Thailand has been a source of inspiration and intrigue for travellers from around the world for decades -and rightfully so. With arguably Southeast Asia’s most pristine culture, endless tropical beaches, invariably friendly people, and an equatorial climate, Thailand is the epitome of “paradise.”
Whether travellers come for urban delights, idyllic beaches, ancient temples, most end up agreeing on one thing: they loved it and want to come back for more. So if you’re dreaming of going to Thailand and want to know where to go, here’s a useful guide to get you started planning.
Top 10 Destinations in Thailand
The once prosperous ancient capital city of Ayutthaya has a glorious history with plenty of stories to tell. A history-lover’s paradise and a treasure to anyone who has ever wanted to feel like Indiana Jones, Ayutthaya is a destination too often overlooked by visitors to Thailand. Located only a stone’s throw from Bangkok, the endless ruins you’ll find here boast an ingenuity and craftsmanship that could only be inspired by powerful spiritual beliefs.
Located in the heart of Ayutthaya city is the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Ayutthaya Historical Park, which contains much of the area’s historical wonders. The most prominent of these are Wat Phra Ram, Wat Phra Si Sanphet, Wat Mahathat, and Wat Ratchaburana. Outside the park are even more sites and temples well-worth a visit, so be sure to head to Wat Phuttai Sawan, Wat Phanunchoeng, Wat Na Phramen and Wat Chai Wattanaram.
For a look at more intimate objects and artefacts from the Ayutthaya period, head to Chao Sam Phraya National Museum, which provides a fantastic way to learn about the area’s astounding cultural heritage.
If you want to take a glimpse at what life might have been like during the height of Ayutthaya’s reign as Thailand’s capital city, be sure to check out Khlong Sra Bua Floating Market. More of a cultural theatre than a functional market, it was created to replicate a historical village that existed in the area. It’s a great place to catch cultural performances or to watch craftsmen create period-style crafts.
How to get there:
By Bus: Ayutthaya’s proximity to Bangkok makes getting there a breeze. From Bangkok’s Northern Bus Terminal at Mo Chit, buses run every 20 minutes and take between an hour and a half to two hours to get there.
By Train: Getting by there by train is perhaps the cheapest and most scenic route. Trains regularly depart from Hualamphong Train Station and take between one-and-a-half and two-and-a-half hours. FromAyutthaya Station, simply take a ferry across the river or take a tuk tuk there.
By Boat: Although there are no regularly scheduled commutes, it’s possible to get to Ayutthaya from Bangkok by boat – including our own journey by boat from Bangkok.
Bangkok has long held a reputation as being one of the world’s most dynamic and energetic cities. Serving both as a hub for travel in and around Thailand, and as a destination unto itself, Bangkok regularly vies for the title of “world’s most visited city.” Take one look at its spicy and diverse culinary scene, vibrant nightlife, countless temples and pagodas, and down-to-earth people, and it’s pretty easy to see why. Whether you’re just passing through or are planning an extended stay in this electrifying metropolis, you’re almost sure to find something that intrigues you.
As with many of the world’s most iconic cities, there are certain attractions that you need to see in order to qualify as having “been” to Bangkok. Start with the reclining Buddha of Wat Pho and the impossibly steep stairs of Wat Arun, both are just a stone’s throw away from the scenic Chayo Phraya River. Then, make your way to gilded stupas of the Grand Palace -the official residence the Kings of Siam until 1925. Alternatively, take your pick between Wat Phra Kaew, Golden Buddha, Erawan Shrine, Wat Saket, Wat Suthat, and Wat Benchamabophit. All are impressive in their own right.
How to get there:
By Plane: There are two major airports in Bangkok, Don Muang Airport (DMK) and Suvarnabhumi Airport (BKK). Both are roughly 25 kilometres from the city-centre –although they’re about 45km apart, so if you have a connecting flight between airports, bear in mind that it can take 1-2 hours to transfer.
From Don Muang you can take a metered taxi to the city-centre or take a shuttle-bus to the BTS SkyTrain at Mo Chit Station, where you can easily access the rest of the city.
From Suvarnabhumi, take the Airport Rail Link directly to the BTS SkyTrain at Phayathai Station or the underground MRT at Petchaburi Station. Either of these options will conveniently link you with any of Bangkok’s major districts.
By Bus: Arriving by bus, you’re likely to end up at the Northern Bus Terminal if you’re coming from the north. From there, you can take a motorbike taxi or metered taxi to Mo Chit BTS or Chatuchak Park MRT stations to access the rest of the city.
If coming from elsewhere, there’s a good chance you’ll find yourself at Victory Monument, which is basically in the centre of the city. With convenient access to a BTS Station by the same name (Victory Monument Station), you can easily find your way onward.
By Train: Most trains arriving into Bangkok come through Hualamphong Train Station, which is surprisingly modern and convenient. With its own MRT station (Hualamphong MRT Station), you can easily connect to elsewhere in the city from there without taking a taxi.
