So you’ve never been to Thailand? Well, aren’t you in for a treat! Thailand is a must-see destination. Cluttered with tiny islands, the country has so many gorgeous, white-sand beaches to choose from, each one with their own personality. On top of all its natural beauty, the food and culture here is amazing. And let’s not forget the cost!
Here’s the low down on the most popular places to go in Thailand and what to expect once you get there.
**Note: While some of these places have been overrun with tourism and development in recent years, we have listed them anyways. It’s your trip to plan. We are just here to give you the information.
Bangkok can be summed up in just two words: ORGANIZED CHAOS. It’s a huge city to explore and the first time you arrive, it’s a complete sensory overload.
While we’ve heard things have changed on the epic Khaosan Road (it’s much more upscale since they got rid of many vendors, street food and shops), it’s still worth it to stay in that area. Soi Rambuttri is just across the way from Khaosan, yet world’s away from the chaos of the big city. It has all the amenities of shops, hotels, massage parlours and restaurants at great prices, but there’s an unhurried feel to it. The banyan trees that live along here make it feel extra special too. You can spend much of your time in this area alone. Don’t forget to haggle prices when buying things!
While in Bangkok, don’t miss all this busy city has to offer. Check out the Grand Palace and the Sleeping Buddha. Take a ferry across the river to see the incredible detail in the Wat Arun temple. There is a giant shopping mall if you want to grab some knockoffs from a legit (and air-conditioned) retail store. Of course, don’t miss a chance to visit one of many rooftop patios to see Bangkok’s unique skyline of skyscrapers, neon signs and interesting architecture. Featured in one of the James Bond movies, the Floating Market just outside of the capital will leave you with plenty of photo ops. Just remember, you could spend days in and around Bangkok and still not see it all!
Railay, an area in the Krabi region, is a chill place to enjoy incredibly scenic beaches and explore some of the natural wonders that Thailand has to offer. We instantly fell in love with the tropical beaches and towering limestone cliffs in Railay. Its location is unique in that it is only accessible by boat and there are no vehicles allowed here, making it one of the most relaxing places you can find. For these reasons, Railay is one of our favourite spots in Thailand.
You will have endless things to do on this island, but it’s okay if you’d rather just sunbathe on one of the beautiful beaches here. Cave Beach is an incredibly scenic place to swim; watch for monkeys swinging in the trees nearby. We recommend renting a kayak around the caves and islets (roughly $15-$20 for the day) to really see the natural beauty of the area. There are epic caves to explore and rock climbing adventures to be had too. There isn’t much for shops, but don’t worry, there’s plenty of that on the other islands.
**Note: An influx in day trips from nearby beaches can impede on the mellow atmosphere of Railay at times. We noticed this the last time we were there. If you head here in off-season though, Railay will offer you more of that relaxed vibe we enjoy so much here.
Koh Phi Phi
We love the Phi Phi islands because of the combination of pretty beaches, scenic views and fun nightlife. Located in the Krabi region, Koh Phi Phi Don is known for it’s stunning vertical cliffs covered in green foliage. The picturesque Koh Phi Phi Leh, made famous in the movie The Beach, is just south of the main island and is what attracts a lot of tourists to this area.
Koh Phi Phi is interesting in that it can be relaxed by day and active by night. Because there are no cars or scooters on this small island during the day, most travellers just chill by the water. There’s quite a few beaches to choose from including the busy Loh Dalum Bay or the quieter Long Beach. A popular day trip includes snorkelling in Maya Bay and cliff jumping into the gorgeous turquoise waters. If you’ve had too much sun, there’s lots of shopping though Phi Phi is more expensive than other islands. There is also a beautiful sunset hike overlooking the island that will take your breath away (quite literally…it’s a bit of a climb!)
With fire shows, beach bars and great restaurants littering the island, it’s hard to retire too early on this island. Nothing beats dancing on the beach under the stars to the latest DJ mixes. If that’s not your style, however, we recommend staying at beaches away from Tonsai Bay and Loh Dalum so that you can actually enjoy your slumber (though you still might hear the music!).
**Note: We haven’t been there since 2012. We’ve heard it’s become very touristy, dirty, expensive and overdeveloped and as a result, not the paradise it once was. Some travellers choose to visit despite the changes. Just remember, let’s all do our part by cleaning up after ourselves and respecting the land.
Koh Samui, a busy island off the east coast of Thailand, is kind of like a one-stop shop for all things Thailand. It’s a very lively island famous for its resort-lined picturesque beaches, temples, explosive muay thai fights and fantastic ladyboy shows. With this kind of offering, the island attracts everyone from young, budget travellers to the mega rich.
