with a nice swim in one of the emerald pools. In some of the pools you will encounter Garra Rufa, which is the fish species they use in fish spas. If you feel uncomfortable with the fish nibbling at your toes, you can always move on to another waterfall.
It’s easy to reach Erawan Waterfall from Kanchanaburi by bus or with a day tour from Bangkok. Erawan National Park is open from 8am to 4:30pm every day, and the entrance fee is 300 THB (£7.50/ USD $10) for foreigners.
Erawan Waterfall is such a unique place hidden deep within the green jungle, and it surely deserves a visit on your next trip to Thailand.
Contributed by Monique from tripanthologist.com
The most impressive Khmer archaeological zone outside of Angkor Wat in Cambodia is Phimai in Nakhon Ratchasima Province in Northeastern Thailand. From 1000 CE, this was an important religious and political centre and it remained that way for more than 300 years.
The Phimai Archaeological Zone (called Prasat Hin Phimai) boasts three Prasats, or temples, and a museum. The site also includes the remains of the Royal Road that ran from Phimai all the way to Angkor Wat, 225km to the southeast in Cambodia. There were once statues and 17 rest houses lining this important route.
To enter Phimai you cross over the river from Khorat into a sacred bathing space that was once the bathing place of the Thai heroine, Ya Mo. Over the bridge (decorated with nagas and singhas) and past the great wall around the enclosure, you encounter the three prasats that are thought to have been the model on which Angkor Wat was built.
Phimai is the site of the largest Khmer temple in Thailand, at 1000m long and 600m wide. It is a beautiful site to stroll around and the open-air museum includes the statue of Jayavarman VII found inside the redstone tower (Prang Brahmathat). The museum is open Wed-Sun from 9am to 4pm.
A bus or train to Khorat and Phimai takes 4 hours from Bangkok.
Phanomrung Temple, Buriram
Contributed by Allan from live-less-ordinary.com
Not far from Phimai, in the Isaan province of Buriram, is Phanomrung Historical Park – a far-flung, off-the-beaten-path tourist attraction in Thailand.
The ancient Khmer temple is located on a now extinct volcano overlooking the borders of Cambodia. It is in fact part of what is known as the Ancient Khmer Highway that leads from Angkor Wat and includes many more historical temples and sites in the region.
The temple itself has an upper sanctuary, with statues and relics of Shiva, the Hindu God who was once revered in the region before Buddhism arrived. Leading to the temple is a steep set of over 100 steps which are decorated with stone pillars and serpents known as ‘naga bridges’.
Each year the temple celebrates the annual occurrence when the sunrise aligns with the doors of the upper sanctuary, with the rather spectacular Phanomrung Festival. This includes parades, fireworks, and a theatrical performance with the temple making a rather spectacular backdrop to the event.
As with Phimai, it is around 400km by road from Bangkok (approx 4 hours drive). It is worth visiting some of the other sites nearby, including the Khmer sanctuary at Prasat Muang Tam.
Chiang Mai, located around 700km north of the capital Bangkok, is a calmer, leafier city surrounded by nature. The Ping River runs through Chiang Mai, and together with the mountains surrounding the town, it is a wonderful base to explore the outdoor adventures in the north of Thailand.
The Old City, is located in the very heart of Chiang Mai and is marked by the Old City walls. Hours can be spent perusing the excellent stores in this area. There are also arty boutiques, galleries and a great bar and coffee shop scene, making this is the most hip part of Chiang Mai. The main street is Nimmanhaemin Road, but also wander Huay Kaew Road which has a lively night market, often packed with students and other travellers.
If you want to be in the heart of the action, then definitely stay near here.
There are also several other markets in this part of Chiang Mai, including the Sunday Walking Street Market and Wualai Walking Street.
