Thailand has always been a popular holiday destination. Its vibrant landscapes, natural views and ancient structures have called out to travel enthusiasts and history buffs from all across the world. Now when one thinks about Thailand, it’s easy to picture tropical beaches with white sand and lush greenery. However, Thailand is so much more than that. It has such a diverse culture with evident Indian, Chinese, Burmese, and Khmer influences. Speaking of culture, everyone is familiar with the country’s nickname “the land of smiles”. This comes from the fact that the locals in Thailand are probably some of the nicest people ever, and of course the fact that they just smile a lot! (even when they’re tired, upset or embarrassed).
Thailand also has some of the most impressive architecture. Take a look at their ancient ruins, palaces, and ornate Buddhist temples. With so much to offer, Thailand is the perfect destination for both a relaxing getaway and a culturally inclined experience.
Being one of the most popular spots in the world, Thailand receives as many as 35 million tourists every year (pre-pandemic), as recorded by the Tourism Authority of Thailand. And while the country did see a halt in tourism last year, the number of visits eventually reached a steady 7.34 million in 2022 (between January and October ’22), revesting Thailand with its former popularity.
The capital city of Thailand needs no introduction. A metropolis boasting lofty skyscrapers, crowded spaces and busy streets, Bangkok is where you can experience the fast-paced life of Thailand. No matter where you go in Bangkok, crowds and chaos follows; there’s always something happening around some corner of the street. Yet despite its overcrowded, chaotic environment, Bangkok is a great place to experience the wild side of Thailand through its bustling nightlife and food escapades.
Khao San Road located in the heart of Bangkok is a great place to start; it’s where you’ll find most of the tourists and backpackers. The streets here come to life at night, with live music, street performers, and plenty of open-air restaurants. While there are ample of restaurants ranging from budget-friendly to fine dining, stopping at a street vendor for delicious chicken satays is a must, especially if you enjoy authentic Thai food.
Shopping in Bangkok can seem overwhelming but is always an enjoyable experience. No matter where you are, there’s a good handful of market stalls, street vendors and shopping malls at every corner. There are at least 8,000 market stalls in all of Bangkok, selling everything from handicrafts and antiques to furniture and collectables. The Chatuchak Weekend Market, which is the world’s largest outdoor weekend market, is a good place to bargain for the best souvenir prices in the city.
A must-see for all visitors, Wat Phra Kaew, also known as the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, is said to be the most sacred temple in Thailand. The temple is located on the grounds of the Grand Palace which was the official residence of the Kings of Siam until 1925.
Where to stay
Like restaurants, there’s no shortage of hotels in Bangkok. The Siam, Capella Bangkok and Mandarin Oriental are among the popular stays. Set in pristine locations, these hotels are strategically located away from the crowds, while still being in close proximity to the heart of Bangkok.
A complete contrast to the loud and crowd of Bangkok, Chiang Mai is a rather laidback city. As opposed to the concrete jungle that is Bangkok, Chiang Mai is surrounded by national parks, waterfalls, and mountains, making the city an ideal base for tourists looking for an outdoorsy experience, treks, nature walks, etc. A fun fact about Chiang Mai, the city is home to about 300 Buddhist temples. Of these, the Wat Phra That Doi Suthep temple is the most popular one, set on a mountain with stunning views of the city. With 306 steps to the top, the journey can be a tedious climb, but worth the effort given the view from the top. If treks aren’t your thing, there are other adventure activities like mountain biking, ziplining, and river rafting that are a great way to spend your days in Chiang Mai.
While Chiang Mai presents a nature-centred setting, it is also a culturally important city that unites historical and modern Thai architecture and tradition. If you want a break from the trekking and adventure, tourists can always head to the main city where they can find numerous handicraft markets, an abundance of massage and spa parlours, botanical gardens, etc. Chiang Mai is a vegetarian-friendly restaurant, so finding a good place to eat is seldom difficult. Night Bazar and Loi Kroh are two streets filled with the best restaurants offering cuisines like authentic Thai, Cantonese, Mediterranean and more.
