Thailand, also known as the ‘Land of Smiles’ (Thailand actually means ‘Land of the Free’), is known for tropical beaches, spectacular islands, exotic wildlife, fascinating history, royal palaces, ornate temples, delectable food, cheap shopping, and vibrant night life. Here we take a look at some of the most amazing locations (and things to do) in Thailand.
Mueang Thai, as locals call the country of Thailand, is a fascinating melting pot of ancient kingdoms. For over five centuries, the Khmer Empire ruled its lands — until expelled in the 13th century. Then, the Thai Kingdom was successfully unified and established by King Sri Indraditya of the Kingdom of Sukhothai (1238).
Ever since, the country has been divided into four main regions — each boasting unique customs, traditions, and attractions. The diversity brings an amazing array of things to do in Thailand.
Here, we take a look at the top tourist attractions in Thailand.
Top things to do in Thailand – Grand Palace
Top Tourist Attractions in Thailand: The Central Plains
There’s no better place to catch a glimpse of Thailand’s history and culture than around the Central Plains. In this region is where its capital, Bangkok, is located.
Bangkok, a vibrant kaleidoscope
Bangkok can be summed up in three words: mind-blowing traditional food, ancient temples, and insane nightlife.
Some of the most popular things to experience in Bangkok include:
- Wat Pho and the opulent Reclining Buddha
- Grand Palace complex (including Wat Phra Kaew)
- Soi Cowboy: BKK’s red light district, for sultry nightlife
- Grub at Sukhumvit Soi 38, arguably Bangkok’s best street food spot
Watch: Thai Street Food: The ULTIMATE Chinatown Bangkok Tour
- Rowdy, exciting Khao San Road (you must see it once!)
- Vimanmek Mansion: fusion of traditional Thai architecture & European neoclassical style
Top Thailand Tourist Attractions Phraya Nakhon
Day trips to the rural outskirts
Have a couple of days to spare? Escape the hustle and bustle of the city by taking one of the following noteworthy day trips from Bangkok:
- Ayutthaya: some of the most spectacular ruins in Thailand
- Nibble traditional boat noodles at Damnoen Saduak Floating Market
- Hua Hin: pretty beach town for those who don’t have time to explore the Thai islands
- Quirky Wat Saen Suk: somewhat-gruesome temple portraying the Buddhist visions of hell
- Phraya Nakhon Cave at Khao Sam Roi Yot Marine Park, one of the most stunning caves in the world
Did You Know?
- Buddhism is the Thailand’s main religion practiced by majority of the population.
- It is strictly against the law to criticise the monarchy
- Surprise: Thailand is the only country in south-east Asia that was not colonised by Europeans. Wondering, how did they miss out?
- Bangkok was once home to several dozens of canals or “khlongs” that crisscrossed the city, and most its buildings stood on stilts, earning it the nickname Venice of the East. Most of the canals have now been filled.
- Bangkok is the capital of Thailand. But did you know its real name is much lengthier? Bangkok is known to Thais as Krung Thep Maha Nakho, and its full ceremonial name is a whopping 169 characters long – Krungthepmahanakhon Amonrattanakosin Mahintharayutthaya Mahadilokphop Noppharatratchathaniburirom Udomratchaniwetmahasathan Amonphimanawatansathit Sakkathattiyawitsanukamprasit (Reminds of the popular Indian joke about the long names of South Indians. James Bond : “My name’s Bond…James Bond. And you?”
South Indian Guy : “I am Sai…Venkata Sai…Siva Venkata Sai…Laxminarayana Siva Venkata Sai…Srinivasulu Laxminarayana Siva Venkata Sai…and it goes on and on.)
Top Things to Do in Northern Thailand
Thailand Tourist Attractions: Chedi Luang
The former capital of the Lanna Kingdom has transformed into an inexpensive, yet modern college town. Chiang Mai’s rich history, amazing street food scene, and relatively low cost of living has made it a popular base for Western expats in Asia.
