Bangkok is the fantastic capital of Thailand. It is a must-see destination, with a dazzling array of things to see and do to suit almost any taste. There are cultural and historic sights aplenty, combined with soaring skyscrapers and modern architecture, fabulous art galleries, and fascinating museums. The shopping scene offers bustling markets, unusual floating markets, and mega malls, and the dining scene is equally diverse with everything from fancy gourmet restaurants to abundant street food. Nighttime’s offer just as much fun as the day, with pulsating nightclubs, live music, swanky cocktail bars, incredible rooftop, exciting shows, and thrilling Muay Thai fights. Getting around the city is easy, thanks to the BTS sky train, MRT subway, numerous buses, taxis, and tuk tuks, and there is accommodation to suit any preference and budget.
2. Chiang Mai
Often referred to as the northern capital, Chiang Mai offers an intoxicating blend of culture and nature. With over 500 temples to choose from, it’s impossible for culture vultures to feel bored! Chiang Mai Night Zoo enchants children and adults alike, and activities range from hiking in lush jungles to rafting along raging rivers. Head to Thailand’s highest point at Doi Inthanon, meet ethnic hill tribes, tour numerous stunning waterfalls, and interact with magnificent elephants at an ethical sanctuary. Nightlife is low key, especially when compared with Bangkok, but that certainly doesn’t mean you need to stay indoors as soon as it goes dark. There are plenty of bars to unwind in, and the night bazaar is a top place for shopaholics to browse and buy an array of traditional Thai wares.
Thailand’s largest island and one of the country’s most popular tourist destinations, Phuket has many faces. Many first-timers head to the thronging sands of Patong, an area known for its hedonistic nightlife and many water sports, but there are beaches to suit everyone. Catch a boat to the scenic Freedom Beach, chill on Karon Beach, enjoy the views from Kathu Beach, and more. Promethea Cape provides amazing sunset vistas. Entertainment-wise, Phuket promises world-class shows, exhilarating Muay Thai fights, global cuisine in a range of eateries, and bars and clubs of every type. Hiking, go karting, ethical elephant interactions, fishing, snorkeling, and jet skiing are just a few activities to try, and Wat Chalong and the Big Buddha are two of the island’s most popular cultural sites. Don’t bypass Phuket Town — the old buildings are beautiful. For fun and giggles, Baan Teelanka (the Upside Down House) and Phuket Trickery Museum are tough to beat.
One of Thailand’s ancient cities, the UNESCO-listed Ayutthaya is a must for fans of history. Easy to reach from Bangkok, the evocative ruins take you on a journey back in time to Siam’s golden age. Wat Yai Chai Mongkorn is particularly photogenic, with tall stupas that you can climb, surrounded by rows of saffron-clad Buddha statues. Other highlights include Wat Mahatat, with the famous stone head encased in a tree, Wat Ratchaburana, and Wat Si Samphet. The old Dutch and Portuguese areas are well worth a visit and the floating market is a great place to pick up souvenirs. Renting a bicycle or, if you’re an experienced rider, a scooter is the ideal way to appreciate Ayutthaya, though there are also plentiful tuk tuks around each corner.
One of Southern Thailand’s most popular provinces, Krabi offers a wealth of terrific experiences both on the mainland and on its islands. Koh Phi Phi is often said to be one of Thailand’s most picturesque islands; check out Maya Bay and Phi Phi Viewpoint to see why. Koh Lanta is a more laid-back island, with long, sandy beaches, chilled-out beach bars, mangroves, and a Moken (sea gypsy) community. Animal lovers can spend time volunteering at Lanta Animal Welfare for a feel-good factor and to help make a difference. Koh Jum and Koh Rok are just a couple of the province’s smaller and lesser-visited island gems. On the mainland, Railay is a rock climber’s paradise, Ao Nang is a bustling beach resort, and Krabi Town has local vibe.
6. Mae Hong Son
A mountainous and remote province in Northern Thailand, Mae Hong Son shares a border with Myanmar. This has led to the area having a large proportion of people from the Shan ethnic group. While the provincial town sees few foreign tourists, the beautiful nature and architecture make it a worthy stop on your travels around the area. The province’s main draw is Pai, a popular spot for those who love nature and a laid-back life. Previously a popular hippie hangout, highlights include Pai canyon, hot springs and waterfalls, and the area offers good hiking and fun tubing along the river.
Located in the west of Thailand alongside the Burmese border, Kanchanaburi has a combination of natural and wartime attractions. The Bridge Over the River Kwai is a major tourist spot, and you can take a ride on the infamous Death Railway to appreciate the stunning views and remember those who lost their lives during the railroad’s construction. There are several museums dedicated to the area’s history, along with somber wartime cemeteries. Erawan National Park, home to the multi-level Erawan Falls and Pra That Cave, is another highlight, and Sai Yok National Park is a nice place for a picnic alongside smaller falls. If you want to visit a less-crowded and more remote waterfall, however, Huay Mae Khamin is highly recommended. Get off the beaten track and head north to pretty and peaceful Sangkhlaburi to see a different side of Thailand.
8. Koh Samui
A popular island in the Thai Gulf, Koh Samui appeals to everyone from families and honeymooners to backpackers and solo adventurers. Beautiful beaches, like Chaweng, Lamai, and Mae Nam, surround the island, and you can visit the old fishing village at Bop hut. There are several places to shop, as well as plentiful places to eat, drink, and sleep. One of the island’s more unusual spots include a temple with a mummified monk and neighboring rock formations that look like male and female genitalia! Koh Samui boasts many high-class spas and excellent golf courses too.
Pattaya, Thailand’s self-proclaimed “City of Sin”, may not appeal to everyone, the huge variety of fun things to see and do make it worthy of a place on this list. While most people associate Pattaya with its notorious Walking Street and numerous go-go bars, there’s plenty to enjoy without stepping foot in the more adult-orientated areas. First off, there’s the beach. It may not be the prettiest of Thailand’s beaches, but it’s nice enough for a few days of sun, sea, and sand. There are several lovely islands off the coast that offer even nicer sands and snorkeling. Attractions-wise, Pattaya definitely isn’t lacking. The huge Sanctuary of Truth, carved entirely from wood, is a jaw-dropping sight. Nong Nooch Tropical Botanical Garden is a lovely place to stroll among the well-ordered flower beds, statues, and water features, and you can sample locally produced wines at the pretty Silverlake Vineyard. Tour Thailand’s major landmarks at Mini Siam, have fun at Art in Paradise, shop at Pattaya Floating Market, feel the rush at Flight of the Gibbon, have your mind blown at Ripley’s Believe It Or Not, and enter a wintery wonderland at FROST Magical Ice of Siam.
10. Koh Chang
A fairly large island off the coast of Trat, Koh Chang offers everything that a good island should … sandy beaches, lush jungle, cascading waterfalls, lots of wildlife, soaring mountains, and varied activities to enjoy nature. Some of the best beaches include Hat Khlong Phrao, Lonely Beach, White Sand Beach, and Kai Bae Beach. Boat trips to the neighboring islands of koh Kut and Koh Mak are popular and a traditional Thai massage is a great way to loosen up after a day of activity. As an island, seafood is fresh and delicious, though you’ll find a wide selection of food to suit diverse palates too. There are high-class luxury resorts through to beach bungalows and backpackers.