Thailand is a fascinating mix of the modern and the mystical, locked in an eternal embrace. In its great cities, Thailand is as cosmopolitan as any other major global destination, but once you enter the countryside, the land transforms into something totally untouched by time. The land will keep pulling at you with its magic. While it may take you years to fully uncover Thailand’s wonders, you can choose among these 12 exciting places where you can taste the exotic that Thailand is known for.
Bangkok – Thailand’s capital city, as well as its largest – can be described as heady chaos. It’s a city of growth with no real center, its modern skyscrapers rubbing shoulders with ancient temples, while swarms of people mill about in frenetic activity. Bangkok is where you will find historical treasures like the Grand Palace, National Museum, and Wat Phra Kaeo, but don’t miss the opportunity to visit the more plebian places such as Chinatown and the red-light Patpong District.
Thailand’s second city is more sedate than Bangkok, but don’t imagine even for a second that it’s boring. Surrounded by mountains and retaining its old-world appeal, Chiang Mai is picturesque, even romantic. At its center are dozens of temples and ancient buildings, maintaining their dominion over modernity creeping through the city. Chiang Mai is famous for its Songkran water festival and its romantic Loi Krathong festival of lanterns.
Chiang Rai, a short drive away from Chiang Mai, is where you’ll find the famous Golden Triangle, where the Mekong River draws the boundaries between Thailand, Laos and Cambodia. There is a point on the river where you can truly say you’re standing in three countries.
Rural Isaan doesn’t have much to offer tourists, but the town is the gateway to magnificent Khmer ruins made of pink, white and grey sandstone, remnants of a time when Isaan was still a part of the ancient Khmer Empire.
Northern Thailand is magnificent for trekking and exploration, where your efforts will be rewarded by sights of grandiose waterfalls, hot springs, hill tribe villages, and elephant sanctuaries. While you can access these beauties from Chiang Mai, Pai is the entry point more favored by backpackers and adventurers.
For more than 400 years, Ayutthaya served as the capital city of the Kingdom of Siam, and as thus, contained numerous temples, palaces, statuary, and other such marvels. However, an attack by the Burmese left the city burned to the ground and its surviving buildings buried. Hundreds of years later, Ayutthaya was excavated and granted protected status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Thailand’s oldest capital city may have been swallowed by the jungle, but you can glimpse its glorious past from the ruins left behind. The remnants of Sukhothai are considered the most classical of Thai architecture. It’s one of Thailand’s most popular destinations.
Kanchanaburi is the site of the infamous Burma Railway and the Bridge on the River Kwai, built by the Japanese during World War II using forced labor by the locals and prisoners of war. It’s estimated that 90,000 people died in constructing this railway, and a memorial stands in Kanchanaburi to commemorate them.
Most tourists visit Thailand for its beaches, and the island of Phuket on the eastern coast has some of the most stunning beaches in the country. Phuket is where tourists with money come to play, basking on the sand under the sun during the day and partying at night. It’s also a popular destination for divers.
Ko Samui is one of Thailand’s most treasured beach paradises. It’s your idyllic beach, filled with white sand kissing blue waters, a place to relax and sunbathe in the day and go bar-hopping in the evening. It’s also where Ang Thong National Marine Park, one of the most beautiful marine sanctuaries in Thailand, is located.
Hat Rin is Thailand’s party central. Its grand raves eclipse even those held in Phuket and Ko Samui, even though its beaches are not as spectacular. Hat Rin is particularly famous for its monthly full moon parties. This is the place to go if you want to express a little more of your wild side.
If your idea of a beach holiday in Thailand doesn’t involve a lot of partying but more of nature-tripping, Ko Lanta is where you should head to. The beach scenery isn’t as striking, but it’s often quiet and family-friendly. Plus, there are plenty of opportunities for water sports, trekking through the jungle, and exploring caves.