Thailand’s popularity as a tourist hotspot has only soared over the years with the demographic expanding from Western gap-year students and backpackers to baby boomers, digital nomads, and Asian tourists. And there’s good reason: with its pleasant year-round weather, fantastic beaches and national parks, world-class shopping, delicious food, and vibrant culture, Thailand makes for a great travel experience for all ages. Then there’s the abundance of budget-happy accommodation- whether it’s luxurious Thailand rental homes or simple family run guesthouses and boutique hotels, you’ll find yourself in Instagram-worthy locations such as by the Mekong, a nature sanctuary close to Chiang Mai, or a secluded beach on Koh Samui.
Whether it’s cultural immersion you’re looking for, an indulgent foodie trail, action-packed adventures, or a rejuvenating spa retreat, here are some ideas for a perfect vacation in Thailand.
Explore the Lively Capital Bangkok
Thailand’s bustling capital of Bangkok is easy on the first-time visitor and it’s no surprise that it’s a popular first stop on new travels around South East Asia, whether for 20-somethings on a gap year or baby boomers setting off on new adventures. With friendly English speaking locals, an excellent public transportation network, beautiful Thai temples, international chains and restaurants, and an active nightlife and shopping scene, there’s never really a dull moment in Bangkok.
From the impressive 17th-century Wat Arun or Temple of Dawn in Thonburi, a remarkable sight with its eye-catching phra pang or spires covered in millions of small pieces of Chinese porcelain and the famous Wat Phra Kaew or Temple of the Emerald Buddha that houses a Buddha statue carved of a single block of jade and the longest murals in the world, to the Loha Prasat or Metal Castle that gets its name from its 37 metal spires, there are plenty of temples to keep you busy for days.
The shopping in Bangkok is fantastic so if you’re into a bit of retail therapy, Bangkok will not disappoint. If shopping in malls such as MBK doesn’t sound like your kind of holiday, check out street markets at Pratunam and Siam Square where you’ll find cool bargains. For a unique shopping experience, head to the floating markets at Amphawa or Taling Chan. While in the city, don’t forget to get cocktails at one of Bangkok’s famous sky bars such as the Octave Rooftop Bar, Three Sixty, Cielo Rooftop Bar or Vertigo & Moon Bar. If you’re looking for unique things to do in Bangkok, you might want to visit the Unicorn Cafe in Bangkok. If you’re interested in culture, you can even take a day trip from Bangkok to Ayutthaya.
Visiting Thailand on a budget? Here’s a guide to backpacking in Thailand.
Eat Your Way Around Chiang Mai
The contrast between calm and collected Chiang Mai and party-queen Bangkok is hard to miss. The slower pace of life and almost small town vibe in some parts of Chiang Mai are what make it my favorite city in Thailand. Plus there are incredible waterfalls in Chiang Mai to chase in your free time. The sight of gleaming tops of Buddhist wats (temples) through your window, motorbikes speeding through narrow streets, food markets and walking streets buzzing with the energy of locals and tourists, rooftop meditation and yoga sessions, cute cafés where you can sample green tea pastries while hearing local rock bands play, jungle treks and bamboo rafting, and the magnificent Wat Doi Suthep that sits proudly on top of the city’s guardian mountain; these are just some of the things that define an average day in Chiang Mai.
Besides temple-hopping in Chiang Mai, which is also very different from doing it in Bangkok where you’ll often be jostling for space with scores of other tourists, there is the food. While Bangkok might have its fair share of fancy names, Chiang Mai has a splendid restaurant in almost every backstreet and street corner; often family-run, cozy, budget-friendly, and an ambience bursting with the freshness of morning glory and aromas of lemongrass and basil. It’s hard to have a bad meal in the old parts of the city, whether you sit down for a simple bowl of Tom Ka Gai (chicken soup), hearty meal of spicy curry and jasmine rice, local favorite Pad Thai, whether at a nice restaurant, corner stall, or around a night market eating out of plastic bags handed out by food vendors. Chiang Mai has culinary pleasures galore for budgets from $3 to $30, and so you must partake, for its delights easily surpass those of Bangkok.
Visiting Chiang Mai on a budget? Here are some party hostels in Chiang Mai.
Relax and De-Stress on Koh Samui
There’s no place like Koh Samui to relax and let your hair down in an unapologetic admission of indulgence, even in a country of equally attractive island superstars. If you’re looking for a vacation where you can relax, enjoy the amazing cuisine, revel in endless luxurious spa and wellness treatments, enjoy days of tanning and moonlit walks on the beach, dive to see coral reefs and rich marine life, detox and rejuvenate, or partake in cocktail-fuelled revelry at beach parties, then Koh Samui is an ideal stop on your itinerary. If you’re looking for more island ideas, here are some islands to visit in southern Thailand.
