Friendly and fun-loving, exotic and tropical, cultured and historic, Thailand radiates a golden hue from its sun-kissed beaches and misty mountains to its emerald-coloured rice fields and busy, prosperous cities.
Beaches, bargains, palaces, and stunning temples – Thailand has much to offer anyone, from the burned-out corporate executive in search of ultra-luxurious respite to the intrepid backpacker hoping to explore beyond the beaten track. What brings visitors back here time and time again is undoubtedly the warmth of the Thai people, their laid-back attitude, the kingdom’s at-times incomprehensible yet beguiling customs, feverish festivals, and amazing culinary adventures. For many, Thailand’s most notable draws are its opulent royal palaces, ancient ruins, and ornate temples housing skilfully-crafted figures of Buddha, a revered symbol that underscores a fervent and widespread devotion.
In Bangkok, a 21st-century playground, the scent of spicy street food fills the air, and the Grand Palace recalls the country’s traditions. Beyond Bangkok, rice paddies carpet endless flat plains in a landscape dotted by tiny villages and mountains. White sandy beaches and acres of coconut palms and rubber plantations lace the southern and eastern gulf provinces.
It is relatively cheap to hop around Thailand by plane and the kingdom provides a gateway to everywhere else in the region. You’ll suffer few hardships and be rewarded with fodder for the mind and spirit, from fiery curries to meditating Buddhas. Welcome to a life-altering experience disguised as a holiday.
Top Reasons to Visit Thailand
PRISTINE ISLANDS & BEACHES
Thailand’s beaches are stunning, hedonistic and mythic among residents of northern latitudes. Pristine strands and hidden coves bring vacation daydreams alive.
Blessed with clean, white sands and clear blue waters, Thailand is home to some of the most stunning beaches in the world. Thailand’s beaches span two coasts with gorgeous islands amid aquamarine waters where you can scuba dive or receive beachside massages. Visitors can head to the secluded coves of Ko Phangan and Ko Chang, partake in the glittering nightlife at the lively, but crowded beaches of Phuket and Ko Samui, go diving and snorkelling in the waters surrounding Ko Tao, or spend some family time at the royals’ favourite resort – Hat Hua Hin.
Best ways to experience Thailand’s islands & beaches:
Laze away days under a coconut palm on Ko Phi Phi’s white-sand beaches
Snorkel the sparkling waters of Ang Thong Marine National Park, Ko Samui
Scale limestone cliffs above emerald green seas in Railay
Don your bathers and explore the turquoise wonders of Phuket’s legendary coast
Take part in Ko Pha-Ngan’s legendary Full Moon parties on the beaches of Laem Rin
Cruise the crystal-clear waters of Andaman Coast in a traditional long-tail boat
DELICIOUS THAI CUISINE
Famous the world over, Thai cuisine is cheap and bursting with flavour. Rich curries, sour-spicy tom yum soup, and tasty pad Thai are worth sampling.
From stir-fries and noodles to curries and soups, Thailand is renowned for its delectable cuisine. Thai food is popular all over the world and a culinary pilgrimage to the mother country will expand your appreciation of the cuisine’s versatility, simplicity and communal traditions. Bangkok and Chiang Mai are the country’s big culinary centres, boasting the cream of gourmet Thai restaurants and night food markets. The cooking and presentation techniques of Thai cuisine are so respected that Bangkok’s celebrated cooking schools attract pupils from all over the world.
The rest of the country is by no means a gastronomic wasteland, however, and you can eat well and cheaply in even the smallest provincial towns, many of which offer the additional attraction of regional specialties. Regional cuisines differ greatly and offer a breadth of flavours in varying blends of sweet, sour, and salty variations – not always ignited by fiery spice.
Not-to-be-missed culinary experiences:
Fire up your tastebuds at Bangkok’s food markets
Dig into fresh seafood and spicy soups at Chiang Mai’s Anusan Night Market
Learn to cook authentic Thai cuisine at one of the famous cooking schools in Bangkok
Sample some tasty treats from the numerous roadside vendor carts
Become a vegetarian at the most famous food festival in Thailand – the annual Vegetarian Festival
MAJESTIC TEMPLES & ANCIENT RUINS
Thailand is covered with colourful Buddhist temples and ruins from the Angkor era. Resplendent stupas and pagodas evoke the glory of ancient kingdoms.
From the golden temples of Bangkok to the ancient ruins at Ayutthaya, Thailand is packed with stunning temples and historic ruins. Most striking of Thailand’s architectural heritage is the Buddhist temple that dazzles in the tropical sun with wild colours and soaring lines. Buddhist temple complexes, or wats, are central to nearly every community in Thailand and, as the main expressions of public architecture and art over the centuries, are likely to loom large in visitors’ experiences of the country, too.
