The beauty of Thailand is that adventure and excitement await you no matter where you are in the country. In fact, most people proclaim that their biggest complaint about their Thailand vacation is their inability to see it all!
What are the must visit Thailand attractions? The most famous attractions in Thailand are the Grand Palace, Wat Pho (Reclining Buddha), Ayutthaya, the Death Railway, and the infamous Full Moon Party. The most popular destinations are the Phi Phi islands, Railay Beach, Khao Yai National Park, Hua Hin, Khao Sok National Park, and Pai.
This comprehensive list contains something perfect for every type of visitor, no matter the age or income level. Your biggest challenge will be deciding on the specific activities that fill your journey.
Phi Phi Islands
The Phi Phi Islands are world famous. In a twist of cruel fate, these gorgeous islands are actually pronounced ‘Pee Pee’. The natural beauty of this area has prompted multiple movie producers to set their location here.
The Phi Phi Islands were hit by a disastrous tsunami in 2004. The island has since recovered and the infrastructure over the past 15 years has drastically expanded. You won’t find a single car on the tiny roads here.
Climb to the top of Phi Phi to get a lookout view over the entire island that is unparalleled throughout the world. You can hire a long-tailed boat to take you around the nearby uninhabitable islands. This karst landscape is unimaginably beautiful. Many come to Thailand solely to see this little piece of heaven.
Just across the Andaman Sea from the Phi Phi islands is the charming little town of Krabi. Krabi is known across Asia for Railay Beach. This tropical beach is a short 15-minute long-tail boat ride from the mainland’s Ao Nang Beach.
Railay Beach attracts rock climbers from a smorgasbord of nationalities. A mountain sits at the edge of the beach, providing the perfect background for your next Facebook profile picture. The karst landscape of the nearby mountain is ideal for those looking to scale new heights. The texture of this geology creates pockets that make climbing a breeze.
The area surrounding Railay is equally impressive. Most visitors see the area by going on a Four Islands Tour. If you’re not the seafaring type and all the boat rides aren’t for you, we understand. In that case, we recommend laying out a blanket and relaxing on the beach as the sun sets.
Another popular destination in the vicinity is Phra Nang Beach and Pranang Cave. Pranang is also referred to as Princess Cave. Word to the wise – don’t bring young children here. This cave has significant religious meaning to the Thai people.
More specifically, Thai newlyweds believe that Princess Cave is a special place to pray for securing fertility help from the Gods. You can expect to find hundreds of phallic statues inside this cave. Yes, you read that correctly. While certainly a peculiar site for most tourists, be respectful as this cave has meaningful implications for the fishermen in the local area.
You don’t have to worry about accidentally stumbling upon this cave. It’s located on the opposite side of the island from Railay Beach. This entire island is absolutely worth visiting if you are in the area.
Khao Yai National Park
Khao Yai National Park is often regarded as the best national park in Thailand. In a country filled with beauty, this honorary title is no easy feat to score. After a few hours in the park, you’ll certainly understand why this jungle is so esteemed by tourists.
Nobody can leave Khao Yai National Park without seeing some jaw-dropping wildlife first. This UNESCO World Heritage site is home to wild elephants. Instead of visiting one of the many questionable elephant ‘sanctuaries’ in the area, there is something uniquely special about seeing these creatures in their natural habitat.
Elephant sanctuaries in Thailand get a bad rap (and rightfully so). There are indeed a handful of sanctuary experiences in Thailand that ensure these majestic giants are treated with the love and care they properly deserve. Make sure you do your due diligence before checking one out.
There are also native populations of monkeys, barking deer, bears, dholes, and otters in Khao Yai National Park. A surprising number of people visit Thailand for bird-watching. If spotting an elusive Asian bird checks off another creature on your ornithology list, this is the place to be during dry months.
Make sure you wear hiking boots or long pants when you trek through the forest. This part of Thailand is notorious for snakes. There is safety in numbers if you choose to go with a tour group. If you’re looking for a more isolated experience, rent a private driver for the day! This national park is only a few hours drive away from Bangkok.
Hua Hin Beach
Hua Hin is the beach town that local Thai people prefer. Far away from the masses of more popular beaches, this authentic stretch of sand offers a more unique perspective of Thai island life. Hua Hin was originally a vacation destination for kings, the royalty of Thailand, and various noble families.
Since its inception, the picturesque beaches of Hua Hin have gradually changed from a royal retreat into a beach destination for younger Thai generations. The air is still filled with a royal ‘je n’ais se quoi’.
