Best places to visit in Thailand

Take in the exotic sites in the Land of Smiles for an unbelievable trip across Thailand’s diverse lands.

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Thailand is a country that will satisfy all of your senses from the smell of the street food and the feeling of the sand between your toes, to the glistening blue waters and glittering temples.

Thailand is a traveller’s dream. It’s historic, it’s a relaxing beach holiday, it’s an adventure in the mountains and it’s bubbling with tastes.

It’s hard to pick the best places to visit in Thailand but we came up with a selection to help you discover the country’s best highlights from north to south, mountains to islands and everything in between. With this guide you won’t miss a beat during your holiday while you experience the true hospitality in the Land of Smiles.

Best places to visit in Thailand

1. Bangkok

Bangkok is Thailand’s largest and brightest city, attracting travellers with its unique organised chaos. The colourful streets are lined with ornate temples and the Grand Palace where the Thai royalty once lived.

Take a few hours to walk around this capital and you’ll constantly be tempted by the intense smells of street food, notice the contrast of the historic sites and modern skyscrapers and see the smiles on the locals’ faces who love to do everything with a side of fun.

  • Best for: City lovers, history, food, temples
  • Where is it: Bangkok is in central Thailand and has direct flights from Sydney (nine hours and 20 minutes), Melbourne (9.5 hours), Perth (seven hours) and Brisbane (nine hours and ten minutes). Bangkok is easily connected to major areas such as Chiang Mai by plane (75 minutes), bus (10.5) and train (14.5 hours) and Phuket by plane (75 minutes).
  • Top five things to see/do: Visit the famous floating market, enjoy a dinner cruise along the river, see the Grand Palace and the most important temples, indulge in the local cuisine and explore the city by night
  • How long do I need? Three to five days
  • Recommended tour: Bangkok By Night is the most exciting time to explore the city to sample the cuisine, admire the lighted temples and the bustling open markets.

2. Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai is the perfect example of a Thai city with a distinct historical feel that is still very much alive inside the Old City walls. Take some time to walk around and you’ll stumble into markets on almost every corner, follow smells to delicious dishes and see ancient temples. Explore beyond the city walls and you’ll discover the mountainous region surrounding the city and realize that Chiang Mai’s countryside-town feel is the complete opposite of Bangkok.

  • Best for: History, culture, food
  • Where is it: Located in north central Thailand, Chiang Mai can be reached on direct flights from Bangkok (75 minutes) and Phuket (two hours). A bus (10.5 hours) and train (14.5 hours) can also be taken from Bangkok. A bus from Pai is three hours.
  • Top five things to see/do: Explore the city’s best temples, take a cooking class, watch a ladyboy show, work your way through the markets to try the food and zipline through the jungle.
  • How long do I need? Three to five days
  • Recommended tour: See the city and temples on a half-day tour that will show you all of the highlights including a temple over 600 years old, views of Chiang Mai from the Doi Suthep summit and more.

3. Phuket

Visitors to Phuket are spoiled for choice on Thailand’s largest island. From the main resort town of Patong where travellers bask in the sun and party all night long, to the quieter beach town of Karon where white sand beaches almost glow against the stunningly blue waters of the Andaman Sea. Culture, history, diving and great food mix to make this island a travellers paradise for all things relaxation, adventure and nature.

  • Best for: Beach lovers, culture, food, diving
  • Where is it: Located off of Thailand’s southwest coast, Phuket can be reached by direct flights from Sydney (nine hours and 20 minutes), Bangkok (75 minutes) and Chiang Mai (two hours).
  • Top five things to see/do: See the Big Buddha up close, visit James Bond Island on a boat tour, snorkel at the Similan Islands, explore Phuket Town and beach hop.
  • How long do I need? Three to five days
  • Recommended tour: Experience a Phuket Day Tour that includes stops at highlights such as Wat Chalong Temple, visit the most photographed spot on the island and enjoy delicious local food.

