25 Best Places to Visit in Thailand
Thailand may be best known for its picture-perfect southern beaches and its wonderfully spicy food, but there are plenty of other reasons the country is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Southeast Asia. Many visitors find that the friendliness of the smiley Thai people is the highlight of their trip no matter which part of the country they spend their time in, but it's still worth putting in the effort to explore everything from the mountains of the north to the lush rice paddies of the central heartland to the sunny beaches in the south. Photo: ponsatorn/Fotolia
As the largest island in Thailand, Phuket offers everything from luxurious spas and beachfront resorts to remote hiking trails through the jungle. The beaches here are just as beautiful as you'd expect them to be, and although are many often crowded, it's still possible to find a secluded stretch of sand away from the hustle and bustle. There's also accommodation options to suit almost every taste; the party town of Patong is the largest and busiest city on the island, but visitors looking to experience art and culture should consider staying in the beautiful Phuket Town.
Photo: Oleg Zhukov/Fotolia
»Ao Phang Nga National Park
Best known for its gravity-defying limestone karst formations and its crystal-clear waters, Ao Phang Nga National Park encompasses roughly 155 square miles of the Andaman Sea in southern Thailand. There are more than 40 islands in the park, but the most famous is Khao Phing Kan, which appeared in the 1974 James Bond film The Man with the Golden Gun. Most visitors find that the best way to explore the park is by canoe or kayak; 1-day tours are the most popular, but some companies also offer multi-day trips that include camping on the islands.
The capital of Thailand and one of the most-visited cities in the world, Bangkok is a cosmopolitan hub that truly offers something for everyone. Elaborate ancient temples sit alongside modern high-rise buildings, while shopping options range from luxurious high-end malls to the bustling Chatuchak Weekend Market. Of course, a visit to the city wouldn't be complete without sampling some of the delicious local cuisine or checking out the vibrant nightlife scene; many tourists flock to Khao San Road and Sukhumvit, but excellent bars, clubs, and restaurants can be found in almost every part of the city. Things to Do in Bangkok
Despite being Thailand's second largest metropolis, Chiang Mai has little in common with the bustling southern capital of Bangkok. Tucked amongst the forested foothills of the northern mountains, Chiang Mai makes a great base for exploring the lush rainforests of the north and the city itself boasts a historic walled center full of cozy cafes and restaurants that are perfect for unwinding after a busy day of exploring. In fact, the entire city encourages you to relax; thanks in part to the hundreds of beautiful Buddhist temples scattered throughout the city, a peaceful atmosphere prevails even in the busiest tourist destinations.
Located in the very north of Thailand, the province of Chiang Rai is home to the country's most dramatic mountains and some of its most beautiful rainforests and rivers. It's also one of the most ethnically diverse areas in Thailand; there are plenty of opportunities for visitors to learn about the cultures of the indigenous hill tribes, particularly if they are willing to trek into the remote mountain villages. However, the province is perhaps most famous for being the location of Wat Rong Khun (known in English as the White Temple), a stunning Buddhist temple with an intricate white exterior.
»Doi Inthanon National Park
Sometimes called "the Roof of Thailand", Doi Inthanon National Park is one of the most impressive jewels of the country's northern region. The biggest attraction in the park is Doi Inthanon itself; at 8,415 feet, the mountain is the highest in Thailand. However, visitors can also enjoy a small network of hiking trails, several beautiful waterfalls, and a limestone cave with two chambers. The park also features bungalows and a campground for anyone who would like to spend the night; tents, sleeping bags, and other camping gear can be rented at the entrance to the campground.
»Erawan National Park
Founded in 1975, Erawan National Park in western Thailand encompasses 212 square miles of deciduous forest and limestone hills riddled with fascinating caves. The highlight of the park is Erawan Falls, a 7-tiered waterfall whose emerald-green pools are teeming with tiny fish. Six of the tiers can be accessed by a series of trails and bridges, but reaching the seventh tier requires climbing up several cliffs. Amenities at the waterfall include a visitors center, a variety of shops, bungalows, campsites, and restaurants, but visitors should be aware that food is not permitted past the second tier of the waterfall.
Not far from the Malaysian border, Hat Yai is southern Thailand's urban hub. The city is quite popular with Malaysian tourists, but it remains off the beaten path for those from the West. As one of the most important business centers in the south of Thailand, the city offers excellent shopping in the form of both Western-style malls and busy local markets. A visit to the city also isn't complete without taking a ride in the cable car at Nakhon Hat Yai Park, sampling the delicious Cantonese and Thai street food, and experiencing the vibrant nightlife.
Hua Hin is one of Thailand's original beach resort towns, but it's a much more cosmopolitan destination than some of the remote southern islands. It's also easily accessible from Bangkok, making it a great choice for anyone who wants a quick beach getaway but doesn't have enough time to travel all the way to the south. The primary draw for tourists is the beautiful beach that runs from one side of the city to the other, but visitors should also make time to visit the water parks, stroll through the lively night markets, and indulge in a fresh seafood dinner.
