Before you start hammering out places to visit in Thailand, you might assume this is a simple task. Thailand is relatively small (at least if you come from a relatively large country) and doesn’t seem especially complex, at least not on Instagram.
As you plan your trip to Thailand, however, you will quickly realize that neither of these things are true. In fact, without a strategy and solid base of knowledge, it can be downright stressful to create a Thailand itinerary.
Below, I’ll outline things to do in Thailand and where you can go to partake in them. But before that, I’ll explain a travel hack that’ll instantly help you understand the Kingdom in a simple, yet profound way.
How to (Broadly) Think of Thailand Destinations
When planning travel, as with anything in life, I like to start with the big and work my way to smaller matters When it comes to places to visit in Thailand, you can broadly break these into three categories: Bangkok, plus the cities and provinces within day – or weekend-trip distance of the capital; “The North,” which for most tourists is limited to the large cities of Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai; and “The Islands.”
This third category further bifurcates, into the islands and beaches on the Andaman Sea (which is by far the most popular beach destination in Thailand) and the Gulf of Thailand, which is less ubiquitous but is home to some standout Thailand destinations. Some travelers might also visit the underrated Isaan region in Thailand’s northeast, although this is definitely not for the faint of heart.
A Selection Of Places To Visit In Thailand
Bangkok and Environs
One thing many people struggle with, as they put their Thailand trips together, is how many days in Bangkok they should spend.
In general, I’d say 2-3 is a good minimum. This allows for one day in the old cities of Rattanakosin, home to famous sites like the Grand Palace, Wat Phra Kaew – aka the Temple of the Emerald Budda – and Wat Pho, where you can marvel at the 46 meters statue of a reclining Buddha. You will also enough time to visit and Thonburi; another full in the modern city center amid luxurious malls like Siam Paragon and CentralWorld and even Lumpini Park, and a third to take day trips from Bangkok, whether that’s to ancient Ayutthaya or the “Floating Market” at Damnoen Saduak.
Consider going on a guided tour in Bangkok to make the most of it, and joining one to get out of the city to Ayutthaya.
These are the best guided tours and attractions of Bangkok:
- Bangkok: Baiyoke Observation Deck with Lunch/Dinner Buffet – perfect to get views of the city from above, the ticket includes access to the Observation Deck on the 77th floor and to the 360-degree Revolving View Point on the 84th floor.
- Grand Palace, Wat Pho & Wat Arun: Flexi Private Temple Tour – a classic tour of Bangkok’s most famous attractions.
- Bangkok by Night Tuk Tuk Tour: Markets, Temples & Food – this is a very fun tour, but you don’t actually get to visit the temples inside so consider it an addition to another day tour.
- Bangkok bike tour – a fun way to explore the city.
- Bangkok: 4-Hour Night Bike Tour with Wat Arun & Wat Pho – similar to the one above, but it is actually by night. Please take care to notice that you don’t actually go inside the palaces and temples.
- Bangkok in a Day: Must-Visit Highlights Tour with a Guide – a great tour if you are really tight on time.
You should also consider joining a guided food tour such as this one.
And these are the best day trips from Bangkok:
- Damnoen Saduak Floating Market & Maeklong Train Market Tour – an excellent, budget friendly option for a half-day trip.
- From Bangkok: Ayutthaya & Ayothaya Floating Market Day Trip – a great guided tour to one of the most beautiful places to visit in Thailand.
Ayutthaya is one of the nicest places to visit in Thailand, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Located at about 80 km from Bangkok, this used to be the country’s capital in the 14th century. There you will find the gorgeous Wat Phra Mahathat, where you will be able to see a statue of a Buddha’s head which has been completely invaded by tree roots.
The largest temple in Ayutthaya Historical Park Wat Phra Si Sanphet, home to the silver-looking Chedis. At Wat Yai Chai Mongkol you will see yet another statue of a reclining Buddha.
You can visit Ayutthaya on day trips from Bangkok such as this Ayutthaya & Ayothaya Floating Market Day Trip.
Make sure to read my post “20 Fabulous And Simply Unmissable Things To Do In Bangkok.”
Next up on our list of places to visit in Thailand is the country’s lush north.
