Deciding on what the best destinations in Thailand are is not an easy exercise because there are so many beautiful places to see. I have visited Thailand 11 times and have never been disappointed by this stunning country. It’s no wonder that 35 million people visited in 2017 as opposed to 11.7 million when I first visited in 2004.
Thailand has so much more to offer than white sandy beaches and beautiful clear water. If you are an Eco-tourist, a history buff, a foodie or just need a bit of R & R then Thailand fits the bill perfectly.
The Best Destinations in Thailand
Bangkok is like no other city that I have visited. It is filled with chaotic streets, exotic temples, lively markets, skyscrapers, endless shopping opportunities, vibrant nightlife and delicious food. It is also polluted and the traffic is a nightmare, but still, tourists are drawn to the city. It is intoxicating with centuries of tradition and modern sophistication that blend seamlessly together.
Regardless of the type of traveller that you are you will find something to interest you and suit your budget in Bangkok. I guess that’s why Bangkok was named the most popular city in the world in 2017.
Did you know that the actual name for Bangkok is Krungthepmahanakhon Amonrattanakosin Mahinthara Yutthaya Mahadilok Phop Noppharat Ratchathani Burirom Udom Ratchaniwet Mahasathan Amonphiman Awatansathit Sakkathattiya Witsanukamprasit making it the longest name for a city in the world? Thais shorten it to Krung Thep which translates to City of Angels. I rather like that name.
Chiang Mai is often called the capital of the north. It is laidback and surrounded by beautiful countryside. It somehow feels different from the rest of Thailand. The food is incredible and the city attracts foodies from around the world who want to experience the unique regional cuisine.
If you want to spend time with the hill tribes then make your way to their home in Doi Inthanon, which also happens to be the highest point in Thailand. You can also visit an ethical Elephant Jungle Sanctuary and have fun interacting with these gentle giants.
Sunday Walking Street Market
The Sunday Walking Street Market is full of locally made items and trinkets. Many items are a decent quality as well and are perfect for souvenirs or gifts. Artists are at work and the musicians make the evening a festive event. You can also find a wide range of street food so there is no need to go hungry. The market opens at 16h30 and stays open until midnight, but it gets extremely crowded so arrive early if you want to avoid the crush.
Wat Phra That Doi Suthep
This is one of the most sacred temples in the north. It was once home to the Emerald Buddha, It is about 15 km out of the city, perched on a hilltop. The views are impressive and so is the temple.
Situated in the North East of Thailand Chiang Rai and is the gateway to the Golden Triangle. The city is home to interesting temples and some breathtaking places in Thailand for lovers of the outdoors and nature.
The White Temple
The White Temple or Wat Rong Khun is a work in progress and is not expected to be complete for about another 50 years. It is the work of a local artist, Ajarn Chalermchai Kositpipat who designed and constructed the temple with his own funds. It is quite bizarre and although it depicts Buddhist themes you will also find modern ideas, comic book heroes and references to sci-fi movies.
Khun Kom Waterfall
The waterfalls are about an hour away from town. After walking through the forest you will come to the 70m high falls. It’s a great spot to cool down on a hot day.
In 1350 Ayutthaya became the second capital of Siam. For 417 years it presided over the region until it was sacked by the Burmese invaders. Not much remains today, but it is well worth a visit if you enjoy archaeological sites or are a history buff.
Beautiful monasteries, dilapidated temples and statues are scattered through the countryside. The Ayutthaya Historical Park which is a UNESCO World Heritage site has 67 ruins and temples for you to explore.
You probably will have seen images of the Buddha’s head intertwined with the roots of a fig tree at Wat Phra Mahthat. It is a haunting image, but remember that it is a religious representation so when you take a photo respect the culture and traditions.
Ayutthaya is easy to visit from Bangkok as a day trip and is about an hour from the city by car. Another option is to take a boat up the Chao Phraya River from Bangkok.
