17 things you have to see in Thailand
Planning your next trip to the Land of Smiles? Good choice! I’ve spent over four months in Thailand and had a chance to see a great deal of the country. Can’t really say I’ve seen everything, but definitely spots in this article are all worth visiting. Depending on how much time you have to spare and what are your preferences pick your favorites and plan the next trip across the country with virgin jungles, tropical islands and one of the best food in the world!
Where to stay in Thailand?
One of the first things you think about when planning a trip is where to stay. A roof over your head is crucial. It protects your from cold, helps you get energy for exploration in the daytime and in the case of Asian countries keeps all (ok, maybe not all) insects away. Staying outside exposes you to hundreds of boodthirsty mosquitos that will eat you alive. Yes, alive. Therefore, not a roof plays an important role, but a shelter from insects.
Many people have asked me about recommendations where to stay and which hostels to choose, but everyone has different expectations so I rarely indicate a specific place, because the fact that I loved a guesthouse doesn’t mean that it will satisfy other people’s needs. That’s why I always recommend to go to TripAdvisor, or straight to a booking website (Booking.com, Hostelworld, Agoda worked well for me) and read reviews. People write very detailed opinions with descriptions about customer service, extra facilities, atmosphere etc. That’s a valuable insight that will help you make up your mind and book a place straightaway on the platform. Can’t get any easier!
My pro tip is also not to depend on a review score only. Sometimes people give a hotel a low mark because it did not meet their expectations. However, it does not mean it won’t meet yours. Always read why visitors liked or disliked accomodation. On top of that, pay attention to opinions describing the image of a place. For instance, if you seek a quiet oasis where you can peacefully chill, you don’t want to end up in a party hostel, do you?
How to travel around Thailand
Planes are the fastest, but obviously more expensive. With AirAsia you can get a good deal on domestic flights if you book in advance, but in general you’d pay a few times more if you pick air travel. Land transportation is much cheaper, but takes more time.
When I traveled I had loads of time, not so much money. Therefore, it was none of a problem for me to take a night bus, especially that I enjoyed bus rides. On top of that, after some time I got used to the long journeys. Anything up to 10 hours had become a short trip.
However, if you have 2-3 weeks in Thailand and you want to see both north and south consider taking flights. It does not seem so far on the map, but if you want to go down to the islands on the Andaman coast you need to bear in mind that it might take around 15 hours from Bangkok when taking bus/train and ferry. You should evaluate the trade-off and choose transportation that suits you best.
Trains in general are less expensive (except for the long-haul ones), but way slower. However, it is a great experience to travel “like a local”. Thais serve you delicious street food and drinks on the board (for less than $1-2) and you have the chance to engage in Thai community.
What to eat in Thailand
I covered the topic about the best food in Thailand in a separate article. You’ll find all dishes that are worth trying in that post. Don’t worry too much about street food in Thailand. It’s often much better than in proper restaurants and you can see how the meal is being prepared so you know what you get. Just make sure there are many people eating there or use other travelers’ recommendations. I was eating mostly street food for 7 months and was totally fine.
Bankgok – you either love it or hate it
I think I haven’t met a single person saying “yeah, Bangkok was alright”. People either had a blast there or they wanted to escape that chaos as soon as possible. So can’t really say whether it is worth staying longer. You will probably know after a few hours there. Try to be flexible. If you like it stay 3-5 days. If not up to 3 days would be enough to see the highlightsts. I lived there for three months and then revisited a few time as a backpacker, so I have a few recommendations what to see and do in the Sin City of Asia.
Khao San Road
Backpackers’ heaven with hundreds of bars, pubs, clubs and restaurants, Khao Sand Rd is located centrally, close to many toursits spots (like Grand Palace, National Museum etc). It can get pretty wild in the night time. It’s usually very crowded, people are flooding out of the bars, getting wasted on the streets. Worth trying for a night out.
In the daytime you can do a bit of a shopping there, but it is more expensive than other markets and it’s harder to haggle over a price. Vendors are used to tourists who are willing to pay more, so don’t expect you’ll get a bargain.