Although the popular Chaweng beach in the busy town is breathtaking with its white sand and calm water, the area is definitely less chill than some other spots in Thailand. Not only are there tons of resorts, restaurants and bars along the beach, but you’ll also get locals constantly approaching you to buy necklaces, corn on the cob, coconut water, even bathing suits! It’s a little crazy, but also hella convenient if you don’t want to move 😛 If you’re after quieter, off-the-beaten-path beaches, check out Sam Rong Beach and Bampor.
The great thing about Koh Samui is that it’s got more than just beaches. Renting a scooter around the island is a must do, in order to check out some of the temples and surrounding areas. Touring around the island you’ll find the Big Buddha, the Mummified Monk, beautiful waterfalls, and roadside snack shops. There’s also some great day trips to the surrounding islands to experience snorkelling at its finest. Shopping in the towns is off the hook. You’ll find tons of designer knockoffs and fixings for incredible prices. Learn the art of the haggle here!
Koh Samui’s nightlife is unreal. The main strip in the town of Chaweng is lined with bars and restaurants ready for a night of debauchery. In the evening, trucks will drive by on the main strip announcing the latest muay thai fight. The fights are like a choreographed dance and get pretty intense, so check one out! Make sure to get in one of the many ladyboy shows to watch the talented dancers put on an show. Other areas on the island like Lamai and Bophut offer great nightlife as well.
Koh Tao is both a beach lover’s dream and a diver’s paradise, which makes it a popular place to go in Thailand. The perfect white-sand beaches on this tiny “Turtle Island” are surrounded by hilly jungles and crystal-clear waters in the Gulf of Thailand, perfect for relaxing AND exploring.
The vibrant coral reef on Koh Tao is home to many interesting, colourful underwater fish and creatures. If you plan on scuba diving here (which you’d be silly not to), there are a variety of companies to choose from. We stayed on the southern bay in Chalok Baan Kao to learn with Assava Dive Resort to get our Open Water certification. The resort had hammocks aplenty, palm-fringed beaches and decent accommodations included in the cost of the course, which made our week there even better. There’s just a small number of bars, restaurants and massage shops along the bay too, so you really never have to leave this quiet oasis (except to dive, that is!)
When not diving, there’s still a lot to experience here. Check out a few great hikes on this lush island, including John-Suwan viewpoint. If you stay on either Mae Haad Beach and Sai Ri Beach, there’s tons of nightlife and restaurants to keep you entertained as well.
Koh Pha Ngan
This Thai island is famous for it’s Full Moon Party extravaganza, but there’s so much more to it than that. There are a number of beaches to stay at on this island, the main one being Haad Rin. Because Haad Rin is quite developed, it makes for a busy beach full of both tourists and boats. It’s not ideal for swimming and sunbathing, though fantastic for people-watching, shopping or partying. If you like quieter spots (like we do!), we recommend you take a short tuk tuk boat ride to Haad Yuan around the corner. There you will be rewarded with laid-back vibes, crystal clear water and breathtaking views. On Haad Yuan, there are a number of resorts and restaurants, as well as a few bars to enjoy drinks. Some resorts there have free yoga classes and movie nights to take part in as well. If you get tired of sunbathing, there are also a few hikes on the island.
Full Moon Party
As for the Full Moon Party, though it sounds super exciting, it’s best described as just one giant, messy rager. Party-goers are painted up in glow-in-the-dark paint (despite the fact that only a few bars shine the black lights on everyone!), undercover cops are trolling for deviant drug users and many people are passed out in the sand or urinating in the ocean water. Gross, right?! The thing I loved most about the Full Moon Party was heading back to Haad Yuan as the sun came up to take a nap in a nearby hammock 😛
Short on time, but want to hit the beach? Koh Samet is just a bus and ferry ride away from the capital city of Bangkok, yet it’s equally as gorgeous as some of the places in Thailand. There are plenty of beaches to choose from on this island, but we recommend Ao Phutsa. A small bay with crystal clear waters, it’s the best place to go for tranquility. While there are a number of restaurants and places to stay here, in general it’s very mellow. We spent our time just sunbathing, reading and floating in the calm waters here.
Chiang Mai is the largest city in the mountainous northern Thailand. It offers travellers plenty to do, making it a popular place to go. From hiking adventures, wildlife interactions, historic temple views and shopping at the Night Bazaar, you won’t be bored here. Our most memorable experience in Thailand was a day trip to the Elephant Nature Park to interact with rescued elephants. Make sure you visit! For the adventurous travellers, there are a number of multi-day hiking trips to really see Thailand’s natural beauty. If you’re into history and culture, hit up the many temples around the city to give you an insight into the Buddhist religion. Chiang Mai has something for everyone (no beaches though), so make room for this in your itinerary.
Have you been to Thailand? Which places have you been to? Which are your favourites? Tell us in the comments below! 🙂
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