One of Asia’s most popular tourist destinations, Thailand’s reputation for hedonism attracts thousands of backpackers and its natural beauty also attracts an increasing amount of holiday-makers. Thailand is a mystical country which leaves a life long impression on anyone who visits. It offers a rich history, smiling locals, some interesting quirks and of course an unforgettable experience. To help you see the best of the country, here is our list of top ten places to visit in Thailand:
Bangkok is a restless and chaotic metropolis and an essential part of a trip to Thailand. Although not everyone’s cup of tea, the culture-shock inducing capital has some incredible places of interest that you would be foolish to miss. The impossibly bejewelled Grand Palace should really be visited and if you have time, take a trip to Wat Arun (one of the oldest and best known landmarks in Bangkok) and Wat Po which is home to a huge reclining Buddha. The more adventurous head for the notorious backpacker’s road Khao San, the bazaars and alleyways of Chinatown and the infamous Patpong Night Market, located in the city’s red light district.
2. The Floating Market
The Floating Market- made famous by the James Bond classic “The Man with the Golden Gun” – can be found on the Damneon Saduak Canal. Although now a major tourist attraction, the market is highly photogenic and visitors can get an idea of what trading was like in Thailand before the modernisation of the city. It’s also tonnes of fun. If you want to buy something here you will have to hail down a narrow long boat piled high with produce (which is quite an experience in itself). The region also has plenty of vineyards, orchards and thriving local businesses which are great to view by canal boat on route to the market.
3. Chiang Mai
The spiritual city of Chiang Mai is a much calmer city than Bangkok but still an essential visit on the travellers trail if you want to see the best of Thailand. Dotted with temples, craft shops, great restaurants and plenty of Thai massage and cooking schools, the city has a somehow relaxed and comparatively tranquil atmosphere. Many travellers often mention Chiang Mai as their favourite Thai city and once visited it’s easy to see why the city is so popular. It’s location high in the north mountainous region of Thailand also makes it a perfect base for the popular mountain treks. Organised treks can be arranged very easily here with almost every other shop offering them. The trails from Chiang Mai are although interesting are often a well-worn path and many backpackers now head for the nearby small town Pai. Pai is a gorgeously located traveller’s mecca popular with artists and musicians. It also offers less touristy and more ‘rustic’ treks and visits to hill-tribes.
4. San Kamphaeng Hot Springs
San Kamphaeng is a district located 36km from the northern city Chiang Mai. The area is home to the popular hot springs which are set in a 40 acre beautifully landscaped parkland. They are well known for their restorative properties and people come from miles to visit. The springs come from a deep source, are over 100 degrees centigrade and high in sulfur. Here you can camp, dine, bath in the mineral rich waters or if you fancy – boil some eggs.
5. The East Coast Islands
Koh Samui and Koh Phangan are islands on the east side of Thailand popular with both vacationers and backpackers. The islands are known for their palm tree lined white sandy beaches, clear turquoise waters and laid back attitudes. On Koh Phangan you’ll find plenty of bohemian style bars and cafes and of course the world-famous full moon parties. Nearby, the islands of Koh Tao and Koh Nang Yuan (pictured above) are much less touristy due to their more isolated locations and are perfect for those looking for peace. These islands also offer world-class snorkelling and diving.
6. Mae Hong Son
Mae Hong Son is the capital of Thailand’s northwestern-most province. Its close proximity to the Burmese boarder gives the city a very different feel to the rest of Thailand. Very quiet and isolated this mountainous city is often shrouded in an atmospheric mist. Visitors come here for the unusual and beautiful natural scenery, the mountain trekking and to see the local hill tribe communities – one of which is the famous Karen long neck tribe. The Thanon Thongchai range between Myanmar (Burma) and Thailand is popular for trekking and here you can also see the Pha Sua waterfall. Handicrafts and artwork from the hill-tribe people can be purchased at the local night market-great for unique souvenirs.
Only an hours journey from Bangkok, Ayutthaya was an important Siamese kingdom existing from 1351 to 1767. The ancient city is now ruined but the remains of the extraordinary and once towering temples are classed as an UNESCO world heritage site and should not be missed. To make the most of this site, allow a full day and of course don’t forget to pack your camera.
Railay and the surrounding coast of the Krabi province (located in the South of Thailand) is a tropical paradise characterised by towering rugged limestone cliffs, turquoise water and powder white sand. From this area it’s also easy to take a trip to nearby Phang Nga to see the iconic ‘James Bond Rock’. Railay is a beautiful secluded beach – accessible only by boat – which attracts a mixture of in-the-know backpackers, well-heeled tourists and enthusiastic rock climbers. Surrounded by dense vegetation and mountains, the area is also good for trekking. The beach is unique because it’s completely cut off from the daily grind and visitors kick back and often stay a lot longer than originally planned.
