Are you planning your first trip to Thailand and looking for the best places to go?
If so, welcome! I’m excited that you are here because Thailand is one of my all-time favourite destinations and I think you are going to love it as much as I do!
Thailand is a beautiful and diverse country in Southeast Asia that has something for every type of traveler. There are so many amazing places to visit in Thailand, from exciting, buzzing cities to stunning tropical beaches, ancient Buddhist temples to lively night markets.
Also known as ‘the Land of Smiles’, Thailand is a very welcoming, safe, easy, and affordable for travelers, so it’s no wonder that Thailand is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world.
There are so many beautiful places to see in Thailand that it can be difficult to decide where to go when creating your Thailand itinerary, especially if you are a first-time visitor. But don’t worry, I’ll help you!
I’ve spent a lot of time traveling all over and living in different parts of Thailand. So I’ve put together this list of the best places to visit in Thailand for first-timers to help you plan your trip.
For more tips on traveling in Thailand check out my comprehensive Thailand Travel Guide.
The Best Places to Visit in Thailand
Best Cities to Visit in Thailand
Thailand’s lively cities offer the best insight into this country’s fascinating culture and plenty of fun. Even if you can’t wait to get to the beach, it would be a shame to miss exploring some of Thailand’s best cities like:
Bangkok is Thailand’s capital city and is often the first stop for travelers in Thailand.
This buzzing, exciting, modern metropolis that never sleeps has so much to offer. From golden temples to soaring skyscrapers, from delicious street food to high-end rooftop bars, and everything in between.
Even if you are keen to get to the islands, Bangkok is one of the best places to visit in Thailand for first timers. Allow at least a few days to explore the capital at the start of your Thai adventure.
One of the main attractions in the Thai capital that you can’t miss is the Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew (the temple of the Emerald Buddha.) This is a dazzling and intricate complex of historic buildings, palaces and temples that was once the royal palace and residence of the Thai royal family.
Another must-see is Wat Pho, (the temple of the giant reclining Buddha) home to a 46-meter long statue of Buddha covered in gold leaf. Nearby, you’ll also find Wat Arun (the temple of dawn) a beautiful temple with a unique architectural style that towers over the river.
Climb Wat Arun at sunset and take a cruise along the Chao Praya River for a refreshing way to experience the city’s stunning skyline or stay in one of Bangkok’s boutique hotels on the riverside.
To see all of Thailand’s most iconic sights in one place head to The Ancient City, a sprawling open air museum containing 100 replicas of the most interesting and significant sights in the country. Visiting this museum feels like traveling through the whole of Thailand in just one day!
Bangkok has many modern malls and a futuristic sky train, but for a unique shopping experience head to one of Bangkok’s floating markets such as Damnoen Saduak or Amphawa. These bustling markets are situated on canals with longtail boats offering everything from fresh produce to souvenirs.
Chatuchak Weekend Market is one of the largest in the world and a popular spot for bargain hunting for both tourists and locals, with over 15,000 stalls selling everything imaginable at low prices.
And when the sun sets, head to Sukhumvit or Khao San Road for a taste of Bangkok’s famous nightlife. Sukhumvit is known for its rooftop bars, restaurants and night clubs while legendary backpacker hangout Khao San Road offers a fun and budget friendly experience with street vendors, live music, and cheap drinks.
Read these Bangkok blog posts:
Located in the north, Thailand’s second city, Chiang Mai, is a charming city known for its rich cultural heritage and stunning natural beauty. It’s one of the best places to visit in Thailand for first timers and anyone interested in Thai culture and history.
Chiang Mai’s walled and moated Old City is a must-visit with its ancient temples and historic sites such as Wat Chedi Luang and Wat Phra Singh. Stay in a heritage hotel within the ancient city walls to really immerse yourself in the experience.
Also make sure to head up to Doi Suthep to see Chiang Mai’s most revered golden temple and enjoy the panoramic views of the city.
