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Thailand continues to be one of the most popular destinations in Southeast Asia for overseas travelers, and for good reason! It’s culturally stimulating yet relaxing, foreign yet accessible, and has lots to see and do on a budget. The delicious food, beautiful beach resorts, nightlife, shopping, and heritage sites are just the beginning. It’s one of the most beautiful and friendly places in the region and well worth the long flight to get there.
Whether you have a few days, weeks, or even months to explore Thailand, you’ll undoubtedly come home with a broader perspective and greater world view. These are some of the most unforgettable destinations in Thailand to visit when you start planning your trip.
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Since Thailand is such a popular destination, some of the most prominent beaches can get crowded during peak season. For less crowded beaches, head to Krabi, which is typically more relaxed than Phuket. This is a quiet beach area and southern coastal town that offers lovely sunsets and views. Just grab a coconut shake or cocktail to sit back, relax, and experience the pure bliss of a vacation in Thailand.
If you’re looking for a cultural mecca with a dose of heritage and nightlife, then look no further than Bangkok. This is Thailand’s largest city and the capital, so it’s a first-time traveler’s most logical starting point for visiting the country. There is a long list of things to do in Bangkok, from visiting the temples and floating markets to sampling the local cuisine. Top attractions that shouldn’t be missed are the Grand Palace and the Temple of Dawn. If you’re looking for less-touristy areas in Bangkok, consider staying in the laid-back Ari neighborhood or taking a guided bicycle tour to learn about the more hidden parts of the city that many travelers miss.
Known as the “Rose of the North,” Chiang Mai is the largest city in Northern Thailand and a popular home base for visiting the area’s Buddhist temples. This is also an amazing place to visit for outdoor enthusiasts because there are lots of hiking trails to check out. And don’t forget about the food, because some of the most distinctive and delicious cuisine in the country is served here! The culture is laid-back and the shopping scene is worth scoping out too. Visit the city’s night bazaar for bargain shopping for clothes, street food, silk, shoes, and accessories.
The second-largest island in Thailand is Ko Chang, and although it has seen increased popularity among tourists, it’s still an affordable and peaceful destination with plenty of wide-open spaces. It’s about halfway between Bangkok and Siem Reap. Make sure to spend time at the Ko Chang Marine Park and explore its forest and mountain terrain on foot. This is one of the best dive spots in Thailand because there are lots of reefs around the island that are still in-tact and that haven’t been over-fished. You’ll find tourist resorts around Hat Sai Khao Beach. The backpacker destinations are at Lonely Beach, which is a good scene if you want to party and mingle, and the Treehouse Guesthouse at Hat Yao, which is quiet and more relaxing.
Just a few years ago, Ko Lanta was a rustic paradise that had very few restaurants, bars, and accommodations. Now this area has been developed a bit more, but still retains its rustic and secluded charm. This is an area where you can still find very affordable bungalows and have a stretch of beach all to yourself. The locally caught seafood is delicious, and now you have the option of staying at high-end resorts and dining at international restaurants as well. You can reach the island by ferry, but each ferry can only bring over a certain number of people at once. A tight-knit community of inhabitants resides here to help the island keep its local and serene vibe.
To keep the outdoor adventure going, visit Railay, which is a popular rock climbing destination. The cliffs here are best-suited for experienced climbers, so hire a local guide company to show you the ropes if you’re a beginner or intermediate climber. After your climb, head down to Ton Sai beach to relax your muscles and find affordable accommodations after intense days on the cliffs.
One often-overlooked city in Thailand that is incredibly charming is Nong Kai. It’s in the northern providence of Isaan and has a reputation of being very traveler-friendly. If possible, try to plan your visit to Nong Kai around one of the city’s exciting festivals, such as the Rocket Festivals, Rowing Festivals, and Thai New Year. Phu Phra Bat Historical Park has some fascinating rock formations that are worth checking out, and Wat Khaek and Wat Pho are lovely temples to visit too.
Another must-see place in Thailand for history buffs is Kanchanaburi, which is where the “Death Railway” was built during World War II by prisoners of war under the orders of the Japanese. Take a walk down the Memorial Walking trail and stop by the museum to learn about the history of the Thai-Burma Railway. While in this area, make a point to visit the Srinakarind National Park and the Erawan National Park to see the elephant camps among the beautiful caves and waterfalls.
Head to the remote Northern Thailand town of Soppong to get your outdoors fix while on your trip. This is a great place to explore caves by taking a tour and seeing deep underground waterfalls. You can take hardcore caving tours that require crawling through narrow crevices or more accessible caves, like Tham Lod Cave, which you can walkthrough. You can also kayak down the Lang River, and this small town gets lively on Tuesday mornings when the market comes to town.
In Ayutthaya, the ancient ruins date back to the 1300s, and this is a wonderful destination for anyone interested in Thailand’s history. Here you can tour temples, fortresses, and monasteries that are in-tact and nearly destroyed. Make sure to see the temples and also the 39-foot-long reclining Buddha statute. This destination is north of Bangkok, and many visitors start their journey of exploration at the Ayutthaya Historical Study Center.
Bo Sang is known as the “Umbrella Village” because it has become famous for its handmade bamboo parasols. Even if you don’t think you’d ever actually use a parasol, it’s still worth a visit here to learn about this fascinating craft and how they’re made. The local women cut and paint these parasols, which you can observe for free. If you’d like one as a souvenir or gift, inquire about international shipping rates.