THAILAND – all the must-see places

In this travel guide to some mesmerizing must-see places, I’m proving that Thailand is extremely easy to travel. This makes this enthralling country the perfect destination even for hesitant first-time solo-travellers.

Wat Arun, one of Bangkok's most important temples and must-see places when travelling through Thailand.
Wat Arun, one of Bangkok’s most important temple complexes on the west bank of River Chao Phraya.

At first, I actually wasn’t crazy about going to Thailand. It has been a random holiday destination for everybody who wanted to stew on a beach. But especially the disgusting sex tourism to some spots in Thailand gave the country a repulsive connotation.

But man, was I wrong! It obviously only depends strongly which route you travel and where you’re going. I fell in deep, lasting love with Thailand.

As a matter of fact, I enjoyed the first part of my trip meandering from Bangkok to Chiang Mai much better than the beach part that brought me to the beaches and islands around Krabi in the Andaman Sea.

Don’t Know Much About…

Geography

Thailand’s territory covers a big part of the South East Asian land area, stretching from the Himalaya’s most far foothills over more than 1,100 miles all the way South to the Malayan border.

Along this stretch, for many travellers, the most attractive parts are the beaches. There are 1,200 miles on the Gulf of Thailand in the East as well as 620 miles along the Andaman Sea in the West. If you add the 1,430 islands, islets, reefs, and cays, there sure is space. Yet still, the popular beaches are overcrowded due to the concentration of mass tourism in certain areas.

Tourists wading through the Andaman Sea, one of the must-see places in Thailand
You never walk wade alone.

Clearly, this leads to major problems for the country. While there is a population of about 68 million people, in 2016 alone, 34 million tourists visited the country. Obviously, they weren’t all greenpeace activists – hence, mainly the ocean life is endangered.

The land area of more than 500,000 square kilometers has pre-dominantly a tropical monsoon climate. On boxing day in 2004, a tsunami hit Thailand and other countries such as Sri Lanka. It caused over 5,000 confirmed deaths, more than 8,000 injuries, and almost 3,000 missings. The area along the Andaman Sea was hit the hardest. Henceforth, since 2012, Thailand has had the best tsunami warning system in South East Asia.

History

Those who don’t go to Thailand to get a suntan mostly go there because they have seen ‘The King and I’ and are fascinated by Siam’s history. The predecessor called Siam never was a national state but a so-called geo-body defined rather by the neighboring French and English colonies. Amazingly, Siam itself never was a colony.

Mon and Tai

The first empires in what is now Thailand were founded by the Mon peoples. Around the 6th century, a Buddhist network of Mon city-states called Dvaravati was installed. It existed until the 11th century.

This was when the immigration of the Tai peoples to what is now Thailand began.

Archeological Park in Sukhothai, definitely one of the must-see places in Thailand
The Archeological Park in Sukhothai.

They founded the first states in the 13th century, including Lan Na and Sukhothai. This empire covered areas originally populated by the Khmer. Ramkhamhaeng, the third king of the Phra Ruang Dynasty, ruled Sukhothai during its most prosperous era.

However, the decline of Sukhothai began after Ramkhamhaeng’s death. Its successor was Ayutthaya, founded in 1351.

Ayutthaya

After an early establishment by the Khmer, post-Angkorian King Ramathabodi expanded the city and made it the capital of his kingdom in 1351. His reign included besides other areas also large parts of Malaya.

Ayutthaya was a potent power for more than 400 years from the 15th century. A total of 35 kings ruled more or less large areas of Siam and steadily expanded the capital.

Wat Yai Chai Mongkon in Ayutthaya, one of the must-see places in Thailand
Wat Yai Chai Mongkon in Ayutthaya.

Since the 16th century, European merchants visited the city and reported enthusiastically about the splendor.

Ayutthaya reached its heyday in the middle of the 18th century. At that time, it was a cosmopolitan city with three royal palaces, 375 temples, and 94 city gates, protected by 29 defensive forts. The French, Portuguese, British, Dutch, and Japanese lived in their boroughs apart from the capital’s roughly 1 million Siamese.

Buddha statues in Ayutthaya, one of the must-see places in Thailand
Beheaded Buddhas in Ayutthaya.

Eventually, internal conflicts weakened the state. Also, it was threatened by neighboring, strengthened Burma. The city was attacked several times and ultimately destroyed in 1767.

20th Century

Since World War II, there have been frequent changes between democratic aspirations and the military seizing power. Even the country’s name changed a couple of times between Siam and Thailand, which according to a popular folk etymology means land of the free.

King Ramas VI statue in front of the entrance to Lumphini Park, Bangkok
King Vajiravudh aka Rama VI was King of Siam from 1910 to 1925. Today, this statue stands at the entrance to Bangkok’s Lumphini Park.