The city is also packed with cultural and historical attractions, all of which can be easily explored on foot. Twos temples to definitely visit are Wat Bupparam, a traditional Lanna Style temple built in the late 1400s, as well as Wat Phan Tao. The temple’s name means “Monastery of a Thousands Kilns” and is one of the last remaining all-wooden structures in Chiang Mai.
Nightlife is excellent in Chiang Mai, if that’s what you’re after. The Old City is packed with lively places into the evening, but I recommend the iconic Riverside bar. It serves up great food, before transforming into a fun evening spot with amazing live music.
Elephant Nature Park
Contributed by Samantha from myflyingleap.com
Elephant Nature Park (ENP) is an ethical sanctuary for elephants in northern Thailand near Chiang Mai. They rescue elephants from terrible situations around the region. It’s important to do your homework before visiting any animal sanctuaries in Thailand as abuse is pervasive with animal tourism. But this organization is one of the best.
ENP provides elephants with medical care and rehabilitation, allowing the elephants to be elephants again. Those that have only known captivity often stay at the park. Other elephants are released to the jungle in herds when they are ready after their rehabilitation. People can visit elephants in the park or in the jungle.
Their work goes beyond just their sanctuary. Elephant Nature Park also works with local groups that protect and care for elephants by providing support and training for their programs. And, they also help wild elephants in the jungle.
Visit Elephant Nature Park or one of their project herds to learn more about these incredibly huge and surprisingly graceful creatures. When you visit, you learn all about elephants and those that they care for. You may feed those that want a snack and you’ll walk around getting to know them. Elephants all have unique personalities and spending time with them is an amazing experience.
Doi Inthanon National Park
Contributed by Mansoureh from travelwithmansoureh.com
Just an hour and a half drive from Chiang Mai lies Doi Inthanon National Park, where is home to the highest mountain (at 2,565m) in Thailand. It is one of the most underrated places in the north of the country, however, it is known as “ the Roof of Thailand’” amongst locals.
This huge national park is famous for its nature, stunning waterfalls, dense jungles and endless hiking trails. Hiring a driver or joining an organised day tour is the best way to get to the national park. Getting to the peak of the tallest mountain doesn’t require climbing skills, you can drive to a paved walking path and after a short walk, you can snap a photo of the sign which is marking the highest point.
Whilet in the park make sure to visit the Twin Pagodas built for King Bhumibol Adulyadej and his Queen’s 60th birthdays. The pagodas are surrounded by gorgeous gardens and amazing views.
Sirithan and Mae Ya are the most popular waterfalls in the park. Both are easily accessible, but you are not allowed to swim in either of them. Swimming in some of the waterfalls are allowed but it requires some hiking.
Most tourists stay in Chiang Mai, but if you want to stay closer to nature, there are different types of accommodations in the park.
A sleepier, more laidback version of Chiang Mai, this charming town is worth visiting – particularly for its magnificent temples. It was founded back in the 13th century as the home of the Mengrai Dynasty, and has maintained a strong Lanna identity. In fact, it’s one of the oldest settlements in Thailand.
Yet, tourism is still somewhat in its infancy in Chiang Rai, meaning you can really immerse yourself in the local culture here, through the art, cuisine, music and temples.
The Mae Kok river runs through Chiang Rai, with gorgeous hotels and restaurant lining its waterfront. It’s also the starting point for several activities in Chiang Rai, including long-tail boat rides to hidden waterfalls and hot springs. Trekking is also popular, and you can embark on day hikes or overnight hikes, with many of the routes visiting hill-tribe villages. In fact, you can even join a local family for a homestay in a hill-tribe village near Chiang Rai too.
Back in town, make sure to also visit the Night Bazaar and the Saturday Walking Street Market. Both are excellent places to pick up something unique or charming in Chiang Rai.
Contributed by Maartje & Sebastian from theorangebackpack.nl
Chiang Rai is often overlooking compared to all the temples and activity in Chiang Mai. But if you’re travelling around Thailand, make sure to include at least a day trip to Chiang Rai from Chiang Mai. If only for its beautiful White Temple.
