Thailand is on many people’s bucket lists and for good reason! Stunning beaches with turquoise water, lush green jungles, historic old cities and villages, picturesque landscapes. When you think of countries that seem to have it all in terms of range, Thailand is pretty far up there!
With all the amazing places to visit in Thailand, it brings you to a difficult decision—where do you want to visit? You can’t possibly see everything on a vacation, or even in a few months, so you need to choose. This is what I recommend for the best places to visit in Thailand.
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How to Decide the Best Places to Visit in Thailand
Thailand is such an amazing country and it really is hard to decide where to go. When I planned my trip to Thailand, I wanted to see a few different places to get a feel for the country. But, I also planned to go to a couple of other places in southeast Asia. That made it so much more challenging as I was going to have even less time to spend in this amazing country.
If you’re limited on time, and who isn’t? You might want to be a little strategic about your visit. It’s worth seeing different areas of Thailand as they are well, so different. Of course, this depends on how much time you are traveling for. If you’re only there for a week or so, it may not be worth it. Even with two weeks, it would be a good idea to at least try a couple of different areas. You almost feel like you’re visiting different countries as you move around Thailand. This is truly part of the experience.
If time allows, I recommend you break your trip to Thailand into three parts: visit a beach, visit northern Thailand, and visit Bangkok. This gives you a good feel for the country and some of what it has to offer so when you go back, and you know you’ll want to, you have an idea of where else you might want to go.
Best Places to Visit in Thailand: Beaches
Thailand is known for its stunning beaches, and you really can’t go wrong with any of them. It’s mostly a matter of determining how remote you want to be and how busy with tourists you will tolerate. Some of the beaches are much more crowded than others. You need to give that some thought before you start planning.
I originally planned to go to Phuket as it was the only Thailand beach I had ever really heard about by name. And when I started to plan, Phuket was where everyone said to go. But when I started doing my research, I learned Phuket gets very crowded, especially during the busy season from December to March. So, I decided to go somewhere else.
I chose Krabi Town though I stayed closer to Ao Nang. It has a small “downtown” area but is a bit less crowded than some of the more popular areas. I added downtown in quotes as it’s basically one busy street with some side streets off of it and not much of a true town center.
One benefit is that it’s not as remote as some places. It is served by a small airport so it’s convenient to get in and out easily. This is especially helpful if you’re limited on time as I was. I knew I didn’t have a lot of time to see the places I wanted to, so this was a major advantage.
Krabi Town and Ao Nang
I only had two nights to stay at the beach and I knew I wanted to take a day cruise to see the islands. Since my time was limited and I knew I’d be jet-lagged as hell (I don’t sleep on long-haul flights), I chose convenience. Krabi Town is a bit more quaint than Ao Nang and Krabi Town also has more to do. But, I was looking to relax and not to do as much as I usually do. And, Ao Nang is where the boats leave from to visit the islands. I found an amazing resort to stay at and to pamper myself and my decision was made.
Ban Sainai Resort
Krabi Town is also where one of my favorite places to stay *ever* is located and one of the best places to visit in Thailand. I really enjoyed my stay at Ban Sainai Resort. The rooms are beautiful and well-appointed. The grounds are gorgeous and it’s nice and relaxing to walk around. Some of it is cleared but not all of it, and there are some nice little paths to walk around to explore.
The pool is wonderful and they offer amazing Thai massages at the pool as well as some other treatments. (Massages cost a bit more than you get at the beach, however, you can roll right back to your room drooling on yourself with no worries). There is a water feature near the pool as well which adds to this tranquil setting.
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And their breakfast is amazing. It’s buffet style with some Thai dishes and western foods as well and they will make some things to order as well. And you can sit on the deck overlooking a small pond where there are different kinds of exotic birds and fish to wash.
After a long flight to Thailand, this was a nice splurge and I really enjoyed myself. I don’t often pamper myself like this and tend to stay at tourist-class hotels so my money goes further. But this was the perfect place that met my needs and it was worth staying here.
Krabi is also a great place to take an island tour from. You can visit other beach areas like Koh Lanta or the islands throughout this area. There are close to 1,500 islands off the coast of Thailand. Many are small and uninhabited, though some do have a population. They are so picturesque with their lush green set against the turquoise blue waters.
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There are a number of companies to choose from and the boats leave from the beach of Ao Nang. I chose Krabi Sunset Cruises and it was a great experience. We got to see five islands and we went swimming and snorkeling in the warm waters. One of the highlights was getting to see the bioluminescent waters near one of the islands once it was dark. I had never done this before and it was an interesting experience. And an impressive buffet-style dinner was offered. The staff was wonderful and it was a great time.
There are a lot of different cruise tours from Ao Nang that you can go on as well. I chose the one I went on as I wanted a sunset cruise and of course, to see the bioluminescent plankton.
Ao Nang Beach Strip
There is a long strip of beach with some beautiful distant views of the islands. The strip has a lot of shops including tour shops, souvenir shops, and small markets. There are also a large number of places offering massages, foot massages, pedicures, and other services. Additionally, there are a number of restaurants and some bars as well.