There are now tons of charming cafes and eateries along the water. If you’re feeling jazzed after a morning coffee, many tourists rave about the nearby Red Mountain. While only an hour long hike, this lookout offers a bird’s eye view of the city. We recommend trying this out at sunrise or sunset.
Nearby is a local marsh. If you’re looking for a change of pace, Bueng Bua Wood Boardwalk overs a long bridge through this Everglades lookalike. Alternatively, you could take a group tour out to sea and go whale-watching. For those after a land-based activity, you’re in luck! Hua Hin has the largest concentration of golf courses in all of Thailand.
The hotels in Hua Hin are one-of-a-kind. While there are plenty of traditional resorts, Hua Hin prides itself on offering unique accommodations. Villa Maroc, Sea-Cret Garden Hotel, Kaengkrachan Boathouse Paradise, and a whole host of Airbnb can give you a fresh take on holiday escapism.
Hua Hin is a city full of surprises. The Venezia is a shopping destination in Hua Hin modeled after a traditional Italian city. This surprises many tourists who haven’t done their research about the nearby malls. You can find replicas of real Italian buildings and even ride a gondola through the canals.
Khao Sok National Park
It is widely accepted that Khao Sok National Park holds the oldest evergreen rainforest in the world. The rainforest here is expansive and immaculate. This beautiful national park is equidistant from the most popular cities in Southern Thailand. It’s situated between Phuket, Krabi and Koh Samui.
Khao Sok also offers up-close and personal encounters with elephants. The man-made Cheow Larn Lake is a must for anyone interested in kayaking or canoeing. The area hosts a number of floating raft houses, as well as luxury tents for glamping.
This jungle is home to the world’s biggest flower, the giant Rafflesia. While that might sound alluring and exciting, one should note that this flower’s odor is less than pleasant. It’s said to smell akin to rotting meat. There is a reason the popular expression isn’t ‘stop and smell the giant Rafflesia’.
The park is also home to a variety of monkeys and tigers. We recommend taking a group tour to see the area’s best features. You’ll never want to leave this national park. It’s incredible.
Pai is a hippy backpacker heaven. This ‘alternative’ enclave is about 80 miles away from Chiang Mai. At night, Pai’s popular ‘Walking Street’ comes alive. Food vendors fill in the zone to excite and entice your taste buds.
Pai is known for its numerous waterfalls. Mo Paeng Falls offers a fun, slippery rock slide and various pools to relax in. The other popular waterfall in Pai is Pombok Falls. Pombok is a more secluded area surrounded by high cliffs.
In traditional hippy fashion, Pai offers a circus school to the backpackers who visit the city. This Bohemian community teaches students how to juggle fire and slackline. This is exactly what your resume is missing!
If circus school has your body aching, visit the Tha Pai Hot Springs on the outskirts of town. While Thailand isn’t known for cold temperatures, this mountain town can certainly get chilly in the winter.
Pai Canyon is the city’s claim to fame. While it’s not exactly the Grand Canyon, there are certainly fewer rules and regulations! Pack a few beers and scramble around the rather tight trail to make it in time for an incredible sunset.
The Grand Palace in Bangkok
Undoubtedly, the most famous and treasured attraction in Bangkok is The Grand Palace. This beautiful piece of architecture was built in 1782 and has housed the Thai King, the Royal Court, many government officials, the Thai war ministry, state departments, and even the National Mint.
Within the walls of The Grand Palace, you can find many important building and statues. One of these statues is the Emerald Buddha, which dates back to the 14th Century. This beautifully ornate statue can be found inside the Wat Phra Kaew, or Temple of the Emerald Buddha.
Inside The Grand Palace, the complex is divided up into The Inner Court and The Outer Court. The Outer Court used to government departments that the King worked with actively. The Emerald Buddha can be found in a corner of this Outer Court. The Inner Court used to house the King’s company and daughters. Although they no longer live here, this Inner Court is not open to the public.
It is important to note that there is a strict dress code when visiting The Grand Palace. Since this is one of Thailand’s most sacred sites, visitors must be properly dressed before entering. Men must wear long pants, shirts with sleeves, and close-toed shoes (no tank-tops or sandals). Women must also wear pants or floor-length skirts also cover their shoulders, as well.
