Planning a trip to Thailand? Don’t know where to stay? Here are some of the top destinations and best resorts in Thailand, from 5-star hotels in Bangkok and top beach resorts to remote tented camps in the jungle.
Things to do in Thailand
Thailand is a mind-blowing mix of serenity, chaos, glittering temples, openness, stunning natural beauty, soft sand beaches, too much sex tourism and exploitation of women, palm trees, fabulous spicy cuisine and warm hospitality. The former Kingdom of Siam is one of the top places to visit in Southeast Asia for all types of budgets - and for good reason. From simple beach huts to luxury hotels with pools, butlers and 5-star cuisine, there is something here for everyone.
While there are as many sides to Thailand as coconuts in a palm grove, travel to Thailand can be divided into three basic sections: Bangkok, northern Thailand and southern Thailand.
Things to do in Bangkok
Bangkok can be overwhelming for the first time visitor. Motorcycles and tuk tuks veer around trucks and cars, incense-shrouded shrines jostle for space with sidewalk vendors, and high-end shopping malls compete for space with palaces, museums and temples. That said, Bangkok is also a city many come to love and the more time you spend here the more you come to understand its appeal. A few of the top attractions in Bangkok include:
- The Grand Palace: Home of the King of Thailand and the Royal Court for 150 years, the Grand Palace is still the heart of the country. Things to do at the Grand Palace include a visit to Wat Phra Kaew, also known as the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, a revered Buddha statue carved from jade. Note: The Grand Palace is a very sacred place for the Thai people and a respectful dress code applies. But don't despair. There's also a booth that will supply you with clothes to cover up in!
- Wat Pho: Visitors come here to see the famous Reclining Buddha, which is a whopping 46 metres long. In addition to the Reclining Buddha, Wat Pho is famous for its massage school and one of the most fun things to do in Bangkok is to sign up for a massage.
- Jim Thompson House: If you like silk and mysteries, don't miss a visit to the Jim Thompson House and Museum on the canal called Khlong Saen Saeb. Jim Thompson, an avid art collector and former CIA agent, decorated his teak residence with exquisite Asian art. His passion was to revive the ailing Thai silk industry, and all was going well until he disappeared in the Cameron Highlands of Malaysia.
- The Chao Phraya River: This may be one of the cheapest sightseeing activities to do in Bangkok, not to mention the most convenient. Grab a Chao Phraya Express Boat at one of the many stops along the Chao Phraya River and drink in sights such as the Temple of Dawn and some of Bangkok's top luxury hotels.
Things to do in northern Thailand
Lush and mountainous, northern Thailand appeals to cultural travellers and to those interested in outdoor activities such as trekking. Centring around the city of Chiang Mai, northern Thailand runs up to the border of Laos and Burma, and has a murky past as an opium-growing region. Today you'll find luxury resorts, yoga retreats, hill tribes, wild orchids, teak temples and a lingering hint of its shadowy past. Some top things to do in northern Thailand include:
- Visit Chiang Mai: Personally, Chiang Mai isn't my favourite city in Thailand but others are passionate about it, and its become home to a large number of expats. Things to do in Chiang Mai include touring the Old City with its small lanes and Lanna-style temples.
- Visit the Golden Triangle: This is one of my absolute dream spots in Thailand, not so much the tourist hub where Laos, Burma and Thailand meet, with its boat tours and souvenir stands, but the remote resorts nearby such as the Four Seasons Tent Camp, the most luxe glamping experience you could ever have.
- Jungle trekking: Love it or hate it, jungle trekking is one of the top outdoor activities in Thailand. There are many outfitters that work out of Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai.
- Visit a Hill Tribe: Hm. Visiting a hill tribe is something I try to avoid, though on a day trip to Burma from Mae Hong Son I got dumped at one unceremoniously. Ethically, I feel uncomfortable about staring at villagers in their tribal costumes, as if they're specimens, but, on the other hand, how else do you learn about their culture? Not to mention that the money you spend, as long as it actually goes to the villagers, helps sustain their homes. Ah. It's up to you to decide.
Things to do in southern Thailand
Southern Thailand is my Thailand, my go-to place to relax, renew and get healthy. There are a number of beaches and islands to visit on both the east and the west coast. My preference is the east side, but there are attractions on both sides. Here are some of the top things to do in southern Thailand, and a few of the most popular places to visit.
- Wellness in Koh Samui: Yes, yes, the island of Koh Samui may have gotten too commercialized, but it's still my number one destination in Thailand, with a wealth of yoga retreats, detox resorts and upscale wellness retreats such as Kamalaya. Top things to do in Koh Samui include lazing on the beach, yoga, finding yourself - or at least looking for yourself - and er, did I mention lazing on the beach? Tourist sights are slim, but you can visit the provocative Grandfather and Grandmother rocks (Hin Yai & Hin Ta) near the fishing village of Hua Thanon, hike to waterfalls and visit the Big Buddha Shrine on the north coast. The most popular beaches and tourist destinations in Koh Samui are Chaweng and Lamai.
- Luxury hotels in Phuket: Okay, Phuket on the west side really is too built up for my taste, but it's a great destination if you want a luxury hotel with gardens, pools and manicured beaches. And sometimes you do.
- Rock climbing in Krabi: The limestone cliffs around Railay Beach are a rock climbers paradise, the turquoise Andaman Sea looks so good you could drink it (except of course you can't), and this laid back tourist destination is where I learned to climb. For outdoor adventure travel fans, it's a popular stop.
The bottom line is, wherever you go in Thailand, you're bound to find something unique to explore.
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