Ah, Thailand! The Land of Smiles, as it is often called! How to plan a trip to Asia without considering a vacation in Thailand? Whether you are preparing a world tour or a trip to Southeast Asia, or just a trip to the country, it’s odds on that you will ask yourself these questions: where to go in Thailand? What to visit in Thailand? What to do in Thailand? Where to go diving in this Asian country? This cheap country remains the most visited of the continent and very easily accessible from any point of view. If you are preparing your trip, the article about travel budget in Thailand will surely be useful for you. The drop of direct flights airfares from Europe to Bangkok in the last few years leads to making more and more people consider this country as their next trip. You’ll surely want to visit Thailand after reading tons of travel stories easily find on the web.
However, it is far from being that simple to answer to the question where to go in Thailand. You might wonder “why that?”. For the pure and simple reason that everyone goes there for his own reasons, and answers will be very different depending on which kind of activities you want to do in the country, your way of traveling or your budget. Some of you will be looking to party, discover Thai culture, bask on beautiful white sandy beaches, discover ancient temples, while others will try for example Thai cooking classes. During my trip to Asia, I spent a total of 76 days in Thailand, which means that I know the country quite well. However, my itinerary is still a bit muddled as I have been in and out of the country three times.
When traveling around the world, should we recommend one place in Thailand over another one? Which paradise islands to choose? Phuket island rather than Koh Phangan or Koh Phi Phi? The temples of Sukhothai rather than those of Ayutthaya? Not easy to answer all of these questions without giving a personal opinion. A few years ago, I would surely have been more radical when writing this article and I would have told you that going to Phuket was pretty lame… I now calmed down over time, and then I also remembered I was the first one to go to the Balearic Islands when I was 18 years old to party with friends. The difference isn’t so big, isn’t it? After all, everyone does as they see fit!
So, I’ll suggest in this article a summary, of course not exhaustive, to give you an idea of which places in Thailand you should go. You are then free to adapt your itinerary in the country according to your desires. Here are the great classics of the country for a first stay, but also other places, less touristic and off the beaten track.
At the end of the article, I’ll try to suggest you some ideas of Thailand itineraries according to how long you’ll be there as well as your desires and based on the 2-and-a -half months spent in the country.
Let’s set the tone right from the start: the country is VERY touristy, and many travellers decide to travel to Thailand to soak up the sun on the paradisiacal beaches of the south of the country. They are generally less likely to visit the country’s famous temples, and even less to discover the north of the country. Finally, few travelers choose to get off the beaten track. When I talk about Thailand around me, I often say that it is very touristic but there is clearly a way with a little will to get out of these areas, for those who want to.
The country remains however much more visited than its neighbors (Cambodia, Vietnam, Myanmar), even if they do have some well-known tourist places, such as the Angkor Wat temple, Ha Long Bay or the temples of Bagan.
Organize your Thailand trip: a good preparation is necessary to choose which places you’ll visit!
It does not seem conceivable to come to Thailand without visiting Bangkok, in my opinion. The capital of the country is still the easiest and cheapest gateway to South East Asia.
This city is full of life and I ended up really enjoying it! Impossible to answer the question “where to go in Thailand” without mentioning Bangkok. Unless arriving by the land border from a neighboring country, almost all travelers will pass through the capital during their trip in Thailand. I advise you to plan a few-days stay there to discover this lively city – depending of course on the time you’ll have. The city seems to be pretty oppressive when you don’t know yet the big Asian cities. It’s a beautiful mess of cars, traffic jams, tuk-tuk, pedestrians, trains and tourists at every corner of every street.
The majority of western tourists stay around the very touristic area of Kao San Road. It is the ideal place for people wishing to organize the continuation of their trip, book a day trip to a temple, etc. As soon as you move away from a few streets (which I obviously recommend), you will have more peace.
Even if the capital is very busy, take a few days to discover the great sights of the capital: the visit of the Grand Palace, the Wat Pho (temple of the lying Buddha) or the Wat Arun (Wat means temple in Thai, for info). Going for a boat ride on the Chao Phraya river is also a nice thing to do. It is also the perfect moment to try the tuk-tuk rides (local taxis) to discover the districts of the city. Do not hesitate to get lost in the city, encounters are quite pleasant. Finally, those who love shopping will find their happiness in one of the largest markets in Asia, Chatuchak.
If you are looking for places to go in Southern Thailand during your trip, here are the most famous islands. Although very touristy (you will clearly not be alone), these southern islands are still by far the most visited places for a first trip to Thailand. I’ll mention below in the article some less touristic islands that I had the opportunity to discover. If you make an effort, there are still a lot of small secluded islands outside the classic circuits, perfect for a cheap trip in the country.
In any case, the south of the country will delight all lovers of turquoise waters, coral reefs and white sandy beaches. Perfect for a huge part of first-time visitors of the country.
