20 Top Rated Tourist Attractions in Thailand
As the largest and most populous country in South-East Asia, Thailand is a land of astounding natural beauty and religious diversity, with stunning coastlines and tropical forest regions. Thailand is famous for its beaches and temples, including the stunning Phuket tropical island. But be prepared: this sunny paradise is also one of the world's most expensive destinations.
And yet, despite its seemingly unending good times, Thailand is hardly a party vacation. Every nation has its own way of savoring the joys of life, and Thailand is no exception. What sets Thailand apart from other countries is a unique sensibility that is polite, peaceful, and eager to please.
Visit a village at sunrise, listen to monks at dusk, follow the elephant trail to a jungle hotel, find a healing temple or view an ancient temple at the foothills of the Himalayas.
The options are as diverse as the scenery. There are so many things to see and experience in this uniquely Thai land. With this travel guide, you'll find insider tips on planning the perfect vacation in Thailand.
Arriving in Thailand by air can be a strange experience. Bangkok seems more familiar but once you pass into the provinces in the north things are really quite different. Chiang Rai is a tiny place with fewer than 50,000 people, making it the sort of city you just stumble across on your own. The main attraction for travelers is the local food, which is said to be the best in Thailand. Local specialties include Khao soi noodles and Lao-style basil (or holy basil), a Thai basil. Chiang Rai offers an international cultural mix. There are plenty of art galleries in this small town, while around the more remote mountain villages are found Tibetan Buddhist temples and the old houses that dot the hilltops. The valley scenery is truly stunning, with dramatic limestone cliffs soaring on the opposite side of the road, and lush rice fields sprawling out on either side of the paved road.
Chiang Mai has a reputation for being the center of northern Thai culture and the best place to understand the culture of the region. Justly famous for its temples, and for the way in which it evokes a sense of peace and tranquility, the city is truly unique. It has a character all its own. Chiang Mai was originally founded by the Tai Lue in 976 as a loose confederation of city-states, and became the capital of Thailand when its first king, Ram Muang, relocated the capital to this location in 1150. The city consists of a broad central spine and an expanding belt of roads and small residential quarters. The principal east-west route is called Naresuan. It connects Chiang Mai city to the northern city of Lampang. Be sure to visit the Doi Suthep Park, the most important archaeological site on the north of the city. The wide range of activities offered by the park's various temples includes candlelight temple tours, Tha Pae Night Market, and a spa village. A little way outside the city there are also several fun activities, such as elephant riding and visit to Khao That (Elephant Cave).
Read more 👉 Top Rated Tourist Attractions in Chiang Mai
Khao Yai National Park
One of Southeast Asia's premier wildlife attractions, the 3,000-hectare Khao Yai National Park contains a great diversity of habitats, which support approximately 100 different species of mammals. The park contains the country's largest population of Elephants (from several hundred to some 3,500 individuals), the highest concentration of tigers, and also houses the largest number of macaques in the region, as well as Asian elephants and Malayan tigers. There is no shortage of bird species either, with over 500 species found in the park.
Khao Sok National Park
Set in the hilly forest region of northern Thailand, the park is home to a vast array of wildlife including some 10,000 elephants. The primary area of interest is the world's largest freshwater lake, and the forest floor is teeming with butterflies and other insects. An excellent way to explore the park is to climb through caves on the steep escarpment walls at the lake's southern end. Here, there are a number of jungle-style restaurants where travelers can rest and relax after a full day of trekking.
Situated between the Andaman Sea and the Gulf of Thailand, the capital of Thailand, Bangkok, is home to ancient, centuries-old temples and the modern metropolis of skyscrapers and world-class shops. The city also boasts two of Asia's best food markets and a city that moves with a population of up to 10 million people. Bangkok's main attractions include the National Museum, the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, and the Old Siam. It also has the biggest Chinatown in the world and a more modern Chinatown that is one of the best places to experience street food. Home to palaces, shrines and temples, Bangkok also has a colorful history. Visit Wat Saket, which was once the site of the Grand Palace, now a peaceful temple. Some other places of interest include the Modern Sky Dome, the world's longest indoor movie theatre, and many restaurants serving traditional Thai food. Don't miss Bangkok's renowned street food, as these amazing markets are a great way to experience the city's busy, chaotic streets.