An enormous complex of Buddhist temples surrounded by high walls is visited by thousands of tourists every day, regardless day of the week and season. I reckon it is worth visiting the sanctuary, especially if you haven’t seen many temples before, but brace for intense heat combined with crowds of annoying tourists. Read more about Grand Palace in Bangkok in a separate article.
Bang Krachao is a must if you stay in Bangkok for more than 2 days. What’s behind this mysterious name? Bang Krachao is a green oasis inside stifling city – a perfect getaway from urban chaos. The park, inhabited mostly by fishermen and farmers, attracts locals and tourists that want to escape Bangkok’s madness. The park is located on the island and can be reached on a boat from Klong Toei Pier. On the island you can rent a bicycle for 80 baht per day ($2) and ride around the jungle-like park. Everyone that I recommended this place to loved it and I’m pretty sure you won’t regret your visit there.
Chatuchak Weekend Market & JJ Green Night Market
Vendors at Chatuchak Market sell literally everything, starting from clothes and shoes, through homeware and furniture to animals of all sort. It is open only during weekends, so if you plan to stock up on cheap, clothes and accessories try to schedule your stay in Bangkok around Saturday and Sunday. After the day market head to JJ Green Market (open Thursday to Sunday, 6pm-12/1am) right next to it. It is a cool place with hand-made vintage stuff and unique pubs and bars with live music.
So called Bangkok’s Central Park is located in the middle of the business district of the city. Lumpini Park is a perfect place to get some rest form noisy streets in the nature. The park is also a home for monitor lizards – komodo-like reptiles that will not hurt you.
Taling Chan Floating Market
Taling Chan floating market does not have much to do with a floating market you probably picture in your mind, but it is less touristy than the ones that local tour operators try to talk you into. You walk around the canal there and you can buy stuff from vendors on boats. Worth visiting if you stay longer in the city, but not a must.
Erawan National Park
Magical cascades of seven-level waterfalls, flowing down to limestone pools. Erawan waterfalls can be visited on a day trip from Bangkok. The journey from the capital is pretty long and if you want to make it in one day, you need to set off early (7am latest). Once you reach to the entrance of the park you will have about 1.5 hours hike up to the top of the mountain. Read more about how to get there.
Khao Yai National Park
The park is another way to escape Bangkok’s chaos. You can easily squeeze it into one- or two-day trip from the capital. Khao Yai NP is probably one of the best jungle experiences you will have in your life. Make sure you pick the right place to stay and best tour guides. Check out my recommendations here.
The second biggest island in the country, so everyone can find something interesting. There are five main beaches that will suit different tastes:
- The White Sand Beach, the most touristy one, has plenty of luxurious hotels and resorts. If you are looking for a sort of all inclusive holiday that’s the place for you.
- Lonely Beach, the hippie backpacker’s paradise, is definitely less crowded, but can get messy in the night time. There are loads of bars, pubs and beach clubs where you can party all night. However, you can find quiet spots there too. The beach is beautiful though.
- Klong Prao Beach is a lovely long stretch of white sand beach, split by two inland rivers. Most of the large high end resorts on Koh Chang are located on this beach.
- Kai Bae Beach, is something in between the White Sand Beach and Lonely Beach. It has a decent nightlife with a few cocktail bars, but is not as busy in the nighttime. It’s also less touristy and less crowded.
- Bang Bao, located at the far end of the west coast, is a peaceful area with bungalows where you can get some rest. It used to be a fishing village, now is famous for its amazing seafood.
The small island of Koh Tao is the most popular destination to get PADI certificate. Diving schools pop up everywhere, but underwater adventures is not the only thing you can experience on the island. Koh Tao has amazing sunsets, and beautiful view points from where you can admire spectacular landscapes. I haven’t been diving nor snorkeling there, but the majority of other travelers admitted that the underwater fauna and flora is not as beautiful as on the other islands. However, it is one of the cheapest places in the world to do your PADI licence. Inexpensive doesn’t mean of bad quality. Trainers on Koh Tao are very experienced, so you will be in good hands.
