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. 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.
An overview of the top tourist attractions in Thailand:
Ko Tarutao is one of the 51 islands that belong to the Tarutao National Marine Park archipelago in southern Thailand. One of Tarutao’s greatest attraction is its wildlife: sea turtles, whales, monitor lizards, crab-eating macaques, mouse deer and more all call the island and its surrounding waters home. Compared to other Andaman islands the waters of Ko Tarutao are to murky to snorkel, but for most, the unspoilt beaches, waterfalls, great hiking and views more than compensate for this.
Ayuthaya was founded in 1350 AD by King U Thong as the second capital of Siam after Sukhothai. Throughout the centuries, the ideal location between China, India and the Malay Archipelago made Ayutthaya the trading capital of Asia. By 1700 Ayutthaya had become one of the largest cities in the world with a total of 1 million inhabitants. In 1767 the city was destroyed by the Burmese army, resulting in the collapse of the kingdom. The city was re-founded a few kilometers to the east of the ruins, which now form the Ayutthaya historical park. Most of the remains are temples and palaces, as those were the only buildings made of stone at that time.
Located near the border with Cambodia, Ko Chang is the second largest island in Thailand and the biggest in the Ko Chang Marine Park archipelago. Ko Chang is one of Thailand’s most beautiful islands with several waterfalls, thriving coral reefs, rainforests and long white sandy beaches. The island is also home to a wide range of wildlife, including birds, snakes, deer and a number of elephants. Only very recently, in less than ten years, Ko Chang has turned itself in to a major tourist destination in Thailand, and while still far quieter than islands like Phuket or Ko Samui, it’s probably better to go now than later.
The construction of the Grand Palace started in 1782 when the capital of Siam was moved from Thonburi to Bangkok. The palace served as the residence of the Kings of Thailand until the mysterious death of King Ananda Mahidol in 1946. His brother King Bhumibol Adulyadej who succeeded him moved permanently to the Chitralada Palace. The Grand Palace covers a wide range of architectural styles, ranging from a pure Ayutthayan style of the temples to a blend of Thai and Western for later structures. It also includes the Wat Phra Kaew, home to the Emerald Buddha, one of the oldest and most famous statues of the Buddha in the world.
The Similan Islands in the western Andaman Sea are considered the best dive destination in Thailand. The archipelago consist of 9 islands covered in tropical jungle with white sandy beaches. The views under the water surface are even more impressive. There are 2 different kind of dive spots around the Similan Islands. East facing dive sites consists of gently sloping coral reefs while west facing dive sites feature massive granite boulders, covered with hard and soft corals.
Chiang Mai is one of the top Thailand attractions. The famous Night Bazaar sprawls along several city blocks along footpaths, inside buildings and temple grounds. It has handicrafts, arts, clothing and and imported products of all descriptions, and a number of large, well-appointed modern shopping centers. At first, the market was owned by Chinese merchants, but since it grew in size as more commercial buildings were built, it was no longer owned by a single group of people. Instead, there are many owners, and most of them are Thai.
Railay beach (or Rai Leh) is a small peninsula that is only accessible by boat due to the high limestone cliffs cutting off mainland access. These cliffs attract rock climbers from all over the world, but the area is also a popular attraction in Thailand due to its beautiful beaches and quiet relaxing atmosphere. Accommodation ranges from inexpensive bungalows popular with backpackers and climbers, to the renowned jet-set resort of Rayavadee.
Located just over 95 km (60 miles) from the island of Phuket, Phang Nga Bay is one of the top attractions in Thailand and one of most scenic areas in the country. It consists of beautiful caves, aquatic grottoes and limestone islands. The most famous island in the bay is a sea stack called Ko Ping Kan (more commonly known as James Bond Island) which was featured in the James Bond movie “The Man with the Golden Gun”. A popular way of visiting Phang Nga Bay is by sea kayak as they are the only way to get inside the grottoes and sea caves.
Koh Tao, literally Turtle Island, is a small island located near the eastern shore of the Gulf of Thailand. Around 7000 new divers get certified on Koh Tao each year making it one of the most popular destinations in the world to learn to dive. Diving around the island reefs is easy and fun and you can see an impressive variety of marine species such as coral, turtles, lots of small fish, barracudas and there is a very small chance of seeing a whale shark. The average visibility is around 15-20 meters.
Ko Phi Phi is a small archipelago in the Krabi Province in Southern Thailand. Ko Phi Phi Don is the largest island of the group, and is the only island with permanent inhabitants while the smaller Ko Phi Phi Leh is very popular as a beach or dive excursion. Tourism on Ko Phi Phi has exploded only very recently, especially after Ko Phi Phi Leh was used as a location for the 2000 movie The Beach. As a result of the masses of tourists Ko Phi Phi is becoming less and less attractive but for now it is still a very beautiful place to visit.
More Thailand tourist attractions can be found in the Explore Thailand page.