A verdant valley on the banks of the Ping River, the northern city of Chiang Mai was founded in 1296 as the capital of the Lanna Kingdom. It seamlessly blends past and present, old and new. Within the space of a few hours you can go from misty mountains and colourful hill-tribe people, to upscale shopping malls, charming alleys full of handicrafts, ancient temples and raucous nightlife.
With a distinct northern “Lanna culture” that’s famous for hospitality, an old-style etiquette and a local style that still clings to traditional roots, if the gorgeous countryside and vibrant city attractions don’t have you wanting to come back for more, the people will.
The attractions of Chiang Mai can be divided into three basic categories: cultural, historical and natural –often with a great deal of intersection between them.
Within the city centre the most iconic tributes to Buddhism are Wat Chedi Luang a massive 14th centurychedi or pagoda that once housed the Emerald Buddha –Thailand’s most sacred relic, Wat Chiang Man, built the same year as the city’s inception, and Wat Phra Singh, which is one of the best examples of Northern Thai architecture.
Just north of the city centre is the gleaming mount-top temple of Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, which is not only one of Thailand’s most historically and spiritually significant temples, but one of its most beautiful. Head a mere five kilometres from there and be immersed in an indelibly cultural experience at the charming Hmong community residing in Doi Pui Tribal Village.
Alternatively, head to Doi Inthanon National Park. Known as the “roof of Thailand”, it’s home to Thailand’s highest mountain. Here you’ll find living-postcard communities of colourful ethnic minorities the Karen village of Ban Mae Klang Luang or the Hmong village of Khun Klang.
While intersecting a bit with “top experiences”, another of the “must sees” in Chiang Mai are the traditional Kantoke dinners. Far more than just a great culinary experiences, which they are, these dinners typically involve spectacular traditional dance performances which will almost surely be the highlight of any trip to Chiang Mai.
How to get there:
By Plane: Flying into Chiang Mai, you’ll arrive in Chiang Mai International Airport, one of the busiest in Thailand. A mere 3km from the city-centre, it generally only takes between 10 and 15 minutes to get there by car. Consequently, many hotels and guesthouses in the city offer free pick-up –so be sure to ask when you make a booking.
By Bus: You’ll arrive in either Arcade Bus Station or Chang Phuak Bus Station. The former is about 15 minutes from the city-centre, while the latter is just north of the moat in the city-centre. Most places within this area can be easily accessed on foot or by tuk tuk.
By Train: Coming by train, you’ll arrive in Chiang Mai Train Station. There you’ll find abundant options for transport into the city and, depending on where you stay, you may even be able to walk.
The UNESCO World Heritage Site is Thailand’s oldest and third largest national park. Spread across four provinces, it’s a vast expanse of mostly pristine rainforest habitat dotted with wild waterfalls, fertile valleys and some of the country’s richest biodiversity. It’s perhaps the best place in Thailand, if not the entire region, to go if you want to see wildlife up-close and personal. And not just a few birds and lizards, either. The area is literally crawling with Sambar deer, civets, and other strange but wonderful creatures. It’s also one of the best places in Asia to go for a chance at seeing wild elephants or tigers. In short, Khao Yai is a paradise for nature-lovers and wildlife aficionados.
The primary attractions of Khao Yai are its abundant and diverse wildlife. Just to name a few, it’s entirely possible to see wild elephants, tigers, gaurs (the world’s largest bovine), deer, hornbills, gibbons and macaque monkeys. One of the best chances to see this wildlife, and a “must try” for anyone visiting Khao Yai, is during a night safari around the park.
Beyond the animals, there are a variety of other “must see” attractions interspersed throughout the park as well. Most interestingly perhaps, are the fossilized dinosaur footprints at Wang Haew falls. There is also a really impressive Bat Cave near the Pak Chong entrance gate. There are also a slew of impressive waterfalls throughout the park including Haew Suwat Waterfall –made famous in a scene where Leonardo DiCaprio and friends leap from its peak in “The Beach”. There’s also the equally impressive Haew Narok,and Pha Kluaymai waterfalls and a stunning viewpoint at Pha Diew Die, which offers commanding views of the surrounding park.
Beyond the park confines, Khao Yai has more to offer than you might expect. The area is known for producing some of the finest wines in the region. Visitors would do well to pay a visit to the vineyards atGranMonte Estate or PB Winery (Khao Yai Winery) for a taste of some locally produced wines and spirits. There is also a rather surprising attraction in Khao Yai: a Tuscan-themed shopping village. Made to feel as though Italy has been brought to the heart of Thailand, it has an eclectic mix of clothes, handicrafts, gourmet dining, and live music. Palio Village is worth a visit if, for no other reason, just to see how eccentric it is.
How to get there:
By Bus: The town nearest to the entrance of the park is Pak Chong which is easily accessed by bus from Bangkok –a journey of between three and four hours. From there, take a taxi or motorbike taxi to the entrance of the park.
By Train: You can also access Khao Yai by train via Pak Chong Station en route to Nakon Ratchasimafrom Bangkok. From the station, take a taxi to the park entrance.