Chiang Mai is home to some of the best markets in all of Thailand. The lively Chiang Mai Night Bazaar is open every night for shopping, eating and entertainment.
On Sundays the Old City comes alive as the Sunday Night Market takes place, offering a variety of local handicrafts and delicious food. Don’t miss the chance to try Khao Soi – the famous noodle soup of Northern Thailand.
Just outside the city, you can visit waterfalls and hot springs, go trekking or visit the Elephant Nature Park, an ethical elephant sanctuary where you can learn about these gentle giants and help with their conversation.
You can also visit Doi Inthanon National Park, home to the highest peak in Thailand and stunning hiking trails, waterfalls and the famous twin pagodas.
And if you happen to be visiting Chiang Mai in November, don’t miss out on the magical Loi Krathong (Lantern Festival) where thousands of lanterns light up the sky and floating lights illuminate the river creating a mesmerizing spectacle.
Read these Chiang Mai blog posts:
Chiang Rai, a city in Northern Thailand with some unique temples, is also well worth a visit. The White Temple (Wat Rong Khun) is one of the most stunning, unique and eye-catching temples in all of Thailand, with its intricate details, unique sculptures and sparkling white exterior. It’s one of my all time favorite temples in the world! Don’t miss it!
In stark contrast to the White Temple, The Black House (Baan Dam) is filled with dark and eerie artwork and sculptures, showcasing the darker side of Thai and Buddhist culture. Also well worth a visit is the gorgeous Blue Temple (Wat Rong Suea Ten), with its vibrant blue exterior, intricate gold details and beautiful murals inside.
From Chiang Rai, you can also visit The Golden Triangle, located at the intersection of Thailand, Myanmar, and Laos. This area along the Mekong River was once known for its opium trade but now offers scenic views, boat rides along the river, and interesting museums where you can learn about the area’s history. Stop off at the Doi Tung Royal Villa, on the way.
Chiang Rai is located about 3 hours from Chiang Mai. It’s one of the best places to visit in Thailand if you are looking for unique temples and an insight into Thai life off the usual tourist trail. If you are short on time you can take a day trip from Chiang Mai to see the highlights but it’s worth spending a few days here if you can.
Read this Chiang Rai Guide for more info.
Best Islands and Beach Destinations in Thailand
Thailand boasts some of the most beautiful beaches and islands on the planet – the hard part is deciding which ones to visit!
There are over 1,400 islands in Thailand, and you can stay on about 60 of them. To help you narrow done your search here are the best Thai islands and beach destinations for first time visitors:
Situated in the Andaman Sea on the West Coast, Phuket is the largest island in Thailand and offers amazing beaches, a colourful old town, stunning views and national parks. Phuket has plenty of attractions, activities and accommodation options for all budgets so it’s one of the best places to visit in Thailand if you like your beach holidays fun and easy.
Phuket island is home to many beautiful, white sand beaches. The most popular is Patong Beach, where you’ll find crazy nightlife, watersports, and tons of hotels, restaurants, bars and shops. If you prefer more laid back beaches there are also plenty to choose from. See my guide to the best beaches and places to stay in Phuket for more information.
For a more cultural experience, head to Old Phuket Town, where you can admire the colourful historic Sino-Portuguese architecture and try delicious local food in the cafes or at the Sunday walking street market. Other must visits include Wat Chalong and the Big Buddha, a 45 meter tall white Buddha statue perched ontop a hill with panoramic views over the island.
Phuket also makes a great base for exploring the nearby islands with plenty of island hopping trips to places like Phang Na Bay and James Bond Island, which are famous for their beautiful beaches and scenery. If you’re into diving consider visiting the Surin and Similian Islands Marine National Parks. You can also easily visit the Phi Phi islands on a day trip from Phuket.