I must confess that I did choose to avoid Phuket, which remains THE tourist destination par excellence of Thailand, where the nightlife brings happiness to party people in particular. However, this tropical island has everything you need to have a great stay if you are looking for idyllic beaches, white sand and various marine activities. You can of course explore other islands in the surrounding area. This one is particularly famous for its bars, restaurants and festive atmosphere. Beware of the high season: this is the ultimate tourist area!
For those wishing to book their activities on the island of Phuket, it’s this way!
Second largest island of the country and located in the Gulf of Thailand (east coast), Koh Samui remains quieter and wilder (so to speak) than Phuket. The island is still a very privileged destination for many tourists, as it’s particularly known for its beautiful beaches, waterfalls and hiking trails. The island is very often recommended for a first trip to have an insight of the country.
For activities on the island of Ko Samui, it is right here.
It is the neighboring island of Ko Samui, known all over the world for its “full moon party”. I didn’t go there either when I was visiting Thailand, as I’m not a big fan of this kind of gathering. On the other hand, if you want to party with friends in a paradisiacal setting, this is the place you’re looking for. Great atmosphere guaranteed on the beachfront!
This small island is known to be a scuba diving paradise. Many travelers come to take their first level of diving and enjoy its underwater world. The island can be a very good alternative to Phuket Island or Ko Samui, if you like underwater and calm.
For those who wish to book their activities on Ko Tao island, it’s this way!
Known throughout the whole world thanks to the shooting of the film “The Beach”, this island is particularly reputed to be a party place. The island is actually composed of Ko Phi Phi Don (the most touristic, where most of travelers are) and Ko Phi Phi Ley, where the film was made. Take advantage of this place to enjoy a long tail trip in breathtaking turquoise water.
For activities on the island of Koh Phi Phi, it is around here.
Former capital, and first of Thailand in the 13th century, these temples are listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites. At about 450 km from Bangkok, this immense city is essentially within an enclosure. The most known temple remains the Wat Si Chum, with its famous sitting Buddha, impressive by its size. More in the North is the splendid park of Sri Satchanalai (I will tell you more about it below). To visit these temples, I advise to rent a bike for a day. This is one of the tips to travel cheaply in Thailand. To get there, the ideal is to take the train from Bangkok in the cheapest class, giving you the chance to meet locals.
If you are wondering where to go in Thailand, the temples of Ayutthaya are about 1 hour north of Bangkok. High tourist place of Thailand, this site remains nevertheless a must-see for amateurs of temples and stone. A full day on site is necessary to visit it quietly. The most famous picture is this head of Buddha taken in the roots of an impressive tree. For a first trip in Thailand, it is a place to see.
The northern part of the country is overall much less visited than southern Thailand. However, it is a mountainous, exotic region with important historical sites. You’ll also have the opportunity to cross beautiful landscapes, to go hiking or to meet ethnic minorities. The average budget to travel there will be lower too… From North to South, prices are really different, and it is possible to find a guesthouse for 150 to 200 baht per night (less than 5€…) in rural areas of the northern part of the country. What more could you ask for a cheap stay?
Second largest city in the country, it is the perfect place to organize treks and tours in Northern Thailand. The city itself is of particular interest for its night market, renowned by all travelers. The city remains however very touristic, for my taste, and I advise to rent a motorbike to explore the surroundings and get lost in the Thai countryside.
For activities on the island of Chiang Mai, it’s here.
Built on the shores of the Kok River, the city of Chiang Rai is about 200 km north of Chiang Mai, reachable by train. This quieter city is also particularly famous for its night market, its Chinese fondues (which we loved), but especially for the famous White Temple. I recommend everyone to rent a scooter and discover the surroundings for 1 or 2 days: the program includes the Khun Korn waterfalls, the visit of the black house and of course a view on the famous Golden Triangle.
For those wishing to book their activities on the island of Chiang Rai, it’s this way!
Well, I’m obviously not going to invent anything here but I’ll suggest you some less touristic (it’s relative) and quite more remote places. It’s up to you to pick these places and create your own travel itinerary. Indeed, I had the opportunity during the 2-and-a-half months I spent in the country to discover quieter areas. So, yes, you’ll surely have to make more effort to get there than to take a day-trip to Ayutthaya on Kao San Road. But in the end, it would be worth it in my opinion and I advise everyone to get off the beaten paths. It is for me the best way to discover the real Thai culture, life in agricultural regions, in small and isolated villages, far from the usual tourist crowds. This is also where I had the best life experiences in the country.
Western Thailand remains a relatively less visited region and few visitors venture to the city of Kanchanaburi. The latter is located at the foot of the famous Kwai River and its famous bridge built in 1942. Here, you can take a local night train and visit the famous Erawan waterfalls in the surrounding area. For the most motivated, I advise you to keep going towards the Burmese border, until you’ll arrive to the city of Sangkhlaburi. You will be able to enjoy the calm of this city, away from the tourists, and see the longest wooden bridge of the country (very nice), Buddhist temples and Mon village in the surroundings. Again, I recommend renting a scooter to go to the Burmese border (Three Pagodas Pass). A place I really appreciated.