One of the factors that set Chiang Mai apart from the rest of Thailand is its ethical treatment of elephants. While the rest of Thailand promotes elephant rides, Chiang Mai focuses on protecting them. The city is home to many elephant sanctuaries where visitors can interact with the rescued animals in their natural habitats.
Where to stay
Anatara Chiang Mai is one of the best hotels in the city and is located only 750 meters away from the Chiang Mai Night Bazaar, making it a convenient location as well. Located on the grounds of the former British Consulate, the hotel combines modern luxury with traditional Thai touches to match the area’s colonial-era heritage. Additionally, the boutique hotel, 137 Pillars House is a cosy colonial teak homestead built around 1880, and is only a few minutes away from the Wat Gate Temple, the Ping River and the boutique shopping area. For an ultimate luxury experience, tourists can always check into hotels like Shangri-La and Intern-Continental, both of which are located in the heart of Chiang Mai.
If you want to see the quiet side of Thailand, then Pai should be on your itinerary. Once a quiet village in northern Thailand, Pai, located on the banks of the Pai River, has become a hotspot for backpackers and explorers. Nestled in the green hills and rice paddies, the town is like a southern island escape with lush countryside views, trees, mountains, waterfalls and hot springs. Finding a luxury hotel or fine dining restaurant might be a tough one in Pai, but the experience is wholesome nonetheless.
Given the natural ambience of Pai, you can find plenty of activities to partake in, including whitewater rafting, trekking or even spending the day soaking in hot springs like Sai Ngam Hot Springs and Tha Pai Hot Springs. A must-visit, Pai Canyon is Thailand’s response to the Grand Canyon. It is an adventurer’s playground given the tedious hike, but it also has one of the best sunset views. Another spot for a birds-eye view of Pai is the temple of Wat Phra That Mae Yen, which like the Wat Phra temple in Chiang Mai is a hike, with 353 steps to the top. A massive white stone Buddha lies at the top of this temple, and the view from here is better than anything you might have seen.
If you’re looking to explore the culture of the area, Santichon Village is for you. One of the most popular attractions in the city, the village consists of a complex of clay houses and shops that showcase the way of life of the Yunan People, an ethnic group from Southern China with important ties to the Pai area.
Where to stay
Although a budding tourist destination, Pai is still a quaint town that differs from the rest of Thailand. And so finding a 5-star hotel here might be difficult. However, one can find several luxury boutique hotels such as Reverie Siam, The Quarter Pai, Family House Zen Boutique Resort and Pai Village Boutique Resort, most of which are in close proximity to the top tourist attractions.
A quaint and colourful town in Northern Thailand, Kanchanaburi is a thriving town best known for its local history. Some of the main attractions here are associated with WWII, prominently the iron railroad bridge over the River Kwai. The bridge is linked with the historic Death Railway to Burma where thousands of Asian labourers and POWS died during the construction of the bridge under Japanese occupation during WWII. It was even portrayed in the Academy Award-winning 1957 film, “Bridge over the River Kwai.” Aside from this, there are a number of museums like the Thailand–Burma Railway Centre, Hellfire Pass Interpretive Centre and Jeath War Museum.
While most of the River Kwai bridge closed down after the incident, a part of it remains active and open for tourists. You can ride the train from Kanchanaburi to Nam Tok which is a slow but scenic 2-hour journey. You’ll pass through sprawling farmland, along the edge of steep cliffs, through deep cuttings and along the shores of the Khwae Yai River.
If you’re up for some exploration, then spots like the Sai Yok National Park, Erawan National Park and Hellfire Pass are excellent locations. Both Sai Yok and Erawan National Parks are filled with stunning waterfalls, caves, and wildlife, making for an excellent day trip. Hellfire Pass, Located in the Tenasserim Hills is another tragic spot in Kanchanaburi. Built using forced labour during WWII, Hellfire Pass is said to be the hardest part of the railway line to build. Several slaves and prisoners lost their lives trying to cut through the solid rock. Walking through this space makes you appreciate the efforts involved in building it.