Check out my Phuket blog posts:
- 7 Day Phuket, Koh Phi Phi and Krabi Itinerary
- Best Island Hopping Day Trips from Phuket
- My Guide to Where to stay in Phuket
- The Best Things to do in Phuket
If you prefer your beaches a bit more low-key, consider Krabi. Also located on the West Coast of Thailand, Krabi is a stunning province home to over 150 gorgeous islands, dramatic limestone cliffs and mangrove forests.
The standout destination here is Railay Beach which can only be accessed by boat and is surrounded by limestone cliffs, making it a unique beach experience. Nearby Ao Nang is a popular place to stay with a wide range of resorts and eateries.
Krabi also has plenty of adventures inland. Explore the stunning Emerald Pool, a natural swimming hole surrounded by lush jungle, and climb up to the Tiger Cave Temple to discover this unique temple and incredible viewpoint.
There are also plenty of other beautiful islands to explore around Krabi, the four island tour is a spectacular day on the water and don’t miss the chance to see the stunning and famous Phi Phi islands. Check out this guide to Krabi for more tips.
The Phi Phi Islands
The Phi Phi Islands are one of the most famous destinations in Thailand, and a must for first-time visitors. This group of six islands located between Phuket and Krabi shot to fame after the movie, ‘The Beach’ was filmed here.
The most popular and iconic spot in the Phi Phi islands is Maya Bay, a stunning white sand beach surrounded by towering limestone cliffs and turquoise water. It can get quite crowded with tourists and you are no longer allowed to swim or camp here, but it’s a spectacular sight that is still well worth the visit.
You can stay on Phi Phi Don, which has a lively party scene and plenty of accommodation, shops and restaurants. Escape Ton Sai Bay Village and head to Long Beach if you prefer a more serene stay. For incredible views over the entire island and the surrounding blue waters.
The challenging hike up to Phi Phi Viewpoint is also well worth it for the views. Other popular activities on the Phi Phi Islands include snorkeling, scuba diving, and kayaking around the various islands.
There are plenty of island-hopping trips that will take you to various spots around the Phi Phi islands, including Viking Bay and Monkey Beach, where you can spot wild monkeys.
If you’re looking for a more tranquil island in Thailand, check out Koh Lanta. This island offers long white sand beaches, plenty of nature, and a more authentic, relaxed vibe than some of the other more popular tourist destinations.
Most accommodation options, beachfront bars and restaurants are found around Long Beach. For a taste of traditional Thai life, visit Lanta Old Town a laid back and charming fishing village with colorful wooden houses, local shops and restaurants.
Mu Koh Lanta National Park covers the southern tip of the island and protects 16 nearby islands. It offers nature walks and scenic viewpoints. Another natural spot worth checking out is the Khao Mai Kaew Caves where you’ll see impressive stalactite formations and bats.
Tiny Koh Lipe is one of the most beautiful islands in Thailand with soft white sand beaches and crystal-clear blue waters it’s often referred to as the “Maldives of Thailand”. (Psst. Find out how to visit the Maldives on a budget! )
Koh Lipe is located in the far south of Thailand, close to the Malaysian island of Langkawi and has plenty of accommodation, shopping and dinning options on walking street.
Spend your days on Sunrise Beach, enjoying swimming, sunbathing and snorkeling. Head up to Koh Adang viewpoint for beautiful views and watch the sun’s paint the sky at Sunset Beach.
If luxury and relaxation are what you’re after, Koh Samui is one of the best places to visit for your first time in Thailand. This beautiful island off the east coast of Thailand offers stunning palm-fringed beaches, crystal clear waters, and luxurious resorts.
Koh Samui is a large island and has no shortage of beautiful beaches to explore. Chaweng Beach is the most popular resort on the island with a lively atmosphere and plenty of restaurants, bars, shops and nightlife to enjoy.
For a more relaxed escape with plenty of amenities head to Lamai Beach or Bophut Beach or find a luxury resort on a secluded cave for your own slice of paradise.