For activities on Kanchanaburi Island, it’s right here.
About 45 km north of the city of Sukhotai, the latter is a group of temples of the same age. I personally largely preferred this park, way less visited, more preserved and more authentic. There is a bit of Indiana Jones look, clearly. You can reach the park by scooter from Sukhotai, it is a very good option. Take the time during a full day to walk in these temples, invaded by an important tropical vegetation.
I was telling you about Chiang Rai above. If you arrive there, I advise you to rent a motorcycle for a few days and discover the natural beauties of the Thai countryside towards the village of Mae Salong. Here, it is cooler (1200m) and you will enjoy discovering this small village and its surroundings (without tourists, or almost). A must-see for those who want to be away from the crowds of the South.
This region of eastern Thailand is still unknown to most visitors. Yet, this immense territory abounds with countryside, temples and national parks. To name just a few, discover the temples of Ban Prasat, Prasat Mueang Tam and Khao Yai National Park. I personally had the opportunity to visit part of the region, especially along the Mekong River. What good times spent in Chiang Khan, Sangkom and many other small towns! For those seeking authenticity, I highly recommend it.
Wondering which islands to choose in Thailand for your trip? For lovers of white sand beaches, coconut palms, some dream days away from the crowds of Ko Samui, Phuket or Ko Phangan, there are still a few relatively unspoiled corners in the country. I can’t reveal everything, but if you are looking for peace and quiet, turn to the Andaman Seaside (west coast), between the cities of Mergui (Burma) and Kampong lama (Thailand). Right in the middle, I fell in love with a small island called Ko Phayam! The latter, bathed by an ideal tropical climate, has superb beaches. What a pleasure to discover these places in low season (out of tourist season)!
Here are some ideas a little off the beaten track if you are still wondering where to go in Thailand. I hope this will help you a little.
Looking for what to do in Thailand in 15 days? What to do and how to visit Thailand? Things you should not miss in Thailand? Which places to see in Thailand? So many questions we ask ourselves when trying to plan an itinerary. It will not be easy to propose ready-made itineraries, as too many parameters have to be taken into account. Here are some ideas that I hope will help you:
Note that for a trip in Thailand of less than 15 days, I will almost often recommend to rather fly, for those who can, between different parts of the country. Distances are pretty long and I do think that you will lose too much time in buses and trains.
- For a week in Thailand, I would advise you to plan 2 days in Bangkok and then to go down in the South (for white sand lovers) to an island like Ko Samui or Ko Tao. You can also take a plane from Bangkok to Phuket or Krabi (with Thai airways) to save time. If you don’t like beaches, take the first bus to Ayutthaya and visit the temples instead. For party people, spending a week in Phuket, Pattaya, or Ko Phangan might be a good idea,
- For a 10 or 12-days stay in Thailand, you will have the possibility to spend 2 days in Bangkok, then fly to Chiang Mai or Chiang Rai to see a little bit the North of Thailand. Then, take another flight to the South of the country to spend a few days in the islands (Koh Samui, Koh Chang or other).
- If you stay more than 15 days in Thailand, for example for a 3-weeks trip, you can in my opinion travel more quietly and try the local means of transportation. A classic: Bangkok, Sukhotai, Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai (by bus or train), then a return trip to the South towards the islands for a bit of idleness or snorkelling (Ko Tao, Ko Chang, etc.),
- For a month of travel in Thailand, in addition to the above-mentioned itineraries, you can consider getting lost in the mountains north of Chiang Rai (by motorcycle), or go for a tour to the west of the country (Kanchanaburi), or even spend 1 full week in the Isan along the Mekong river, at the border of Laos.
If you have even more time and want to make the most of the country, you may decide to get lost in the Isan for one or two weeks to get a good overview of the Thai countryside. I would also recommend a loop of several days, or even a week at the border of China by motorcycle from Mae Salong.
So, I hope this article has answered the question “where to go in Thailand” and that you now have a better idea of your itinerary. To prepare your trip, you’ll have to think up other points like which is the best time to go to Thailand to avoid the rainy season (monsoon season), getting your tourist visa (on arrival), choosing your diving spots for the most beautiful underwater world. In any case, Thailand remains one of those Asian countries that we more or less like, depending on our experience there. There is certainly mass tourism in the country, but it is possible to avoid it. Personally, I really liked the Thai people, their rice fields, their floating market everywhere, their street-food and their Buddhist culture! It’s the ideal destination for backpackers and others, to get away from it all without blowing up your vacation budget!
If you are planning a trip to South East Asia, the article on the travel budget in Laos can also help you.
See you soon for a new article!
Have a nice trip,