Serene shrines, spectacular skyscrapers, and the best street food on the planet await you in Bangkok. But outside the capital, there are fun islands in Phuket, or head north for hill tribes and heavenly treks. Here is our pick of the most popular places to visit in Thailand, young and old.
Living the Thai life automatically equates to living the high life in this land of plenty in Southeast Asia. There are so many fabulous ones to stick on your to-do list. For the heaviest drinkers, Bangkok has some of the most vertiginous rooftop bars you can drink in, while Patong is the perfect place to party.
Wherever you go, rest assured, temples and Buddha statues are the norm. Two weeks won’t do it justice, but once you do, we know you’ll love it, and you’ve got a lifetime to come back.
1. Khao Sok National Park
Steep limestone mountains tumbling down to vast emerald green lakes. Rushing rivers and waterfalls descend through forest glades into cool pools. Wild tigers, elephants and gibbons – without a doubt, Khao Sok is one of the most beautiful national parks in Thailand. There are a range of jungle lodges to stay overnight, as well as local guides offering wildlife viewing, canoe trips, and long and short nature hikes. When you’re ready for some rest and relaxation, you’ve got some of the country’s best beaches – around Khao Lak and Phuket – within an easy hour’s drive.
2. Khao Yai National Park
Khao Yai is home to thick forest and open savannah, and pristine enough to support breeding populations of elephants, tigers and wild bears. But poaching is a problem and therefore the park needs visitors. Fortunately, Khao Yai can be reached from Bangkok in just a few hours and most visitors are day trippers, who like to take short walks to the many waterfalls. Then there are the intrepid few who walk inside the park where Pha Diao Dai – or lonely cliff – reveals stunning views of seemingly endless rainforest and rolling mountains.
This sleepy provincial town which is close enough to the Sukhothai World Heritage Site preserves one of the country’s holiest and most beautiful Buddhas. In the ancient interior of Wat Phra Si Rattana Mahathat, and at the end of a colonnade of pillars richly decorated with gold filigree, is the vast and shimmering Phra Buddha Chinnara, crowned with a halo in the shape of a lotus and radiating Nirvanic calm.
4. Koh Samet
It’s a three-hour drive from Bangkok, then a 45-minute ferry ride to Ban Phe Pier – but once you get there you’ll find it was worth it and you really don’t want to leave. In the eastern Gulf of Thailand, the tiny island of Samet caters to all winter travelers’ needs: crumbly white sand beaches, transparent warm waters, and a laid-back vibe that sets it apart from bigger places like Phuket. Of course, there are some very busy beach resorts – Hat Sai Kaew (Crystal Sand Beach) is a buzz of banana boats and bustling beach resorts. But head to Ao Nuan, Ao Wai, and Ao Pakarang (Coral Bay in Thai) and you’ll find that life has all the urgency of a swinging hammock. Open a chilled bottle of Singha beer and do nothing until the scattered seafood restaurants invite you to sizzling shrimp lunches that can last for hours.
Yes, there are still unspoiled beaches and islands in Thailand. Especially in the southern province of Trang. Here, the dilapidated wooden capital stands next to a long expanse of forest-backed bays and creamy white strands, protected by Hat Chao Mai National Park. The offshore islands include Koh Muk, Koh Libon, Koh Phetra and Koh Kradan, surrounded by reefs, topped with white pepper sands and – for now at least – devoid of the major resorts that crowd the coast of neighboring province of Krabi.