»Huai Kha Khaeng Wild Life Sanctuary
Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1991, the Huai Kha Khaeng Wild Life Sanctuary is part of the largest protected wildlife area in mainland Southeast Asia. The sanctuary has the honor of being home to Thailand's largest tiger population, and it also provides refuge for many rare and endangered species. Animal sightings are not guaranteed, but visitors on day trips can usually expect to see long-tailed macaques, Asian palm civets, boars, and several different species of deer. The park has a good network of well-maintained hiking trails, but some are only open to visitors if accompanied by a ranger.
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One of the longest beaches on the island of Phuket, Karon boasts clean white sand and clear blue water. The beach is not as busy as some of the others on Phuket, but the area still offers a wide range of accommodation options and restaurants for visitors to enjoy. Although the beach itself is undeveloped, plenty of resorts and hotels are located right across the street. Excellent snorkeling can be found in the coral reef at the southern end of the beach, while the northern side boasts a beautiful beachside park with a well-maintained jogging path.
Photo: Elena Ermakova/Fotolia
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»Khao Sok National Park
Encompassing 285 square miles in the Surat Thani province, Khao Sok is the most popular national park in southern Thailand. The main attraction is Cheow Lan Lake, but there are also several beautiful waterfalls and caves. The park's trail system is typically quite difficult for visitors to navigate on their own, but guides can be hired through one of the agencies near the park's visitors center. There are also a number of guesthouses in this area for those who want to explore the park on a day trip, but some tour companies offer multi-day guided tours with overnight accommodation in the jungle.
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»Khao Yai National Park
Situated only 3 miles from Bangkok, Khao Yai National Park is made up of rainforests, evergreen forests, and open grasslands. Wildlife sightings are rare, but visitors can enjoy the bat cave and the many beautiful waterfalls. Some of the park's hiking trails can only be accessed in the company of a guide, but more than 30 miles of trails are open to visitors with or without guides. There are several bungalows within the park, but these need to be booked well in advance and most guests stay in one of the hotels or guesthouses located right outside of the park.
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»Ko Pha Ngan
For one week of every month, Ko Pha Ngan is the site of a giant, world-famous full moon party that typically attracts around 30,000 visitors. However, parts of the island are excellent family destinations even while the full moon celebration is going on. The seemingly endless selection of idyllic beaches boast soft white sand and clear blue water, and the island is surrounded by plenty of wonderful snorkeling and diving spots. Most of the other popular activities here revolve around the water, but there are also plenty of beautiful temples, waterfalls, and caves for visitors to enjoy.
Photo: Justin Chen/Fotolia
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The silky white sands and aquamarine waters of Ko Samet look like something out of a calendar, and its proximity to Bangkok makes it a great choice for a quick weekend getaway. Despite its relatively small size, the island offers more than 15 beaches; those on the northern side regularly host large barbeques, fire-spinning performances, and other events, while the southern beaches are much more tranquil. There are guesthouses, hotels, and resorts to suit almost every budget, but some visitors prefer to rent a tent and camp on one of the beaches that permit overnight stays.
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The third-largest of the Thai islands, Koh Samui is known for both its spectacular natural beauty and its many luxurious resorts. Most of the beaches here are quite well developed, but anyone looking to escape the hustle and bustle can head to the beaches on the west side of the island. The beaches are the main reason Koh Samui is so popular, but the island also offers several easily accessible waterfalls. Approximately 90% of the island's population is Buddhist; there are many breathtaking Buddhist temples to explore, but the most famous is Wat Phra Yai, which boasts a 50-foot statue of the Buddha.
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Part of the Chumphon Archipelago in the Gulf of Thailand, Ko Tao is comprised of two islands: Koh Tao and Koh Nang Yuan. The two islands are only 1,600 feet apart, and the surrounding waters are filled with colorful corals that make the area a world-class SCUBA diving paradise. There are plenty of diving schools on the island, and many of the resorts cater specifically to divers. However, even people who aren't interested in spending time in the water will enjoy a visit to Ko Tao; the lush jungles are riddled with hiking trails, and the nightlife regularly continues until dawn.
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Known in English as Elephant Island, Koh Chang only became a well-known tourist destination in the early 2000s. The waters around the island offer excellent snorkeling and diving, and visitors can also enjoy other water sports such as fishing, sea kayaking, and sailing. Various business on the island offer massage courses and cooking classes, while many different tour companies offer jungle treks through the lush rainforests of the island's interior. Most of the accommodation and other tourist amenities are located on the west side of the island, but gorgeous beaches can be found all along the coastline.
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Not only is the province of Krabi incredibly well equipped for tourists, it also boasts a seemingly never-ending supply of natural attractions. Angular limestone karst formations jut out of verdant mangrove forests, while glittering white sandy beaches fringed with palm trees invite visitors to spend all day paddling in the water or relaxing in the sun. The area is also home to some of the most beautiful coral reefs in the world, making it a great destination for divers. Other popular activities include island-hopping, rock climbing, visiting the natural hot springs, and shopping at the busy night markets.
