Thailand offers all the benefits of an exotic destination – including climate, culture and convenience – without blowing the budget. Welcome to our Thailand travel guide.
Luxury wellness retreats, bustling cities alongside vast tropical beaches dotted with the ruins of ancient temples, exotic gourmet food and endless nature- and water-based activities … there are more than just a few very good reasons why Thailand remains such an outstanding destination for travellers.
What To Do in Thailand
Budding mountaineers and adventurous types make tracks for Khao Sok in the south of Thailand, or Chiang Rai, Mae Hong Son and Chiang Mai in the north.
With warm water temperatures (usually 27 to 30°C) and underwater terrain that includes swim throughs, caves, caverns, pinnacles, boulders that appear to have tumbled from islands to the sea floor, and ethereal karst islands surrounded by coral, Southern Thailand offers enticing opportunities for scuba divers and snorkellers. We’ve compiled a comprehensive guide to the best snorkelling and dive companies in Thailand to help you make your decision.
Surrounded by a stunning landscapes and river systems, the Mae Hong Son province is a natural hub for eco-tourism and nature lovers. Among the must-visit destinations is the small district of Pai in the northeast, where local rivers make it idyllic place for rafting and camping.
In Phuket you might like to take a high octane trip to James Bond Island in a speedboat.
If you time your visit right you can be a spectator at Thailand’s biggest elephant fundraising effort: the Anantara King’s Cup Elephant Polo tournament in Thailand’s version of the Hamptons, Hua Hin.
Ethical encounters with endangered Asian elephants – where you observe and possibly interact with them but refrain from riding – can be a highlight of visiting Thailand. Just make sure to do your research when choosing an elephant encounter.
For the more social travellers – who like to relax on their own patch of empty sand, yet like knowing that a dash of entertainment is still close at hand – there’s excitement and adventure to be had in hotspots like Hua Hin, Koh Phangan, Krabi, Ko Samui and of course legendary Phuket.
But if you want something quieter, Trat (Thailand’s eastern-most province bordering Cambodia), boasts a collection of islands just off its coast that swoop under the tourist radar. Blessed with scenic bays, quiet sandy beaches and crystal-clear waters, these islands are paradisiacal and serene, almost the antithesis to bustling Samui and Phuket.
While there are around 50 islands, Koh Chang, Koh Mak and Koh Kood are the best for visitors with regards to infrastructure. However, since theyare located within Mu Koh Chang National Park, they maintain a blissful rugged and remote vibe – giving visitors a taste of what Thailand was like some 30 years ago before we all became obsessed with the place.
Temples and Cultural Landmarks
The hundred or so buildings that constitute the Grand Palace in Bangkok are a breathtaking introduction to Thailand’s ornate beauty and an absolute day-one must when visiting the capital. A collection of palaces, courts, pavilions and temples, it’s an opulent display of marble, gold leaf-clad mythical figures and elegant chofas piercing the sky from the ends of multicoloured-tiled roofs.
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Best Places to Visit in Thailand
Bangkok is full of famous markets, delicious street food, emerging art scenes and grand palaces. We have a list of quintessentially Bangkok things to do to make sure you don’t miss any highlights.
Shopping is also a big drawcard in Bangkok, so be sure to check out our list of shopping tips.
Chiang Mai, Thailand’s unofficial second city is a stark contrast to bustling Bangkok, but while this less frenetic city’s charm may lie in its unhurried vibe, its creative and culinary scenes are booming.
As Thailand’s second largest city after Bangkok, Chiang Mai is favourite amongst families, foodies, wellness seekers and adventurers alike, offering a diverse array of activities. Among the many must-visit local sights is Wat Prathat Doi Suthep (referred to as just Doi Suthep by most people) – the most important Buddhist temple in Thailand’s north.
The quieter neighbour of Chiang Mai, this is a land of outstanding natural beauty, where travellers can escape the hordes of more populated centres in place of remote hill tribes, breathtaking landscapes and exotic wildlife.
History and culture buffs get their fill of fascinating sights in Thailand’s former capital, World Heritage-listed Ayutthaya and Sukhothai.
Thailand is also home to an array of beautiful islands for those craving a beach holiday.
Best Time to Visit
The best time to travel to Thailand is during the cooler dry season between November and early April.
Choosing When to Visit (and what to pack)
In the south of Thailand, the climate differs between the eastern and western coasts, so this will effect when you want to visit. The west coast is better during the winter months, when diving and snorkelling will be at its best. The weather on the east coast is good for most of the year, with the lowest rainfall in January and February and the highest in November.
Be sure to pack plenty of sunscreen (which is manufactured to Australian standards), long pants and shirts if you are travelling to areas affected by mosquitos and a light raincoat if you are going to be there during the wet season.
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Best Foodie Experiences in Thailand
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Street food is an absolute joy in Thailand – to help you make the most of the cheap and cheerful morsels on offer we have compiled a guide to Bangkok’s best street eats. Famous expat chef David Thompson has also shared his favourite Bangkok foodie experiences as has Masterchef alumni Marion Grasby.