The White Temple in Chiang Rai is different from the other temples in the area or even Thailand, as it is privately owned. Its local name is Wat Rong Khun, but it’s clear to see why it’s known as the White Temple!
This extravagant temple became quite run down, until it was purchased by its private owner, a local artist. He dedicated his life to rebuilding and restoring this stunning tribute to Buddhism.
Everything about the temple symbolises the Buddhist way to heaven. From the white pure colour to the mirrors symbolising reflection. The result of the rebuild is stunning, all of which has been done in a modern and less traditional way. The owner’s artistic vision has resulted in a modern type of temple – as you will clearly see from the murals in the temple itself. Don’t be surprised to spot your favorite cartoon hero on the temple walls.
The temple grounds offers more things to see, even the visitors toilets are designed like a golden temple! The tree of wishing leaves is also beautiful and visitors can get a wishing leaf for a small donation. Write down a wish and put it in this tree, and hope it comes true!
You can easily get to the White Temple by public bus from the Chiang Rai bus station. The entrance used to be free, but nowadays this only applies to Thai citizens. Make sure to also visit Chiang Rai’s sister temples in the area: the Blue Temple and Black Temple (or Black House) – both of which also combine tradition with artistic flair. The Black Temple is easy to get to with the public bus as well, and the Blue Temple is best accessed by tuk-tuk.
Pai is the third town in the Cultural Triangle in Northern Thailand. It’s a postcard-perfect destination, tucked deep in a valley and surrounded by huge mountains. Pai is the ultra-chilled out town that will force you to slow down and appreciate the pictures landscape.
The main things to do in Pai centre around the outdoor activities on offer, from bamboo rafting, mountain trekking, waterfall swimming and white-river rafting.
When you’re not participating in these exhilarating activities, then the main order of the day is to lounge at one of the riverside bars and coffee shops. Pai is also home to an artsy/cultural lifestyle, and there are several galleries and workshops you can visit too.
Make sure to visit Wat Phra That May Yen temple, just outside of the heart of town. The temple offers panoramic views across the idyllic countryside.
In the evenings, embrace the laid-back nightlife in Pai, from jazz bars to indie bands – the riverside atmosphere is awesome.
Contributed by Baia from redfedoradiary.com
Sukhothai Historical Park features ruins of the ancient capital of the Sukhothai Kingdom. Covering around 70 sqkm, this UNESCO World Heritage Site has approximately 190 breathtaking ruins.
The name means “dawn of happiness” in Sanskrit and perfectly describes the environment, ambiance, and history of this former capital. The park is often skipped by many tourists or visited as a day trip, so most of the time, the area is without crowds enabling you to visit it at your own pace.
The park is 14km from the city centre. It is divided into five zones with different admission fees to each area. The central part, or the inner city, has the most important architectural marvels of that time kingdom. Therefore spending at least half of the day wandering through this massive part of the park is highly advised. Wat Mahathat is the main temple of this part nestled right at the centre, embrace its glory and grandiose.
The best way to explore the park is to rent a bike next to the box office. There’s a guided tram tour if you wish to learn more from a local tour guide. Wandering through the park is also doable on foot, just make sure to bring water, snacks, and sunscreen.
Start your day of exploring as early as possible as it gets quite hot during the day. And if you want to have a short lunch break, there’s a small food stall within the park’s territory.
Getting to Sukhothai from Bangkok is possible via a comfortable bus from Northern Bus Terminal. Buses depart daily, and the ride takes around 7 hours.
The Thai Islands
If you’re looking for paradise, you’ll sure find it in the Thai Islands. Although some of the best known islands have a reputation as party islands, you’ll be surprised to find that some of the islands are still almost untouched. Ferry connections are improving all the time, so even the tiniest islands can be accessible. Read on to find your own island paradise!