This region centers around Chiang Mai, former capital of the now-defunct Lanna Kingdom, which is delightful both for its walled, temple-filled old city (Wat Phra Singh, and Wat Phra That Doi Suthep), as well as for the waterfalls such as Huay Kaew and Bua Thong, and ethical elephant camps around its periphery. You should also make sure to visit Doi Suthep, from where you can get stunning views of Chiang Mai.
Chiang Mai is also an excellent destination if you enjoy hiking, as you will find mountains and thick vegetation – Doi Inthanon National Park, part of the Himalayan mountain range, is the perfect place for that. You can book a tour of Doi Inthanon National Park here.
These are the best guided tours in Chiang Mai:
- Full day hike and bike at Doi Suthep Mountain National Park –a fun tour to explore one of the nicest places to visit in Thailand, keep in mind entrance to the national park isn’t actually included (it costs 250 Thai Baht).
- 6 hour Doi Pui National Park summit hike – another excellent option, you get to visit a hill tribe too. Again, the entry fee to the national park is not included.
- Full day Doi Suthep trekking tour – the best rated tour, it’s also the most inclusive in terms of what you get for what you pay.
- Private tour to Doi Suthep and Sticky Waterfall – a well rated tour for one of the most fun activities in the region.
- Local street food and market tour – the best rated market tour in town.
Chiang Rai and the Golden Triangle
Many travelers continue from here to the scenic Golden Triangle, where Thailand meets Myanmar and Laos. There, the charming Chiang Rai is a must see. Make sure to visit the temples of Wat Rong Khun (or White Temple) and Wat Rong Khun (which actually is no longer a temple), Wat Tham Pla, where you will be able to admire wild macaques, and What Phra Kaew, which once house the Emerald Buddha now housed in Bangkok.
Chiang Rai is another great hiking destination – make sure to hit Lam Nam Kok National Park for trails to the stunning Khun Kon waterfalls.
If you are tight on time, you will be glad to know that you can actually visit Chiang Rai on day trips from Chiang Mai. You can book yours here.
Other northern destinations include sleepy Lampang and Sukhothai, one of Thailand’s ancient capitals.
The Andaman Sea
When it comes to the best islands to visit in Thailand (and mainland beaches that have a similar ambiance), most are in the Andaman Sea, the idyllic portion of the Indian Ocean that laps at Thailand’s west coast. Within this sub-region, you can basically divide destinations into Phuket, Krabi and everywhere else.
Phuket and Krabi
In Phuket, you should make sure to hit beaches such as Kata Noi Beach and Nai Harn Beach – great for its crystal clear waters, and to go to Nakkerd Hill where you will find Big Buddha towers overlooking the island. The main temple is Wat Chalong.
Krabi is home to some of the best beaches in Thailand, such as Railay Beach.
These are the best guided day trips departing daily from either Phuket or Krabi:
- From Phuket: James Bond Island Excursion by Longtail Boat – James Bond Island is easily one of the most popular places to visit in Thailand, but you also get to visit other places. The tour is all inclusive, so great value for money.
- Phuket: Phi Phi, Maya, Bamboo, and Maiton Island Day Trip – this well rated tour goes to some of the most beautiful places to visit in the Andaman Sea.
- Similan Islands Early Bird Day Trip from Phuket / Khaolak – a great tour if you are into snorkeling.
- Phi Phi Islands Full-Day Speedboat Trip from Krabi – this is the most popular tour in the region. You get to visit lots of places, and will spend most of the day swimming.
- Krabi: 4 Islands Day Trip by Speedboat Including Lunch Box – great value for money as you get to visit an incredible array of places.
Islands worth visiting besides famous Koh Phi Phi, home of the Thung Teao Forest Natural Park and which is accessible from both Phuket and Krabi include Koh Lanta, Koh Lipe and the Trang archipelago, which is among the Kingdom’s least-developed island groups.
Gulf of Thailand
Most of places to visit in Thailand that will interest beach lovers are in the Gulf of Thailand, which extends southwest and eastward from Bangkok. In the Gulf’s southerly reaches, roughly across the peninsula from Phuket and Krabi, you’ll find Koh Samui and the adjacent islands of Koh Tao and Koh Pha Ngan, where infamous “Full Moon” parties take place.