Krabi is a province on the southwestern coast of Thailand. It has crystal clear waters, pristine beaches and an abundance of natural beauty. There are around 200 islands and inlets off the coast. Phang Nga Bay is home to the island made famous in the James Bond movie The Man with the Golden Gun. The region is filled with limestone islands that jut precariously out of the water, cliffs to climb and emerald waters. Adventure lovers can enjoy rock climbing, hiking, diving and kayaking.
You can enjoy some of the best sunsets from Ao Nang beach or Railay. Long-tail boats run daily to many of the stunning offshore islands.
The Tiger Cave Temple or Wat Tham Seua is in a tropical rainforest and is another popular site to visit. If you are feeling energetic you can climb the steep 1237 steps to see the gilded Buddha statue.
I have to admit to not being much of a beach person. I don’t like lazing around like a lizard soaking up the sun. I do however love being near the beach, watching the ocean, sipping a cocktail, having a meal all followed by a walk along the water’s edge. That’s my ideal beach holiday. Strangely, I have had quite a few of these holidays because my husband, Steve, loves the beach.
Railay beach is one of my favourite places when it comes to beautiful beaches. It’s not technically an island, but it is also not accessible by land. It’s a short boat trip from Ao Nang, which is where I stayed. You can also get there from Phuket or Krabi.
Railay is known for its sheer limestone cliffs that drop into the crystal waters below. You can also explore Princess Cave and Diamond Cave or just relax on the beach at one of the many tiny coves along the coast.
Tip: Don’t take too much luggage as it’s not easy to handle in and out of the small boats.
This is an extremely westernised island and not my favourite, but it is always packed with visitors. That’s probably what I dislike about it. It’s also easy to reach with about a 2 hour ferry trip from the mainland. The beaches are beautiful, but they are lined with tacky souvenir shops and bars tempting you with all day cocktail specials and western cuisine.
Chaweng Beach is one of the most popular on the island. It’s also the best spot for nightlife. Silver Beach is one of the most beautiful beaches on the island with views of the jungle. However, it is rocky and not the best place to swim but it’s perfect for snorkelling. It’s in the town of Lamai which is a bit quieter than Chaweng, but there are still more than enough activities to keep you busy.
Kanchanaburi is around 2 hours by car to the west of Bangkok and around 4 hours by public transport.
The area is best known for the River Kwaithat and the notorious Death Railway to Burma where thousands of prisoners of war died during the Japanese occupation in WWII. You can visit the Hellfire Pass Memorial Museum to learn more about the tragic history of the Bridge over the River Kwai.
Elephant World is a sanctuary where travellers can interact with elephants that have been rescued. It is an ethical establishment and offers various programs.
The Erawan National Park is without a doubt one of the best destinations in Thailand if you love nature. There are 7 levels of waterfalls that look as magical as a Disney set. The forest is a mixture of everglade type vegetation and deciduous forest. There are several rock pools that you are able to swim in so pack a swimming costume.
Pattaya has become the second most popular place to visit in Thailand. The city itself holds little appeal to me. It is just a little bit on the seedy side for my taste, but if you base yourself outside the centre of town that all changes. Much of the town is based around mass tourism and huge tour groups constantly streaming into town. There is of course nothing wrong with this, but I prefer something a bit quieter.
The city is on a crescent-shaped bay called Ao Pattaya. This was one of the resorts in the 60’s where the American GI’s spent their R&R. The southern part of the city is the centre of the nightlife while the north (Pattaya Neua) is more upmarket.
If you are tired of the crowds then make your way a bit further south the Jomtien beach. It’s significantly quieter and has a 6 km stretch of beach to catch some sun or take part in any of the usual water sports. You can also enjoy a selection of super fresh seafood at any of the number of restaurants along the beach.
The Four Regions Floating Market or the Pattaya Floating Market was established in 2008. It is a popular outing and shows the way of life of a riverside community. It has products and food available from the 4 major regions in Thailand, so it’s a bit like seeing the country in a day when you visit the market.
For Foodies: Bangkok Street Food
Whether you go for the food, beaches, diving, nightlife or culture Thailand is an amazing destination that has something for everyone and the bonus is that it is still an affordable destination for many.
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