Islands in the Gulf of Thailand (Eastern Side)
Contributed by Adriana from czechtheworld.com
Koh Samui is a beautiful island, full of stunning beaches, viewpoints, waterfalls, as well as numerous temples. It’s an ideal destination whether you prefer an adventurous journey around the island or prefer relaxing on the beach.
Hiring a scooter is easy, cheap and is a great way to explore the island. Make sure to visit Hin Ta and Hin Yai Rocks, the Secret Buddha Garden, Na Mueg Waterfall and of course, all the local night markets. These street food markets are packed full of delicious food, where you can try everything from fish, seafood, rice, noodles to awesome coconut ice cream.
There are also beautiful temples you shouldn’t miss in Koh Samui. The largest and most impressive is Wat Plai Laem which is a must-see. Another important one is the Big Buddha (Wat Phra Yai). If you have more time, visit also Laem Sor Pagoda, Wat Sarmet, Wat Sawang Arom Chaweng, or Wat Khunaram which has a mummified monk. Make sure to check this complete guide to the best things to do in Koh Samui.
If you are looking for beautiful beaches, be sure to visit Chaweng Beach, which is full of bars, restaurants, and clubs). Or why not visit Lamai Beach, which is calm but with deep water), Maenam Beach, which is popular amongst backpackers, or tranquil Lipa Noi Beach.
To get to Koh Samui, there are regular ferries connecting Koh Samui with the neighbouring islands as well as Surat Thani on the mainland, so it’s easy to get there. You can fly in directly to the island’s airport from Bangkok.
Contributed by Veronica from travelgeekery.com
Koh Phangan, a lovely small island neighboring the more famous Koh Samui, is a true paradise on Earth. Unfortunately, it has become known worldwide for its wild Full Moon parties, which sees backpackers travel to the island just to party real hard. Fortunately, it happens on such a massive scale only once a month and only in the southeastern corner of Koh Phangan.
Otherwise, the island is the best tropical escape with many things to do. Spending the day at the beach can be done all over the island, since most beaches are public. Koh Phangan is also criss-crossed with hiking trails. Whether you’d like to climb to the highest peak or trek to a secluded beach, you can do it all. Yoga fans will enjoy the many yoga and detox centres providing not just classes, but also yoga teacher training. Being a spiritual hub, Koh Phangan also enjoys a large number of Buddhist temples including a beautiful colourful Chinese one.
Koh Phangan has a wide range of accommodation options. From bare huts to more mid-range and even luxury hotels in Koh Phangan, there’s enough to choose from for anybody. It’s also easy to rent a house.
The best time to visit Koh Phangan is from January to March – right after the rainy season has stopped and before the heat of April and May comes around. It’s also the time when Koh Phangan gets flooded with tourists. If you’d like to have the island to yourself and don’t mind a bit of rain (it rains mostly at night), visit in October or November.
The biggest draw in Koh Tao is diving. The underwater life surrounding this mesmerising island is spectacular, and it’s probably the most popular place to learn to dive in Thailand.
Although Koh Tao has had some seriously negative press in past few years, its beauty and tranquility is undeniable. It’s the perfect place to relax and unwind. It’s name literally means ‘turtle island’, and it’s common to see them swimming alongside you in the turquoise waters surrounding the island.
The main action is around the central Sairee Beach, where there are plenty of accommodation options, restaurants, beach bars and shops. Make sure to explore the lush jungle interior where you might emerge onto your stunning white sand beach, and definitely visit the spectacular viewpoint over Koh Nang Yuan.
Koh Tao nightlife is definitely more chilled than neighbouring Koh Phangan. Relaxed evenings can be spent watching the fire dancers with your feet in the sand at one of the beach bars.
Contributed by Lotte from phenomenalglobe.com
While Thailand isn’t off the beaten path, there are still many beautiful places that while not undiscovered aren’t overrun by tourists. Koh Samet is such a gem and a great place to add to your Thailand itinerary.