Must-visit temples and ancient ruins:
The Angkor-era temple complex of Phanom Rung
Angkorean ruins of the Prasat Khao Phra Wihan National Park
The sacred Wat Phra Doi Suthep, near Chiang Mai
The ruins of Sukhothai and Si Satchanalai-Chaliang Historic Parks, including the impressive Wat Chang Lom
Prang Sam Yot, Lopburi
VIBRANT URBAN SCENE
Thailand’s vibrant cities are one of the main drawcards for tourists. Bangkok, the country’s capital and Chiang Mai, its northern neighbour are two of the most popular cities.
Exploring Thailand’s hip cities reveals the beating heart of this rapidly developing country. Its cities are home to some of the best shopping, bars, clubs and traditional arts performances in the country. Thailand’s shopping experience is second-to-none with cheap clothing and beautiful handicrafts found at huge department stores, shopping centres and iconic night markets. Uniquely Thai Khohn (masked dance-drama), Lakhon (a play), Li-keh (folk dance), Muay Thai (kick-boxing) and traditional Thai Puppetry all vie for your attention with performances in many venues across Bangkok. Tops bars change with the seasons but key areas to visit in Bangkok are Khao San, Silom & Sukhumvit.
Top city experiences not to be missed:
Join the party scene in Khao San, Bangkok
Discover Bangkok’s growing contemporary art scene
Shop till you drop with Bangkok’s hip and wealthy at the Emporium Shopping Centre
Explore the labyrinth of handicrafts at Chiang Mai’s Sunday Walking Street
Catch the cool river breezes from the back of the Chao Phraya Express, Bangkok
Hone your bargaining skills at Bangkok’s Chatuchak Weekend Market
Rock out at Bangkok’s cool clubs and cosy beer halls
AMAZING NATURAL LANDSCAPE
From white sandy beaches on tropical island paradises to hill villages on remote mountain tops, Thailand’s diverse landscapes are waiting to be explored.
For tourists, Thailand’s natural landscape is part of the allure: the blonde beaches are lapped at by cerulean seas, while the northern mountains cascade into the misty horizon. There are more than 100 national parks dotted around Thailand which are home to a wide variety of wildlife and marine life. Visitors are spoiled for choice when it comes to outdoor activities which range from diving in the waters of the idyllic southern coast and sun baking on idyllic sandy beaches to rock climbing limestone karsts and trekking in the northern hills.
Best of Thailand’s great outdoor experiences:
Snorkel or dive the reefs on these less visited islands, Similan Islands
See the beauty that has made this island famous Koh Phi Phi
See the sunrise over the coastal wilderness of Laem Son National Park
Spot rainforest giants and wildlife in Khao Yai National Park
Savour the ancient rainforest and rugged mountains of Khao Sok National Park
Explore one of Thailand’s remotest corners, Phu Chong Nayoi National Park
The climate of most of Thailand is governed by three seasons: rainy (roughly May-Oct), caused by southwest monsoon dumping moisture gathered from the Andaman Sea and the Gulf of Thailand; cool (Nov-Feb); and hot (March-May).
The best time to visit most of Thailand is between November and February, primarily because it rains the least and is not too hot during these months. This period is also Thailand’s main season for both national and regional festivals. Bear in mind, however, that it’s also the busiest season when prices skyrocket and hotels fill up, so be sure to make advance reservations.
If you plan to focus on the mountains of the northern provinces, the hot season (March to May) and early rainy season (June to July) are not bad either, as temperatures are moderate at higher elevations. Haze from the burning-off of agricultural fields during these months, however, does obscure visibility in the north. Northeastern and central Thailand, on the other hand, are best avoided from March to May, when temperatures may climb over 40°C during the day and aren’t much lower at night. Because temperatures are more even year-round in the south (because it’s closer to the equator), the beaches and islands of southern Thailand are a good choice for respite when the rest of Thailand is miserably hot.
Where is Thailand located?
Thailand is located at the heart of Southeast Asia, between the Indian Ocean and the South China Sea. The country covers 198,000 sq miles (513,000 sq km) and has a population of 68 million. The verdant North is mainly mountainous, and towering ranges run along the long western border with Myanmar (Burma). In contrast, the Northeast is a flat, poor, arid region. Much of the eastern border with Laos is defined by the Mekong River. Further south are the hills of northern Cambodia. Thailand’s Southern peninsula offers many of the best beaches and islands.