Arguably the most popular backpacking destination in Asia is the wonderful country of Thailand – and for good reason! If you’re looking for a beautiful destination where you can have great experiences and generally get a lot for little money, then Thailand is one of the best places to go. The food is generally amazing, the people are lovely, and the country is popular enough that it is reasonably touristy for that feeling of safety but apart from certain areas it is not too touristy that it completely ruins the feeling of the culture and natural surroundings.
The Kingdom of Thailand is a fantastic country that has so many different areas to explore that each have different things to offer. I’ve listed a few in this article to give you an impression of some of the main places to go and what to expect.
I’ll start off in the same place where most Thailand trips start, the capital city of Bangkok. If you’re planning on traveling in and around South-East-Asia then Bangkok is usually where you’ll fly to first, simply because it is the cheapest place to fly into in the area (in most cases). It also has the additional bonus that it has great local connections via plane, train or if you’re starting a tour with a group.
Once you’ve arrived and settled in, the top of the list thing to do in Bangkok is visit the Grand Palace. Be sure to wear something that goes past your knees and covers your shoulders because you are not allowed to enter the sight otherwise. This is pretty much THE royal palace to visit in South East Asia. Most others are quite small and unimpressive in comparison. Palaces are usually not the cheapest places to visit so depending on how interested you are, I’d recommend visiting the Grand Palace in Bangkok and then skipping similar sights such as the palace in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
The party scene especially on the famous Khaosan Road is wild and has earned its famous reputation of being a very fun but also possibly a bit of a crazy night out. Spending New Year’s Eve there was definitely a unique experience.
If I’m being honest though, that is about it on positive things I can say about Bangkok. It is a big city with little culture and is designed to take money from tourists. I would certainly not recommend spending more than a couple of days there as Thailand has so much more and better things to offer.
Among the much more beautiful areas of Thailand is the northern area of the country. The main city there is Chiang Mai which is a very fun and interesting place, but the surrounding nature and cultural areas are wonderful! The multiple day hill trekking I did there was one of the best experiences I have had so far in Thailand. It’s a wonderful area to explore and the people are so friendly! We even had a couple of homestays along the way, and it was phenomenal.
Both families even had pet elephants which was a fun thing to see, and they taught us all a bit about how to care for them and even how to differentiate a bit between elephant sanctuaries in the area that really take care of their elephants and ones that don’t. The main thing to look out for is basically if they let tourists ride the elephants, it’s not a good place. Try and read up on where you’re going before you get there and maybe ask around at local travel agents for their recommendation and personal impression.
I’ve also heard some great things about Chiang Rai and certainly plan on going there at some point in the future. For now though, all I can tell you is what I’ve heard and that is that it’s a great place with lovely surroundings. Generally, I can highly recommend the north of Thailand especially for nature lovers and people interested in the local day-to-day life and culture.
On the other side of the country you can explore the south of Thailand with all its wonderful national parks. A lot of the national parks in the area are water/island parks. One of the easiest and convenient ways to discover these is day tours with a group. I’ve found that these are usually pretty well organized and a fun experience – especially if you get a fun group and a good guide. Ask around at local travel agents or your hotel/hostel reception if they have any recommendations or even vouchers!
Two of the most famous island national parks are Ao Phang Nga and Angthon National Marine Park. The firstly named one is particularly famous for the James Bond rock. The Cameron Highlands is another beautiful area to explore and you can also visit some of the tea plantations there.
The main city in the south is Phuket. Phuket is very much a holiday and party town and accordingly is absolutely full of tourists. It is a great place to set off on a few tours and an ideal place to start an island trip due to the large ferry port and local airport. Two other larger towns in the south are Surat Thani, which is pretty much only famous as being a set-off point to get to Koh Samui, and Krabi, which is a small town that is a fantastic place to get to Railay Beach from. Railay Beach is a wonderful beach and cliff area that I can highly recommend.
One of the best things to do in Thailand is explore the many, many islands. There are a lot of islands that can be reached from different places on the mainland and are each very different. So depending on what you’re after, how much time you have and how much exploring you want to do, different islands will be better suited.
The most touristy and one of the largest islands is Koh Samui. Koh Samui is the place for an easy touristy Thai island holiday. It’s an interesting place to have been but I’ve honestly found all other Thai islands to be much more appealing, fun and beautiful. The advantage of Koh Samui is that there is a lot of stuff to do on one island, it is not the most expensive place and there are loads of tourists around so the island is certainly prepared for tourists.
An absolutely classic Thai island you pretty much have to visit is Koh Phi Phi Don. This is the island I think most people imagine when they imagine a Thai island holiday. You definitely have to explore the surrounding beaches including at least getting a look at Maya Bay where the film “The Beach” was films. People can’t actually set foot on the beach at the moment because it has suffered a lot due to masses of people visiting but if you kayak around, take a boat tour or are exploring the area whichever way, try and get a look it from afar. Tonsai Bay is also a great place to visit from Koh Phi Phi and see a lot of the native wildlife – basically, Monkey Beach has a whole load of monkeys.
Another island that I visited on my last Thailand trip is Koh Lanta. This is a beautiful, calm and relaxing island. Renting a scooter and exploring the various beaches, bars and stands across the island was one of my favourite experiences I’ve had in Thailand so far. This isn’t a particularly active or bustling island but it is stunning and has a very calming nature. If you’re after some serenity, stunning views and to slow things down a bit, this is a fantastic island to visit.
There are many more Thai islands to discover, and I hope to get a look at at least a couple more in the future.
All in all, Thailand is a very large country with a lot to offer. I hope I could give you some insights into some of the areas I have visited and help you with your trip planning. Whatever you end up doing if you book things with a local agent or travel point, be sure to bargin to a certain degree. It’s good to get a couple of quotes and maybe check some online prices so that you can tell if you’re getting a good deal or not. The rule of thumb tends to be that the more you book at the same place, the larger your discount can be. I’ll be honest, that method has saved me a lot of money in the past.
Thailand is the perfect place for a fantastic travel experiences with the different terrains, great people, rich culture and tourist friendly attitude. I personally could also only eat Thai food for most of my life and not complain. There are a lot of cultural sights spread all over Thailand and most are beautiful to visit and often combined with a short hike or stair climb like the Tiger Cave Temple in Krabi. Be sure to pack something that covers your shoulders and knees or even ankles as most cultural sights will require this as a dress code.
I could go on and on about why Thailand is a traveller’s paradise but I think a lot of things have already been said and the best thing to do now, is for you to discover this amazing place for yourself.
If you’re interested in more destinations, packing tips or general travel advice, check out some of my other posts and stay tuned for more! In case your questions aren’t answered here, or you have any comments or personal experiences you’d like to share, don’t be afraid to get in touch, leave comment and let me know.
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