Read more 👉 Top Rated Tourist Attractions in Bangkok
Ko Samui, the biggest island in the Samui archipelago in the Gulf of Thailand, has a vast variety of hotels, so finding a good deal is fairly simple. Samui offers a certain dreaminess and beauty even though it is a relatively modern island, having been selected as the future residence of the Prince of Wales, which makes it a destination in its own right. Ko Samui itself has many beaches, some of which have become somewhat overdeveloped as it is the most visited island in the Thai Gulf. Development is a thorny issue, with some of the remote areas of the island set aside as national park areas. There are also lots of fancy resorts and hotels on this island, so shopping is a key part of Samui life. To see real sights on the island, take the daily bus service to the island's hill towns. On a day trip from the capital, Chaweng, you can visit the narrow lanes and villages of Ban Tai and Ban Chong, home to the island's best and most extensive collection of Thai traditional art and architecture. Ko Samui's main attraction, however, is the gorgeous beach at Laem Phra Nang. This large cove at the northern tip of the island is surrounded by steep cliffs and is a magnet for a spectacular array of tropical fish in its clear waters, and beautiful golden beaches, which are loved by sunbathers from around the world.
Lampang is the provincial capital of the province of Phrae, Thailand, situated at the confluence of the Mekong and the Nan, on the road to Laos. The region around Lampang was traditionally a place for the royals and the wealthy. It remains a splendid town, where the old streets are graced with architecture from the French and Thai eras. A sight in itself is Pha Khao Luang (the royal wat), which has a multitude of rare Buddha images, dating back to the Ayudhaya dynasty. Stroll the winding lanes and narrow roads where the old buildings cast shadows in the evening and visit the Wat Bang Kham, where the wooden Buddha image is said to contain magic. Things to do in Lampang include visiting the old town and learning the history of the region. Go the Langka Tamvong Dancing Theater, where the lampang dancers perform the unique rhythms and costumes of their homeland.
Phuket is a stunning tropical island destination in the South China Sea. Its incredible beaches are part of the west coast of Thailand, and are protected by the islands of Ko Phi Phi and Ko Phi Leh. The Phang Nga Bay area, where the island is, has long been Thailand's foremost tourist destination, thanks to its amazing limestone karst formations, and impressive cave and boat tours, including the dramatic Pla-sub. Phuket is also home to the sprawling, open-air Phi Phi Island National Park, home to a number of sites of interest. Chief among them is the well-preserved Hat Noppharat Thara National Park, a favorite for snorkeling and diving. Phuket's other most popular beach destinations are Nai Harn and Mai Khao, further along the southwest coast. In Nai Harn are the Hat Sai Yuan National Park and the Elephant Training Centre. Mai Khao also has facilities for elephant rides and other activities.
Read more 👉 Top Rated Tourist Attractions in Phuket
Krabi offers a variety of experiences for travelers of all ages. For surfers, Khao Lak on the southern part of the island offers a variety of breaks, while east of Krabi town is the Phi Phi island, where you can surf or snorkel. For those interested in visiting temples, Krabi's province boasts some of the most interesting and best preserved temple in Thailand including the Mahameru and Sun Temple, both built in the 15th century. Krabi's white beaches are among the best in Thailand and offer a variety of places to stay including long-standing hotels or a chance to stay in a beautiful villa. Be sure to visit the quaint village of Thung Wua Laen, renowned for its traditional houses and surrounding temples.
Read more 👉 Top Rated Tourist Attractions in Krabi
The Grand Palace
The Grand Palace (Wat Phra Kaew) is a lavish, monumental building that was the former home of the King of Thailand until the capital was relocated to Bangkok. It is one of the most famous and visited landmarks in Thailand. It was established in 1782 and is the most famous of Bangkok's over 40 ancient buildings. Although undergoing major restoration, it is already one of the most impressive attractions in Thailand. The grounds contain a wide variety of well-kept tropical flora and fauna. Here you can also visit the adjacent Temple of Emerald Buddha. Nearby, you can take the Chao Phraya Express Boat to the Grand Palace itself, or to nearby attractions such as the Temple of The Emerald Buddha.
