Best things to do in Thailand
With enchanting temples, incredible beaches, breathtaking landscapes and irresistible food, it's no surprise that Thailand is high on the bucket list for so many travellers. The Southeast Asian country offers boundless room for adventure, whether you're a nature lover, a curious foodie, a history buff or an adrenaline junkie. You could plan your trip around an array of day tours, or do it all DIY – the choice is yours, and Thailand won’t disappoint!
So where should you start when planning your trip? Here are 12 of the top things to do in Thailand, which will appeal to travellers of all tastes.
1. Unwind on the islands of Koh Lanta
Best for: Luxury retreats away from the crowds
While many Thai islands thrive on late nights, strong cocktails, loud music and rowdy backpackers, Koh Lanta remains a laid back oasis of tropical solitude. Located in the Krabi district and made up of two islands, Koh Lanta Yai and Koh Lanta Noi, the region is a haven for high-end retreats that cater to travellers looking to escape the hordes.
The southern beaches become increasingly serene, with spots like Kantiang Bay, Waterfall Bay and Bamboo Bay giving travellers a great taste of a true Thai escape.
Insider tip: To maintain the peace, watersports are prohibited in many areas of Koh Lanta. So if you’re hoping for heart-thumping aquatic activities, you’re better off looking elsewhere.
2. Tour ancient temples at Chiang Rai
Best for: Cultural splendour and breathtaking temples
Home to one of Thailand’s most resplendent temples, Wat Rong Khun (known as The White Temple), Chiang Rai is up there with the country’s most must-see cities. The White Temple reportedly dates back to the year 940, and houses holy artefacts acquired by an early Prince. Other noteworthy temples in the area include Wat Phra Kaew (The Emerald Buddha) and Wat Phra Singh.
Insider tip: Visiting Thailand’s temples is a reverent experience and all travellers should observe proper etiquette. Dress modestly, remove your shoes, turn off your phone and don’t touch Buddhist statues.
3. Sample the street food in Bangkok
Best for: Spice, sweets and city streets
No trip to Thailand would be complete without an authentic plate of Pad Thai from a Bangkok food stall. The street food in the city is famous around the world, with countless options to satisfy the palettes of all travelling foodies. Some street food institutions, like Thip Samai, are even awarded with Michelin ratings.
Insider tip: It goes without saying that street food safety is essential. Use your best judgement when sampling the fare, and only choose vendors that look clean, popular and fresh.
4. Go beneath the surface in Koh Lipe
Best for: World-class diving and mind-boggling landscapes
Perched on the fringes of the Tarutao National Marine Park, the small island of Koh Lipe is about as remote as you’ll find in Thailand today. Home to an estimated 25% of the world’s tropical fish species, divers who make the journey are rewarded with minke and sperm whales, dugongs, turtles and more.
Insider tip: Most dive sites in the area are located within half an hour of Koh Lipe, and there are options suitable for all skill levels. However, no matter your proficiency, ensure you book only with a licensed operator.
5. Meander through markets at Krabi
Best for: Unique gifts for friends and family
Krabi, situated in southern Thailand’s west coast, is a lively community within striking distance of some of the country’s best beaches. But it’s not all about sun and sand; the area’s famous night markets are a great drawcard for travellers looking to pick up holiday trinkets for friends and family back home.
With over 50 stalls ranging from fresh food to local artisan craft, these markets are a good alternative to the bigger and busier affairs in Bangkok central. The Krabi night markets run on Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings, so plan your visit accordingly.
Insider tip: Crowded tourist areas like markets are a favourite hunting ground for pickpockets. Remember to pay close attention to your valuables, leave the jewellery locked in the hotel safe, and never leave your day bag unattended.
6. Khao Sok National Park
Best for: Ancient rainforests and dramatic vistas
Khao Sok is one of Thailand’s premier national parks, where travellers can encounter wild elephants, Malayan sun bears, gibbons, tigers, leopards and countless other creatures. Exploring the natural splendour of Khao Sok by boat is one of the most popular ways to soak in the sights.
Insider tip: While it’s possible to visit the national park on a full day trip from Phuket or Surat Thani, an overnight tour will provide a more immersive adventure. The day trip can involve either taking a bus or minivan to the national park, a scenic tour on the river to view the floating bungalows, and you’ll hopefully spot some of the aforementioned wildlife! If you’re planning to stay overnight or even for a couple of days, you can book a river bunglaow or stay in the local town of Ensure you’re packed for the task (and put on plenty of insect repellant!).