From Koh Samui, you can visit Ang Thong Marine Park, easily one of the best places to visit in Thailand, and where you will find pristine beaches and crystal clear waters. You can go there on guided tours that usually also include stops at the Emerald Lagoon, such as these:
- Ang Thong National Marine Park day trip by speedboat – an all-inclusive tour, where the only thing you need to worry about is bringing your camera.
- Ang Thong Marine Park full day kayaking and snorkeling tour – a perfect option for active travelers.
- Ang Thong Park semi-private sunset cruise – a smaller group tour for romantic couples.
Other attractions in Koh Samui are Namuang waterfall, Hin Lat Waterfall and Tarnim & Magic Garden. This 7 hour 4WD jungle safari tour including lunch – awarded best adrenaline rush tour in 2019 – goes to the Namuang waterfalls.
Make sure to read my post 10 Awesome Things To Do In Koh Samui.
Koh Chang and Koh Wai
Farther north and east is the Trat archipelago, centered around large Koh Chang, but also home to forlorn Koh Wai, which is home to two beautiful beaches and which can be easily visited on day trips departing from Bang Bao in Koh Chang, and upmarket Koh Kood.
I’ll start by making a sweeping statement: Isaan, a rough-and-tumble region in Thailand’s rural northeast, isn’t for everyone. With this being said, if you’re craving the experience of Thailand off the beaten path, it might be worth adding to your trip. Cultural travels will enjoy Ubon Ratchathani, whether during the annual Candle Festival in July, or during the dry season to visit Sam Phan Bok, aka the “Grand Canyon of Thailand.” The so-called Red Lotus Sea near Udon Thani, meanwhile, fills up with thousands of blooms every January and February.
Other Useful Information To Plan Your Trip To Thailand
How Long Should You Spend in Thailand?
Every Thailand itinerary is different and in an ideal world, you would touch down and go where the wind takes you. Our world isn’t ideal, of course, so you’ll probably arrive with a specific amount of time in mind. For many travelers, I find that two weeks in Thailand—which breaks down to 2-3 days in Bangkok, plus 5-6 days each in the North and the Islands—ends up working out well.
As you’ve seen, of course, the quantity and quality of places to visit in Thailand is more than conducive to longer trips. With a month in Thailand, you can take one of two approaches. The first would be to spend longer (and, thus, explore deeper) in each region. The second would be to rent an apartment (on Airbnb or otherwise) in one city and “live” there as a local, taking day trips and weekend trips outside it when you wish.
Other Thailand Practical Matters
Just as Thais are not what you would call “Type A” people, Thailand is not a destination where you need to consider every detail before touchdown. Some items are important, however, such as determining the best time to visit Thailand. I’d suggest any of the “dry” months between November and March, or the “shoulder” months of October and April, when rain is possible, but lighter crowds and lower prices are practically guaranteed.
Another important issue is transport within the country. In general, you’ll take domestic flights in Thailand when traveling between regions—Bangkok to Chiang Mai and Chiang Mai to Phuket or Krabi and then Bangkok, for example. Traveling within regions depends on where you are. Bangkok has above-ground and underground rail; the North has song-thaew pick-up trucks; and the Islands have boats.
Finally, make sure to double-check whether you need a Thai visa before going. In case you do, read my post “How To Get The Thailand Visa On Arrival.”
Conclusions On The Places To Visit In Thailand
Now that you’ve got a clearer idea of places to visit in Thailand (and things to do once you get there) putting together your Thailand trip will be no problem at all. From the raucous capital of Bangkok and the plethora of day-trip destinations that orbit it, to the lush jungles of the north and the paradise islands of the south, Thailand is simple to know, even if understanding it can be complex. If you touch down with the right amount of information — and, most importantly, an open mind — it’s difficult to imagine your trip being anything short of life-changing.
This post was contributed by Robert Schrader. After residing in Thailand on several separate occasions, Robert had enough of the lacking English-language information about travel in the Kingdom, and took matters into his own hands. The result, Thailand Starts Here is your one-stop shop for Thailand travel information—and inspiration—whether it’s your first trip or your fiftieth.