Ang Thong National Park
Formerly called Thung Hua Kaew, Thailand's largest national park, located on Phuket island's west coast, is one of the most popular places to visit in the country. There are breathtakingly beautiful beaches, breath-taking cliffs, coral-fringed lagoons and dense tropical rainforests in the region and the backdrop of a powder-soft seascape remains one of the park's main attractions. Due to its popularity, Ang Thong National Park is the perfect place to while away a day, with a wide range of activities available to visitors. These include canyoning, diving, trekking and snorkeling, while the park is also a magnet for photographers who are drawn to its dramatic scenery. Although there is plenty to see in the park, one of the most popular activities is kayaking through the park's abundant mangrove wetlands and swamps, where it's possible to get an insight into the rich and diverse wildlife within the park.
To visit the "River of a Thousand Buddhas," it is first necessary to catch a boat from Bangkok. This journey will take you through the narrow and winding but spectacularly lush Tha Hin Pattanakon River and past a thousand waterfalls in the course of an hour. Kanchanaburi, a popular and peaceful town, is the jumping-off point. In Kanchanaburi, start your visit at the Wat Visuddhi Yai. Although it was built by the Nika in 1356 AD, the town's real attraction lies outside: to the south, the River Kwai Bridge. Nearby, Wat Arun is a large temple that was built by King Rama III in the 19th century. Travel along the nearby Mae Nam river to the Mae Khongkhrai Bridge. While you are there, visit the nearby Nam Tok Kwai Noi Waterfall, where a ladder-access path leads down to the pool below. Finally, make your way to Thailand's highest bridge, the Warorot Bridge, 1,500 meters above sea level, for spectacular views of the surrounding countryside. The bridge is a popular lunch spot, so expect to have a long wait when visiting.
Erawan National Park
Erawan is an archeological site on the west coast of Thailand. Dating back to 1,500 BC, the site is an impressive assemblage of buildings, temples, halls, stupas and terracotta figures depicting Hindu deities. Although the site was an important Buddhist center in the 8th and 9th centuries AD, today its most visited site is the nearby Khok Sam Oi rock formations which consists of 1,300 stepped limestone outcrops and is popular with rock climbers. Erawan is located in Krabi province, and has an airport and is served by direct flights from Bangkok.
Nan is a small, quirky town set in the lush green mountains of northern Thailand. The main attraction is a hill fortress with a series of steep stone stairways leading to multiple terraces. There are two well-known attractions within the park - Khao Tarn Yai and Khao Raksa. The fortress contains numerous caves, temples, a museum, as well as the 14th-century Buddhist temple Wat Khun Chiang. At its peak, the fort was a residence and refuge for a local Chao Tuan prince, though it was later partially destroyed.
Phang Nga Bay, an ex-Phangan island, has undergone an economic transformation over the last few decades, with luxury hotels, water sports resorts, and rice plantations sprouting on once verdant landscape. The majority of foreigners holiday here at the southern end of the bay, where they can enjoy the sparkling waters, granite-colored beaches and unspoiled natural scenery. Despite its huge popularity, the area is still undiscovered by most visitors, who tend to stay on the touristy islands at the northern end of the bay. Phang Nga Bay is open only to motorized boats, which will take you to the sandy isles, where monkeys are everywhere and water buffalo wander the jungle.