Koh Lipe is a small island off the coast of the Satun Province in the furthest reaches of southern Thailand, near the border with Malaysia. Once inhabited solely by Sea Gypsies, what the island lacks in size it more than makes up for in sheer unspoilt beauty. It’s an up-and-coming destination that has quickly rocketed from a little-known pocket of paradise to one of the country’s most iconic beach destinations. As such, it’s the perfect place to go if you want to explore true tropical beauty before the masses have a chance to.
Koh Lipe is on the outskirts of an impossibly beautiful collection of islands in Tarutao National Park, about 30 kilometres off the coast of the mainland. The name “Tarutao” is derived from the Malay word that means “islands of old.” Indeed, a visit to the park will have you imagining that you’ve been transported to some distant era. Almost all of 51 islands within the park confines are uninhabited strips of paradise that are just begging to explored.
On Koh Lipe itself, the primary attractions are the beaches. The most popular of these are Pattaya Beach, where most of the hotels, restaurants and bars are, Sunrise Beach which, as its name would suggest, is an east-facing strip of sugary white sand and Sunset Beach which also has a fairly utilitarian but accurate name.
Popular daytrips from Koh Lipe include island-hopping by longtail boat to various islands including Koh Turutao and Koh Bu Tang. You can also visit Pirate Falls, Chado Cliff, and the dense tropical rainforests of the uninhabited Koh Rawi.
How to get there:
By Plane: Flights operated by a few domestic carriers will bring you to Hat Yai International Airport or the tiny Trang Airport. The latter involves a 3 hour bus journey to Pak Bara then a boat transfer. The latter involves a short shuttle-bus ride to port and then a ferry ride.
By Bus: Most people coming to Koh Lipe transit there via either Trang City or Hat Yai. Trang City is closer, but also more remote. Being one of Thailand’s biggest cities, Hat Yai ends up being the more popular and easiest-to-do transit points. From either location there will be no shortage of bus-boat combination packages to choose from that will deliver you on the sands of Koh Lipe.
The second largest island in Thailand, Koh Samui is a veritable paradise for those in search of sand, sun and fun. The palm-fringed shoreline and mountainous slopes cloaked in rainforest create some of the picturesque scenery in all of Thailand. Not long ago, Samui was little more than a sleepy fishing village and stopping point for bohemian travellers. The first roads on the island were constructed in the 1970’s. Today Samui is one of the country’s most bustling beach destination – although it has still managed to retain much of its beachy laid-back vibe. With a slew of paradisaical islands lining its perimeter, a dazzling array of restaurants and accommodation, and almost perfect weather year-round, Samui is undeniably one of Thailand’s best places to go for some rest and relaxation.
With 42 uninhabited tropical islands, one of Samui’s top “must see” attractions is undoubtedly Ang Thong Marine National Park. Strangely shaped jungle-capped rocks jut out of emerald lagoons creating an almost other-worldly paradise that is not only one of Thailand’s finest, but one of the most picturesque tropical viewpoints in the world.
Koh Nangyuan, three tiny islands converge at a sandy spit that’s one of the area’s most photogenic attractions. Known mostly for its world-famous Full Moon parties, Koh Phangan is a stunning paradise when it isn’t overrun by party revellers. If diving or snorkelling is your thing, don’t miss the opportunity to explore the clear waters of Koh Tao, which offers some of Thailand’s finest aquatic sights.
One of the most popular local attractions is Hin Ta and Hin Yai Rock. Affectionately referred to by most simply as Grandpa and Grandma Rock, it’s located just metres away from Lamai Beach, one of the island’s most popular, and are said to resemble the genitalia
For a peak at local culture and religious monuments, head to Big Buddha, which is probably Samui’s most well-known landmark, or see the bizarre Mummy Monk at Wat Khunaram. Or, see a collection of moss-covered statues amid lush jungle scenery at Secret Buddha Garden.
How to get there:
By Plane: Although a bit expensive by Thai standards, it’s possible to fly directly to Koh Samui from Bangkok, Krabi, Phuket, Pattaya or Chiang Mai domestically. There are also direct flights from Malaysia (Kuala Lumpur and Penang), Singapore, Hong Kong and Kunming, China. Arrivals land at Ko Samui Airport. You can then take a mini-bus to Chaweng, the centre of the island. Beware that there are no real taxis operating, though.
By Boat: Because Samui is an island with no roads leading in, it can only be accessed by ferry from the mainland. There is a popular combination service from Bangkok, though, which allows travellers to combine a bus trip to Chumphon or Surat Thani to Koh Samui, Koh Phangan or Koh Tao.
Less than twenty years ago, Krabi was less of a beach destination than it was a mythical paradise hidden away in a world that only the most adventurous of travellers could reach. All of that changed when, in the early 2000’s, a movie called “The Beach” with Leonardo DiCaprio was released. In it, a group of free-spirited youths exile themselves away to the Phi Phi Islands to create a utopian society based on love and freedom. Ever since, tourists have flocked to Krabi hoping to capture some of that bohemian magic. While things have certainly changed since then –Krabi is now easy to access and laden with upscale resorts and a surprisingly vibrant nightlife- it retains its off-beat charm and spectacular natural beauty. With dramatic jungle-clad limestone mountains, crystal clear water and a laid-back traditional culture, Krabi is one of Southeast Asia’s most iconic beach destinations.