I have read that Krabi Town beach is much nicer than Ao Nang and I wish I had time to see that. However, I’m trying to learn to pace myself more and this was my first test. Since I barely left my resort in a full day, I’d say I succeeded!
Ao Nang/Krabi Town Must-Do Highlights
- Thai islands boat tour
- Raillay Beach
- Thai massage
Other Thailand Beaches
When I visited Krabi Town, I kept hearing about Raillay Beach. Rah Lei beach, or Raillay as it’s called (sounds like: rally), is a small peninsula between Ao Nang and Krabi Town that is only accessible by boat. It is known as one of the most beautiful beaches in all of Thailand.
If when I go back, I would like to visit, I would love to visit Raillay Beach. And for that matter, some of the other beautiful beaches in Thailand.
Best Places to Visit in Thailand: Northern Thailand
Chiang Mai, meaning “new city” in Thai, is the largest city in Northern Thailand. Most of the area is thick jungle and small villages so it definitely stands out among the countryside. It’s known for its many temples and a quaint and historic downtown center.
I had been hearing about Chiang Mai for years as it’s a popular digital nomad community. When I decided to visit Thailand, it was near the top on my list to see. I was excited to see this quaint and historic city and to go on some popular day trips in the region as well. It’s a great launching area to explore northern Thailand.
When I arrived, I have to admit I wasn’t impressed. The city just seemed very dirty and the buildings all had the dark stains of black pollution streaks. The buildings overall also weren’t very attractive and many had a patchwork of materials that likely covered cracks and holes in the walls and roofs. I was a bit curious what the buzz was all about.
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My day trips were planned before I arrived so I didn’t get to see a lot of the city until day three. I did walk around in the early morning and at night and it seemed very safe. (My guesthouse owner said the same). There were some areas with bars, restaurants, and outdoor markets, and night markets. Overall, it was fairly peaceful and quiet.
I found the charm in Chiang Mai on day three when I started exploring the city. There’s something quite quaint about this place. Maybe it’s my fascination with temples and historic architecture as they are nestled throughout the old town. There are over 300 in the city and many of them are in the old town center. And it’s a place where you can get amazing Thai massages including Tok Sen Massage.
- Old city
- Chiang Mai temples
- Tok sen massage or prisoner massage
- Night bazaar
- Sunday walking street
- Day trip to Elephant Nature Park
One of the most famous temples in the world is located in Chiang Rai: the White Temple. It’s a stunning and intricately decorated place that millions of tourists visit yearly. As a result, it can get quite crowded though it’s still worth seeing. And it’s not the only beautiful place in Chiang Rai.
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There are two other temples that tourists often flock to when visiting the White Temple, and they are the Blue Temple and the Black Temple. (Are you noticing the theme?) Of course, these temples all have Thai names that most people don’t know, and they simply call them by their color to make it easier. The Blue Temple is much smaller than the White Temple though it’s equally stunning.
Last, is the Black Temple and it is.. interesting. It’s nowhere as ornate as the other two and tells a very different story. It is worth seeing, especially for comparison purposes.
- White Temple
- Blue Temple
- Black Temple
Elephant Nature Park
Visiting a Thailand animal sanctuary is a popular thing to do in Chiang Mai. You can find them throughout the country as well, though the one I chose is in northern Thailand near Chiang Mai. It’s a sanctuary, meaning that they rescue elephants from poor conditions throughout the region and bring them to the park for medical treatment and care. If they are able to, they release them and if not, they live out their lives at the sanctuary.
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If you love animals, you have to be very careful when choosing a sanctuary to visit as there are many that are unethical. There is some debate if any are truly ethical as they often need to pay to get ownership of the animals they save, which supports the business they are taking it from. And of course, there are some in it for the money. However, I did choose to visit Elephant Nature Park and I’m so glad I did as it was a magical day.
When I visited Chiang Mai and started talking with people, they recommended that
if when I visit Thailand again, I check out Pai. Traditionally, Pai was known as a small hippie enclave a few hours north of Chiang Mai. It is a great escape for those seeking a smaller-town area than Chiang Mai.
Pai has hit the radar of tourists who are now flocking to it, causing the original hippies to leave. It’s a particular favorite of the backpacker tourists. Though, so far it has maintained the original vibe. There are a lot of organic eateries and juice shops and though it’s a chill place, it boasts popular nightlife. If you’re seeking a smaller town in northern Thailand, it may be the one for you.
Best Places to Visit in Thailand: Bangkok
When you visit Thailand, I do recommend you go to Bangkok for two primary reasons. First, because if you fly between the areas where you stay within Thailand, you will connect through Bangkok. (You may with other modes of transportation as well.) You’re there anyway, so it’s worth taking at least a couple of days to explore.
