One of Asia’s most popular tourist destinations, Thailand’s reputation for hedonism attracts thousands of backpackers and its natural beauty also attracts an increasing amount of holiday-makers. Thailand is a mystical country that leaves a lifelong impression on anyone who visits.
It offers a rich history, smiling locals, some interesting quirks and of course an unforgettable experience! To help you see the best places in the country, here is my choice for the Top 10 best and most beautiful places to visit in Thailand…
1. Bangkok – the must-see destination and usually the first stop for every traveler
Bangkok is a restless and chaotic metropolis and an essential part of a trip to Thailand. Although not everyone’s cup of tea, the culture-shock-inducing capital has some incredible places of interest that you would be foolish to miss.
Highlights include the impossibly bejeweled Grand Palace, Wat Arun (one of the oldest and best-known landmarks in Bangkok) and Wat Po which is home to a giant reclining Buddha.
Fun-seekers head for the notorious backpacker’s haven the Khao San road, the bazaars, and alleyways of Chinatown and the infamous Patpong Night Market (located in the city’s red-light district).
2. The Floating Market – for a taste of Old Thailand
The Floating Market (made famous by the James Bond classic “The Man with the Golden Gun”) is located on the Damnoen Saduak Canal in the region of Bangkok.
Although now a major tourist attraction, the market is a photogenic place where visitors can get an idea of what trading was like in Thailand before the modernization of the city.
It’s also a lot of fun. Buying something here means hailing down a narrow long boat piled high with produce – quite an experience in itself! The region is also filled with lush vineyards, orchards and thriving local businesses which are great to view by canal boat on your journey there.
3. Chiang Mai – a gorgeous and much-loved city in Northern Thailand
The spiritual city of Chiang Mai is much quieter than Bangkok but still an essential visit if you want to see one of the most beautiful places to visit in Thailand.
Dotted with temples, craft shops, restaurants, and more than a handful of excellent Thai massage and cooking schools, the city has a somehow relaxed and tranquil atmosphere.
Many travelers often mention Chiang Mai as their favorite Thai city and once visited it’s easy to see why. It’s located high in the north mountainous region of Thailand which makes it a great base for mountain trekking (organized treks can be arranged very easily here with almost every other shop offering them).
Although the treks from Chiang Mai are interesting, they are often a well-worn path and many in-the-know backpackers now head for nearby Pai instead.
Pai is a chilled-out small town located near the Myanmar border which has become popular with travelers, artists, and musicians. Head there for less touristy treks and more ‘rustic’ visits to hill tribes.
4. San Kamphaeng Hot Springs – a secret hidden spot in Thailand
San Kamphaeng is a district located 36km from the northern city Chiang Mai. The area is home to the popular and reasonably priced hot springs which are set in a tranquil, 40-acre landscaped park.
They are famous for their restorative properties and people come from miles to cure aches and pains and to take a break from the chaos of Bangkok.
The deep-source springs reach over 100 degrees centigrade and are naturally high in sulfur. Visit to bath in the mineral-rich waters, camp in the surrounding parkland or to boil some eggs in the hot steaming pools!
5. The East Coast Islands – a popular vacationers and backpackers paradise
Koh Samui and Koh Phangan are islands located on the east side of Thailand which are popular with both vacationers and backpackers.
Both islands are easily among the most beautiful places to visit in Thailand and they’re known for their palm tree-lined white sand beaches, clear turquoise waters, and laid-back attitudes.
Koh Samui is more developed and geared towards holiday-makers and Koh Phangan with its cool cafes and world-famous full moon parties has more of a bohemian feel. Nearby, the rugged island of Koh Tao and the idyllic Koh Nang Yuan (pictured above) are only an inexpensive boat ride away.
These two islands are much less touristy due to their more isolated locations and are perfect for those looking for peace and world-class diving.
6. Mae Hong Son – for hill tribes and misty shrouded valleys
Mae Hong Son is the capital of Thailand’s most northwestern province and its close proximity to the Burmese border gives it a very different feel to the rest of the country.
Very quiet and isolated, this mountainous city is filled with Burmese-style temples and shrouded in an atmospheric mist. Visitors come here for the unique natural scenery, mountain trekking, craft markets and to see the local hill tribe communities – one of which is the famous Karen long-neck tribe.
The Thanon Thongchai range between Myanmar (Burma) and Thailand is popular for trekking and highlights include the beautiful six-tiered Pha Sua waterfall.
7. Ayutthaya – a fascinating and ancient spot
Only an hour’s train journey from Bangkok, the ancient city of Ayutthaya should be on every visitor’s itinerary. Once a sacred, important Siamese kingdom it existed from 1351 right up until 1767 when it was raided and sacked by an invading army.
Today the ancient city lies in crumbling ruins but the remains of the extraordinary and once towering temples are classed as a UNESCO world heritage site and are hauntingly beautiful. To make the most of this site, allow a full day to explore and of course, don’t forget to pack your camera.