Must See: Although “The Beach” never explicitly states it, the paradise cove that the characters make their home in is the resplendent Maya Bay on Koh Phi Phi Leh. Because of its popularity, be sure to time your visit there either early in the morning or late in the afternoon to avoid the crowds. Less than a kilometre from Phi Phi Leh is the backpacker’s paradise of Koh Phi Phi Don, where youthful crowds of backpackers assemble in an attempt to relive the movie
On Krabi mainland, where most travellers arrive, the charming beachside town of Ao Nang has a broad assortment of restaurants, shopping and nightlife. With excellent beaches of its own in Ao Nang Beach andNopparatthara Beach, it not only serves as an excellent base for exploring the rest of Krabi, but is worth seeing in its own right.
Those in search of other mainland beaches with more seclusion will find them at Khlong Muang Beach and Tub Kaek Beach, which both offer clearer waters than in Ao Nang as well. Near to either beach, on Tub Kaek Mountain, is the Dragon’s Back Trail. In addition to having waterfalls and wildlife, the trail leads to what is almost certainly one of the Thailand’s most spectacular viewpoints. From this -it affords a 360-degree birds-eye view of Krabi, it’s karst formations and the surrounding islands. Those in search of viewpoints would also do well to head to Tiger Cave Temple in Krabi Town. Equal parts spectacular Buddhist temple and marvelous natural scenery, it’s worth the half-day and 1,200+ steps one needs to ascend to get there.
Just a short boat ride around a limestone mountain separating it from Ao Nang are the stunning Railay andTonsai Beach. Although they’re technically connected to the mainland, the sheer size and dramatic ascent of the mountains that surround both areas on all sides makes them feel as though they are in an entirely different world. Further by boat, between the mainland and the Phi Phi islands are no less than 200 islands ripe for exploration. Some are little-more than rocks jutting out from the surface of the emerald-green water. Others, like Koh Yao Yai are vast stretches of mostly-unexplored paradise dotted with palm-oil and coconut plantations and the occasional island-local. The most island destinations, aside from the Phi Phi Islands, though are Poda Island, Chicken Island, Tup Island, Bamboo Island, and the Hong Islands.
How to get there:
By Plane: Krabi is now easily accessed via Krabi International Airport by nearly every major airport in Thailand, as well as an ever-growing selection of international ones including Hong Kong, Shanghai, Moscow, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore. Although small, traveling onward from the airport is relatively easy. Either take a shuttlebus (about an hour and a half) or taxi (30 minutes).
By Bus: Most buses arrive at the Krabi Bus Terminal in central Krabi Town. If you’re staying in Krabi Town before venturing onward, you can either walk to your hotel or take a cheap motorbike taxi. Alternatively, you can take a shuttlebus or taxi into Ao Nang.
Pai is a picturesque postcard town tucked away in a deep valley surrounded by mountains and wild flowers between Chiang Mai and Mae Hong Son. Most are draw to Pai for its relaxing atmosphere, gorgeous scenery. With abundant natural hot springs, colourful hill-tribe villages, and unlimited options for trekking, Pai is also an excellent source of inspiration for anyone wanting a bit of adventure in their life. So whether you’re lazing the days away in the comfort of a hammock while enjoying pristine mountain scenery and a unique cultural vibe, or fording rivers en-route to hidden hot springs, Pai is a fantastic place to enjoy northern Thailand at its best.
Aside from a few Burmese-style temples and idyllic riverside scenery, Inner Pai is more about relaxing and enjoying the peaceful vibe than it is sightseeing. However, there’s no shortage of things to see in Outer Pai.Visit Wat Phra That Mae Yen for stunning panoramic views of the surrounding countryside or head to Pai Canyon (Kong Lan) for a nice hike and excellent views. Alternatively, you can dive into the area’s history at World War II Memorial Bridge, or dive into local culture at Santichon Yunnanese Village.
How to get there:
By Plane: Kan Airlines operates a flight between Chiang Mai and Pai via a 12-seater propeller plane. The frequency of flights, though, depends on demand –so be sure to book in advance. The flight, in total, only takes about 30 minutes.
By Motorbike: Although there are now domestic flights into Pai from Chiang Mai, one of the most magical things about Pai is the journey there. Winding through some 2000 narrow bends, the scenic route to Pai from Chiang Mai is one of the most breath-taking experiences to be had in all of Thailand. So if you’re feeling adventurous and have a bit of extra time on your hands (five to six hours), this is possibly the best way to get to Pai.
By Bus: Buses from Mae Hong Son or Chiang Mai take about 4 hours to arrive in Pai, dropping you off directly in the town centre. Because of the rugged mountain terrain, be sure to bring medicine if you’re prone to motion sickness.