Temple hopping and foodie delights in Chiang Mai
The place has over 300 Buddhist temples. After spending several days around the city, I concluded these are the most unique, must-see temples in Chiang Mai:
- Doi Suthep: popular hilltop temple with spectacular views of Chiang Mai and vicinity
- Wat Chedi Luang: Lanna chedai, towering within the Old City’s walls
- Wat Umong: unique 700-year-old temple where resident monks roam among the forest
- Wat Suan Dok: 14th-century temple where members of the Lanna Royal family are buried
Thailand Tourist Attractions: The Temples
Another interesting and unique thing to do in Chiang Mai is to Join a monk chat!
These are cultural exchanges, arranged by local Buddhist universities, in order to improve the English proficiency of their apprentices.
Monk chats are a great way to get to know local customs and traditions firsthand. The MCU Chiang Mai Campus holds monk chats every week at Wat Suan Dok.
Are you an expat and looking for a great base in Asia? You should definitely consider Chaing Mai which is home to several expats, besides being a top tourist attractions in Thailand.
Thailand Tourist Attractions: The Food
Besides seeing temples, you should also taste Northern Thai cuisine. Some dishes you must try in this region include:
- Moo tod: fried pork tenders with a sweet, nutty flavor
- Laab: fried beef, pork or duck dry-rubbed with local spices
- Nam ngiao: tangy tomato soup with rice noodles and pork
- Nam prik ong: spicy Northern Thai dip made with tomatoes and minced pork
- Khao soi: Chiang Mai’s trademark! Thick Burmese-style coconut curry soup, topped with fried noodles
Capture the long-neck hill tribes of Mae Sa
One of the most unique things to do in North Thailand is to head to the Mae Sa Valley.
You can capture the world-renowned long-neck hill tribes, and also the wild elephants, with your camera by booking a one-day photography workshop with Kevin Landwer-Johan. Having married a local woman, he has an intimate relationship with the culture — making his interactive photography tours really interesting.
Thailand Tourist Attractions: Chiang-Rai
Chiang Rai and the Golden Triangle’s tri-border
Thailand’s northernmost bustling city lays by the infamous Golden Triangle: Asia’s hotspot for opium production.
Its also the place from where you can visit Myanmar, Laos, and Thailand in one day!
Beyond this tripoint, there’s not much to do in the area.
I recommend you base yourself out of Chiang Rai if you wish to visit famous temples and take in Mae Hong Son’s hilly landscapes:
- Shopping for local trinkets at Chang Rai’s Night Bazaar
- Renovated Wat Rong Khun (White Temple): a local artist’s masterpiece
- Tad Kwan Village Park: former nomadic hill tribe village, now settled by a beautiful waterfall
- Baan Si Dum aka the Black House: intriguing collections of traditional Southeast Asian artifacts
Top Things to Do in Thailand: The Northeast
Things To Experience in Thailand Khao-Yai
Also known as Isaan, Northeast Thailand is a fascinating melting pot of Laotian, Cambodian, and Thai cultures.
Its relative isolation, though, make it one of the most authentic regions a tourist can visit.
Swallowed by the jungle at Khao Yai
While Isaan is relatively off-the-beaten-path, this regions happens to be the home of Thailand’s most popular national park, Khao Yai.
A whooping 70% of its massive area is lush forest!
More impressively though, the park boasts several waterfalls, unique wildlife observation towers, rushing rapids, and outstanding viewpoints and hiking trails.
This makes Khao Yai a vast UNESCO World Heritage Site — perfect for nature lovers who wish to be enveloped by the thick jungle canopy.
Thailand attractions: Phanom-Rung
Explore intriguing Khmer and Mon ruins
The ancient Khmer and Mon ruins found in this region are a beautiful contrast of traditional Thai style.
You should definitely consider visiting these historic sites:
- Wat Pah Nanachat for an authentic meditation retreat in a forest monastery
- Phu Phra Bat Park: grottoes, ancient graffiti, and other interesting rock carvings
- Phanom Rung & Muang Tam: Hindu complex, arguably Thailand’s best-preserved Khmer ruins
- Ban Chiang: one of Southeast Asia’s most important archaeological sites, with 5,600-year-old relics
Top Things to Do in Southern Thailand
The top tourist attractions in Southern Thailand revolve around idyllic islands sprinkled throughout the Gulf of Thailand and Andaman Sea.
Best Things To Do In Southern Thailand – Beaches
Cheapest diving in the world at Koh Tao
My favorite island in the Gulf of Thailand is certainly Koh Tao — one of the cheapest spots in the world to get your PADI certification and take these epic pictures.
