Thailand is the only country in Southeast Asia to have never been colonized, a fact proudly declared by the Thai people and one that can be seen and felt throughout the whole country, lending the tourist scene a wholly different sort of authenticity that is absent from it’s neighbors. Whether it’s the white sand beaches, exotic food, dense jungle, uproarious nightlife or the cheeky but friendly locals, Thailand offers something for every traveler and you can be sure that the country’s infectious love of good-natured fun will imbue every aspect of your trip.
For almost all travelers, Thailand is a Bucket List destination that they’ve been dreaming about for eons, but with such a vast and culturally rich land to explore, it’s hard to know where to start and what to focus on. Checkout our rundown of the top things to see and do in the magical ‘Land Of White Elephants’.
Dubbed the ‘City Of Angels’ by locals, Thailand’s capital of Bangkok is an eclectic mix of old and new, rich and poor, good food and, well, excellent food. The bustling streets of this burgeoning metropolis can put some travelers off, and we’re not going to lie: Bangkok, at times, can feel a little too intense. However, if you can put off reaching total serenity in a beach-side tree house for just a few more days, then Bangkok is well worth a stop on your Thai trip. Here’s why:
Khao San Road The backpacker capital of the world and home to an endless supply of cheap bars, shops, street food, restaurants and vendors. Here you’ll find like-minded travelers who are up for a bit (or, more likely, a lot) of fun, endless beer and a memorable night out. Make sure to check out the parallel Soi Ranbuttri for a similar vibe on a quieter street and Brick Bar later on in the evening for a game of pool and some live Thai Ska.
Street Food You haven’t eaten Thai food until you’ve done it on a plastic crate on the side of the road. Contrary to what you might think, the vendors small amount of space and lack of refrigeration actually makes it a safer lunch option than most restaurants. They do away with salads and other perishable goods and generally stick to serving just one thing so that nothing perishes; the food is often specialized and cooked over many hours which lends the dishes deep, rich flavors and textures.
China Town With the trademark gold gate entrance and colorful red lanterns, Bangkok’s Chinatown is a feast for the eyes and senses. Do away with maps and let yourself wander the vast network of narrow alleyways that fan out from the main roads. Getting lost here is an immersive adventure, as you never know what you’ll find around the next corner.
Sukhumvit Soi 11 An expat and local hotspot, this trendy little street is the perfect place for a night on the town. Although lined with many festive bars and restaurants, Soi 11 really comes into its own when you enter the infamous clubs located towards the end of the street.
Chatuchak Weekend Market An absolute mammoth of a market and one of the top attractions in Bangkok. Boasting somewhere in the region of 15,000 different stalls, it would futile to try and list all of the things that you can buy here; the fact is you can your hands on pretty much anything that you desire at an affordable price (but don’t skip the haggling – it’s part of the fun!).
The Temples Go early in the morning to avoid the crowds and admire the beautiful architecture and exquisite craftsmanship of The Grand Palace before heading over to the neighboring Wat Po (home to the famous reclining Buddha). Later on, check out Wat Arun and take in the panoramic views of the city offered from atop the temple.
Thailand’s calmer northern capital of Chiang Mai is the perfect antidote to the hectic pace of its southern counterpart. Nestled snugly amongst the forested foothills, here you can casually stroll along the backstreets of this ancient city and take in its lush landscape and laid-back lifestyle.
The Vibrant Walking Street that Winds Through the City on Saturdays is a great place to pick up some souvenirs made by the local hill tribes, try some interesting foods and listen to live music.
Elephant Trekking is becoming increasingly popular in Northern Thailand, but please do your research before picking a company to go with. Unlike horses, elephants’ spines are not equipped to support the weight of a human, therefore riding, even in a ‘sanctuary’, can lead to serious long-term damage for the animal. Elephant Nature Park is a good choice as they don’t offer elephant rides, but you can still get close enough to the animals to feed, wash and walk around the grounds with them.
Chiang Mai also acts as a perfect launch pad to explore the more out-of-the-way regions of the north, including the small but delightful city of Chiang Rai and its Famous White Temple, a contemporary and unconventional structure that was both built and designed by the celebrated artist Chalermchai Kositpipat.
Pai is another popular tourist destination that’s accessible from Chiang Mai and if your stomach can handle the 700+ hairpin turns that lie in the way of you and the mountainous paradise then it’s definitely worth a visit. Although becoming increasingly popular in the last decade, Pai still exudes a sort of ‘hippy calm’ that can be felt in the rustic wooden shacks, abundant live music, yoga and meditation workshops and nature trekking.
The islands of Thailand are the stuff of fantasies, made up of blindingly white sand beaches, rustic shacks, gently swinging hammocks and a lapping turquoise sea. There are islands for every occasion and every sort of traveler, from the ravers of Koh Phangan to the honeymooners of Koh Lipe. Below are just a few of the all time faves:
Koh Samui The ‘original’ Thai island has smartened up over recent years and the cheap huts and full moon parties that used to draw backpackers and ravers alike have traded themselves in for more of a luxury feel. Good for families, first-timers, honeymooners and yoga bunnies, there’s one thing that has kept constant in Koh Samui – the beautiful beaches!
Koh Pi Pi Famed for being featured in the DiCaprio classic ‘The Beach’, Koh Pi Pi soon became a backpackers paradise. Unfortunately, since the film’s arrival a tsunami wiped out what was once the idyllic island getaway. Pi Pi has since been rebuilt over the last few years but its original ‘hidden gem’ charm has somewhat faded. That being said, if you’re a solo traveler then it’s a great place to meet like-minded and likable characters.
Koh Phangan Three-day beach parties, hardcore ravers and dreadlocked travelers are what litter the white sands of Koh Phangan. Definitely the island for hedonistic travelers or just those who need to blow off some steam, if you find yourself at the wrong ‘time of the month’ for the infamous full moon parties, then fear not as there is a steady flow of both half-moon and black-moon parties in the intervening weeks.
Koh Tao The coast of Koh Tao, or ‘Turtle Island’ as it’s more affectionately known, is lined with pretty little sandy coves and dozens of dive shops. The island is one of the top places in the world to learn how to dive and the competition amongst the dive shops brings the price down, making it one of the cheapest as well. If you’re new to diving then you can sign up to get your PADI license, which usually takes four days to complete. Koh Tao’s laid-back island vibe has an irresistible charm and is said to be the kind of place that farangs (foreigners) visit but never leave.
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