Pronounced “Poo-ket,” rather than the vulgar-sounding alternative pronounciation, Phuket is among the world’s most popular beach destinations. With omnipresent clear water, clean white-sand beaches, year-round warm weather and a plethora of options for day-trips to more secluded islands, there are plenty of draws to the “jewel of Thailand.” In terms of world-class hotels, resorts, dining and nightlife, no beach destination in Asia even comes close to Phuket for choices –making it the perfect place to go if you’re looking to splurge on a luxurious holiday.
For a look at Phuket’s past, visit the charming Sino-Portuguese splendours of Old Phuket Town. In the heart of Phuket’s sleepy provincial capital, it offers a vast array of quaint alleys lined with restaurants, cafes and colonial architecture that are ripe for a wander.
If nightlife is your thing, be sure to check out the insanity of Bangla Road at Patong Beach. Home to some of Thailand’s most raucous nightlife, it’s truly a sight to behold -if only for the spectacle of it.
Visible from most of southern Phuket, the Big Buddha is one of the island’s most prominent and must-see structures. A short drive to the top of Nakkerd Hills will put you face to face with this impressive statue and spectacular views of the surrounding island.
There are almost countless day-trips to take from Phuket. Phang Nga Bay is for its dramatic karst formations and the famous “James Bond Island“. The Phi Phi Islands are Thailand’s biggest attraction. In addition to being drop-dead gorgeous, they’re also famous because of the blockbuster film “The Beach”. Coral Island is, as the name would suggest, great for snorkeling. Khai Nai Island has dramatic rock formations, bleach-white sand and clear water. Raya Island is famous for its desolate white-sand beaches and secluded vibe.
How to get there:
By Plane: Phuket International Airport is second only to Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport in terms of the volume of travellers arriving daily. As such, it’s pretty easy to find yourself whisked away to your hotel. How long it takes depends on where you’re staying on the island. If you’re heading to Patong, which is considered by many to be the centre of the island’s action, it can be a bit of a hike, though. By shuttlebus or taxi it generally takes about an hour.
By Bus: There are two major bus stations in Phuket, the Number Two Bus Station, a few short kilometres north of Phuket Town and Old Number One Bus Station, which is in the city-centre. You’ll find no shortage of taxi’s and tuk tuk drivers waiting not-so-patiently to drive you to your hotel.
As the first capital of Siam, Sukhothai is often referred to as the cradle of Thai civilization. Carrying the distinction of being a UNESCO World Heritage city, it was established in 1238. It’s considered by many the birthplace of Thai art, architecture and language, and is the inspiration of many of the Thai legends that saturate Thai culture. The name translates as “Dawn of Happiness,” and appropriately described the ancient city for hundreds of years. Although it sees fewer visitors than its other historical counterparts, Sukhothai is perhaps the most historically significant place in Thailand, and the best place to learn about the country’s roots.
Sukhothai Heritage City houses a vast array of historical sites and temple ruins. Covering an area of some 70 square kilometres, there are more than 190 historical sites to explore. The epicentre of it all is Wat Mahathat, which was considered the spiritual centre of the kingdom and was the location of the former royal palace, which has since collapsed. Just north from there is Wat Phra Pai Luang, which is believed to be the original foundation on which the Sukhothai kingdom emerged. There’s also Wat Sri Sawai, which was heavily influenced by Khmer (ancient Cambodian) architectural sensibilities –making it somewhat “Angkor Wat’esque.”
If you’ve managed to see all of Sukhothai’s historical monuments, a monumental feat in itself, be sure to visit its sister city, Si Satchanalai. As a flourishing trade centre for trade with China during ancient times, it also has a staggering amount of history to be explored –and it’s only about 60 kilometres away.
How to get there:
By Plane: Flights arriving from Bangkok arrive twice-daily in Sukhothai Airport. There you’ll find shuttle-buses waiting to take you either to the Old-City, if you want to jump straight into the action, or the New-Cityif you’re planning on staying overnight.
By Train: Express trains from Bangkok take about seven hours and arrive in Phitsanulok. From there, it’s an hour-long bus ride to the Old or New City of Sukhothai.
By Bus: Buses from Bangkok run from Mo Chit Station to Sukhothai Old City, and take around seven hours.
Direct buses from Chiang Mai depart from Arcade Bus Station, arriving in Old City, and take about four hours.
Things to do in Thailand
Experience a Thai festival
To experience this refreshing element of Thai culture at its finest, time your visit to coincide with some of the bigger festivals that take place in the country. In no other atmosphere is the Thai penchant for having fun more apparent than during its most extravagant festivals! Those that love some unhinged fun should head to Thailand during Songkran, a no-holds-barred water fight on the streets. Though the festival has little resemblance to its past as a solemn holiday where water was meant to wash away the previous year, Songkran nowadays is more a party to welcome a new year.
Later in the year, thousands flock to Thailand’s biggest cities to enjoy the magical procession of two overlapping festivals: Loy Krathong and Yi Peng Festivals. These festivals are often confused as being the same, since the two are both centred on lighting incendiary decorations and releasing them for good luck. However, Yi Peng and its floating ‘sky lanterns’ comes from the Lanna culture and takes place in the north, while Loy Krathong is country-wide and features floating “krathongs” on rivers and lakes.
