There is no shortage of incredible destinations in Thailand. It is easily one of my favorite countries in the world and despite having been there three times already, I feel like I have hardly scratched the surface of what it has to offer. The landscapes are diverse, the culture is rich, and of course, the parties are plentiful. Here are ten must-visit destinations that you absolutely can not miss while you are in Thailand.
Khao Sok National Park
Lush rainforests cover the epic mountain landscapes of this surprisingly lesser-trafficked national park. Phuket draws the majority of tourists in the area, despite Khao Sok being just a few hours north. Valleys, caves, lakes, mountains, and wild animals populate this beautiful area of Thailand. Some of the wildlife you can hope to see are hornbills, the giant rafflesia flower, and of course, monkeys all over the oldest evergreen rainforest in the world. Exploring Khao Sok National Park by boat will be one of the best adventures you’ll ever have.
Elephant Sanctuary, Chiangmai
What’s a trip to Thailand without elephants? Hopefully, you’re not a douche and opt for something that isn’t on the animal cruelty side. Skip the elephant shows in Phuket and elsewhere and volunteer at a number of elephant sanctuaries in Chiangmai. Do a little research to make sure you’re going with a reputable organization, like Chiangmai Elephant Land, and prepare for a fairy-tale day fit for a Disney princess.
Jungle trekking with elephants, bathing with them in the waterfalls, and giving them a mud bath were just a few of the highlights of my elephant experience. I felt fresh out the Jungle Book.
Close to the border of Malaysia, Koh Lipe serves as a secluded paradise for the few travelers that make it to that region. It is much further south than the popular archipelagos near Phuket and a several hour rocky boat ride from the Malaysian tourist island of Langkawi. In short, if you make it there, you’ll be spending a lot less time competing with tourists. Koh Lipe is part of the Tarutao Marine National Park region in Southern Thailand. The entire area is worth exploring.
Chiang Rai’s White Temple
This is one of the newer temples in Thailand and it comes with an interesting story. It isn’t exactly the holiest or most sacred Buddhist temple, as you’ll come to find. While the exterior is extravagant and intricate, the interior comes with a twist. While also stunning on the inside, a closer glimpse at the detail gives you characters from pop culture. Jedi, Pokemon, Saiyans and other popular characters from our favorite cultural phenomena make appearances amidst the traditional Buddhist decorations.
It is well worth the visit while you are in Chiang Rai. The pristine look of the temple is far different than the other temples you will see across Thailand. Pay close attention to the incredible detail and you’ll see why this temple is a must-visit for travelers.
Maya Bay, Koh Phi Phi
One of Thailand’s most iconic destinations, Maya Bay initially gained fame as the title character in Leonardo DiCaprio’s The Beach. It is literally the beach. Although the movie garnered mixed reviews, you’ll hardly go anywhere in Thailand without either The Beach or Hangover 2 playing in every tourist corner. Anyway, Maya Bay is on the undeveloped island of Koh Phi Phi (there’s two Koh Phi Phi’s next to each other, only one has Maya Bay).
The crystal clear blue waters surrounded by whatever I am not going to finish this sentence because I feel corny trying to be a traditional travel writer. Here’s a picture of Maya Bay.
Check out this guide for more things to do in Koh Phi Phi.
The Grand Palace, Bangkok
I went to the Grand Palace straight out of 28+ hours of international travel. I couldn’t check in to my hostel yet so I had to find a way to kill time even though I was exhausted. I went to the Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew and wowie. Talk about a way to wake up. Aside from competing with thousands of other tourists, this place was utterly jawdropping. It was the first Buddhist temple I had ever seen and practically my first introduction to South East Asia. It set the standard high.
This massive temple complex is insanely intricate, extravagant, and luxurious. Home to the Jade Buddha, which I somehow missed because I didn’t know about it, Wat Phra Kaew is one of Thailand’s most significant temples. I kept thinking of the song Shiny from Moana the entire time I was here. It is a shiny place.
Doi Suthep, Chiangmai
With a stunning temple atop this mountain, this little adventure combines hiking, culture, and scenery. The views from atop give you a killer view of Chiangmai. Everything about the temple is extravagant, starting with the dragons that welcome you to the 300+ stairs to the top of the temple. The architecture, as expected with Buddhist temples, are shiny, golden, and immaculately detailed.
You can also stop by the lesser-trafficked Wat Pha Lat along the way to the top. It shouldn’t be too difficult of a journey as long as the weather holds up.
Home to the famous (or infamous) Full Moon Party, Koh Phangan is an island that you cannot miss. It is one of the most laid-back places I have ever been. Despite the abundance of parties, Koh Phangan can be a perfect destination for any type of traveler. With lots of beaches, waterfalls, and hidden coves, Koh Phangan is paradise for adventurers as well. Relax all morning, adventure all day, and party all night. The vibe is what will suck you in.
Northern Thailand’s hippie commune is an interesting stop for travelers. If Koh Phangan had a sister up in the mountains, it would be Pai. Laid-back, trendy, and full of adventure, Pai is one of those destinations that everyone wishes they had allowed for more time. Waterfalls, mountains, and temples can fill up your day until the night market brings everyone together in the small downtown area. Eventually, the bars start filling up with live musicians drawing crowds. Mushroom shakes, epic sunsets, and chill vibes are the name of the game in Pai. The people you find there will be some of the most unique and interesting you will ever meet.
Railay Beach, Krabi
Krabi might be my favorite place in all of Southern Thailand. It has it all. Hiking, nightlife, and of course, beaches. None of those beaches are as famous as Railay Beach. The pristine white sands and crystal clear blue waters are only ruined by the large number of tourists looking to grab a slice of their own paradise. The beaches in Krabi are unlike any other beaches you’ll find across the world. Limestone karsts, jagged caves, lush jungles, and cute monkeys fill up the space between the white sands.
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Just a heads up, Mad Monkey is doing an incredible post-COVID deal to help travel pick back up again. Mad Monkey is one of my favorite hostel chains in South East Asia, and they have properties all over the region. I’ve stayed at their hostels in the Philippines, Cambodia, and Thailand and loved every single one. Check out their Golden Ticket program here, where you can stay at any of their hostels for a month for as low as $90, or even three months for as low as $200. It is an incredible deal coming from an incredible company who has helped me and countless others have unforgettable times in South East Asia.