The second reason is, well, it’s Bangkok! It is the most heavily touristed place in Thailand and has such an incredible amount of history. Bangkok is the largest city in the country and it’s known for its street life, many cultural landmarks, and of course, its famous red-light district.
Visiting Bangkok is a really nice contrast to Thailand’s beaches as well. If you’re not much of a city person, you can go for two days to get the flavor of Bangkok then skip out to some of the less populated areas. If you’re seeking the cultural and historical side of Thailand, it’s a great place to go.
You can visit the Grand Temple complex and there are thousands of temples to see. Some of the most popular and famous temples are right on the banks of the Chao Phraya River. My favorites were the Grand Temple, Wat Arun, and Wat Pho. The Grand Temple is a large complex including Wat Phra Kew, or the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. It’s a stunning, gilded, and intricate place but be warned, it gets incredibly packed with tourists during the busy season so go early.
Wat Pho is next to the Grand Temple. This Temple of the Reclining Buddha has a 150-foot long Buddha as well as over 150 gilded images of the Buddha. It’s a bit less crowded towards the rear of the temple and much more interesting, in my opinion. There is also a school for Thai massage here, in the place where this type of massage originated.
Wat Arun, the Temple of the Dawn, is across the Chao Phraya River and you can take a ferry across close to where you leave Wat Pho. It’s a short ride and the ferry is very inexpensive and runs frequently. Wat Arun in stunning and was my favorite. It has over a million pearly mosaic tiles covering it and it’s the only temple you are able to climb. You can get some amazing views of the sun shimmering off the tiles.
Bangkok is known for its street life and there is incredible street food available. In fact, I never even ate in a proper restaurant when I visited! It’s crazy inexpensive and really good. You can get great filling dishes for the equivalent of $1 – $2 USD. Enjoy them as you explore the city.
Night markets are very popular in Bangkok, and some of them are open during the day as well. They remind me a lot of the markets in Marrakech, Morocco. Some of these markets sell everything you can imagine! Some markets focus on food but some of the bigger ones have other things as well like textiles, housewares, and home goods, electronics, souvenirs, and more. Bangkok live is definitely lived out on the street and you’ll want to take some time to explore.
There are also flower markets in Bangkok that are worth visiting. There is one that is a 15 – 20-minute walk from Wat Pho and it’s the largest flower market in the city. You can smell it before you arrive to know you’re going the right way. Flowers play a ritual, cultural, and religious purpose in Thailand as well as for decoration and enjoyment. This market also includes a vegetable market as well. It’s such an interesting thing to do to wander about the markets and just see what local life is like.
Take a cooking class when you visit. There are many to choose from and they often start with shopping for ingredients at a local market. Then you prepare the dishes, cook, and eat them. You can learn to cook a few dishes and they are a lot of fun.
Another popular thing to do is to get a Thai massage. These are generally done fully clothed and you may be out in the open. Don’t expect a private room for your massage or any frills like you may get in western countries. But, you will generally get one of the deeper massages of your life and will feel so relaxed afterward.
Foot massages and reflexology are also popular as well as fish pedicures. It’s a strange experience where you sit on the side of a big glass pool and stick your feet in. Lots of small fish, tiny toothless carp, then eat the dead skin on your feet. I did it while I was in Vietnam and it was a really interesting experience. I’m crazy ticklish so I had everyone around me laughing along with me, but my feet were sure soft afterward.
Of course, another cultural thing you can do is go to the red-light district and they are world-renowned in Bangkok. There are three in the city geared toward tourists and you can see pretty much anything you can imagine. There are also a number of bars and nightclubs sprinkled through.
Bangkok Old Town
Though many parts of Bangkok are more modern with skyscrapers and shopping malls, not all of this city is. There are some neighborhoods and small pockets with a more historic vibe that harkens back to another time in this bustling city’s history.
One is a quaint area of the old town called Khao San that you can visit. You won’t see skyscrapers here but a bustling area where the street life is where it’s at. There’s a great night market nearby and lots of great shops, bars, and restaurants.
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Bangkok Must-Do Highlights
- Grand Palace, Temple of the Emerald buddha, Temple of the Reclining Buddha, Temple of the Dawn
- Bangkok flower market
- Bangkok night markets
- Lumphini Park
- Taling Chan Floating Market
- Khao San Road
Recap of the Best Places to Visit in Thailand
Thailand has a lot to see and these are what I recommend as the best places to visit in Thailand. Even if you don’t go to the exact places I went, the beach, for example, going to a beach is a must-do in my book. there are many Thai beaches that are considered some of the best places to visit in Thailand, and some of the best in the world.
Be prepared for a trip to Thailand as it’s unlike any other place you may experience. It’s breathtakingly beautiful, awe-inspiring, and simply magnificent.
If all of this isn’t tempting enough, the Thai people are warm and friendly. It’s a wonderful place to visit and though there are areas where not much English is spoken, the locals are so incredibly helpful. And the cost to visit most places is very affordable. Thailand has it all in terms of amazing places to see and a wide variety of destinations. If it’s not on your bucket list, it should be!
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