As the capital and the country’s most populous city, Bangkok is a good place to enjoy any holiday in Thailand. Chiang Mai is most well-known for its festivities as well, especially for Yi Peng and a particularly raucous Songkran. Loy Krathong is said to have originated in Sukhothai, so the city hosts a beautiful and elaborate homage to its heritage.
Thailand’s holidays are not based on the Western calendar, so their dates shift year by year. Typically, Songkran takes place mid-April and Loy Krathong and Yi Peng take place mid-November.
During Songkran, don’t bring anything outside that can’t. It will get wet. Although this can sometimes become frustrating –especially after three or four days of being constantly wet- it’s important to understand that Thai people genuinely believe that they are helping to bring fortune to you in the coming year. Generally speaking, anyone in a public place, with the exception of monks, are considered fair-game for being doused.
Explore Thailand’s caves and karsts
One of the things that makes Thailand so spectacular is its dramatic landscapes. Shaped by weathering over millions of years, the limestone geology of Thailand has become a jagged combination of rock formations that rise out of the earth like teeth and caves that sink into the earth like secret chambers. These dramatic formations not only make for stunning photographs, but are fantastic for outdoor experiences too, making Thailand one of the region’s top destinations for both rock-climbers and cavers alike.
The southern province of Krabi is famous for its dramatic karst formations and is considered by many to be one of the world’s premier rock-climbing destinations. The cliff faces of Railay and Tonsai Beachesregularly draw climbers from around the world, so they are well-worth a visit if you’re a fan of outdoor adventure.
Krabi is also home to impressive caves that are ripe for exploration. Phranang Cave has a unique combination of scenic beauty and rather strange cultural intrigue -it’s full of large wooden phallus statues brought there by seamen in search of luck! Khao Phueng Cave, near Krabi Town, is adorned with countless stalactites and stalacmites, and Chao Le Cave contains prehistoric cave-paintings depicting people, animals, and various geometric shapes.
Beyond the karts of Krabi, head to the northern-eastern province of Mae Hong Son Cave and Fish Cavefor a truly spectacular caving experience. Both are considered to be among the largest and most beautiful caves in Southeast Asia, and are also fairly easily accessed.
For both rock-climbing and cave-exploration, it’s best to visit during the “cool season” between November and February when the temperature is better for outdoor activities. To avoid the rain but brave the heat, time your visit for “hot season” between March and June.
Be sure to bring a proper pair of boots or hiking shoes. Because of the way that limestone erodes, the rocks can often be sharp and will quickly shred gear that isn’t designed to take abuse.
Explore Thailand’s history
As the only country in Southeast Asia to avoid the region’s influx of western colonialism, Thailand’s history is refreshingly devoid of recent wars and incursions. This drives the focus of Thailand’s fascinating history to its deep past as a thriving centre of commerce within the region. From gilded stupas to the crumbling remains of its once-thriving ancient civilizations, Thailand is vastly underestimated for its value as a historical tourism destination.
For a look at Thailand’s fascinating prehistoric heritage, head to the little-explored region of Isaan where you can explore caves once inhabited by pre-humans and marvel at the mysterious cave-paintings they left behind. Remains and tools found in this area suggest continuous habitation for over a million years!
Often considered the cradle of Thai culture and civilisation, Sukhothai gained independence from the weakened Khmer Empire in the 12th Century. A wander around the ancient boulevards of this once glorious capital is like taking a step back in time – particularly when you have a knowledgeable guide.
In the North, Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai were the seats of government to a rival kingdom that came to power during the 13th Century. The Lanna culture that emerged here remains distinct in many ways from Thai culture found elsewhere. The entire region is littered with fascinating temples, historical monuments and ruins from the Lanna Civilisation.
The former capital-city of Ayutthaya, near Bangkok, was thought to be the most populous city in the world during the 17th Century. While exploring the remains of this once-glorious city, it’s easy to see how grand this ancient city once was.
When: If want to avoid Thailand’s notorious tropical heat, head to Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai during the mild winter-months of January and February. You can also avoid rain in central Thailand between November and December.
Insider Tip: When exploring the history of places like Thailand, there’s enormous benefit in having a local guide. Much of the context needed to grasp the depth of Thailand’s history certainly can’t be found in any guide books. Many of Thailand’s most acclaimed historical areas are riddled with important images and symbolism that you won’t appreciate unless someone is able to point it out to you.
Go island hopping
Island hopping is tropical indulgence at its finest. Thailand’s islands are spectacular destinations for any holiday-maker in search of dramatic coastal scenery. With two distinct coastlines running the length of Thailand, there are countless island destinations to choose from, each with a distinct charm and unique experience. Despite their diversity, nearly all promise translucent water and palm-fringed beaches that are perfect for lounging in the sun.
If an island’s worth is measured by the drama of its scenery, there may be no better place in Thailand than Krabi on the southern Andaman coast. Mesmerising karst formations rising out of crystal-clear water and endless white-sand beaches make Krabi a perfect destination for island hoppers. Be sure to take a tour of the legendary Phi Phi Islands, Koh Poda, Hong Islands, and Railay Beach.