For authentic Thai food and shopping, head to Fisherman’s Village Walking Street where you can find local street food, handicrafts, and souvenirs in the old wooden shophouses.
If you want a dose of culture, visit the famous Big Buddha Temple (Wat Phra Yai) home to a 12-meter tall golden Buddha statue that overlooks the sea. Wat Plai Leam is a temple and lake complex nearby with many statues including an impressive 18 armed statue of Guanyin – the goddess of mercy and compassion.
Don’t miss the chance to explore Ang Thong National Marine Park, a group of stunning karst islets with unique rock formations, crystal clear lagoons and excellent snorkeling and scuba diving.
Located nearby are the islands of Koh Phangan and Koh Tao. These can easily be explored as part of an island-hopping trip from Koh Samui but are well worth spending a few days on too.
The island of Koh Phangan, just a short boat ride away from Koh Samui, is most famous for its monthly full moon party in Haad Rin, but there’s much more to Koh Phangan than just partying.
The north of the island boasts stunning, serene beaches such as Thong Nai Pan Beach and Bottle Beach. If you’re looking for a more spiritual experience, Koh Phangan has a magical energy and an interesting yoga scene to explore. The island is also becoming popular with digital nomads and has many coworking places and a thriving community.
Read these Koh Phangan Blogs:
- The Magic of Koh Phangan Beyond The Full Moon Party
- My Guide to Where to stay in Koh Phangan
- Best Yoga Retreats in Koh Phangan
If you’ve ever wanted to learn how to scuba dive you can’t miss Koh Tao. This small island near Koh Samui is one of the best diving spots in Thailand, with colorful coral reefs and marine life. It’s also one of the cheapest places in the world to get your PADI certification.
Aside from diving, Koh Tao offers a relaxed atmosphere with beautiful beaches like Mae Haad Beach and Sairee Beach. The Koh Nang Yuan Viewpoint offers one of the most picturesque and iconic views in all of Thailand.
Pattaya is a lively beach resort city located only 2 hours from Bangkok on the eastern Gulf coast of Thailand. If you are visiting Thailand for a short trip and want to get in some beach time then Pattaya is one of the best places to visit due to it’s proximity to Bangkok and easy access.
Apart from the beaches, the most popular attraction here is the Pattaya Walking Street, an infamous hotspot for late-night partying and entertainment with countless bars, clubs, and restaurants.
Pattaya has a reputation for being a bit errm seedy, but it also has another side. For a more relaxed atmosphere, head to Jomtien Beach or the island of Koh Larn, where you can find quieter beaches and a more laid-back vibe.
For a unique cultural experience, visit the Sanctuary of Truth, an impressive wooden temple made entirely out of teak wood with intricate carvings depicting Buddhist and Hindu deities.
The closest major island to Bangkok, Koh Samet is a popular weekend getaway for locals and expats looking for a quick and convenient island escape, it has plenty to offer tourists too.
Koh Samet is a small but stunning island with white sandy beaches, clear blue waters, hidden coves and lush forests. Sai Kaew Beach, also known as Diamond Beach, is the main beach.
There is a variety of accommodation and eating options and some interesting statues to spot. The island has a laid-back vibe, parties liven up the weekends, but the rest of the time it’s pretty peaceful.
If you’re looking for a less crowded and more relaxed island experience without traveling too far south, Koh Chang is an ideal destination.
This large but less well-known Thai island has beautiful beaches, lush rainforests, a laid-back vibe and charming fishing villages. It’s a great spot for snorkeling and diving and the Mu Ko Chang National Marine Park is home to many more islands, like Koh Kut, that can be easily explored on day trips too.
Koh Chang is a great choice for an more off the beaten path island adventure. It’s located in the east of Thailand, near the Cambodian border, so makes the perfect detour if you’re on route between Bangkok to Siem Reap for Angkor Wat.
