Thailand is famous the world over for its rich culture, incredible natural landscapes, and dynamic cities. There isn’t much you can’t see or do in the Kingdom. This warm, fun and friendly country has developed from a stop on the humble backpackers’ Southeast Asian itinerary to become a fully-fledged vacation destination.
Thailand draws people to it with images of unimaginably beautiful beaches and turquoise blue seas. Then it charms its visitors with openness, vibrancy and an incredible amount of delicious food, of course. Buddhism is an important part of Thai society and many old, magnificent temples gleam golden in cities and countryside, making for interesting places to visit – if not for their beauty, then to understand more about Thai culture.
Map of the best places to stay in Thailand
With the rise in tourists flocking to Thailand, it has become easier and more straightforward to reach various destinations by plane. Many of the best places to stay in Thailand are connected by the charming and fairly reliant train network, and places that aren’t can be reached by numerous tourist and local buses.
There has never been a better time to explore this wondrous, vibrant and dynamic country, but we warn you – once you’ve been to paradise, you will always dream of returning.
From glowing Buddhist temples underneath skyscrapers to meandering markets and shining malls, modern Bangkok meets the past. Street food stalls now jostle for space as more and more trendy cafes and restaurants pop up around the city. The Thai capital is a huge sprawling city with many different areas in which to base yourself for your trip. Well connected by public transport, traveling around the city is simple via the many water taxis and busses, plus the Skytrain and metro system.
Bangkok is the most populated and developed city in Thailand, so there’s a huge amount of choice when it comes to accommodation. Budget backpacker hostels culminate around the notoriously lively Khao San Road, while high-end offerings are scattered throughout the center of the city. Choose to stay a little further out from the city center in more residential districts and be rewarded by the buzz of the local communities.
Charming Chiang Mai is the biggest city in Thailand’s northern region and a popular stop-off point on Thai backpacking itineraries. Once the capital of the Lanna Kingdom, the city dates back to 1559. Evidence of Chiang Mai’s rich cultural heritage can still be seen throughout the city streets – especially inside the crumbling walls of the Old City and in the hundreds of temples that dot the town.
Staying a few days in Chiang Mai is enough to take in the sights, but many who visit end up being wooed by the city’s amiable nature and local atmosphere and stay longer. It’s easy to get around on foot as many of the attractions are in the city center, but if you want to travel further afield, use the bus network or just take a tuk-tuk.
Accommodation in the city mainly caters to budget tourism; even the mid-range hotel offerings are affordable. Before you leave on the train to your next stop, make sure to check out Chiang Mai’s famous night market and try some of the tasty Thai treats on sale.
This lovely island is the largest of all of the Thai islands and attracts hordes of holidaymakers every year, all looking to enjoy a slice of paradise for themselves. The island may have undergone a lot of changes since the tourist industry moved in, but much of Phuket Town has retained its culture and history. Phuket is used as jumping off point for travelers heading to the smaller islands in the area, meaning it’s extremely easy to catch a bus or a boat to anywhere you want to go.
Phuket even has its own international airport and enough luxury hotels and spa resorts to cater to the many foreign tourists. There are a lot of guesthouses and hostels for budget travelers, mostly around the culturally rich Phuket Town. Even with the huge influx of tourists, the island still has so much to offer. Take a trek in the national parks in the North, hit the white sandy beaches, or just spend your days eating some of the most delicious food in the area.
Ko Samui is a sumptuous, stunning, tropical Thai island. A welcome stop on many people’s Thailand itineraries, the island is drenched in virgin rainforest and edged by palm-lined beaches. People are attracted to this piece of paradise by the lure of pampering at spa resorts, partying on the beach and by its delicious local cuisine.
For a spot of luxury, head to the old Fisherman’s Village and join other tourists sipping on wine and enjoying freshly caught seafood. If you’re more of a beach bum, Mae Nam beach is the place to go for a little peace and quiet; if you are an early bird, sunrise at Chawend Beach is unforgettable. Continue onto the next island by taking one of the regular island ferries, or catch a flight from the small airport.
The closest beach resort to Bangkok, Pattaya is a brash, fun and vibrant place where anything goes. Well known for its late nights and sex tourism, in recent years the local government have tried to make the town a little more family-friendly. Beaches in the area have seen much development since tourism started to rise in the 1960’s and, as such, they lack a lot of the luster that Thai beaches are famous for.
Always awake, Pattaya is a party city – but that doesn’t mean there isn’t anywhere to unwind. The three main tourist areas have each their own attractions: Nuklua has retained much of its classic Thai charm and Jomtien is much more sleepy, whereas Pattaya Beach is brash and busy. The best way to get around town is by taking the local bus, or just walk. Nothing is ever too far away.
Blissed out Krabi sits in the South of Thailand in the amazing Andaman Sea. Well known for pretty beaches, lush natural landscapes and jutting limestone formations, Krabi province boasts an incredible 150 islands, many of which have rocky, jungle-coated interiors and are laced with white sandy beaches lapped by gleaming blue seas.
Krabi is a magnet for travelers who want to take some time out to chill on the beach, but for the more adventurous, Krabi offers a whole range of activities. Caves, waterfalls, and clear waters give the chance to try out rock climbing, kayaking, snorkeling, and hiking. Just a short flight from Bangkok, the most popular islands are easily reachable by boat from the mainland. Stay in a variety of accommodation from low priced to luxury on the Phi Phi Islands, rock climb in Railay, or find yourself living out scenes from The Beach at Maya Bay.
If you’re looking for secluded beaches and local towns then this isn’t the Thai destination for you. Hua Hin might be Thailand’s original and well-trodden seaside resort, but it still has a lot going for it. The fun, energetic city is full of places serving great food at reasonable prices and boasts a wide selection of accommodation from budget hostels to mid-range family offerings and huge, luxury complexes.
The affluent coastal city was once the favored holiday destination of the Thai Royal family; it’s quick and easy to reach by train from Bangkok. Keen kite surfers and watersport fans flock to Hua Hin beach, but with plenty of golf courses, water parks, and spas, there’s a whole host of activities to keep the many tourists entertained.
A scuba diver’s dream, the island of Koh Tao might appear to be a sleepy, secluded island – and parts of it are – but it’s also a place to party and let off steam. The jungle-clad island – also going by the name Turtle Island – has all the vibrancy of a Thai town and the Arcadian beauty that Thailand’s islands are so well known for.
There’s a darker side to this paradise, however. In recent years, a string of deaths has bought controversy to the popular backpacker destination and, as such, the running of the island’s local governments and ties to mafia have been brought into question. Though the deaths have caught the public’s attention, thousands of visitors still arrive every year and enjoy their holiday, then head off happily by boat to the next destination.
Think luminescent sands, cloud-topped mountains, and jungle interiors, Ko Lanta is the quintessential castaway island. The exotic and far-flung island was once home to seafaring nomads and today remains a chilled out place to enjoy island life. A humble stop on the backpacker itinerary, there’s a good choice of budget places to stay and – more recently – a whole host of luxury accommodation, too.
This welcoming and friendly place is a haven for scuba diving and snorkeling – the crystal-clear waters surrounding the island are home to coral reefs that teem with marine life. Calmer than other Thai islands, it’s easy to arrive by one of the daily boats and then, once you’re there, travel around on a motorbike.