Where to go in Thailand
Where to go in Thailand
Our guide on the best places to visit in Thailand
Thailand is justifiably famous throughout the world for its magnificent beaches, but there’s more to the country than (just!) white sand and azure seas. A tour of Thailand will take in all the big-hitting Southeast Asian experiences: atmospheric temples, teeming jungles, bucolic farmland, and majestic hills.
Thailand’s cities are among the most enticing and exciting on the world. Nearly all tours will start in pulsating capital Bangkok, where you’ll find majestic heritage sites sitting alongside gleaming shopping malls, dining and nightlife for days, and scores of attractive hotels. Second city Chiang Mai, the northern capital, is famed for its historic centre, weekend markets, and rural tours. Ayutthaya, just an hour from Bangkok, is Thailand’s ancient former capital, crammed with UNESCO sites; Chiang Rai in the far north is a famed base for exploring hills and tribal villages, and gateway to the ‘Golden Triangle’.
Travel out of the cities you’ll find quickly find yourself in verdant, tropical scenery. Within a short distance of Bangkok alone you’ll find the jungles of Khao Yai National Park, the delta scenery of Amphawa, and the forests and waterfalls of Kanchanaburi – also home to the Bridge over the River Kwai and the grisly Death Railway. Up north in the hills around Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, and remoter still Mae Hong Son and Chiang Saen you’ll find epic trekking and isolated hill tribe villages. Travellers could get lost in these hills for weeks and not run out of adventures.
Wherever you travel through Thailand you’ll find highly-polished service and guiding and the warmest hospitality. High-end tourism has been established for some time now: the Thai people are used to looking after guests and take it as a matter of pride that international travellers leave the country with broad smiles, and making plans to come back again as soon as possible.
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Best places to go in Thailand
Our guide to Thailand’s principal destinations is below. You’ll find there’s a lot to see and a great deal of variety on offer! Please speak to our specialists if you’d like more information on any of these locations.
Thailand’s bouncing capital is one of the world’s great cities. Sitting at the mouth of a tropical river delta, facing the Gulf of Thailand, the ‘Venice of the East’ is bisected by the languorous Chaophraya river and riddled with natural and manmade canals. You’ll find the city caught between the past and present with modern shopping malls, galleries and spas, sitting alongside atmospheric temples, glittering palaces, and ancient canal-side neighbourhoods. Bangkok is a cacophony of sights and sounds, and the fun here is just diving into the nonstop action, while sampling some of the world’s best cheap eats along the way.
Situated around 90 minutes’ north of Bangkok, Ayutthaya was the seat of the Siamese kingdom – widely considered the precursor of modern Thailand – and effectively Thailand’s capital between 1350 and 1767. The remnants of Siam are witnessed in a series of beautiful temples, palace ruins, and epic Buddha statues. Ayutthaya’s heritage sites are UNESCO protected and impressively presented – you’ll need at least a day here to explore properly. Ayutthaya is accessed from Bangkok either by road or – enticingly – on overnight rice barge cruises up or down the Chaophraya.
Kanchanaburi is a smallish city of around 25,000 situated 2.5 hours west of Bangkok. The city is famed for its WWII sites, all of which have a fairly grisly history: the Death Railway, Hellfire Pass, the Allied War Cemetery, and of course the infamous Bridge over the River Kwai. It’s not all sombre though: the city is a gateway to the impressive waterfalls and hiking trails of Sai Yok and Erawan National Park. These alluring natural escapes are situated up to an hour up the river Kwai from Kanchanaburi town, with the best accommodation found in jungle lodges and floating resorts along the river.
Thailand’s second city and capital of the north, Chiang Mai is an absolute must for first-time visitors to Thailand. Its higher elevation means it enjoys a cooler climate than Bangkok, and it has a more laid-back atmosphere too, with more of a sleepy town feel than a bustling capital. The historic city interior houses over 300 temples, and you’ll also find lively markets, cooking classes, craft stores, and fantastic street food. Travel a short distance out of Chiang Mai and you’re quickly amongst breath-taking natural scenery, with lush rainforests and magnificent waterfalls to explore, as well as several renowned elephant conservation centres.