Best Historical Sites in Thailand
It’s not all beaches and bars! Thailand also has a wealth of interesting historical sites from royal palaces to ancient temples. Here’s two places you can’t miss if you’re into history:
Ayutthaya is a UNESCO World Heritage Site which was once the capital of Siam and a wealthy trading port. It’s located only 1.5 hours from Bangkok so it makes an easy day trip and is one of the best places to visit in Thailand if you want to understand more about Thai history and culture.
The Ayutthaya Historical Park contains the ruins of ancient temples and palaces, including Wat Phra Sri Sanphet, which features three impressive stupas (dome-shaped structures) that are one of Ayutthaya’s most iconic sights. You can also visit the famous head of a Buddha statue entwined in tree roots at Wat Mahathat.
Another UNESCO World Heritage Site, Sukhothai is often referred to as the birthplace of Siam and the cradle of Thai civilization and is located in central Thailand.
The Sukhothai Historical Park is home to impressive ruins and temples, including Wat Mahathat which features a large seated Buddha statue and stunning architecture.
The best way to explore the sprawling park is with a bicycle tour. You can also explore the Ramkhamhaeng National Museum to learn more.
Off the Beaten Path Destinations
Thailand is a popular tourist destination but if you are looking for less crowded, more off-the-beaten-path destinations Thailand has plenty of those too.
Here’s a couple of off beat places that still have plenty of amenities and are perfect for first timers:
Pai is a cute little town with laid-back hippie vibes nestled in the mountains of Northern Thailand, about 3 hours from Chiang Mai. It’s the perfect destination to simply chill out and soak up the nature of Northern Thailand.
There’s plenty of natural beauty around Pai to explore, like hot springs and waterfalls, and lots of cafes offering healthy food. The most popular sunset spot is Pai Canyon which offers stunning views and you can also go tubing along the river.
The best way to explore is by renting a scooter or motorbike. Pai is the first stop on the Mae Hong Son Loop – an epic motorbike adventure around Northern Thailand.
Khao Yai National Park
Khao Yai National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the largest and most diverse national parks in Thailand, spanning over 770 square miles.
It was the first national park in Thailand and is home to a variety of hiking trails, scenic viewpoints and the Haew Narok waterfall that was featured in the movie ‘The Beach‘. There’s an abundance of unique flora and fauna and wildlife like elephants, gibbons and hornbills.
The park is only a few hours drive from Bangkok so it’s a popular day trip destination, perfect for first time visitors to Thailand. There’s also campsites and eco lodges within the park if you want to stay overnight.
Kanchanaburi, a historically important town surrounded by natural beauty is well worth a visit. The most famous sight here is the Bridge over the River Kwai which was built by prisoners of war during World War II.
You can visit the Hellfire Pass Memorial Museum which commemorates the lives lost during the construction of the Death Railway in WWII.
For a lighter experience, explore the nature around Kanchanaburi including the beautiful Erawan National Park and its famous seven-tiered waterfall or stay in one of the floating raft houses on the River Kwai.
If you’re looking for a beach getaway with a touch of history, consider Hua Hin. This seaside town used to be the royal family’s summer residence and is not too far from Bangkok. Hua Hin Beach now has some modern family friendly beach resorts but still retains it’s regal atmosphere.
Visit the beautiful wooden Maruekhathaiyawan Palace – the royal residence during the summer months and the lively night market for street food and souvenir shopping. Hua Hin is also known as one of Thailand’s top golfing destinations with several world-class courses to choose from.
Khao Sok National Park
Another great off the beaten track destination for nature lovers is Khao Sok National Park. Located in Southern Thailand near Phuket, Khao Sok National Park makes a great addition to a trip to Phuket.
This unique national park offers the chance to stay in a floating bungalow on Cheow Lan Lake. You can also go on a jungle trek through the lush rainforests to spot wild elephants and gibbons or take a canoe trip down the Sok River.
How to Choose Where to Go in Thailand
Thailand has something to offer all types of travelers, from backpackers and digital nomads to couples and families.