7. Salute the sun in Koh Phangan
Best for: Wellness retreats and wondrous scenery
While it might have built a reputation as one of Thailand’s premier backpacker islands, Koh Phangan isn’t all about full moon parties and bustling beach bars. Yoga retreats like the Wonderland Healing Center and Ashtanga are some of the best in the country, offering wellness packages and one-off classes in lush tropical settings.
Insider tip: As anyone who’s sweated through an intense session of Bikram can tell you, yoga isn’t always the tranquil relaxation it seems to be. And in the tropical heat of Thailand, even less-intensive sessions can take a toll on your body, so remember to stay hydrated.
8. Go off the grid in Ayutthaya
Best for: Ancient ruins and historical intrigue
The city of Ayutthaya is home to some of Thailand’s most revered ancient ruins, and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Founded in the year 1350, Ayutthaya was the second Siamese capital until it was destroyed by Burmese attackers in the 18th century, but not before it reached its status as one of the world’s largest cities.
Today, the city stands in ruin, but towering spires and elaborate monasteries paint a clear picture of its former glory. Travellers can marvel at the Buddhist temple of Wat Chaiwatthanaram, explore the remains of Wat Lokaya Sutha (Temple of the Reclining Buddha), visit the historical park and even get a boat tour back to Bangkok.
Insider tip: The street dogs in Ayutthaya can be unpredictable, and have been known to lash out at unwary tourists. Avoid the streets at night when the dogs are most active, and never pat a stray, no matter how cute it might look.
9. Spend a lazy day at Maya Bay
Best for: Photogenic vistas and tranquil boat trips
Dramatic limestone cliffs, placid gin-clear waters, striking white sand and a steady stream of bronzed beach lovers - Maya Bay in Koh Phi Phi has all the ingredients for an Instagram-worthy tropical setting.
As the location of many blockbuster movies, the beaches of Koh Phi Phi are no secret to travellers and crowds are constant. However, venture to further flung islands in the region and you might just find some solace. Take a full day boat trip, which will likely involve a leisurely stop at Maya Bay as well as surrounding islands and beaches. Tours can be booked at tourist hot spots in Kho Phi Pi or Phuket, and you’ll be able to choose your boat size, vibe, and time of departure.
Insider tip: Many travellers are required to pay a fee upon landing at Maya Bay, which may or may not be included in your transfer price and isn’t always enforced. If you’re visiting with a tour group, ask your operator if it’s required.
10. Soak it all in during Songkran
Best for: A cultural celebration you’ll never forget
Picture crowds of local Thais, enthusiastic tourists and jubilant children taking to the streets in a nation-wide water fight, and you’ll have a good glimpse of the happy chaos of Songkran. The festival, which marks the Thai New Year, happens each year from April 13-15 and is celebrated by dousing each other in water.
Insider tip: While travellers are encouraged to join in the festivities, try not to get carried away. If somebody appears to be off-limits for a splashing, like somebody commuting to work for instance, respect their wishes.
11. Discover Serenity in Pai
Best for: Relaxation and Natural Beauty
Nestled in northern Thailand's picturesque mountains, Pai offers a serene escape from city life. Experience wellness retreats and breathtaking scenery, perfect for yoga and meditation enthusiasts. The ambience and lush surrounds make it an ideal spot to delve into peaceful practices- the renowned Bodhi Tree Yoga is an ideal spot to unwind.
Stroll along the Pai River, explore waterfalls, and enjoy stunning viewpoints on scooter rides.
Insider tip: Pack accordingly, as Pai’s temperature can vary throughout the year. Stay hydrated and carry a water bottle and refresh yourself during outdoor activities.
12. Rejuvenate Your Soul in Koh Tao
Best for: Wellness seekers and underwater exploration
While Koh Tao is renowned for its vibrant scuba diving scene, the island also offers a serene sanctuary for those seeking wellness amidst its stunning coastal beauty. Challenge yourself at one of the Muay Thai gyms with a beginners training course, experience a jungle or beach party, and take a boat trip to see the underwater world. Sairee Beach is a buzzing hub great for beach restaurants, boat tours and snorkeling.
Insider tip: Take advantage of the many roti and snack stalls dotted throughout the island – they’re great for a cheap lunch or late-night craving.
To sum it up, Thailand is an enchanting mix of ancient traditions and modern sights. From the buzzing streets of Bangkok to the secluded beaches on the southern islands, there really is something for everyone. Remember to soak in every moment and free your adventure!
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