Chiang Rai & the Golden Triangle
Around three hours’ further north from Chiang Mai is the smaller but equally enticing city of Chiang Rai. Thailand’s northernmost city is a real hidden gem, tucked among lush hills and boasting its own distinct cuisine, culture, and architecture. The city’s key site is the glittering Wat Rong Khun, the ‘White Temple’, constructed with pristine white stone and thousands of tiny fragments of mirrored glass. Chiang Rai is just a few miles south of the ‘Golden Triangle’ where the borders of Burma, Laos and Thailand all meet, and houses several luxurious rural retreats.
Khao Sok National Park
If you’re seeking pristine nature, staggering karst scenery, and memorable lakeside accommodation then look no further: the natural wonderland Khao Sok National Park offers it all. Situated in southern Surat Thani province, two hours’ inland from Khao Lak and Phuket, this dense nature reserve features towering limestone formations, pristine virgin jungle, and enticing wildlife, with the best accommodation found on floating villas on placid Cheow Lan Lake. You’ll need a sense of adventure to both reach and enjoy the national park – it is not a luxury experience – but those of an intrepid nature will be richly rewarded.
Hua Hin & Cha Am
Describing a stretch of approximately 50km of western gulf coastline, Hua Hin and Cha Am are mainland Thailand’s most refined resorts. Around 4 hours’ drive south of Bangkok – and requiring no flights or boat transfers – this stretch of coast is easily accessible and contains wide and mostly pristine beaches, bustling resort towns, and numerous excellent resorts. Hua Hin town contains all the usual shopping and entertainment amenities of an established resort, and with Kui Buri and Sam Roi Yot national parks nearby there are opportunities for outdoor adventure.
Thailand’s largest and most famous island is home to some of the country’s most enticing beach resorts. There are around 30 noted beaches, all featuring powdery white sands and cerulean seas, with visitors able to choose from busier or quieter locales dependent on their interest. Interior Phuket offers a huge array of amenities and activities, with opportunities to indulge in legendary Thai massage, dine on fresh-caught seafood, hike in the interior, arrange water sports, or enjoy lots of great shopping. There are also history museums, galleries, golf courses and a variety of day trips on offer: boat trips into Phang Nga bay to ‘James Bond’ island are especially popular.
Krabi & the Andaman Islands
On the opposite side of Phang Nga bay Krabi offers extraordinary natural beauty with unspoiled white sand beaches edged by crystal-clear azure waters, all towered over by staggering limestone karst scenery. The district is also known for its dense mangrove forests and more than 100 offshore islands. Island hopping is popular here: the Phi Phi islands shot to international fame in ‘The Beach’, while popular Koh Poda can be reached by a longtail boat. Koh Lanta, Koh Yao Noi and Yai, and Koh Libong are all largely laidback and unspoiled islands featuring just a handful of upmarket resorts.
Western Gulf Islands
Sitting in the west of the Gulf of Thailand, just off mainland provinces Surat Thani and Chumpon, Koh Samui, Koh Phangan, and Koh Tao make up a truly alluring island chain. Koh Samui is Thailand’s second largest island and caters to all sorts of travellers, with both family-friendly hotels and exclusive luxury villas, and every in between. Koh Phangan is much lesser populated and offers long, postcard-perfect white sandy beaches and a lush, hilly jungle interior. The island is famous amongst backpackers for its Full Moon and Black Moon parties, but beaches to the north and east of the island are a world away and totally pristine. The island chain also houses the smaller Koh Tao and the pristine Ang Thong National Marine Park, which offer some of the best diving and snorkelling on the planet.
Eastern Gulf Islands
The islands on the eastern side of the Gulf – Koh Chang, Koh Mak, Koh Kut, and further north Koh Samet – may not see the same publicity as Phuket, Samui, Krabi, et al…but this is all part of the charm! These overlooked islands see significantly fewer visitors and as such are often a fresher and more authentic experience. Those seeking a peaceful retreat will particularly enjoy Koh Kut and the quieter beaches of Koh Samet: you’ll struggle to find anything open after 9pm here. While Samet is a reasonable 4-5 hour overland transfer from Bangkok, Koh Chang, Mak, and Kut usually require a flight down to Trat province, or – intriguingly – can be accessed overland if coming in from the wilder southern regions of Cambodia.
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