So the best places for you will depend on your travel style and what you are looking to experience from your Thailand trip.
Here’s some tips for narrowing down your choices to find the perfect destination for you:
Best Places for First Timers
The must visit destinations for your first trip to Thailand are Bangkok, Chiang Mai and Phuket. These famous tourist destinations are the best places to visit in Thailand for first timers because they are an easy introduction to this beautiful country with iconic sites and something for everyone.
Best Places for Couples
In addition to the top three destinations, the best couples and honeymoon destinations in Thailand include Koh Samui, Krabi and Koh Lipe. These are the best places to visit in Thailand for couples because they are the most picturesque beach destinations with romantic luxury resorts and plenty of opportunities for adventure, relaxation and quality time spent together.
Best Places for Families
Thailand has plenty to offer for families traveling with children who will love the water parks, tuk-tuk rides, colourful temples, and elephant sanctuaries. The best places to visit in Thailand for families include Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Phuket, Krabi and Hua Hin. All these destinations have family friendly resorts and attractions.
Best Places for Backpackers
Thailand is one of the best backpacker destinations in the world with plenty of cheap backpacker hostels, delicious street food and fun nightlife. Solo travellers won’t feel lonely as there are so many other travellers and backpackers to meet. Thailand’s best backpacker destinations include Khao San Road in Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Pai, Koh Phangan and Koh Tao.
Best Places for Digital Nomads
Thailand is also a popular destination for digital nomads with its affordable living costs and high-speed internet and thriving expat and digital nomad community. Chiang Mai, Bangkok, Phuket, Koh Phangan and Koh Lanta have plenty of co-working spaces, cafes and a lively digital nomad community.
Best Beach Destinations in Thailand
Thailand is most famous for it’s beautiful beaches and islands, and with over 2,000 miles of coastline, there’s no shortage of choice. Some of the must-visit beach destinations in Thailand include Phuket, Koh Samui and Krabi, which all have plenty of amenities.
There are also hundreds of smaller islands to explore if you want to get off the beaten track and find your own secluded slice of paradise.
Best Places for History and Culture
Thailand has a rich history and culture to explore. The top historical sites to visit in Thailand include the UNESCO world heritage sites of Ayutthaya and Sukhothai, Bangkok’s Grand Palace and Chiang Mai’s Old City.
Best Places for Nature and Adventure
Thailand is home to plenty of stunning natural beauty spots from lush rainforests and national parks to stunning islands and marine parks. There’s plenty of adventure to be had too, from rock climbing and ziplining, to snorkeling and diving.
The best places to explore Thailand’s stunning natural beauty include:
- Khao Yai National Park
- Erawan National Park
- Khao Sok National Park
- Ang Thong Marine National Park
- Mu Koh Similan National Park
- Pai and the Mae Hong Son Province
Best Places for Foodies
Thai cuisine is known for its delicious flavours and unique blend of sweet, sour, salty and spicy. The best places to indulge in Thai food are often on the streets in Bangkok’s Chinatown and Chiang Mai’s night markets.
Don’t miss the chance to take a Thai cooking class and learn how to recreate your favorite Thai dishes at home.
So Where Will You Go in Thailand?
So now you should have plenty of ideas for places to go in Thailand!
The only thing is there are so many beautiful destinations that you probably won’t be able to fit them all into one trip. So the hardest part is deciding which places to include in your Thailand itinerary.
If you’re short on time then make use of domestic flights and you could visit the top three must see Thai destinations in 10 – 14 days.
If you want to know how to fit all the highlights of both north and south into one trip check out my 2 week Thailand itinerary. If you have more time to play with then check out my ultimate Thailand backpacking route.
Wherever you decide to visit Thailand is an amazing, friendly country with something for everyone. Whether you love beaches and nature, history and culture or just want to enjoy the sunshine and Thai cuisine, you’re bound to have the time of your life in Thailand.
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