Learn how to make delicious Thai food yourself by taking an afternoon cooking class, Ancient Thai Cuisine Cooking, at the Blue Elephant restaurant housed in a period mansion in Bangkok.
By night, Bangkok is a neon-drenched, cyberpunk spectacle that’s best viewed from on high. Sky Bar is the place to enjoy a cocktail while gazing out at the metropolis and its ramshackle skyline; one of the best open roof high-rise bars in the city.
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Where to stay in Thailand
Whether it’s a swanky sky-scraper hotel in Bangkok or a lush tropical villa on one of Thailand’s picture-perfect island, there are accommodation options to suit every type of traveller in Thailand. There’s even a Four Seasons tented camp in the jungle in Chiang Rai.
Luxury Resorts and Villas
The Sarojin, Khao Lak is a paragon of meditative tropical resort gardens that encourage relaxation and deep contemplation. At night, hundreds of flickering lights glow in the ponds, bobbing like boats on a river, their reflections doubling their efforts. By day, the infinity pool and jacuzzi, surrounded by floating pavilions, glistens invitingly.
Grand is a fitting moniker for the Centara Grand Resort Hotel and Villas Hua Hin, at home in its commanding position sprawled across 16 hectares of beach front, overlooking the Gulf of Thailand.
Opened in 1923, the former Railway Hotel was developed under the patronage of Prince Purachatra and the Thai royal family, who had built holiday palaces for themselves in the region and wanted to see a decent standard of accommodation available to others.
Koh Samui has a wealth of excellent resorts – we’ve compiled a list of four of the best to help you choose. If you want to push the boat out, one of the most beautiful would have to be The Banyan Tree Resort – it won the Best New Beach Hotel award when it opened in 2011. Other reviewers believe Vana Belle Resort might just be the pick of the competitive Koh Samui accommodation crop.
Located in a tranquil little patch of paradise on the tip of Cape Panwa in Phuket’s south is Sri Panwa – a little-known resort boasting understated luxury.
Iniala Beach House in Phuket has had rave reviews and Nishaville has been described as “Thailand’s best kept secret” with absolute beachfront cottages at Huay Yang, ideal for snorkelling and hiking through national park.
The ultimate in barefoot luxury, Soneva Kiri Resort overlooks a private bay on Koh Kood, Thailand, boasting serious sustainability cred too.
With all the comforts of large resorts, Anantara Si Kao is far from crowds, nestled between Changlang Beach and Had Chao Mai National Park.
Style, modern luxury and natural beauty combine to create super sleek beach villas at Casa de la Flora in Khao Lak.
If Phuket is the focus of your trip, be sure to check out our guide to Phuket’s top five remote hotels.
Sofitel So Bangkok is said to be the more stylish sister of the older Sofitel brand. The So is dressed to impress. Dark seductive lighting is the general rule in common areas, but closer inspection shows some fabulous ¬set-pieces. The moat of pools and water features around the lift shaft is particularly impressive.
Classic big names (Somerset Maugham, Noel Coward) loved the Mandarin Orient in Bangkok. The oldest wing dates to 1886. The modern wings come with oriental décor, jewel-like silks and some with spectacular river views.
Located directly on the Chao Phraya River, the things that make The Siam Hotel truly special in a city with a vast array of accommodation choices are the setting – hunkered down on the waterfront, with a pier that becomes the perfect venue for sunset cocktails – and the staff, who make it their mission to ensure you feel welcome without being intrusive in any way.
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Cultural Experiences in Thailand
You can’t claim to have seen Bangkok until you’ve seen it by boat from its tangle of waterways, or khlongs. Most of them branch off the western banks of the Chao Phraya River, and can narrow to just six metres, a parameter that has governed the design of the slender, riverboats in the city. Take a tour by riverboat to see life on the canals – the rickety old clusters of houses overhanging the water, children backflipping off jetties into the murky depths below patches of water lilies, and of course, the famous floating markets.
Even if you turn your nose up at the thought of combat sports and would never dream of attending a live fight, you’ll be sorely missing out if you don’t watch a bout of traditional Muay Thai kickboxing – the national sport. Head to Rajadamnern stadium to catch a few rounds, accompanied by traditional music, ritual and prayer, the roar of the crowd and frenzied gambling as every kick lands. It’s like a game of two-up but instead of a coin toss you’re watching practitioners of an 18th-century martial art.
Lampang’s charming township is gaining more and more attention from travellers, particularly those seeking a slower-paced holiday. With a lengthy history in human settlements, Lampang is rich in archaeological evidence spanning the kingdoms of Hariphunchai, Lanna and Burma, dating back over 1000 years.
Once home to Thailand’s Sukhothai Kingdom (Rising of Happiness) from the mid-13th century to the late 14th century, Sukhothai now boasts one of the most visited ancient sites in Thailand. The remains of the kingdom – now known as meuang gòw (old city) – include a vast sprawl of partially rebuilt ruins and iconic classic Thai (or Siam) architecture. For the best taste of the history, be sure to visit the Sukhothai Historical Park and Si Satchanalai Historical Park – both listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites.