Chaotic city centres meet thriving tropical jungles in this beautiful and dynamic country.
Infused with that idyllic Southeast Asian combination of immaculate white beaches, clear blue waters, verdant forest and dangerously cheap drinks and villas, it’s difficult to think of Thailand and not conjure up the word "paradise".
Beyond its beaches, busy city centres harbour ornate temples (called wats), ancient ruins, spicy food and some of the most welcoming people in the world.
Fast facts about Thailand
- Main airports: Suvarnabhumi Airport, Bangkok (BKK), Phuket International Airport (HKT).
- On-ground transport: Trains, buses, taxis, tuk-tuk (rickshaw), motorcycle (for short trips), songthaew (mini-van).
- Weather: Wet (June-October) and dry seasons (November-May). The Thai Peninsula also experiences monsoon season. This occurs in April to October on the west coast and September to December on the east coast.
- Visas: 30 days free for Australians when travelling through an international airport, 15 days free when travelling overland. A multiple entry visa can be obtained for stays of 60 days in one visit. This visa is valid for 6 months and must be obtained prior to travel.
- Top 10 must see: Wat Arun, Wat Phra Kaew, Wat Pho, Sanctuary of Truth, Elephant Nature Park, Grand Palace, Ayutthaya, Damnoen Saduak Floating Market, Chiang Rai White Temple and long neck hill tribe villages.
- Plugs: Type A (two flat prongs) and Type B (two round prongs).
- Currency: Thai Baht (THB).
Best places to stay in Thailand
Bangkok: Thailand’s capital city is loud, busy, crowded and chaotic. Shopping malls and temples dominate the landscape and are a haven for escaping the heat. Come nightfall they close, giving way to strips of street entertainers and night markets selling souvenirs, fashionable wears and mouth-watering street food.
Chiang Mai: Nestled in the mountainous region of Thailand’s north, Chiang Mai is a quieter but no less resplendent version of Bangkok. It houses hundreds of gleaming Buddhist temples and is a gateway to the Elephant Nature Park and the long neck hill tribe and Hmong people villages.
Phuket: Phuket is the most accessible and most frequented of the Thai islands. Whether you choose to find a quiet beach to unwind on, go on a boat tour adventure through exotic waters or hit up Patong with its infamous nightlife of go-go dancers and lady boys, there’s an activity to suit your travel style here.
Ko Phi Phi: Made famous by the movie The Beach, Ko Phi Phi is another favourite destination for tourists. This idyllic island offers diving, nightlife and a resort experience similar to that on Phuket, but a lot tamer.
Check out what accommodation is like in these areas:
Top things to do in Thailand
- Visit temples: Buddhism is one of the main religions in Thailand and at every turn its presence can be seen in the ornately presented temples. Three of the most popular and most accessible in Bangkok are Wat Arun – a tower-shaped temple nicknamed the Temple of Dawn, Wat Phra Kaew – home to the emerald Buddha, and Wat Pho – home to the golden reclining Buddha.
- Sunbake and snorkel at an island paradise: Popular islands for this include Phuket, Ko Phi Phi, Ko Samui, Ko Pha Ngan and Ko Tao.
- Eat street food: Everything from pad thai to snake’s blood can be eaten on the street. Choose whichever you feel most comfortable (or confident) eating.
- Have a close encounter with elephants: The Elephant Nature Park and Elephant Jungle Sanctuaries in the north of Thailand rescue and rehabilitate elephants. In them you can help feed and bathe these majestic creatures.
- Play with monkeys at the Lopburi temples: Lopburi is a small town 150 kilometres from Bangkok often referred to as "Monkey City" as it’s overrun with crab-eating macaque monkeys. You can find many of them at Khmer temples and shrines. Tourists are discouraged from feeding them as they’re fed by locals, so don’t be fooled into giving them your lunch.
- Shop the floating markets: A throwback to a bygone era, shopkeepers fill boats with fresh produce and paddle down canals peddling meals and groceries to punters on the shore or in nearby boats. The most famous is Damnoen Saduak but there are smaller less touristy ones that provide a more authentic experience such as Amphawa.
- Attend a full moon party: Every month when the full moon rises the crescent shaped beach on Ko Phang Nga welcomes thousands to dance on its shores in one wild beach party.
- Explore the ruins of Ayutthaya: Once the grand Kingdom of Siam, today the ruins of Ayutthaya are but a shadow of its former self. Temples, monasteries and statues are scattered throughout this historical park area which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
- Boat tour of Phang Nga Bay: The site of Thailand’s most iconic beach images, Phang Nga Bay features a series of vertical limestone karsts in an ocean of emerald green. It’s also home to the famous James Bond Island.
- See Patpong by night: Bangkok’s famous red light and entertainment district is a mix of clubs, bars, lights and naturally, girls. It’s believed to be where Thailand’s Go-Go culture began and is a particular favourite of expats and tourists seeking to party.
Best events to attend in the year
- Songkran: A multi-day water festival to celebrate the Thai New Year. Traditions during the day include merit-making where locals visit temples to pray and offer monks food and pour water on Buddha statues as a symbol of cleansing and purity. Sometimes referred to as a water festival, during the day, arenas host friendly water fights. 13-15 April.
- Loy Krathong: Performers on parade and beauty pageants abound as locals send decorated baskets called krathongs floating down the river with their wishes. In the North of Thailand, for example in Chiang Mai, Loy Krathong coincides with the Yi Peng festival, where revellers fly paper lanterns into the night sky. 14 November 2016.
How much will a trip to Thailand cost?
Prices in Bangkok have been used to give you an idea of the cost of your trip.
- Budget: Hotels and budget hotels can be booked from $8 per person, per night.
- Moderate: Moderate hotels, apartments and guest houses can be booked from $17 per room, per night.
- Luxury: 5-star hotels and luxury resorts can be booked from $65 per room, per night.
- Main: 40 baht for a plate of pad thai.
- Beer: 60 baht for a Singha beer in a bar.
- Coffee: From 30 baht for a regular latte.
- Uber: Uber is available in major cities. An UberX from the airport to Bangkok city centre is approximately 375 baht.
- Taxis from the airport: Taxis are metered and charged by distance. From the airport, a 50 baht fee applies for the driver and expressway fees may also be incurred. Inclusive of fees, a taxi to the city is around 325-375 baht.
- Local transport from the airport: Public buses (BMTA) and an airport link train provide transport between the airport and the city. A one-way bus ride costs 34 baht. A one-way train ride costs 45 baht.