As one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations, it’s no secret Thailand is home to some truly spectacular places. White sand beaches and palm trees are the first images that come to mind for many, but Thailand also encompasses tropical forests, mist-covered mountains and compelling ancient monuments. Here are some of the most beautiful places to see.
A jungle reserve deep in Southern Thailand, Khao Sok National Park is said to be the oldest evergreen rainforest in the world, with some sources claiming it offers comparable biodiversity to the Amazon rainforest. Its central lake spans a 185-square kilometer area, home to a huge variety of wildlife from elephants and tigers to hornbills and pythons. Visitors can take in its beauty kayaking through the morning mist or hiking the outskirts, or participate in a number of guided activities like exploring its caves or climbing to find extraordinary perspectives.
This tiny spit of land is part of the Similan Islands National Park in the Western Andaman Ocean, accessible exclusively by boat from the main Koh Similan Island. While Koh Bon’s rugged coastline and stretches of white sand beaches offer incredible scenery, the island’s main attraction lies beneath the surface. Its surrounding waters are teeming with incredible marine life, like majestic manta rays, eagle rays, and several species of shark.
This sacred mountain lies about a two-hour drive north of Chiang Rai smack along the Laotian border. Visitors will arrive at a quaint base hilltribe village, offering amenities like restaurants and homestays, from where a 750-meter trek brings you to the mountain’s summit. While not particularly challenging, it is possible to organize local transport to the summit as well. The mountain’s uncontested beauty emerges at sunrise, when its views expand across a sea of fog and low-lying mist that lifts to reveal sweeping meadow-scapes flush with thousands of flowers and other local fauna, among snaking tributaries of the Mekong River basin. The attraction is popular among local Thais, and it is customary for the Thai children to sing traditional songs in hilltribe costume as the sun rises.
Koh Phi Phi’s Maya Bay is among the most iconic Thai landscapes, made famous the world over by Leonardo DiCaprio’s 2000 film adaptation of Alex Garland’s The Beach. The real inspiration for the narrative, however, is the Gulf of Thailand’s untouched archipelago Ang Thong National Marine Park, 42 undeveloped islands off the coast of Koh Samui. Known locally as the Golden Basin, one of Ang Thong’s most incredible natural wonders is its eponymous Emerald Lake, a stunning, serene water body connected to the sea through underground tunnels surrounded by dramatic limestone cliffs.
Located in breathtaking Mae Hong Son province, the drive to get to this ancient bamboo bridge is worth the journey itself, meandering through the remote, mountainous region of northern Thailand bordering Myanmar to the West – often seen by a journey along the 600-kilometer Mae Hong Son Loop. The bridge was constructed generations ago by local villagers and monks over land donated from the local rice plantation owners, and is still used daily for locals to traverse the expansive rice fields. The bridge, a source of pride among the local community, translates to “successful prayer” in the local Burmese-influenced dialect of Thai Yai.
Affectionately referred to as “the Grand Canyon of Thailand,” this rock islet in the Khong River is best seen during the dry season of January to April, when the eroded rock formations emerge from receding water levels. The area is rife with superstition influenced by local legends, including the respect given to its signature dog head-shaped stone that has inspired many myths related to the canyon’s development.
This huge cave system in Northern Thailand was once home to an ancient community known as the Lawa tribe – archaeologists have discovered pre-historic clay pottery and carved teak coffins throughout the complex. Accessible by bamboo raft along the intravenous Nam Lang River, visitors can explore the cave’s subterranean magic among natural stalactite and stalagmite formations and enormous, ghostly chambers.
Also known as Buffalo Bay, this quiet seascape is one of the most unique and untouched beaches in Thailand, curving delicately to enclose mangrove forests and the calm tides that spill out into the unrivaled beauty of the Andaman Sea. The beach is one of two on tiny Koh Phayam Island, itself one of Thailand’s best-kept-secrets, offering weary island-hoppers reprise from all-night beach parties and parking lots of taxi boats ubiquitous to more name brand destinations.
Known as Dragon Crest Mountain, this incredible hike is located about 30 minutes north of Ao Nang in Krabi Province. From the start of the Hang Nak Hill nature trail it is about 3.7 kilometers to reach the peak, with several viewpoints and waterfalls accompanying the journey through the dense forest – until reaching its apex at 565 meters above sea level and awarding visitors with expansive views of the surrounding land and seascapes.
Just a short longtail journey from its more famous sister island of Koh Tao, Koh Nangyuan is a gorgeous, self-sustainable group of three teardrops of land connected by a ribbon of beach. The islands themselves are carved out of ancient volcanic rock, tapering off into three distinct bays packed with marine life and incredible biodiversity of coral species for world-class snorkeling and scuba diving. After lazing around on the beach, a quick 15-minute walk brings visitors to its storied viewpoint, offering a panorama of the winding beach below and views of the north end of nearby Koh Tao.
According to local legend, when the area of Chaiyaphum was first settled, a white light would appear from within these five large rocks during Buddhist Sabbath nights, which fall according to the moon cycle. Made of sandstone in combination with other minerals, these mysterious natural spires coined the “Stonehenge of Thailand” are reminiscent of the naturally wind-carved outcrops of areas like the southwest United States, yet flanked on all sides by enormous fields of colourful tulips.