Don’t fret if you show up wearing the wrong thing. Many vendors are selling cheap, cotton pants just outside the gates (around $5), or you can borrow clothes at a booth near the entrance (a deposit is required). The entrance fee to get into The Grand Palace is 500 baht ($15).
Wat Pho (Reclining Buddha) in Bangkok
Wat Pho, also known as the Temple of the Reclining Buddha, is a must-see during your time in Bangkok. Since Wat Pho is a close 10-minute walk from The Grand Palace, you can easily tackle these two amazing sights in one day.
Wat Pho is home to the large Reclining Buddha statue which is about 150 feet long and is covered from head to toe in gold leaf. Speaking of toes, the feet of the Reclining Buddha is huge (16 feet long to be exact) and are covered in mother-of-pearl illustrations that show off the ‘laksanas’, or characteristics of the Buddha.
Beyond the Reclining Buddha statue, there is a giant complex that you can explore that has beautiful ornate temples, waterfalls, ponds, a cafe, and many more gold statues. It is incredibly relaxing and you can easily spend an hour or two walking around this lovely place. The entrance fee is 200 baht (around 6 dollars) and includes entrance to the Reclining Buddha and surrounding areas.
To make for an even more relaxing afternoon, make sure to stop in at the Wat Poo Thai Massage School, located inside the complex. As soon as you walk in, you will be greeted by a masseuse and taken to your bed or chair. This school is one of the best in the country and offers 30 min Thai massages for around 320 baht (only $10). We suggest getting your massage before exploring all that Wat Pho has to offer, to enhance your overall experience and relaxation.
Historic City of Ayutthaya
The Historic City of Ayutthaya is an UNESCO World Heritage site located about 80 km north of Bangkok. This city was once the capital of The Kingdom of Siam and was a very prosperous international trading port. Ayutthaya was the capital from 1350 until it fell to the Burmese in 1767. This city is now a preserved archeological site that is home to many palaces, Buddhist temples, and gigantic monasteries.
At the center of the city, you will find the Ayutthaya Historical Park. Here you can wander around 4 different temples from the early-Ayutthaya period, and marvel at the ingenuity and craftsmanship of the Ayodhya people. Walking through these historical ruins and dense canopies of ancient trees, you can easily transport yourself to the time of this lost kingdom.
After exploring this UNESCO World Heritage site, you can enjoy some modern attractions, including a lively floating market, several new museums, the Bang Sai Royal Folk Art and Crafts Center, and backpacker’s row.
The Burma Railway (often referred to as Death Railway) has serious military significance. The scary name stems from the 100,000 laborers who died during the 16 months of railway construction that occurred between 1942 and 1943.
These WWII train tracks were the thought-child of the Japanese Army. At the time, this army had overtaken most of Southeast Asia. The intention was to create a shortcut to aid in the invasion of India. Prisoners of War and laborers were eventually saved when Allied forces raided the camps.
Today, the train journey is visited as a way to explore the Thai/Burmese countryside. This military history adds a somber note to an otherwise incredibly beautiful journey. The journey will make several stops at key points of interest. You can expect to visit several cemeteries and monuments to honor the lives lost here.
Full Moon Party
Thailand is notorious for the Full Moon parties. Once a month, Koh Phangan attracts hordes of partiers from across the area to participate in one of the world’s wildest parties. It’s estimated that 10,000 – 30,000 people attend these events every month.
If you’re after a relaxing beach experience, it’s advised you be as far away as you possibly can from this hedonistic jungle mayhem. The Full Moon parties became so popular (and financially lucrative), the island has actually started hosting Half Moon and Quarter Moon parties.
This neon event is filled with debauchery, buckets of alcohol (yes – buckets), paint and fire. A very safe combination indeed. Before booking your trip to Thailand, check out the dates for this event. If you’re traveling as a family, stay far away! These kids are up to nothing but trouble, often until 10 in the morning. (See our Full Moon Party article).
What are the Bangkok Attractions?
The most popular attractions in Bangkok are the Grand Palace, Wat Po (Reclining Buddha), Khao San Road, Lumphini Park, the Jim Thompson House, and the various floating markets throughout the city. Mall culture is huge in Bangkok and some of the best foodie attractions can be found in malls throughout the city.
What are Unique Places in Thailand?
The best alternative tourist destinations in Thailand include the city of Pai, Wat Rong Khun, the abandoned Sathorn Unique skyscraper, the Airplane Graveyard, Princess Cave, the Giant Swing, Wat Tham Ta Pan, and the Cabbages & Condoms restaurant.