4. Phi Phi Islands

The Phi Phi Islands are a group of islands in the Andaman Sea, part of the province of Krabi. The two largest, Phi Phi Leh and Phi Phi Don are where visitors flock to find the incredible paradise that awaits.

While Phi Phi Don has hotels and resorts scattered across it, visitors can walk across the white sand beaches and party all night long. In contrast, Phi Phi Leh is almost deserted with no hotels but instead boasts cliffs, jungle, clear waters and colourful coral.

  • Best for: Beach, underwater activities, nature
  • Where is it: Phi Phi Islands are off the southwest coast of Thailand between the islands of Phuket and Krabi. They are most commonly visited as a day trip from Phuket, Krabi or Koh Lanta. For longer stays the islands can be reached by ferry or speedboat from Phuket, Krabi, Koh Lanta, Koh Phangan or Koh Tao. The ferry is 90 minutes from Krabi or Koh Lanta and two hours from Phuket.
  • Top five things to see/do: Hike to Phi Phi viewpoint, visit Maya Bay, go diving or snorkelling, check out Bamboo Island and see the Viking Caves.
  • How long do I need? One to three days
  • Recommended tour: Explore the Phi Phi Islands from Phuketby speedboat with stops at Bamboo Island, at a snorkel spot at Mosquito Island, at the famous Maya Bay and at Monkey Beach.

5. Ayutthaya

Once the capital of Siam, the previously-known royal city is now a UNESCO World Heritage site that travellers can visit for the day from Bangkok. Grand palaces, shining temples and a prosperous trading port made up this city until the Burmese attacked it in the 1700s. Today the city is home to ruins and is an archaeological site with the remains of palaces, temples, statues and monasteries.

  • Best for: History
  • Where is it: Ayutthaya sits 80km north of Bangkok. The train takes two hours from Bangkok and the bus takes 1.5 hours.
  • Top five things to see/do: See the most famous temples: Wat Chaiwatthanaram (temple), Wat Mahathat, Wat Ratchaburana, the golden Buddha in Wat Na Phra Men and Bang Pa-in Palace, one of the best-preserved monuments.
  • How long do I need? One to two days
  • Recommended tour: Take a Full-Day Guided Tour from Bangkok to explore the temples and palaces of the UNESCO Site with a guide to explain the history behind the ruins.

6. Khao Sok National Park

Khao Sok National Park acts as a nice change from the beaches on the islands and the mountains in the north. This southern park is believed to be over 160 million years old, making it one of the oldest rainforests in the world. It may be Thailand’s rainiest park but the 738-sq km area is an adventurer's dream filled with waterfalls, caves, dense jungle and rare animal species.

  • Best for: Adventure, nature
  • Where is it: Located in southern Thailand, the park is best reached from Phuket by bus (two hours), Surat Thani by bus (two hours) or Krabi by bus (three hours).
  • Top five things to see/do: Visit Cheow Lan Lake, take a night safari, spend time with elephants, spot wildlife from Sok River, go jungle trekking
  • How long do I need? One to three days
  • Recommended tour: Go on a Full-Day Bamboo Rafting and Elephant Bathing adventure where you’ll float through the dense jungle along the river, explore a cave, visit a local market and see elephants at a rescue centre.

7. Pai

Pai is an island getaway in northern Thailand without the beaches. It’s a mountain town that encompasses its Shan background and thrills travellers looking for a bit of downtime. Large caves, waterfalls and natural hot springs surround the small town.

While in town the Pai Walking Street comes alive with food stalls at night, and is lined with guesthouses and shops filled with tie-dye during the day. The sleepy and relaxed town feel has visitors returning again and again.