Railay and the Krabi Province – two beautiful must-sees in Thailand
Railay and the surrounding coast of the Krabi province (located in the South of Thailand) is a tropical paradise characterised by towering limestone cliffs, turquoise water, and powder white sand.
From this area, it’s also easy to take a trip to nearby Phang Nga to see the famous ‘James Bond Rock’. Railay is a beautiful secluded beach – accessible only by boat – which attracts a mixture of in-the-know backpackers, well-heeled tourists, and enthusiastic rock climbers. Surrounded by dense vegetation and mountains, the area is also perfect for trekking.
There are many beautiful beaches in Thailand but Railay is unique because it’s completely cut off from the daily grind – here visitors kick back and mostly stay a lot longer than originally planned.
8. Koh Phi Phi – made famous by Leo Dicaprio’s movie
The tiny but idyllic west coast island of Koh Phi Phi is seen by many as the ultimate island paradise. Even though the island has now fully recovered from the devastating 2009 tsunami, it has sadly suffered from rapid tourist growth (especially since the release of “The Beach” starring Leo Dicaprio).
In spite of this, Koh Phi Phi still manages to retain a relaxed vibe which seems to keep both the backpackers and the vacationers happy. Highlights include climbing a steep viewpoint to watch the sunset and hiring a long tail boat to snorkel in the beautiful surrounding waters.
9. Hin Daeng – an incredible diving spot in Thailand
Adventurous travellers should head for Hin Daeng, located in the Andaman Sea. Literally meaning the Red Rock, this is one of the top diving spots in Thailand – if not the world.
Swim amongst underwater pinnacles, swaying carpets of anemone and red soft coral. It’s also teeming with marine life including huge shoals of fish, round batfish, manta ray, barracuda and if you’re lucky the odd whale shark or two.
10. The Grand Palace – a striking and beautiful attraction
The Grand Palace in Bangkok, Thailand is one of the most stunning pieces of architecture in all Southeast Asia. It is richly decorated with gold and mirrors, really making it stand out from many other buildings.
Many tourists would recommend visiting at dawn when there are fewer people so it can be appreciated much better without being too crowded.
11. Tham Khao Luang Caves – an interesting tourist attraction
These limestone caves offer some of the best rock formations you will ever see. The intricate details that these formations take to create really help make this place look like another world entirely.
Much like the Grand Palace but without as much tourism! You can get up close and personal with these caves you book a tour guide which I would suggest as it is easy to get lost!
12. Pui National Park
This park is home to 2 waterfalls that are just jaw-dropping. The first waterfall you see is Suthep which drops 199ft into the ground! Followed by Viharn Sien as well as a large Buddhist temple and numerous monkeys that like to steal your food!
One of the best ways to experience this place is to hike up there yourself as it takes roughly an hour and half depending on how fit you are climbing those stairs!
13. Thi Lo Su Waterfalls
This waterfall is found northeast of Mae Hong Son. It drops 1,000ft into an emerald green pool which you can take a dip in under the fall. The only downside here is that it is not made for swimming as it can be extremely dangerous! If you are staying nearby there are many places to view the falls but the best way would probably be to take a day trip or hire someone to show you around which shouldn’t cost too much money!
It’s almost impossible to squeeze the best of Thailand into a list so we also need to give a special mention to the gorgeous beaches of Ko Kood, the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Khao Yai National Park, the remote city of Chiang Rai, the luxurious island resort of Phuket, the cultural city of Nakhon Si Thammarat, Kanchanaburi (where the Bridge on the River Kwai was filmed) and the blissful Koh Lanta.
Animal lovers should also include a visit to the beautiful Boon Lott’s Elephant Sanctuary located in North Thailand. Started by Katherine Connor, a former UK traveler (and now National Geographic’s traveler of the year) they provide sanctuary to formally abused elephants and welcome both guests and volunteers.
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Becky Moore – Owner, writer and photographer
My first true adventure began as a six month voyage around South East Asia as a fresh faced backpacker and ever since I’ve lived a semi nomadic existence, clocking up visits to over 40 countries. I’m a lover of US Road Trips, deserted beaches bathed in warm glow of a sunset, Cuban mojitos, travel destinations far away from the tourist crowds and all things Scandinavian – from cloudberry liquors to Nordic noirs. When not wandering the world and running Global Grasshopper, you’ll find me walking my ex Athens street dog in leafy South West London, strolling around the Brighton Lanes on random day trips, hunting for photogenic landscapes or daydreaming about my favourite places; Havana, Copenhagen, Italy, Borneo, Finland, Greece, Berlin, Laos, California and the surreal and beautiful landscapes of a wintry Iceland.
I’ve been quoted in Forbes, National Geographic, The Times, Yahoo Travel, Huffington Post, Business Insider, Thrillist, British Airways Magazine, Entrepreneur, express.co.uk, Wanderlust, Telegraph Travel, Daily Mail and metro.co.uk. Find me on Linkedin or Facebook.