Seasoned divers will also marvel at its rich marine biodiversity.
Some of Koh Tao’s top dive sites include:
- Chumphon Pinnacle: whale sharks and dozens of schools of resident barracuda
- Sail Rock: the Gulf of Thailand’s finest site. Dozens of shoals of fish and a vertical cave
- Southwest Pinnacle: vast variety, from camouflaged scorpion fish to blue-spotted stingrays
- White Rock: big, shallow dive site–great for beginners. Everything from critters to sea turtles
- Green Rock: super-fun swim throughs and an exhilarating “Triggerfish Pit”
I personally booked my dive trips through Crystal Dive and Big Blue — and I highly recommend both of them. Not only do they offer outstanding service and experienced dive masters, but I also love how they pioneer several conservative initiatives throughout the island.
These means you could also arrange a conservation internship or eco-diver certification through them. Skills you will learn include everything from coral implantation to thorough underwater cleanups.
While diving is Koh Tao’s most popular attraction, laid-back beach bums and other adventurers will find plenty of activities to enjoy around the island.
Other interesting things to do in Koh Tao include:
- Hiking to several viewpoints, such as Mango Bay
- Beach hopping and circling the island on a scooter
- Snorkeling with sharks and sea turtles at Shark Bay
- Acrobat lessons via Flying Trapeze Adventures school
- Rappelling and rockclimbing day trips with Goodtime Adventures
- Longtail boat trip to Koh Nang Yuang’s stunning beaches and viewpoint
In terms of accommodation, I based myself out of Koh Tao Regal Resort (Mae Haad) and Big Blue (Sairee).
The Regal is perfect for those seeking a bit of luxury for great value (shown on video above). On the other hand, Big Blue is best suited for budget-conscious travelers.
Top Tourist Attractions in Thailand – Full Moon Party
Koh Phangan: Home of the infamous Full Moon Party
Quite possibly THEE top tourist attraction in Thailand and the birthplace of the world-infamous Jungle and Full Moon Parties is, unfortunately, only known for its wild nightlife. This epic all night party is one of the top things to do in Thailand and not to be missed!
Yet, the virgin east coast is quiet, sprinkled with low-key cabins and beachside yoga studios, away from the loud beach parties and rowdy backpackers.
The top Beaches in Thailand
Some of my favorite things to do in Koh Phangan include:
- Three-day kite boarding courses
- Trekking uphill, through the jungle, and into paradisiacal Bottle Beach
- Sunset drinkies at Freeway Bar, an addicting spot with a great hippie vibe
- Transformative yoga retreat by the beach at Blooming Lotus, nearby a sanctuary
- New Moon, Jungle, and Full Moon Parties once a month ( gotta mention them!)
- Motorbike road trip to Northwest Chinese Temple and Wat Phu Khao Noi
Things To See in Thailand Koh Phi Phi
Koh Phi Phi: “THE Beach”
This is another top tourist attractions in Thailand, made famous by Leonardo DiCaprio’s movie ‘The Beach’, with some unreal limestone rock faces and bright turquoise waters.
However, Koh Phi Phi islands today is a lot more expensive, and many feel its also the rowdiest. Some travelers even claim Koh Phi Phi has become wilder than Koh Phangan itself!
Nevertheless, this Thai paradise is still worth exploring, though.
Most popular things to do in Thailand
Some top tourist attractions in Thailand’s Koh Phi Phi include:
- Hiking to Koh Phi Phi viewpoint
- Sunset kayaking down Wang Long Bay
- Boat trip to Maya Bay (“THE Beach”) and snorkeling at Ko Phi Leh
- Day trip to Bamboo Island and Hing Klang coral gardens–less crowded than Maya
- Diving Thailand’s highest vertical wall–alongside whale sharks, reef sharks & mantas–at Hin Muang
- Party between midnight and 10 AM at Tiger Bar for a free bucket of local whiskey, Red Bull & Coke
As you can see, Thailand has much more to offer than the infamous night life (many wrongly believe that’s the only thing to do in Thailand). However, Thailand has much more to offer; its a unique and a wonderful country to visit, and also to live in.
With inputs from wanderingtrader.com