Places to Visit in Thailand

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From the misty mountains of the north to the white sand beaches and cerulean waters of the south, the places to visit in Thailand are as diverse as they are beautiful.

While most visitors to Thailand make a beeline for the beautiful beaches and pristine islands in the south and the urban cities of Bangkok and Chiang Mai in the north, this popular Asian destination has more to offer the sophisticated traveller. If you dig a little deeper you’ll find hidden gems and trips that take you off-the-beaten path. For those wanting to make the most of their trip to Thailand, look no further. Below you will find our list of the top ten places to visit in Thailand which showcases the best of Thailand’s cities, islands, ancient ruins and mountain retreats.

Top 10 Places to Visit in Thailand

10. Chiang Rai

The days of the Golden Triangle opium trade are over, but Chiang Rai still packs intrigue in the form of fresh-air fun, such as trekking and self-guided exploration. It’s also a great destination for unique cultural experiences, ranging from a visit to an Akha village to a stay at the Yunnanese hamlet of Mae Salong. From the Mekong River to the mountains, Chiang Rai is arguably Thailand’s most beautiful province, and if you’ve set your sights further, it’s also a convenient getaway to Myanmar and Laos.

9. Kanchanaburi

With its rich wartime history, plentiful supply of traveller-oriented accommodation and countless possibilities for easy forays into the surrounding countryside, there are plenty of reasons to linger in Kanchanaburi. The appeal is the river: that it’s the famous River Kwai is a bonus, but the more immediate attractions are the guesthouses whose rooms overlook the waterway, many of them offering fine views of the jagged limestone peaks beyond. In and around the city are museums, cave temples, tribal villages and waterfalls. Hiking, rafting and elephant treks are among the main activities here. Kanchanaburi is also the main access point to the large national parks of western Thailand.

8. Ayutthaya

A once vibrant, glittering capital packed with hundreds of temples, Ayutthaya today only hints at its erstwhile glory. Still, the city is a necessary stop on the culture trail, because of its position in the historical hierarchy and because its story as a kingdom is more approachable and better recorded than Thailand’s other ancient capital, Sukhothai. Cycle around the brick-and-stucco ruins which form part of a UNESCO World Heritage site, and try to imagine how the city must have looked in its prime, when it greeted merchants from around the globe. On the outskirts of the city sit several more attractions, including an enormous handicraft centre, and the most eclectic royal palace you’ll ever see.

7. Railay

Hiding behind a layer of impenetrable cliffs at the tip of the Krabi peninsula, the gorgeous isthmus of Railay is picture perfect. It is possibly the most stunning beach location in all of Thailand, home to emerald silk water punctuated by surreal limestone formations, honey-hued beaches and psychedelic sunsets. Accessible only by boat from Krabi and Ao Nang, Railay feels oceans away from civilisation. For adventure seekers, Railay is best known for the hundreds of excellent rock-climbing routes up the surrounding cliffs. For now it remains a mellow place but with construction in full swing it won’t be long before Railay becomes Thailand’s new superstar.

6. Sukhothai

Step back 800 years in time to the ‘golden age’ of Thai civilization at Thailand’s most impressive historical park and one of the country’s most visited ancient sites – the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Sukhothai Historical Park. Explore the ruins of this former capital by bicycle; wind leisurely through the crumbling temples, graceful Buddha statues and fish-filled ponds. Worthwhile museums and good-value accommodation round out the package. Despite its popularity, Sukhothai rarely feels crowded, but for something off the beaten track, head to Si Satchanalai-Chaliang Historical Park, where you might be the only one scaling an ancient stairway.

5. Ko Phi Phi

Ko Phi Phi looks breathtakingly beautiful as you approach from the sea, its classic arc of pure white sand framed by dramatic cliffs and lapped by water that’s a mouth watering shade of turquoise. Ko Phi Phi is quickly returning to its pre-Tsunami status as Thailand’s Shangri-la: a hedonistic paradise with grassy green seas and long-tails puttering between craggy slate cliffs. With its curving bays, white sand beaches and dense tropical jungle, it’s no surprise that Ko Phi Phi is regarded by many as the darling of the Andaman Coast. With crystal-clear water, abundant coral and tons of fish, Ko Phi Phi is a kick-ass place to dive. The limestone cliffs also make it a great place for rock climbing.

4. Ko Samui

Visitors ranging from globetrotting backpackers to suitcase-toting fortnighters come to southern Thailand just for the beautiful beaches of Ko Samui. As popular as Phuket and at times as trendy, Ko Samui offers something for everyone. There are crowded beaches where young boys peddle coconuts and mangoes to oil-slicked bikini-clad tourists, and jet skis churn up whitewash on clear seas. There are isolated spots where serenity and seclusion are the name of the game and you can escape the sun in simple air-con cottages. Cheap food stalls sit side-by-side with top class restaurants and crowded modern shopping strips sit beside stretches of rough dirt roads and ramshackle huts.

3. Phuket

Thailand largest and most popular island, Phuket is as colourful as it is cosmopolitan and one of the world’s most famous dream destinations. Phuket boasts some lush inland vistas, including a few remote swathes of rainforest, but the island really comes into its own along its western shoreline, where hunter-green foliage meets the turquoise waters of the Andaman Sea. The mile upon sandy mile of coastline boasts tons of water sports, delectable restaurants and decadent resorts. Whether it’s the swanky resorts of Laguna complex, the relaxed surfer vibe at friendly Kata, or the night markets of old Phuket Town, Phuket has something to satisfy every appetite.

2. Chiang Mai

The cultural capital of the north, Chiang Mai is beloved by culture geeks, temple spotters and families. The old city is jam-packed with temples born during the once-independent Lanna kingdom, while the Saturday Walking Street transforms the streets into an eating and shopping bazaar. Cooking schools introduce visitors to Thai culinary herbs and spices, touring a local market and preparing a menu of classic Thai dishes. The scenic countryside boasts jungle treks, elephant encounters and minority villages. And the city enjoys fantastic dining thanks to imports like Japanese sushi and Burmese curries, as well as home-grown northern specialties and vegetarian fare.

1. Bangkok

In recent years Bangkok has broken away from its old image as a messy third-world capital to be voted by numerous metro-watchers as a top-tier global city. Also known as the City of Angels and Venice of the East, Bangkok will hit you like a ton of bricks. It’s hot, polluted, and chaotic, and it thrills with energy; there such a vast array of sightseeing, shopping, and eating possibilities that you’ll have little time to rest. When you do find a moment, pamper yourself with spa treatments, skyline-view bars, luxurious hotels, and excellent restaurants. Plenty of visitors enjoy the challenge of taking on the “Big Mango”, but one way or another, the place is sure to get under your skin.

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