Thailand – a country full of stunning nature, delicious food and warm, friendly people. With these attributes, there’s little surprise that Thailand’s capital Bangkok is the most visited city in the world. But while many people visit the shores of Thailand, few leave being able to say that they’ve really done it. From crazy parties to cultural considerations, here are the things that will make you a true Thailand expert – how many have you done?
Also known as the Grand Palace, Wat Phra Kaew is Thailand’s most sacred site and a must-visit for anybody who visits Thailand. The buildings are wonderfully ornate, with golden chedis and eye-catching statues from the Buddhist faith contributing to the feast for your eyes. Thailand has a number of impressive temples – but Wat Phra Kaew trumps them all.
Thailand is great place to go diving and explore the world beneath the waves thanks to its clear waters, cheap prices and abundance of marine life. The Similan Islands are arguably the best destination for diving, due to its colourful corals and the chance to see manta rays, but there are plenty of other sites around the country where you can dive – and maybe bump into whale sharks along the way.
Thailand’s food is amongst the world’s best, with a number of fragrant curries, spicy soups and healthy salads to be found. However, you’ll have to leave at some point – and you won’t want to go cold turkey without your Thai food fix. Cooking is important in Thai culture, so whether it’s from a Thai friend or at a cooking class, learning to cook your favourite dish is essential and a great way to bring a slice of Thailand home with you.
Elephants are a national symbol of Thailand, and while riding elephants is a big no-no, there are still plenty of ways you can interact with them in a fun, ethically-sound way. There are numerous sanctuaries around the country, such as the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary near Chiang Mai, where it’s possible to trek, play and bathe with the elephants in an experience you’re unlikely to ever forget. Not only is it fun for you, the work they do around educating others to the plight of the elephants in Southeast Asia and caring for abused elephants is invaluable – so you’ll be contributing to a good cause, too.
Made famous after featuring in Leonardo DiCaprio’s movie The Beach, Maya Bay is one of Thailand’s most popular attractions – and with good reason. This stunning bay, with its white sand and imposing mountains, is a thing of beauty. It gets incredibly popular, so in order to see it at its best (and to get bomb Instagram pics), you’ll either need to spend the night on a sleep-aboard boat or head out at the crack of dawn. We promise it’s worth it!
Songkran – a celebration for Thailand’s new year – is a nationwide water fight, where revellers line the streets with water guns and ice-cold buckets of water ready to soak those who are passing by. The pouring of water is said to wash away sins and bad luck, and is an act steeped in Buddhist tradition. While every city will get involved in the antics, it’s thought to be best up in Chiang Mai – so make sure you head up north if you feel like getting wet.
What was once a small gathering of travellers has now evolved into one of the most notorious beach parties in the world – and no trip to Thailand is complete without attending a Full Moon Party. Gorgeous Koh Phangan is the location of the party, with the action taking place along the length of Haad Rin beach, where DJs play both modern and classic hits and drinks are downed by the bucketload. If you like to party, you’ll love this one.
What better way to get rid of those aches and pains after a long day trekking or drinking on Khaosan Road than with a Thai massage? With seemingly tonnes of massage shops on every street, you’re never fair away from a helping pair of hands – be warned though, Thai massages aren’t always the most relaxing of massages…
Whether it’s a floating one, one on a railroad or a regular night market, their low prices and hundreds of food options make markets a great place to chow down. There are plenty of markets in every province, but some of the best include Chatuchak market in Bangkok, the Walking Street market in Chaing Mai and the Walking Street market in Krabi. Better pack those loose fitting pants – you’ll need them.
When it comes to a night out, Bangkok has something for everyone. From slumming it with the backpackers on Khaosan Road to supping drinks from the 64th floor at the Sky Bar, a quiet bar or a busy club – Bangkok has you covered. RCA is a top destination for nightclubs, though if you’re after a drink with Bangkok’s hippest residents, you need to take a taxi to the Thonglor/Ekkamai side of town. Nights in Bangkok are the stuff of legends, so go ahead and seize the night.
Thailand is more than just stunning beaches and paradisal islands, and its extensive range of beautiful national parks are a testament to that fact. Parks such as Khao Yai, Khao Sok and Erawan all feature stunning rivers, waterfalls and thick rainforests that are just waiting to be discovered by you – and if you’re lucky you might spot a bear, elephant or a tiger. Lace up those boots – you’ve got some exploring to do.
Situated in scenic Krabi province, Railay is a peninsula that’s home to some of the most gorgeous beaches in all of Thailand. Framed by sheer limestone cliff faces that offer the best rock climbing experiences in the country, the beaches contain the soft, white sand and clear water that you’ve doubtless seen on postcards and on social media, and the lack of cars and motorbikes makes it the perfect place to relax. Heaven on Earth.
Located near to Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai is the scenic town of Pai, deep in the northern highlands of Thailand. A town with somewhat of a hippy reputation, the cooler temperatures and abundance of trekking routes and natural beauty make Pai the perfect place to take a load off before carrying on with your travels. There are also ethnic minority tribes dotted around, who are more than happy to show you their way of life and their handmade crafts – which makes for the sort of precious cultural experiences travellers dream of.
Thailand is well-known for its gorgeous islands – after all, there are 1430 of them – and hopping from island to island is the best way to see them. Krabi is a great place to go island hopping, as it’s home to stunning islands such as Koh Lanta, Koh Phi Phi and Bamboo Island – though you’ll have just as much fun hopping around the Trang archipelago or the Gulf of Thailand side of the country with Koh Samui, Koh Tao and Koh Phangan.
Learning about the history and the culture of a country you’re travelling in is important, and Thailand has plenty of locations where you can learn a thing or two. The city of Ayutthaya – Thailand’s former capital – features a number of awe-inspiring temples that are well preserved and offer a glimpse into what Thailand was like in the past. For something more recent, Kanchanaburi was home to the infamous Death Railway project during WWII, and features museums and information about this bloody event. Don’t worry though – the beauty of Kanchanaburi’s Erawan National Park is on hand to take your mind off it if it all gets a bit too much.
Thailand is so much more than pad Thai. Each area in Thailand has special dishes that are done better there than anywhere else. If you’re in Isaan, then you’ll enjoy the best som tam in the country, and if you’re in the south there are a whole host of dishes that’ll taste better there than they do in the capital. In order to eat better and get the most out of your trip, do a little research before heading to each location – and you’ll be eating like a local in no time.
Muay Thai is the national sport of Thailand, and so there’s no better place to get involved than in the Land of Smiles. Unlike regular boxing, Muay Thai sees competitors use their elbow, knees and legs to strike the opponent, often with devastating effect. Whether it’s watching a fight, taking part in training or even having a bout, no trip to Thailand is complete without sampling this ferocious sport – so pack your gum shield.