Phang Nga Bay
Phang Nga Bay (also known as the Gulf of Thailand) is one of Southeast Asia's most popular destinations for tourists. The mesmerizing limestone karsts (terraces of precipitous rock rising in graceful spirals from the sea), set against a turquoise-blue sky, are reminiscent of the Napoleonic Isles. The bay's incredible diversity of coral-reef scenery has been classified by UNESCO as an 'underwater world heritage site'. Five magnificent limestone-and-sand isles – Ko Panyi, Ko Panyilan, Ko Phra Thong, Ko Ha and Ko Mu – stretch along the coast. Ko Panyi, the largest and most accessible, is home to numerous rock climbing facilities. Phang Nga Bay has a busy population of Krabi's fisherfolk and fishermen who are actively involved in the area's famous sponge diving. Hire a longtail boat or visit the nearby long-tail boat landing and leave it to your guide to negotiate with the boatmen, even if it means negotiating in Thai. In contrast to Krabi's bustling markets, Phang Nga's tiny villages are a peaceful haven with no shops or stalls. It takes about three hours to get to Koh Phang Nga from Krabi, and boats from Bangkok, Phuket and Ko Samui are also available.
Chiang Rai Province
Chiang Rai is a lovely mountain retreat within the heart of northern Thailand and is celebrated as the "River Heart of Thailand". Chiang Rai is known for its intricate mountain temples, mainly the temples at Doi Suthep. Several temples are open to tourists. What makes Chiang Rai special is that this city is a part of the culture of Chiang Rai, where the la, the Mekong River that flows through Chiang Rai, is regarded as a family and villagers are very close and known as "neighbor", even if they are thousands of kilometers away. A bit off the main tourist route, this beautiful place is an ideal getaway from the crowded city centers, but is still reachable by air. Chiang Rai's airport offers connections to other regional cities and Bangkok.
Wat Phra That Doi Suthep
Wat Phra That Doi Suthep is a classic example of an 11th century Khmer Hindu temple, and is considered the most sacred temple in the country. The current temple, on the site of an earlier building, was built in the 17th century, in the reign of King Narai. The temple is dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva and represents the white, reclining, four-armed form of the god, mounted on a great elephant. The temple was designed and built in classical Khmer style, but has many interesting features such as a 19th-century well for cooling devotees and the 17th century painting of King Narai's reign which depicts scenes of everyday life. After visiting the temple, it's worth strolling around the ruins of the Royal Palace which lie just outside the temple grounds. Wat Phra That Doi Suthep can be reached from Bangkok or by bus from everywhere in Thailand, and the site is well set up for guests. It can be visited at any time of the year but it is at its best during the week-long festival, Thai New Year, when there are often many elephants and monks participating in events.
Khao Yai, Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai
Khao Yai, one of the most famous mountains in the country, is easily accessible from Bangkok. Khao Yai National Park in the northeast, located about 30 km from the capital, offers numerous sights, including a giant limestone hill known as Khao Luang, huge caves, hot springs, waterfalls, and even a rich variety of animals. At the southern end of the park, a popular short hike is to the 700-metre-high Bo Phut Caves, which reveal the unique beauty of limestone. An alternative is to drive the 60 km (40 mile) to Chiang Mai from Bangkok, through ever-changing scenery, including the beautiful mountain passes of Suan Phueng and Doi Suthep. As well as being well known for its red rock formations, Chiang Rai is home to a number of sacred Buddhist sites, including Wat Doi Tung and Wat Rong Khun.
Chiang Mai Night Bazaar
A riot of color, thousands of lights, and loud, throbbing music are some of the main attractions of the Chiang Mai Night Bazaar. An array of street stalls selling fruits and vegetables, clothing, jewelry, food, and more are set up along every block or two within the one kilometer-long area. This thriving center of commerce is home to about a hundred different street stalls or vendors selling everything from clothes to food and music. Of course, more appealing to many visitors are the outdoor stands of innumerable colorful lanterns, crafted from teak or paper and set up along the sidewalks. These dazzling display sets off to great advantage the bustling sidewalk market, where motorbikes and tuk-tuks vie for the attention of visitors to be taken to nearby temple fairs, large-scale festivals, and other events that happen on any given day. Be forewarned that some sellers employ scammers who hang around the main area trying to lure in customers, a sure way of picking up a lot of unwanted clothing at a bargain price. However, even some of these individuals have become highly skilled con artists, so a little caution is warranted. Maggie is the author of seven published novels, her most recent being Jaded.