Let’s be completely honest here, Thailand is an insanely gorgeous country. The pretty white beaches, crazy rocks sticking out of the ocean, and massive mountains with monumental Buddha’s on top of them. It’s all just incredible and makes selecting where to go a bit of a challenge. We hope to help you with that task right now – 10 places you must visit in Thailand!
Maya Bay, Phi Phi Island
This island would have to be the most well known island in all of Thailand – well, except for Phuket. It’s the most photographed, the most talked about and gets the most media coverage. All probably because it’s the prettiest one! Phi Phi sits off the east coast of Phuket and is the largest island in the small group of 6 which are part of Krabi Province. The 2 larger islands are Phi Phi Don and Phi Phi Ley. The latter; Phi Phi Ley is where the famous Maya Bay is located. This is the place where the move The Beach was filmed with Leonardo Di Caprio. The best way to reach these islands is to take a boat from either Phuket or Krabi. It’s not a big distance; you can be there in 45 minutes if you go by speed boat. There’s plenty of ferries going over too.
You will be missing out on something special if you don’t go north to Chiang Mai. Nestled between huge mountains, the charming city of Chiang Mai is a cultural wonderland waiting for you to explore. The city centre is a large square with a moat around it. This is the Old City, and it’s home to plenty of beautiful Lanna-style hotels, restaurants and cafes. Chiang Mai is the city of temples and you will not be disappointed with what you find here. The most famous is Doi Suthep, perched high up on a mountain overlooking Chiang Mai. This stunning city is loaded with things to do – walking street markets, art galleries, cultural displays, cooking schools, elephant sanctuaries, themed cafes, river boats, nature walks, shopping malls, the list goes on and on. The beauty of Chiang Mai is amazing and will draw you in from the moment you arrive.
A lovely town sitting on the edge of Phang Nga Bay is Krabi with a population of 50,000 – 55,000 people. Krabi is an old city with plenty of ancient relics and caves. There’s lots of national parkland to explore and water sports are top of the list for most visitors. It is where you will find the endless white beaches, crazy monolithic lime stone boulders and beauty in nature which is breathtaking. Krabi is often used as a base to see the islands and other towns on the coastline like Ao Nang. It’s a quieter option to Phuket. The town itself is not as touristy as Phuket towns, and has that real Thai local feel to it. You’ll still find a night market and plenty of restaurants and bars to chill out in.
Further north from Chiang Mai is the smaller, less populated city of Chiang Rai. Often this is a day trip for tourists from Chiang Mai, but it has been growing and becoming a destination in it’s own right, with more and more hotels and facilities springing up. Life moves a little slower in Chiang Rai, so hit the brakes and take your time to fully appreciate this piece of traditional Thailand. There’s still night markets, walking street and restaurants. The most popular spot in the area is the White Temple, which is a little distance out of town at 13km. This unique modern temple was designed and built by artist Chaloemchai Khositphiphat starting in 1998. A beautiful white ordination hall—Phra Ubosot—is decorated with silver glittering pieces of mirrors. There’s also the Black Temple! Created by Thailand national artist Thawan Duchanee, the grounds include nearly 40 small black houses made of wood, glass, concrete, bricks, or terracotta in various unique styles and design scattered around the temple area. Chiang Rai is well worth a visit to spend some time slowing down and taking in the beautiful cultural aspects of Thailand.
I can’t imagine anyone would come to Thailand without visiting Bangkok. We always fly into and out of Bangkok and have a 2-3 day stay to reacquaint ourselves with this crazy city. There is quite literally a gazillion things to do. Food is a huge priority in Bangkok. From the amazing street food to the delicious fare served in local restaurants and cafes, you are completely spoiled for choice here. Take in shows, ride a boat down the river, shop in the massive malls, bargain in the night markets, and wander about in awe of this gigantic city. Some of the hotels and their skybars are a sight to behold. You can stay in 5 star hotels for much less than western countries. The city is busy, smelly, loud and in your face, but it’s certainly an experience you want to have!
A few hours to the west of Bangkok is Kanchanaburi. This town is well known in modern history for being the area where the Thai-Burma Railway was built by the Japanese Prisoners of War during WWII. It is a sombre place where the museum, cemetery and railway are located. I personally believe it is worth a visit to take in the history and atmosphere. You can do a day trip from Bangkok but to see everything you will be hard pressed to fit it all in. 2 days would probably be enough time to see it all at a better pace. You can ride the Death Railway and walk on the Bridge Over the River Kwai. If you are in good shape you will want to do the many walks along the way including Hellfire Pass. There’s also Erawan Falls in the area.
A popular seaside resort just a few hours drive from Bangkok; Hua Hin is a local hangout for weekend trips. It is closely associated with the Thai Royal Family as they used the location for their vacations and the nobility of Thailand followed. In 1928, King Prajadhipok built his Klai Kangwon (Far From Worries) Palace. Hua Hin has a 5km beach on the Gulf of Thailand. There’s lots of hotels lining the beachfront. The railway station is Thailand’s most beautiful train station of which the local people are very proud of. The wooden building used to be a royal pavilion in Sanamchan Palace, Nakhon Pathom province. It was rebuilt at Hua Hin in 1968. Hua Hin has the usual night markets and plenty of restaurants and cafes. It’s a very family friendly place and is a great alternative to Pattaya if you are looking for somewhere by the ocean which is accessible by road from Bangkok.
About a 100km drive north of Phuket Town you will find Khao Lak. Hardest hit by the 2004 tsunami, Khao Lak has rebuilt much of the area and recovered from the dreadful disaster. The attractions of Khao Lak are impressive and many, but they are not really touristy. The expanses of lovely uncrowded parks, mountains, roads, and beaches, relatively unspoiled nature, easy access to great off-shore diving, accommodations ranging from luxury to basic, and an infrastructure that supports western tourism, but not at the expense of local customs or the Thai way of life, appeal to an increasing number of visitors. Khao Lak is the kind of place you go to for a relaxing break. Amenities are there but you will not find the craziness of Patong or the maddening crowds. This place is for nature lovers and those who appreciate the true beauty and spirit of Thailand.
Another destination not far from Bangkok is Koh Samet. Only around 200km to the south east, so you can access by road. You travel to Ban Phe and then take the ferry across to the island. It’s a very long thin island (13km long) with resorts scattered at each of the beaches around it – and there’s 14 of them. There is a small main town near the port and it is easily accessible by foot from most locations. Khao Laem Ya – Mu Ko Samet is a national park maintained and run by the “National Parks of Thailand”, There are park rangers visible on the island, and their job is to collect the park entrance fee and look after the up-keep of the island and wildlife protection. Bring your cash to Koh Samet as there’s no banks, just ATMs. There is also no night market, so shopping is not something you will do here. Pack your best bikini and prepare to soak up some sun and get a relaxing break.
Koh Kood (Kut)
A beautiful island down near the border of Cambodia, Koh Kood is still untouched by mass tourism and exhibits local Thai charm. The island is 25km long and 12 km wide, so not a huge island at all. The western side of the island is where the development is, with the eastern side left in it’s natural state including 2 fishing villages. It’s home to around 50 resorts and is a little bit pricier than other islands in the region. Getting to Koh Kood has become steadily easier over the last few years as new travel services are added to meet demand. Private transfers are the easiest way to make the catamaran and express boat connections at Laem Sok Pier. Flights to Trat Airport will also make the island in one day or there is now a direct bus connection from Bangkok. Public buses and minibuses to Trat complete the options. Definitely worth a visit to see the sheer beauty of this island paradise.