Further south, Koh Lipe is a gem in the heart of little-explored Trang Province. With Koh Lipe as your base, you’ll enjoy unrivaled views of the surrounding islands in the Butong Archipelago. From there, you can explore the rich marine biodiversity Tarutao National Marine Park, which offers some of the best snorkelling and diving in Thailand.
If you want to go off-the-beaten path, head to the Surin Islands. Little-known to outsiders, it’s a collection of five islands that remain some of the most pristine and untouched in all of Thailand. In addition to its incredible wildlife, Surin Islands are also home to the Moken Sea Gypsy community, who live in near complete isolation while maintaining their nomadic sea-faring way of life.
From Koh Samui, there are also countless options for island hopping. Aside from Koh Samui, the most popular launching points for island hopping are Koh Phangan and Koh Tao. From either of these locations, you can easily explore the famed beauty of Ang Thong National Marine Park. This protected area of 42 islands is rich with exotic wildlife, sea creatures and idyllic beaches.
Even during rainy season (May-December), rain mostly occurs in the evening – so you can go island hopping any time of the year. For more sun and smaller crowds, time your visit for either the beginning or end of dry season (January-April).
Many of Thailand’s tropical islands are crawling with monkeys. Admire their cuteness from afar, though – otherwise you may find yourself unwittingly parting ways with your belongings!
Go on a nature safari
With an equatorial climate and abundant rainfall, Thailand boasts incredible rainforests and an astounding level of biodiversity within its borders. For an up-close and personal experience with the Thailand’s wildlife, head to the country’s biodiversity hotspots and you’ll find yourself in a nature-lover’s paradise. From iconic elephants and tigers to utterly bizarre flying colugos, these natural environments are chock full of animals that you’re unlikely to find anywhere else in Asia.
Thailand’s oldest and third largest national park Khao Yai National Park is one of the country’s most renowned wildlife-spotting destinations. The fertile valleys and lowland rainforest there are habitat to a vast array of wildlife including elusive tigers and Asian elephants. Be sure to take a night safari around the park for outstanding chances of spotting civets, wild cats and other reclusive wildlife after dark.
Thailand’s other premium wildlife spot is Khao Sok National Park. Not only does it offer some of the country’s most pristine pockets of rainforest and diverse wildlife, but it’s also blessed with spectacularly dramatic scenery. Centred on a spectacular manmade reservoir, Cheow Lan Lake, it’s one of the best places in the region to catch sightings of rare and exotic wildlife.
Those who prefer less rain, less mud and a smaller chance of encountering pesky leeches should opt for a visit during dry season, between January and February. Between July and October, higher rainfall does mean more mud and moisture, but also promises greener scenery and a more vibrant wildlife experience.
Like many outdoor experiences, the threat of leeches can sometimes leave outdoor novices petrified, despite being harmless. Avoid coming into contact with these common pests with a pair of “leech socks” or, in a pinch, women’s panty hose. The nylon mesh is more effective at keeping them at bay than standard cotton, as is lining your socks and shoes with table salt.
Go on a tuk tuk or rickshaw urban adventure
Few terms are synonymous with Thailand than “tuk tuk”. Hopping on a tuk tuk while you’re in Thailand is a right of passage for first-timers, and they make for great cultural experiences while getting from A to B as well. Taking city tours in Thailand by way of a tuk tuk is a great way to explore another side of a city, since these adventures typically take travellers to areas that they would otherwise never see.
Nowhere is more famous for its tuk tuk action than Bangkok. The labyrinthine network of alleys there provide a dizzying array of opportunities for urban exploration. Whether it be at the fragrant flower market atPak Khlong Talat or the smoke-filled streets of Phetchaburi, a tuk-tuk adventure through Bangkok is sensory overload guaranteed to create lasting memories.
In the north, a common form of city transport is aboard the rickshaw, a uniquely northern answer to the tuk tuk. These charming three-wheeled tricycles weave silently through the hustle-and-bustle of the city while travelling at a decidedly slower pace. Rickshaw adventures in Chiang Mai offer a relaxing view of the city and its highlights while reducing your carbon footprint in the process.
Tuk tuk adventures in Bangkok are a great idea any time of the year. If you’re in the north, expect cooler weather in the evenings between January and February, so be sure to bring a jacket!
Be careful with your belongings while riding around in tuk tuks. The angle of the seats and the jolting way tuk tuks stop and start is perfect for liberating your pockets of their contents. We suggest keeping your belongings in a backpack or cross-body bag that is both difficult to snatch and is secure on this heart-racing mode of transportation.
Rejuvenate yourself with a Thai massage or spa treatment
Thailand has a long history of using massage both as a means of therapy and spiritual rejuvenation. Depictions of Thai massage can be seen gracing artefacts from the country’s early period some 2,500 years ago. Today, as always, massage remains an integral part of Thai culture. So rooted is the practice of massage in Thai culture, in fact, that Thai locals are usually taught traditional massage techniques from childhood. Consequently, Thailand offers some of the best and most rejuvenating spa experiences in all of Asia, and usually at an extraordinary value compared to elsewhere in the world.