  • Best for: Nature
  • Where is it: Pai is in northern Thailand and is easily accessed from Chiang Mai. Buses are four hours, minibuses three hours and a flight is 30 minutes.
  • Top five things to see/do: Wander down Pai Walking Street, ride along the Pai Memorial Bridge, see the Land Crack, climb to the White Buddha and explore the Pai Canyon.
  • How long do I need? Two to four days
  • Recommended tour: Explore the Best of Pai from Chiang Mai in two days with visits to the top waterfalls, Pai Canyon and more, plus a cycling tour and gorgeous mountain views.

8. Koh Tao

Koh Tao offers an island mix that is both busy yet laid back with a low-key vibe that is very distinctly Koh Tao. This small island has white sand beaches fringed with coconut trees and colourful coral reefs that have diverse new and advanced showing up on the shores for their chance to spot turtles, whale sharks and more. It’s your choice whether you want to spend time on the beach, exploring the hilltops for epic viewpoints, under the waters exploring the world-famous dive sites or partying hill dawn.

  • Best for: Beach lovers, diving/snorkelling, nature
  • Where is it: Koh Tao is located in the Gulf of Thailand on Thailand’s southeast coast. It is easiest to get to Koh Tao from its neighbouring islands by ferry. From Koh Samui the ferry is 2.5 hours and from Koh Phangan, 90 minutes. From Bangkok one option is a plane (70 minutes), bus (35 minutes) and ferry (three hours) combo. Other options are a bus/ferry (12 hours) combo or train/bus/ferry combo (14 hours).
  • Top five things to see/do: Go diving/snorkelling, hike to a viewpoint, visit Koh Nang Yuan Island, explore the islands beaches and enjoy the nightlife.
  • How long do I need? Two to four days
  • Recommended tour: Explore Koh Tao and Koh Nang Yuan from Koh Samui on a day excursion that will bring you to Koh Tao’s best snorkelling spots and to the best viewpoint on Koh Nang Yuan.

9. Railay

For a bit of a more relaxed pace, head to Railay where fewer tourists visit than places such as Koh Phi Phi. This peninsula on Krabi Island in the Andaman Sea is only accessible by boat because of the limestone towers that rise out of the sea.

It’s here that you’ll find pretty beaches for holiday-makers and the ultimate rock-climbing spots for adventurers. While just beyond these highlights you’ll find the land masked by the jungle.

  • Best for: Beach lovers, climbing, adventure
  • Where is it: In the south of Thailand, Railay can be reached by a flight to the Krabi Airport from Bangkok (80 minutes). Buses can be taken to Krabi Town from Bangkok (15 hours), Phuket (five hours) and other islands. Boats must be taken after a flight or bus or from Krabi Town or Ao Nang and other islands such as Koh Lanta, Koh Phi Phi and Phuket.
  • Top five things to see/do: Relax on the world famous Railay Beach, go rock climbing, go on the Four Islands tour, hike to Railay Beach viewpoint and go kayaking.
  • How long do I need? One to three days
  • Recommended tour: Take the famous 4 Islands Boat Tour on a full-day adventure that includes riding in a long-tail boat, snorkelling, exploring caves and more.

10. Chiang Rai

Chiang Rai, a city in northern Thailand close to both the Laos and Burmese borders, and sits quietly in the province of the same name. It’s a small city but not one to be overlooked with its temples, art and historical artifacts up for discovery. It’s most famously known for the White Temple which alone makes Chiang Rai a prime place to stop.

  • Best for: Temples
  • Where is it: Located in northern Thailand, Chiang Rai can be reached by plane from Bangkok (75 minutes) or by bus from Bangkok (12.5 hours) or Chiang Mai (three hours). A mini bus from Pai to Chiang Rai is four hours.
  • Top five things to see/do: Visit the White Temple, see the Chiang Rai Clock Tower, check out the art at Black Temple, stop by the night bazaar and visit Wat Klang Wiang temple.
  • How long do I need? One to two days
  • Recommended tour: A Day Trip to the White Temple and the Golden Triangle from Chiang Mai will show you all of the highlights plus a boat trip on the Mekong River and a stop at the hot springs.

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