Here’s what to know before visiting Thailand.
Learn How to Rock Climb in Krabi
If you’ve always wanted to learn rock climbing or are already an experienced climber, then the karst landscape and paradise-like beaches of Krabi are an inspiring location to practice the sport. With plenty of rock-climbing schools around the area, courses for absolute beginners, intermediate and experienced climbers, and an abundance of routes, it’s no surprise that Krabi is something of a haven for rock-climbers from all over the world. There are more schools here than you can count, so shop around for the best prices and ensure that professional certifications are in place.
Other than rock-climbing, there’s plenty to do if you’re not as much of an adrenalin addict and plenty of cool places to stay in Krabi. Spend your days as a beach bum on one of many pristine beaches, go snorkeling and diving to see the marine life, go island-hopping on local boats, or head to the interiors to wander through forest trails with monkeys for company.
Want more ideas for a beach vacation in Thailand? Here are the top things to do in Phuket.
Join the Hipsters in Pai
Pai has gained something of a reputation among the cool kids, bohemians and hipsters who visit Thailand. “You have to go to Pai,” and “Pai is incredible,” were the kind of things I heard repeatedly from other travellers and backpackers I met in Thailand.
Apart from quirky cafés that serve the huge community of travellers who have made Pai their home base (after having arrived for a few days and staying for months) and a night market that comes alive with food stalls, Pai has much to offer to the active nature-loving traveller.
Hike around the Pai Canyon and enjoy the spectacular vistas in the area. If chasing waterfalls sounds like fun, head to one of many in the area such as the Mo Paeng Falls. Afterwards, soak into the hot pool at Tha Pai Hot Springs for the ultimate relaxation. An unusual attraction in Pai is the Land Crack- a site where an entrepreneurial farmer decided to turn a land split caused by soil erosion into a tourist attraction. If you like caves, you should definitely head to the Spirit Caves at Mae Hong Son and gape at the stalactites and stalagmites. You can also hire a guide to take you on a bamboo raft on the river that flows through the cave.
Here are some more Thailand travel tips to help plan your trip.
Travel Offbeat in Isaan
Only the most intrepid of the scores of visitors to Thailand make it to the country’s northeast region of Isaan, home to farming communities and villages that could really use tourism dollars in the face of frequent drought and largely infertile soil. So what’s in it for the offbeat explorer, you ask? Isaan is where you should head to experience the slow pace of life driven by community and culture in a lifestyle that is characteristic of farming villages in Asia. The best way to do this is to experience a homestay for at least a couple of nights. The cuisine in this part of the country is notably different from Bangkok and Chiang Mai due to its proximity to Laos and Cambodia.
Whether or not you’re an archaeology or temple buff, you absolutely must visit the Khmer ruins at Phimai and Phanom Rung. Expect to delve into tales of Hindu and Buddhist mythology through intricate carvings, ornate balustrades, ancient revered sculptures and statues within the temple complexes. If you make it to Phimai around November, try to attend the local festival of boat racing: a centuries old tradition of racing longboats featuring a light and sound show for five nights. Phanom Rung, on the other hand, has a more dramatic location on top of an extinct volcano. If you’re intrigued by the idea of beautiful temples visit Wat Phra That Phanom and the town of Nong Khai.
Nature lovers should visit the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Khao Yai National Park to birdwatch and explore easy hiking trails and waterfalls. From May to November, five major festivals are held in Isaan- try to time your visit around one of these for a unique dose of culture and celebration.
Want to see elephants in Thailand? Here’s how to visit an ethical elephant sanctuary in Thailand.
Have you visited Thailand? How was your experience?
If you’re planning a trip, read about my experience of temple-hopping in Chiang Mai or enjoying the beaches of Railay in Krabi.
This post was presented by Luxury Retreats.
Tuesday 5th of April 2022
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Tuesday 29th of March 2022
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Sunday 19th of November 2017
I've been on Phuket one month ago, that was a cool experience! We didn't book a hotel in advance, just rented a scooter on bikesbooking.com which was delivered to the airport and then traveled all around the island for 10 days. We rented rooms in locals homes, it was very cheap and non-standard trip! Wish to come back for a few days again. I'm looking for more posts about Thailand , Natasha :) Cheers!
Wednesday 4th of January 2017
Natahsa - Koh Samui for some scuba diving would be fantastic. Aside from diving, there's just so much to see. Thanks for sharing!
Thursday 29th of December 2016
I have been to Thailand twice and love Chiang Mai. Never heard of Isaan before....maybe someplace for next time I visit Thailand. Thanks for sharing. x