9. Koh Phi Phi
The tiny but idyllic west coast island of Koh Phi Phi is seen by many as the ultimate island paradise. Even though it has now fully recovered from the devastating 2009 tsunami, the island has suffered from rapid tourist growth especially since the release of the “The Beach” (starring Leo Dicaprio). Having said that it still manages to retain a relaxed vibe which seems to keep both the backpackers and the vacationers happy. Island highlights include climbing a steep viewpoint to watch the sunset and hiring a long tail boat to snorkel the beautiful surrounding waters.
10. Hin Daeng
Divers should head for Hin Daeng located in the Andaman Sea. Literally meaning the Red Rock, this area is often said to be one of the top diving spots in Thailand – if not the world. Swim among underwater pinnacles, swaying carpets of anemone and colourful coral. It’s also teeming with wildlife including large shoals of fish, round batfish, manta ray, barracuda and the odd whale shark or two.
Animal lovers should include a visit to the gorgeous Boon Lott’s Elephant Sanctuary located in North Thailand. Started by a UK traveller they provide sanctuary to rescued elephants and welcome both guests and volunteers. Here you’ll get a chance to see some of the happiest elephants in Thailand.
Where to stay – popular, unique and reasonably priced hotels in Thailand
- Seven Hotel, Bangkok – Cool and quirky. A perfect antidote to Bangkok’s high rise hotels from $55pn
- Shanghai Mansion Hotel, Bangkok – Gorgeous boutique hotel with Asian interiors from $35pn
- Butterfly Resort, Chiang Mai – Beautiful unique resort in relaxing location from $55pn
- Chayayon Boutique Lodge, Chiang Mai – Budget boutique hotel in North Thai design from $12pn
- Buddy Oriental Hotel, Koh Samui - Elegant, old school colonial luxury from $30 per night.
- Milky Bay Resort, Koh Phangan – Great value beachfront resort with funky villas from $19pn
- B52 Beach Resort, Koh Phangan – Popular beach bungalows in centre of party scene from $23pn
- Railay Viewpoint Resort, Krabi - A budget colonial style resort with garden bungalows from $20pn
- Sunrise Tropical Resort, Krabi - Thai style villas only short walk to Railay Beach from $35pn
- Phi Phi Natural Resort – A lower priced rustic beach bungalow resort on the Koh Phi Phi from $30pn
- Phi Phi Villa Resort – Mid-priced beach side villas with private beach on Koh Phi Phi from $45pn
- Manathai Resort, Phuket – An eclectic modern boutique hotel located on Surin beach from $40pn
- The Boomerang Village Cottages, Phuket – Very popular villas with high standards from $45pn
Useful Travel Resources
- Affordable Thailand Travel Packages - Affordable Asia offer great value holidays, vacation packages, and custom tours to Thailand. More information on Affordable Asia – Best Quality Vacations
- Tailored Thailand Tours – Exotissimo are the longest established inbound tour agents in Asia. They offer individually tailored Thailand Tours to suit your requirements. More information on Tailored Thailand Tours by Exotissimo Travel – In Asia since 1993.
- Flights - Skyscanner is an invaluable tool for the independent traveller. It searches over 600 airlines and 670000 routes to find the cheapest deals on flights and then you can book direct with no fees added. Compare all cheap flights with Skyscanner
- Apartment rentals – Renting apartments can save up to 40% on a trip compared to staying in a hotel. HomeAway.com has one of the largest collection of short term rentals properties all over the world. Find Worldwide Rental Properties
- Tours and Activities - Isango! is the leading provider of sightseeing trips, wine tours, destination experiences, historic tours, romantic activities, theme park visits, cooking classes, bike tours, diving expeditions, hop-on -and-off bus tours, off-the-beaten-track trips and guided historical attractions. More information on Isango
- House Swapping – An increasingly popular form of budget travelling is house swapping. Home Exchange has over 42,000 properties (in 147 countries) on their books and membership allows unlimited exchanges, with no additional per-exchange charges. Check 40,000+ Worldwide Listings. Local-weekend-international swaps
- Adventure Vacations - G Adventures is the largest small group adventure travel company in the world and offer adventurous trips to many countries including Thailand. More information on G Adventures.
- Deals on Travel Packages – LivingSocial is a daily deal website which offers a variety of savings on travel, to save 50-70% off with LivingSocial’s Daily Deals!
- Car Rental – Budget rent a car offers good value car hire in over 3,400 locations in over 128 countries including Thailand. More information on Budget Rent-a-Car.
Can’t get enough of Thailand? We also have Where to Stay in Bangkok - 15 hotels in the best locations and 15 of the most beautiful islands in Thailand.
Top Ten Places to visit in Thailand was co-written by Kelly Nolan and Becky Padmore.
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