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With its many horse carts and Lanna-style temples, Lampang is the quintessential northern Thai city. Elephants have been used in the logging industry here for generations, but today visitors can learn about the creatures at the Thai Elephant Conservation Center. The other famous sight here is the Wat Phra That Lampang Luang; set on a walled hillock, the temple features beautiful murals, a bronze Buddha statue, and a collection of ancient wooden utensils. Although the city doesn't see as many tourists as some other parts of Thailand, Lampang still has plenty of restaurants and hotels as well as some excellent museums.
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»Mae Hong Son
Also known as the City of 3 Mists, Mae Hong Son is a charming town surrounded by steep, forested mountains. It's an important stop on the famous Mae Hong Son Loop between Chiang Mai and Pai, but it doesn't receive nearly as many tourists as these two cities. Many visitors base themselves here to explore the surrounding mountains and hilltribe villages, but the town is well-worth a visit in and of itself. A picturesque lake with a night market sits right in the center of the town, while a good number of magnificent temples are scattered throughout the city.
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Nestled away in the mountains of northern Thailand, Pai is a great place to base yourself if you want to enjoy the area's abundant natural beauty. The surrounding region is full of easily accessible waterfalls, hiking trails, rice terraces, caves, and natural hot springs, some of which are even within walking distance of the town. Despite its small size, the town has no shortage of restaurants, hotels, massage parlors, and other tourist amenities. Visitors will find the atmosphere much more laidback than in much of southern Thailand, but there is still a vibrant nightlife scene and an excellent night market.
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Pattaya is one of the biggest party destinations in Thailand, and the city has no shortage of high-end beachside resorts, 24-hour nightclubs, and flamboyant cabaret bars. Conveniently located only 90 minutes away from Bangkok, the city has plenty to keep visitors entertained, including mega shopping centers, exciting water parks, and a large aquarium. Most of the other activities here revolve around the beautiful beaches, but visitors can also enjoy golfing, bungee jumping, go-karting, and horseback riding. The two main beaches here are Pattaya beach, known for its raucous nightlife, and the more laidback and family-friendly Jomtien beach.
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»Phu Khieo Wildlife Sanctuary
Consisting of just over 60 square miles of forests and sandstone mountains, the Phu Khieo Wildlife Sanctuary is home to more than 400 different species of birds and 100 species of mammal. Several trails and a large grassland area near the park's headquarters are open to the public, but anyone wishing to explore the rest of the sanctuary must obtain written permission from the DNP headquarters in Bangkok. The park is especially popular with birdwatchers, but large animals such as golden jackals, wild boar, elephants, and several species of deer can often be spotted in the grassland area.
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Udon Thani was one of the biggest US air bases during the Vietnam War, and it is now home to one of Thailand's largest expat populations. As such, the city offers plenty of Western amenities, but most of the area's best attractions require a day trip into the surrounding countryside. The Bronze Age excavations at Ban Chiang are the most visited site in the area, but there are plenty of other fascinating sights as well, including the silk-weaving village of Ban Nak Ha, a large orchid farm, and the mysterious sandstone rock formations found in Phu Phrabat National Park.
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25 Best Places to Visit in Thailand
- Phuket, Photo: Courtesy of Oleg Zhukov - Fotolia.com
- Ao Phang Nga National Park, Photo: Courtesy of EMrpize - Fotolia.com
- Bangkok, Photo: Courtesy of yotrakbutda - Fotolia.com
- Chiang Mai, Photo: Courtesy of SeanPavonePhoto. - Fotolia.com
- Chiang Rai, Photo: Courtesy of jum_ruji - Fotolia.com
- Doi Inthanon National Park, Photo: Courtesy of Noppasinw - Fotolia.com
- Erawan National Park, Photo: Courtesy of Somchai - Fotolia.com
- Hat Yai, Photo: Courtesy of Musa2520 - Fotolia.com
- Hua Hin, Photo: Courtesy of esmehelit - Fotolia.com
- Huai Kha Khaeng Wild Life Sanctuary, Photo: Courtesy of kajornyot - Fotolia.com
- Karon, Photo: Courtesy of Elena Ermakova - Fotolia.com
- Khao Sok National Park, Photo: Courtesy of dadoodas - Fotolia.com
- Khao Yai National Park, Photo: Courtesy of dadoodas - Fotolia.com
- Ko Pha Ngan, Photo: Courtesy of Justin Chen - Fotolia.com
- Ko Samet, Photo: Courtesy of oksmit - Fotolia.com
- Ko Samui, Photo: Courtesy of lkunl - Fotolia.com
- Ko Tao, Photo: Courtesy of maxsobeh - Fotolia.com
- Koh Chang, Photo: Courtesy of Graham - Fotolia.com
- Krabi, Photo: Courtesy of phaitoon - Fotolia.com
- Lampang, Photo: Courtesy of Atakorn - Fotolia.com
- Mae Hong Son, Photo: Courtesy of anekoho - Fotolia.com
- Pai, Photo: Courtesy of dekdoyjaidee - Fotolia.com
- Pattaya, Photo: Courtesy of chungking - Fotolia.com
- Phu Khieo Wildlife Sanctuary, Photo: Courtesy of pittawut - Fotolia.com
- Udon Thani, Photo: Courtesy of sitriel - Fotolia.com
- Cover Photo: Courtesy of ponsatorn - Fotolia.com
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