Massage and spa centres can be found virtually anywhere there is tourist infrastructure and is easily found even in places without it. For a unique experience, head to Bangkok’s Wat Pho, which is considered to be the centre of Thai medicine and massage. There you can take part in Thai massage courses and learn the ancient art of Thai massage yourself!
Since nearly all spas and massage centres are indoors, a Thai massage or spa treatment is a great rainy day plan. If your beach day ends up being spoiled by foul weather, all is not lost – just head to the nearest spa for some rejuvenating therapy!
Traditional Thai massage is famously intense, and for those not accustomed to the methodology, they can often be not-so-pleasantly surprised by the sensation. Unlike Swedish massages which tend to be more about relaxation, Thai massages are meant to relieve stresses at their source through corrective measures. That said, most masseuses are happy to adjust the pressure of the massage, so don’t be shy in letting your masseuse know to tone it down if you’re uncomfortable.
Take a Thai cooking class
Thai food’s focus on fresh ingredients and bold flavours have made it one of the world’s most iconic cuisines. Visitors to Thailand owe it to themselves to roll up their sleeves and learn how these exotic flavours are created. The local expertise on how to select ingredients, how to combine them to make rich flavours, and deep knowledge of how to balance these flavours is hard to find outside of Thailand – and it’s usually a trade-secret when you can find it. So if you have a penchant for Thai food, be sure to take advantage of a cooking class while you’re there.
Thai food can be broken up into four regional varieties: Northern, Central, Southern, and Isaan, in the Northwest area of Thailand. For a well-rounded perspective on the entire spectrum of culinary delights in Thailand, be sure to visit some of the more well-established cooking classes in Chiang Mai, Bangkok, andPhuket.
Cooking classes make for great backup plans in case the weather takes a turn for the worst, so plan these at any time of year for a great experience.
Most cooking schools offer their students recipe-books to take home with you. However, it’s a good idea to bring a notepad along to help you to remember some of the trickier secrets during your class. We also recommend bringing along a camera so you can take photos of your food in its various stages of completion for a great visual addition to your recipes!
Visit a floating market
Hardly anyone will pay a visit to Thailand’s capital city, Bangkok, without experiencing a floating market. The rickety boats piled high with colourful local produce make the perfect backdrops for photos, and they tell a fascinating story about the city’s history and culture. Plus, a visit to Thailand’s floating markets make for perfect da -trips, and most offer a glimpse at the country’s merchant culture that’s changed little over the decades.
For a taste of Bangkok’s own floating market, head to the Taling Chan Weekend Floating Market. It’s entirely authentic and frequented mostly by locals, making it a great place to experience the local life of Bangkok.
A favourite weekend destination for both travellers and Bankokians alike is the floating market atAmphawa. Here you’ll get a taste of “old Thailand” with stilted wooden houses and narrow, bustling waterways and friendly locals. A bit further afield is Damnoen Saduak in Ratchaburi. The most famous of Thailand’s floating markets, it’s about 100km south-west of Bangkok en route to Hua Hin.
Since floating markets are outdoors, they’re most enjoyable when the weather if favourable and sunny. Remember that you might be in the sun for a longer period of time than usual, so opt for an early morning visit to beat the heat.
To see Thailand’s floating markets in all their bustling glory, be sure to get there early. Most vendors stick around until they’ve sold all of their goods for the day, so the bulk of the action takes place between six and seven in the morning and has wound down by noon.
Visit Thailand’s ethnic minority communities
Minority communities offer fascinating insight into the little-known ethnic diversity of Thailand. A visit to these friendly communities is like taking a step back in time. Their traditions and ways of life have remained mostly unchanged for generations. Proudly rooted in their cultural heritage, these colourful communities are great places to experience a different way of life and learn something, too!
The most well-known and easy-to-visit ethnic communities in Thailand are those of the Akha, Lisu, Hmongand Karen people. All are found in northern Thailand, where the mountainous terrain has prevented their culture from being swept away with modernisation.
The Akha village of Baan Huay Kee Lek live not far from Chiang Rai. The Lisu are found in Soppong, near the border with Myanmar and the famous caves of Mae Hong Son. From Chiang Mai, the easiest way to visit a Karen community is to head to Baan Tong Luang Village. Baan Tong Luang is an exhibition village that allows local minorities to sell handicrafts while also displaying bits of their culture. You can also meet and interact with Akha and Hmong people there.
When: Although these communities can be visited any time of the year – but because of villages’ high elevation, it tends to get quite chilly during the months of December and January.
It’s important to consider the ethical implications of visiting ethnic communities before going there. Unfortunately, there are plenty of unscrupulous companies shuttling tourists to these communities in an exploitative manner. While it’s perfectly okay to be curious and fascinated with the people in these communities, it’s critical that those people are treated in a manner that recognizes their dignity as human beings. Always ask before taking a photo of someone, and respect their wishes if they prefer not to have their photo taken.