The diverse, mystical and golden land of is Asia’s most popular tourist destination. It’s reputation for hedonism attracts thousands of backpacker’s and it’s outstanding areas of natural beauty and idyllic beaches attract an increasing amount of holiday-makers. It’s a country rich with culture, history, smiling locals and some interesting quirks. With so many tourist attractions on offer, how does a first timer to this far-flung land know where to start? Here is our list to the best of Thailand and top ten places to visit:
Bangkok is a pulsing, exciting and often chaotic metropolis and an essential part of a trip to Thailand. Although not everyone’s cup of tea, this fume soaked, noisy city has some incredible places of interest that you would be foolish to bypass. The exquisitely bejewelled Grand Palace should not be missed and if you have time also try to visit the beautiful Wat Phra Kaeo and Wat Po where a huge golden reclining Buddha resides. The more adventurous head for the infamous backpacker’s paradise Khao San Road, Chinatown’s alleyways and bazaars and the Patpong Night Market (set in the city’s notorious red light district).
2. The Floating Market
The Floating Market located on the Damnoen Saduak Canal in the Bangkok region was made famous by the James Bond film “The Man with the Golden Gun.” Although a major tourist attraction, the market is a fun and photogenic experience where visitors can get an idea of what trading was like in Thailand before the modernisation of the city. Here if you want to buy something you can hail down a narrow long boat piled high with local produce. The region is also abundant with vineyards, orchards and local businesses which are great to view by canal boat on route to the market.
3. Chiang Mai
The spiritual city of Chiang Mai is a much calmer city than Bangkok but still an essential visit on the travellers trail if you want to see the best of Thailand. Dotted with temples, craft shops, delicious restaurants, Thai massage and cooking schools the city has somehow a relaxing and comparatively tranquil atmosphere. Many travellers often cite Chaing Mai as their favourite Thai city and once visited it’s easy to see why it’s so popular. It’s location high in the north mountainous region of Thailand also makes it’s a perfect base for the popular mountain treks and organised treks can be arranged very easily here. The trails from Chiang Mai are although very interesting are often a well-worn path and many backpackers now head for nearby Pai – a gorgeously located traveller’s mecca popular with artists and musicians. Pai also offers less touristy and more ‘rustic’ treks and visits to hill-tribes.
4. San Kamphaeng Hot Springs
San Kamphaeng is located 36km from Chiang Mai and it’s popular hot springs set in beautifully landscaped 40 acre parkland are well known for their restorative properties. The springs come from a deep source, are over 100 degrees centigrade and high in sulfur. You can also camp, dine, bath in the mineral rich waters or boil some eggs!
5. The East Coast Islands
Koh Samui and Koh Phangan are islands on the east side of Thailand that are very popular with tourist and backpackers. Both have gorgeous palm tree lined white sandy beaches, clear turquoise beaches, a diverse range of places to stay and a laid back attitude. Koh Phangan also plays host to the world-famous monthly full moon parties and bohemian style bars and cafes. Nearby Koh Tao and Koh Nang Yuan are much less touristy due to their more isolated location and are perfect for those looking for peace and world class snorkelling and diving.
6. Mae Hong Son
Mae Hong Son is the capital of Thailand’s northwesternmost province and it’s close proximity to the Burmese boarder gives the city a very different feel to the rest of Thailand. Very quiet and isolated this mountainous city is often shrouded in an atmospheric mist. Visitors come here for the unusual and beautiful natural scenery, the mountain trekking and the hill tribe communities – one of which is the famous Karen long neck tribe. The Thanon Thongchai range between Myanmar (Burma) and Thailand is popular for trekking and so is the impressive Pha Sua waterfall. Handicrafts and artworks of the hill-tribe people can be purchased at the local night market-ideal for unique souvenirs.
Only an hour outside of Bangkok, Ayutthaya was a Siamese kingdom existing from 1351 to 1767. The ancient city is now ruined but the remains of the elegant, extraordinary and often towering temples and buildings are now classed as a UNESCO world heritage site and should not be missed. Hiring a motorbike to cover the surrounding areas is recommended and don’t forget to bring your camera!
Railay and the coast of the Krabi province located in the South of Thailand is a tropical paradise characterised by towering rugged limestone cliffs, turquoise water and powder white sand. From this area it’s also easy to take a trip to the iconic “James Bond Rock” in neighbouring Phang Nga. Railay is a beautiful secluded beach accessible only by boat and attracts backpackers, well-heeled tourists and enthusiastic rock climbers. Surrounded by lush vegetation and mountains the area is also popular with trekkers and water sports lovers. Completely cut off from the daily grind it’s a place many travellers choose to stay for a lot longer than originally planned.
9. Koh Phi Phi
The tiny but idyllic west coast island of Koh Phi Phi is seen by many as the ultimate island paradise. Even though it has now fully recovered from the tsunami, the island has suffered from rapid tourist growth especially since the release of the popular film “The Beach”. Having said that it still manages to retain a relaxed vibe which seems to keep the backpackers and vacationers happy. Koh Phi Phi highlights include climbing the high viewpoint to watch the sunset and hiring a long tail boat to snorkel the beautiful surrounding waters.
10. Hin Daeng
Diving enthusiasts shouldn’t miss Hin Daeng in Andaman Sea. Literally meaning the Red Rock, this area is often thought to be one of the top diving spots in Thailand. Hin Daeng features large underwater pinnacles, incredible carpets of anemone and colourful coral. It’s also teeming with wildlife including large shoals of fish, round batfish, manta ray, barracuda and the odd whale shark.
Before travelling to Thailand please check The Foreign Office website for safety updates.
by Kelly Nolan and Becky Padmore