You will be satisfied with nightlife there as well. Many bars, clubs and famous pub crawl will keep you up till early morning.
Koh Phangan, the house of infamous Full Moon Party, is visited by thousands of backpackers from around the world on the night of full moon. The rave itself might or might not be of your kind and you have to decide (this article may help you), but the island is definitely worth going. I haven’t explored much of it, but loved every single piece I saw. Travelers underestimate the beauty of it, as they mostly come there only to experience the most wicked rave in the region and they often skip spectacular sights.
Koh Phi Phi
Koh Phi Phi is a tiny party island that goes crazy every night. However, not only for the parties do people come there. The archipelago with bigger Kog Phi Phi Don and smaller Phi Phi Lee has amazing beaches surrounded by limestone cliffs. Koh Phi Phi Lee was a film set for “The Beach” with Leonardo DiCaprio. Maya Bay, where the movie was shot, is spectacular, but huge crowds can spoil the experience a bit. You can visit the bay on an island-hopping boat tour from Koh Phi Phi Don. If you visit Phi Phi Islands Maya Bay is a must.
Khao Sok National Park
I’ve had a few misfortune events on my trip there (including seriously breaking my camera), but nothing really spoiled the experience. The National Park protects the area of enormous lake cut with limestone cliffs. Scenery was tremendous. Combining it with a night spent in a floating hut, in the middle of the lake made it an unforgettable and one-of-a-kind experience. And probably one of the most expensive during my travels. Fixing my camera cost me $400. Was it worth it? Every single cent.
Ayutthaya is an ancient city that used to be the Siamese kingdom from 14th to 18th century. It was also one of the world’s largest cities at that time with population perhaps reaching 1,000,000, sometimes known as the “Venice of the East”. The city was partially destroyed during Burmese wars, but well-preserved ruins of the city attract tourists from all around the world. The old town can be either explored on the bikes, with a tuk-tuk, or on foot.
Lopburi has been known as a monkey town for many years. This is something unique that you probably won’t be able to experience in other parts of the country. Yes, monkeys can be seen in distinct regions of Southeast Asia. However, you can’t really see them taking over the city. Read more about the monkey town in a separate entry.
The same as Ayutthaya, Lopburi can be visited on a one-day trip from Bangkok or you can make a stopover when you head up north.
The biggest city in the North with great nightlife. There are a few national parks around where you can do a hike to the mountain tops. You can visit Grand Canyon, a man made canyon filled with water where you can swim and do cliff jumping. Or ride up to the Buddthist temple hidden in a national park.
Chiang Mai is also famous for elephant sanctuaries where you can get closer to majestic mammals. But pick the place where you DO NOT RIDE ELEPHANTS. Those big animals are not adjusted to carry so much weight on their backs and it causes big damage to their health and very often leads to early death. The sanctuaries for rescued elephants treat them well. The animals have plenty of space, food and freedom. On a half- or full-day tour you can pet them, feed them and take a bath together. Magical experience.
My top recommendation from Chiang Mai is a cooking class combined with countryside tour with a happy hippie. The guy that organizes tours gives money from the tours to older people that do not have enough money to get by. The tour starts with a bike riding across the village, then you head to the guide’s mansion for a cooking class. After that you visit weaving village, cock fighting farm, and rice paddy fields to plant rice. You can hire your trip here. If you’re in Chiang Mai it is a must.
The icing on the cake. There is something special about Pai. It is just a small, touristy town located in the valley surrounded by mountain tops. However, the atmosphere of the place makes people to linger there longer than expected. I met many people that came there for 2-3 days and stayed for weeks, months, years or life. I came there initially for 5 days, but came back and stayed the whole month.
Pai is famous for great and varied cuisine, a little bit of a hippie vibe and picturesque landscapes around the town. The life is a bit slower and calmer there, but very lively at the same time. Spend one or two day exploring the surroundings on the moped. There are waterfalls, view points and famous Pai Canyon (great for sunsets). In the evening don’t miss the night market with all the local delicacies.
If you have any more questions regarding sights, safety, accommodation, transportation, food, health and anything else, I’d be happy to help. Just write a comment or drop me message!