Koh Samet is a small island in the Gulf of Thailand with a laid-back vibe. Because it’s located just a couple of hours from Bangkok (220km), Koh Samet a popular weekend escape for many Thai living in the capital. Visit during the week however, and you may have the tropical beaches of Koh Samet (almost) to yourself! Plus, accommodation prices are much lower during weekdays, meaning you can stay at a high-end hotel such as Ao Prao Resort for less than €100 a night.
The main town Hat Sai Kaew is where the ferries land, though this isn’t the prettiest part of the island. Either head south to Ao Wai or west to Ao Prao. Ao Prao means ‘Paradise Bay’ and rightfully so, it’s a gorgeous beach with the most amazing sunsets.
Things to do on Koh Samet are snorkeling, renting a scooter to explore the entire island (which is pretty small, just 13km2) or relaxing on one of the 14 beaches. Altogether, Koh Samet is a lovely island to spend a couple of days.
Islands in the Andaman Sea (Western Side)
The biggest of all the Thai Islands is Phuket. At 543km², it is actually similar in size to Singapore! Many people come to Thailand just to go to Phuket as there is simply so much to do here.
Phuket has long had a reputation of huge resorts, tacky towns and packed beaches. The Patong Beach area is the worst for this – and sex tourists too. It’s over-developed, crowded, tacky and even the prices are pretty steep now. Patong (plus the beaches of Karon and Kata) are in the south of the island, which is best avoided if you want a more relaxing, authentic experience on Phuket.
Mai Khao beach is the perfect alternative for a serene slice of paradise, well away from the crowds and chaos of Patong. It’s part of the the beautiful Sirinat National Park, meaning development and construction is highly limited. In the spring months, this is also where the endangered Leatherback Turtles come to lay their eggs.
Mai Khao is home to a couple of hotels, all set back from the beach and nestled in the pine forest. But the beach itself is the real star of the show. It stretches for miles and is one of the most sublime slices of paradise I have ever enjoyed! Mai Khao is without doubt one of the best places to visit in Thailand.
Other things to do in Phuket include exploring the island’s waterfalls (make sure to see Bang Pae Falls), as well as snorkelling in the waters surrounding the island. Phuket Town is well worth a visit, especially its weekend market which is also known as the Naka market.
Phi Phi Islands
Once the most popular group of islands to visit in Thailand, for many people, the Phi Phi Islands are one of the biggest draws to Thailand. In part, this is thanks to the film ‘The Beach’ which was set here.
Today, although still very popular, the other islands in Thailand have become far easier to visit, meaning the Phi Phi Islands aren’t receiving the same number of tourists. The Phi Phi islands have been a victim of their own success, and overcrowding has been a real problem. Maya Bay, home to one of the most famous scenes in the The Beach film, received such extreme numbers of tourists that it has now been closed indefinitely. Boats used to jostle for space, and walking along the sand is like walking down Oxford Street for Christmas shopping.
Fortunately, tourism authorities have stepped in just in time and have enforced several sustainability-focused policies and regulations, before the damage is completed irreversible.
Many visitors stay for a few nights in Koh Phi Phi Don, the main islands. Once a messy, overrun backpackers haven, covered with litter and endless construction, the island has finally emerged as clean, well-managed and a lovely place to visit for a few days.
Another way to visit the Phi Phi Islands is on an island-hopping tour from Phuket or Krabi. Although quite expensive, it is a great way to visit some of the most beautiful spots in the Phi Phi Islands, including the stunning Bamboo Beach.
Contributed by Dzangir from drjamtravels.blog
Koh Lanta is an archipelago consisting of 52 islands but is named after the largest island – Koh Lanta Yai.
If you are looking for a place with friendly locals and unspoiled nature, but not overcrowded like Phuket and Phi Phi Islands, then this is the place to be. The island has few spots to party but it is mostly a place to relax. Koh Lanta appeals as both a backpacker’s haven and a luxury holiday destination, with several exclusive resorts.
