Where to Go in Thailand: A Complete Guide to the Most Popular Destinations

Mouthwatering food, rich culture, historical landmarks, and drop dead gorgeous beaches -- there's nothing that Thailand doesn't have. But this can be both a blessing and a curse. With so much to do and see, it can be tough to narrow down exactly where to spend those precious out-of-office days. The upside is that there's something for everyone. Whether you want to find your zen or party into the night, there are spots all over this southeast Asian country to suit your vacation wishes. To help you get started with planning, we rounded up the top destinations in Thailand plus what to do and where to stay while there.


Bangkok

Photo courtesy of Flickr/Gusjer

Photo courtesy of Flickr/Gusjer

Bangkok, Thailand’s capital, is well-known for its bustling street life, intricate shrines, and historical architecture and traditions that date back hundreds of years. Check out the floating market, the Grand Palace temple complex, and the relaxing Bang Krachao gardens. First-time visitors should not miss Wat Pho, a Buddhist temple that houses the largest collection of Buddha images, including the massive, 150-foot-long reclining Buddha structure.

Where to Stay:

Phuket


With unspoiled beaches, lush rainforests, fresh seafood, temperate weather, and top-notch nightlife, it’s no wonder Phuket has become Thailand’s most famous beach destination. Go wild on Bangla Road, a lively area packed with music, bars, and clubs, or sip a cocktail on the sand at Dream Beach Club. Detox the next day with some sight-seeing. Wat Chalong, a 19th-century Buddhist temple, is one of the most popular temples in the city.

Where to Stay:

Koh Samui


Koh Samui, one of the largest islands in Thailand, is home to both palm tree-lined beaches and a dense rainforest. It’s home to multiple luxury resorts and high-end spas, which makes it a pricer vacation spot. A handful of wallet-friendly properties also dot the shoreline for those on a shoestring budget. And although most come here to unplug and soak in the views, there are a couple of tourist attractions, including the 40-foot golden Big Buddha statue at Wat Phra Yai temple. Its location in the Gulf of Thailand makes it more protected from the rainy weather usually encountered during July and August on Thailand’s west coast, making summer months one of the peak seasons here; this one of the best picks for travelers seeking a Thailand beach destination in the summer. 

Where to Stay:

Krabi


Krabi, a beach town in southern Thailand, shows off crystal-clear waters, pristine beaches, waterfalls, temples, and seaside cliffs, all of which will leave you in awe. Head to Railay Beach, which is only accessibly by boat, to view the best sunset in the country. The hot spot also offers plenty of opportunities to kayak, scuba dive, and sail. The limestone cliffs here are deservedly famous, and attract adventurous rock climbers. Railey Beach is small and has a reputation for being budget-friendlier than Phuket, though those seeking luxury can still find it at the Rayavadee Resort.  

Where to Stay:

Ayutthaya

Photo courtesy of Flickr/Selda Eigler

Photo courtesy of Flickr/Selda Eigler

Dating back to 1351, this group of ancient ruins is filled with old temples, fortresses, monasteries, and memorials. There are plenty of odes to Buddha, including a 137-foot-long reclining statue that can be seen inside one of the temples. Be sure to stop by the Ayutthaya Historical Study Center as well, so you can learn more about the temples and their history.

Chiang Mai

Flickr/Gilda

Flickr/Gilda

There has been quite a lot of uproar surrounding the treatment of elephants in Thailand, which has spurred more sanctuaries for the adorable animal. The Elephant Jungle Sanctuary, which is located about 37 miles from Chiang Mai, was created in 2014 and is great place to interact with the creatures while still respecting their welfare. Embark on a full seven-day volunteer program or opt for just a half-day experience.

Folks can also learn how to prepare and cook a traditional Thai meal at the city’s Thai Farm Cooking School. Each participant receives his or her own cooking space to whip up plates like pad thai and green curry with chicken. Enjoy the fruits of your labor on the terrace overlooking the fishpond. 

Where to Stay:

Ko Phi Phi Ley

Photo courtesy of Flickr/Mark Fischer

Photo courtesy of Flickr/Mark Fischer

Make sure to visit Maya Bay on Ko Phi Phi Ley, the smaller sister island of Thailand’s Ko Phi Phi Don. This insanely picturesque spot features crystal-clear water and jungle-covered cliffs that surround the bay. You can’t spend the night as there are no inhabitants, but a day trip is prime for snorkeling. It’s best to go early in the morning to avoid crowds and maximize those peaceful moments. Oh, and in case you’re wondering why you recognize this place already, it’s because “The Beach,” starring Leonardo DiCaprio, was filmed here. 

Pattaya

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Once a small fishing village, Pattaya has morphed into a resort beach destination with modern hotels, mega shopping centers, and other upscale amenities. Located in eastern Thailand, the city boasts many attractions including the largest floating market in the world and Mini Siam, a miniature park that displays some of Thailand’s major landmarks. Note: although the place seems to be cleaning up its act, particular pockets of the city have gained an unfavorable reputation as being seedy.

Where to Stay:

Koh Phangan

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When the moon hovers over the sandy beach at dusk, it means it’s party time. Koh Phangan‘s Full Moon Party, which typically lasts all night, includes dancing, music, fireworks, and drawing on each other with glow-in-the-dark marker. Head to Haad Rin, a popular crescent-shaped beach, to ring in the celebration. It might be packed, but the partygoers keep things friendly. Just don’t forget to dress in neon attire.

Those who prefer a more relaxing stay can opt for a yoga class, instead. Whether you want to join The Yoga Retreat in the jungle or sign up for three daily classes at The Sanctuary Thailand, there are many sessions to choose from. 

Where to Stay:

Kanchanaburi

Photo courtesy of Flickr/honey-bee

Photo courtesy of Flickr/honey-bee

Located in western Thailand, this town is best known for the bridge on the River Kwai. Nature lovers will appreciate a visit to the massive Erawan National Park, too. The main attraction at this oasis is the tiered, green-hued waterfall that’s named after the three-headed elephant in Hindu mythology. Take a dip, then head over to Phra That Cave, which is packed with mesmerizing stalactites and stalagmites.

Where to Stay:

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