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