The best places to visit in Thailand

One of the many beautiful islands near Krabi, Thailand

Thailand may indeed be the land of smiles but it’s also a land of beautiful beaches, great cities and huge historical and cultural significance.

In fact, there is so much to see and do in Thailand that it can be overwhelming when you’re planning a trip. Where should I go? What should I see? These are the kinds of questions that give even veteran backpackers a whopping great headache.

Because often the best travel tips are the ones you get from other travellers, these are what I think are the best places to visit in Thailand.

Koh Tao

Koh Tao is as pretty as a picture – and so much better than more popular beach-side destinations such as Koh Samui and Phuket.

Beautiful Koha Tao beach in Thailand

In fact, Koh Tao would be the best beach in Thailand if not for the fact that it isn’t a particularly good swimming beach. Instead, it’s a great place to learn to dive, to chill out for a few days and relax in total splendour.

It’s still fairly cheap, too, although you can always expect to pay more on the islands than you do on the Thai mainland (read my post Thailand backpacker budget for more details).

Chiang Mai

It seems that all roads in Thailand lead to Chiang Mai. Most travellers end up spending at least a little bit of time in this city in northern Thailand.

There is heaps of things to see and do in Chiang Mai – from jungle treks to cultural and historical tours – and it’s a cheap place to visit. The food here is unbelievable and, if you’re lucky enough to be in Chiang Mai for Songkran, the city goes absolutely nuts during the Thai New Year festival.

Krabi traffic lights Thai

Krabi

Most backpackers consider Krabi only a gateway to Koh Phi Phi and Ao Nang – but it’s to their detriment that they write it off as such.

Don’t be put off by Krabi’s giant crabs; stay at least one night and visit the town’s brilliant night market and get a photo of the unusual traffic lights that run through the centre of town (pictured above). Meanwhile, it’s a great place for a boat trip to picturesque nearby islands.

Bangkok

If Bangkok was a person it would be a big smelly guy with a lot of attitude and no social conscience. But he would be a hell of a guy to go out on the town with!

You can’t miss Bangkok, if only because it’s most likely to be your arrival or departure point. Your Thailand travel experience wouldn’t be complete if you didn’t spend some time here to take in the sights and smells of Thailand’s big smoke.

Make sure you check out the Chatuchak Market – one of the best markets in Southeast Asia.

Temple in Ayutthaya that resembles one in Cambodia

Ayutthaya

They certainly don’t make cities like Ayutthaya anymore. This one-time capital of Thailand is a cultural and historical bonanza – and I do not use that word lightly.

Like a living, breathing museum, a buzzing little town has grown up around the remains of what once was the throne of a great empire. If you’ve already seen Angkor Wat in Cambodia then some of the Thai temples here will seem familiar to you (see above).

Koh Samui

It’s horribly busy, overly developed and incredibly expensive by Thai standards, but Koh Samui remains one of the best places to visit in Thailand for beach lovers and holiday makers.

If you’re lucky enough to be staying at one of Koh Samui’s beach-side resorts then you’re going to love it here; backpackers and flashpackers would be better off spending more time in the much more laid-back Koh Tao.

Koh Samui has all the perks of being in a city (shopping malls and movie cinemas) while also sporting more beach-side activities than you could hope for.

Nicola relaxes on a hammock in Koh Samui

Koh Lanta

Large-scale development seems to have mostly passed Koh Lanta by. This Thai island could be a beach-side travel destination to rival the likes of Koh Samui and Phuket; instead it’s slightly run down and appeals more to an older crowd of traveller.

The beaches here are perfectly lovely and it’s quite peaceful – how long that lasts is anyone’s guess.

Chiang Rai

Not to be confused with neighbouring Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai has everything its bigger brother does – cultural highlights and night markets – albeit on a slightly smaller scale.

The White Temple is well worth a look and despite the town being land-locked, Chaing Rai does in fact have a beach if you get too hot and fancy a swim.

Kanchanaburi

Not far from Bangkok is the Thai city of Kanchanaburi, which is home to the famous Bridge on the River Kwai and the Kanchaburi Safari Park Open Zoo – both of which are worth checking out.

You may not need to stay at Kanchanaburi – a day trip from Bangkok will more than suffice. Also of note is the nearby waterfalls of Erawan National Park, a series of seven pretty waterfalls where locals love to go swimming.

Kanchaburi Safari Park Open Zoo in Thailand

More Thai travel destinations that are worthy of note: Phuket (another popular island and tourist trap), Koh Phangan (home of the infamous Full Moon party) and Koh Phi Phi (beautiful but expensive – where The Beach was filmed).

Have I missed anything else out? Where do you think is the best place to visit in Thailand?

About Simon Petersen 288 Articles
Travel blogger, journalist, sports and movie fiend. Chronicling the life and times of a Kiwi at home and abroad.

17 Comments

  1. Thanks for the advice. My biggest challenge is to find the right places to stay !!! Any advice on places in .bangkok, Chian Mia etc. it is just for a couple, o children.

    • I never got sick eating from stalls on the street in Thailand but I understand that, with kids, you might not want to take that risk. My best advice, then, would be to go where everyone else does. Or ask the other travellers around you where they recommend. Sorry I can’t be more helpful. A lot of the places I ate at didn’t have a name, and even if they did I wouldn’t be able to pronounce it!

  2. Chiang Mai is definitely my favorite city in Thailand. In fact, it’s one of my favorite cities that I’ve ever been to. In total, I’ve ended up spending nearly a month there!

  3. Bangkok and koh samet is somehow a good match, you can enjoy the bustling city life and at the same time enjoy the beach. Koh Samet is only about 3 hrs drive from Bangkok, should definitely include in any travel plan for Thailand vacation:)

    Simon

  4. This list seems like a great bunch of places to check out. Will be leaving for Thailand later on this year to begin long term (possibly perpetual) travel. It just blows my mind to see everything out there in this world and how so many people miss out on it all. I for one will not miss out on the wonders of this world and it’s articles like this that keep me going. Nice work!

  5. Love the list and the pictures. I have been to Bangkok and Chiang Mai but haven’t made it to the beaches. Crazy, I know. I didn’t know about the safari park in Kanchanaburi. The picture with the giraffe is so cute.

    • Haha, I love that pic too – it’s surprise and a little bit of fear on her face! We wouldn’t know of it either if it wasn’t for my fiance’s uncle, who lives in Bangkok and took us on a tour to Kanchanaburi. Happy travels!

    • Haha, yeah we didn’t know whether to laugh or be frightened! And they would give us a fright, their heads seemingly coming in out of nowhere!

  6. We are planning to head north from Malaysia into Thailand within the next 2 weeks so this post has given us tons of inspiration of places to visit and see along the way! Definitely looking forward to checking out some of Thailand’s legendary beach scene!

    • I am so jealous. I did it the other way around less than a year ago, travelling from Thailand to Malaysia. Such an amazing part of the world!

  7. I love Koh Samet, too. Easy to get to from Bangkok, that’s a big plus, and the bottom end of the island is still fairly quiet ( have to admit, I love the party beaches, too, even at my age!) Bangkok and Chiang Mai are my two big favourites, and Mai Hong Song. Love the giraffe picture, I’ll have to take the kids there!

    • Good call about Koh Samet! I love the party beaches, too – but I’m glad I got a mix so I could recover at the quiet beaches and be ready to go at the crazy ones!

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