Thailand is the most popular tourist destination in Southeast Asia, and for a reason. You can find almost anything here: crystal blue beaches, thick jungle, great food, cheap beach front bungalows and some of the best luxury hotels in the world. There is something for every interest and every budget.
As the only Southeast Asian country never to be colonized, it is also studded with incredible cultural and historical sites, including ruins that stretch back hundreds of years. And despite the heavy flow of tourism, Thailand retains its quintessential identity with its own unique culture and history and a carefree people famed for their smiles.
The only trouble with planning a trip to Thailand is narrowing things down to a few sights. It helps to start with the most popular tourist attractions in Thailand, which include:
Just a short trip from Kanchanaburi, the Erawan Falls are the major attraction of the Erawan National Park in Western Thailand. The waterfall was named after the erawan, the three-headed white elephant of Hindu mythology. The seven-tiered falls are said to resemble the erawan. Macaques are common around the falls while occasionally water monitor lizards can also be seen. The park is open for visitors all year and generally very busy during the weekends.
Formally Ao Phra Nang (“Princess Bay”), Ao Nang is the most popular beach town in Krabi. It was originally a backpacker hotspot but now moving slowly upmarket as the airport brings in higher flyers. While not quite as scenic as Rai Leh, there is a good range of cheap accommodation, many good restaurants, easy transport and plenty of travel agencies, making it a good base for exploring Krabi.
To get an idea of what shopping in Bangkok used to be like before all the canals were filled in, many people visiting the capital take a day trip to one of the floating markets outside the city. Though today floating markets typically function as tourist attractions and community meeting places rather than vital aspects of local farming economies, they still remain vibrant places brimming with scrumptious food. The most popular floating market for foreign tourists is Damnoen Saduak while most Thai favor the Amphawa Floating Market.
Originally, built in the 1920s as a royal getaway for King Rama VII, Hua Hin has been a long-time favorite weekend getaway for Bangkok residents. Today, the 8 km (5 mile) long beach is also popular with tourists. Hua Hin is the site of the Klai Kangwon Palace, which is still used by Thai royalty today. In addition it is home to the highest concentration of golf courses in all of Thailand.
Prasat Hin Phimai boasts some of the most impressive Khmer ruins in Thailand. Similar in style (if much smaller) than those at Angkor, the temples were built during the 11th and 12th century, during which time the area was part of the Khmer empire. Though built as a Mahayana Buddhist temple, the carvings also feature many Hindu deities as explained in the visitor center.
The third-largest national park in Thailand, Khao Yai National Park is located in the eastern part of the country in the Nakhon Ratchasima Province. Homes to a wide array of wildlife, including Asian elephants and black bears, the park offers observation towers, hiking trails, lodges, cabins and campsites. There are even dinosaur footprints, so visitors find surprises at every turn.
Ang Thong, which means “Bowl of Gold,” is a popular national park in the Gulf of Thailand. Consisting of 42 islands, which are close together for easy island hopping, the park is headquartered on Ko Wua Talap. There, travelers can stay in lovely bungalows and take in incredible views of the surrounding islands and bizarre rock formations. Exploring the island’s white sand beaches and snorkeling among the shallow coral gardens makes a popular day trip from Ko Samui.
Located in northern Thailand, Sukhothai Historical Park contains the ruins of Sukhothai, which was the capital of the kingdom of the same name during the 13th and 14th centuries. Roughly translating to mean “Dawn of Happiness,” the walled-in park contains nearly 200 sets of ruins, including 26 temples and the Royal Palace. In addition to exploring the many fascinating wats and other ruins, visitors can learn more about the Sukhothai culture at the Ramkhamhaeng National Museum.
Ko Nang Yuan is a tiny island very close to Ko Tao. It is a popular day trip from Ko Tao, so its beautiful beaches can be crowded at times. But it’s a pretty island and its clear waters are perfect for snorkeling and scuba diving. To visit this island, travelers who are not staying on Ko Nang Yuan must pay a 100 baht fee. The island does have one dive resort for travelers who prefer to stay on this small island.