From Baan Saladan Village in the north, there are seven beaches that run down the west coast. First is Klong Dao Beach, more of a family resort-type of the beach. It is followed by Phra Ae Beach (Long Beach 3.5km) which has beach bungalows and a younger crowd, and then the beaches further south are less crowded and more secluded.
Besides beach activities and great snorkelling/diving, you can also explore the island by bike or car. Make sure to visit Lanta Old Town in the east, as well as the beautiful Tiger Cave, the Khlong Chak Waterfall and the lush rainforest in the island’s interior.
The best time to visit Koh Lanta is from October through April with the most visitors arriving in December to March. In terms of getting to Koh Lanta, the easiest way to arrive is from Krabi, which is 50km by boat or 70km by car. Transport options include speed boat, ferry, bus, or taxi. The journey takes from around 2-4 hours, depending on the time of day and mode of transport. A taxi will cost around 2000 THB (£50/USD $66) but the bus is just 400 THB (£10/USD $13).
Contributed by Linn from brainybackpackers.com
Despite its popularity among backpackers and tourists, there are still some hidden gems in Thailand, and Koh Mook is one of them.
The most famous attraction on the island is Emerald Cave. Most people go straight to the cave on a boat trip from nearby islands and never even realise they’re on Koh Mook.
But it’s so much better to stay at the island and rent a kayak to explore the cave at sunrise before the masses of tourists arrive. All the boats and people just take away all the magic about this place. You can actually swim through the tunnel leading to the mesmerising cave itself!
Other than Emerald Cave, there are plenty of things to do on Koh Mook. In many ways, this is still the ideal place to experience rural island life without everything being adapted to tourists. Explore the island by scooter, eat where the locals eat or go hiking in the dense jungle to discover secluded beaches where there’s not a single other person around. Not that there are a lot of people on the main beaches either.
You can expect to have long, white sandy beaches all by yourself, as long as you don’t mind sharing with the local crabs popping out of their holes. For a true Thai island experience, Koh Mook is not going to disappoint.
Submitted by Geena from beyondthebucketlist.co
Looking for paradise? You just found it. Koh Lipe is one of the last relatively undiscovered islands in Thailand’s Andaman Sea.
Koh Lipe is bordered by glowing white sand beaches with bright blue tropical waters filled with colourful coral and an aquarium worthy display of fish. You can wander the developing walking streets and nab some delicious Tom Yum, although the street food is nowhere near what you can expect on mainland Thailand.
You can also kayak to the jungle-covered nearby islands, or watch a stunning sunrise or sunset from the beaches of the same name. Koh Lipe is an island of relaxation and a rare isolated island paradise. Just try to time your visit outside the rainy season (September to November).
Make sure to also explore the beautiful underwater world by diving or snorkelling – you can even do a night swim with bioluminescent plankton! One of the best things about Koh Lipe is that it still feels like there is island to explore.
Railay Bay and Krabi
These two beautiful locations are coastal towns in the south of Thailand that are also well-worth visiting. Despite being part of the mainland, they offer a unique landscape of karst limestone towers rising from the sea.
Contributed by Paul from anywhereweroam.com
Railay Bay is an intoxicating paradise with steep-sided limestone karsts shrouded in dense jungle, fringed by golden beaches. For mesmerising sunsets, adventure activities, a great range of bars and restaurants, and top-notch resorts, Railay Bay is one of the best places to visit in Thailand.
Playful monkeys swing through the trees watching climbers desperately cling to overhanging rocks. Colourful fish swim in crystal clear waters as long tail boats parked on the sand offer tasty beach-cooked Thai food to passers-by.