The cave temple, Wat Tham Phu Wa, located about 20kms from Kanchanaburi city is among the famous temples in the town. It is also a renowned meditation centre fitted with a reclining Buddha statue along with a large sitting Buddha near the left of the cave. In addition to this temple, the Wat Tham Sua temple, also known as the ‘Tiger Cave Temple’, is a monastery located in Tha Muang. A massive golden Buddha statue is the highlight of this temple.
Where to stay
Dheva Mantra Resort is one of the most luxurious hotels in Kanchanaburi, with elegant accommodations and necessary amenities. It is also one of the few hotels surrounded by maximum greenery and the pristine River Kwai. Other boutique hotels like Cross River Kwai, Royal River Kwai Resort and Spa and Tubtim Siam River Kwai Resort are comfortable options for a luxe traveller.
The second most popular destination in Thailand after Bangkok, Phuket is the country’s largest island defined by beautiful blue lagoons, white sandy beaches and bustling crowds. Outside these stunning landscapes, the town of Phuket is one of the most diverse locations with a colourful blend of Indian, Arabian, and Chinese cultures.
Given the tropical beauty of Phuket, watersports such as kayaking, snorkelling, surfing and diving are a must-do for all tourists. While most beaches in Phuket are stunning and usually crowded, Patong Beach is by far the most popular one filled with resorts, hotels, shops, restaurants and a vibrant nightlife. This is where you will find the maximum number of tourists. Phang Nga Bay is a memorable place to visit with its beautiful caves, aquatic grottoes and limestone islands.
Fun and adventure are synonyms for Phuket. Here tourists can easily find something to do outside the beaches, including visiting aquariums, seashell museums and national parks. A number of modern attractions like the AR Trick Eye Museum and The Upside Down House Museum offer entertaining activities for people of all ages. Conservation projects are in abundance in Phuket. The Phuket Elephant Sanctuary and Soi Dog Sanctuary give tourists an exciting opportunity to get up and personal with rescued animals, being able to interact with them without causing them any trouble.
Where to stay
Because Phuket is such a popular tourist destination, it is filled with some of the most luxurious resorts and hotels. Beachside resorts including Six Senses Yao Noi, Rosewood Phuket and Amanpuri are the best way to enjoy a tropical experience in Phuket.
Koh Yao Noi
If you’re looking to skip the overcrowded islands in Thailand, then Koh Yao Noi is the perfect destination. A palm-speckled oasis in Phang Nga Bay, Koh Yao Noi is a 30-minute boat ride from Phuket, which makes it ideal for a day trip as well. The quaint island unlike most commercialised islands in Thailand possesses a rawness in its landscape, one that is without the chaos of tourists and crowded market lanes. It is also a great place for those who want an authentic experience in the local communities.
Activities like scuba diving, boat rides and fishing are prominent. Visiting the Moken people or Sea Gypsies of Koh Panjiis is an interesting experience, where you can get an insight into the traditional way of living. All James Bond fans will want to take a trip to James Bond Island, an iconic spot in Phang Nga Bay that was featured in the James Bond movie, The Man with the Golden Gun.
Off the island, the village is filled with plenty of spas, salons, markets and yoga retreats among other things. If you don’t have any definitive plans, simply take a scooter ride through the village where you can see rows of farms, little fishing villages, and local townships.
Where to stay
While the island is small and ideal for one-day trips, there’s no reason you can’t stay longer. And so, boutique properties are popular in Koh Yao Noi. Cape Kudu Hotel, a member of Small Luxury Hotels of the World is a chic boutique property for couples and solo travellers. However, if you’re travelling in larger groups, Baan Yu Yen is a perfectly cosy accommodation.