There are several great places to stay on Railay Bay. Tonsai Beach is a rock-climbing destination and the ideal spot for adrenaline junky thrill seekers. It also has a relaxed vibe and a hidden strip of local cafes. Railay West has a magnificent arc of golden sand and is backed by sea front restaurants and hotels. Railay East contains most of the high-end resorts and it’s the pick-up point for boat tours. Phra Nang is a smaller beach with roaming monkeys and great views over karst rocks sitting out to sea.
While Railay Bay has become popular over recent years, it still maintains its status as one of the best beaches in Thailand. To get to Railay Bay, fly into Krabi. From the airport, take a 45 minute taxi (600 THB/£15/USD $20) or bus (150 THB/£4/$5.30) to Ao Nang Beach. From Ao Nang Beach pier, take a 20-minute long-tail boat ride to either Tonsai Beach or to Railay Bay West.
Contributed by Sally from our3kidsvtheworld.com
As you can see, Thailand is not short on beautiful beaches and it’s hard to choose one. Another of the best on the mainland is Aonang, also a relatively budget-easy area of Thailand. Aonang is about an hour’s drive from Krabi, but is just a long-boat ride away from some of the paradise islands, including Koh Phi Phi and Koh Rok. Just drop down to the waterfront and tell the ticket window where you want to visit, then head over to the beach where and you’ll be allocated a long boat for your trip. Obviously it’s not that easy when you factor in the organised chaos, however it does work out in the end!
Aonang is predominantly a backpacker haven but it is also suitable for families with kids. The beaches are just as lovely as some of the islands near by. Make sure to walk down the beach a bit though as the water is a bit oily in the area where the boats come in and out.
The Aonang main road has some lovely 4 star accommodation on the hillside with spectacular views across the ocean but there is also plenty of affordable accommodation to be found.
Dragon Crest Hike in Krabi
Contributed by Ilse from digitaltravelcouple.com
The Dragon Crest hike in Krabi is one of the best trails in Thailand. This 3.7km hike may seem short at first, but be prepared. It’s very humid in the jungle of Krabi and the hike is steep and strenuous. It will take you a sweaty 1.5 hrs of hiking, but once you arrive at the top of Dragon Crest mountain, the views are incredible. The vast jungle below with several mountains emerging up out of the landscape is something surreal. You can even look all the way towards the tiny Krabi islands scattered in the bay.
From Ao Nang beach it takes about 30 minutes driving to get to the starting point of the hike. When you put “Checkpoint Mu Ko Phi Phi National Park” in Google Maps you’ll be navigated to the right place where the hike starts. There is no entrance fee for this hike or to enter the national park. Show your respect by leaving only your footsteps in nature. There is a toilet at the park entrance, and a little stall where you can buy extra water or snacks.
The best time to do this hike is early in the morning before it’s too hot. Also make sure to wear sturdy shoes, absolutely no flip-flops. This is not an easy hike, but still do-able for young and old if you’re prepared. Bring plenty of water because you’ll sweat a lot!
Thailand Travel Guide
So there’s my guide to travelling around this beautiful country and all of the best places to visit in Thailand. As you can see, there’s so much more to the country than just Bangkok and Phuket! From the many historical and cultural sites throughout the country, to the untouched paradises of Koh Samet or Koh Lipe, and the adventures to be had in the north, There’s plenty to see and do in Thailand!
I do hope this Thailand travel guide has been helpful and inspires you to explore more of this incredible South East Asian country. Please, as always, do let me know if you have any questions.
Thailand is an excellent destination to visit as a standalone destination. But of course, it combines brilliantly on any longer route around the region! Check out my other South East Asia blog posts here:
- Malaysia Travel Guide
- Vietnam Travel Guide
- Singapore Travel Guide
- Cambodia Travel Guide
- Best things to do in Luang Prabang, Laos
- Ethical elephant experience in Laos
- Island-hopping the Phi Phi Islands in Thailand
- Mai Khao paradise beach in Phuket, Thailand
Disclaimer: This guide has no involvement from the local tourism board or a hotel.
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