Over the decades, Thailand’s people often protested in – sometimes bloody – demonstrations. The last major ones took place in September 2020 as tens of thousands of people protested against the leadership and demanded new elections and democratic reforms in the political system.

Thailand Today

75 percent of Thailand’s approximately 69 million residents are ethnic Thai. Most of them follow Theravada Buddhism. Although Buddhism isn’t the state religion, according to the constitution, also the King has to be Buddhist.

Buddhist monks in Chiang Mai, one of the must-see places in Thailand
Orange is the new black: Buddhist monks in Chiang Mai.

With 14 percent of the country’s population, Chinese are an important minority. In the three southernmost provinces also live many Malay – which is close to the Malayan border, obviously.

Thailand is a middle-income emerging market. Due to the consumption of a growing middle class and increasing integration into world trade, the country has been able to reduce poverty significantly over recent decades. However, Thailand’s main source of income remains tourism. Since 2016, Thailand’s capital Bangkok has been the most visited city in the world.

After the beloved King Bhumibol died in 2016 – by then he was the longest acting head of state. The present king is Maha Vajiralongkorn, Bhumibol’s second child. Thailand is a hereditary monarchy.

Note: If you are a history teacher, you might find this outline somewhat simplified. It is. Also, my personal political opinion might shine through. Since this is mainly a travel post, the historical and political info is basic and in places not complete.

Practical Information

How to Get There

Suvarnabhumi International Airport

Most international visitors will arrive at the Suvarnabhumi International Airport 30 kilometers east of Bangkok. By the way, Suvarnabhumi translates to the golden land – what a warm welcome!

Some major hotels offer a free shuttle. But beware that if the shuttle is not complimentary, you’ll have to pay much more for transport that they send than if you arrange your transport yourself. This being said, it’s wiser to overpay for a safe trip than risking your well-being on arrival. You’ll find more on this important topic in my post Keep Calm and Travel Solo.

There is an official taxi rank is outside the arrivals hall. As at the old airport Don Mueang, drivers are not allowed to pick up passengers in other areas of the airport.

If you’re not tired, as it’s not after dark, and, most importantly, if you know where you’re going, the Suvarnabhumi Airport Rail Link is a great and cheap option as it connects the airport with downtown Bangkok. Express trains run non-stop to Makkasan Station where you can change to the Bangkok Metro. Also, there was a City Air Terminal with in-town check-in for all major airlines in Makkasan.

Don Mueang Airport

Since 2012, Thai AirAsia and Nok Air have a hub in Don Mueang and fly from there to numerous destinations in Thailand and other Asian countries. Don Mueang is north of the city center.

Evening sky from a plane
Flying into the night from Chiang Mai to Krabi.

If you want to save on a cab, there is are good options to go downtown by public transport. But here, too: Don’t be cheap when it comes to your personal safety. If in doubt, rather take a cab.

More on this – and other relevant travel topics – can be found for instance in my post Keep Calm and Travel Solo as well as other articles in the Tips & Hacks section.

Land Travel

If you already are on the Asian continent, you can travel to Thailand by train or by long-distance bus, obviously. Today most passenger trains run from Hua Lamphong, Bangkok’s main train station, to the north, northeast, east, and south. If the trains start from the New Station, a free shuttle will take you there in just five minutes.

Hua Lamphong train station in Bangkok
Bangkok’s Hua Lamphong train station.

Bangkok has three long-distance bus stations. Buses towards the east coast leave from the Thanon Sukhumvit station. The very large station Mo Chit is in the north on Thanon Kamphaeng Phet 2 in the Chatuchak district. Finally, the southern bus station Sai ​​Tai is at the driveway of Thanon Borommaratchachonnani.

Sleeper Train from South to North

The net of long-distance buses is far more comprehensive. Coaches take you even to Thailand’s most remote corners. Nevertheless, going northwards to Chiang Mai by train is an unmissable travel adventure. To save time – and money for accommodation – you can take the night train. This train leaves Bangkok in the evening and takes various stops before arriving in Chiang Mai around 8 in the next morning.

Psst – looks like everybody is still sleeping.

There is a limited number of single compartments that book out pretty fast. I actually wasn’t able to get one anymore. The idea to sleep with about 40 people in one large compartment freaked me out a bit. Finally, it turned out to be super-nice. Everyone gets a nice, clean bunkbed and as soon as you close your curtains, you can actually immerse in the privacy of your cot. The rattling of the train will rock you to sleep.

Still, I have two tips for you: If possible, choose the lower bunk. There’s more space, and the ride will be smoother. Also, you might want to bring earplugs. Plugs are on my list of indispensable tools and gadgets, anyway. Let my list of what makes my travel more comfortable inspire you.

How to Get Around in Towns And Cities

Apart from Bangkok’s MRT subway, public mass transportation is handled by buses. Some of them are a very exotic type – rather wooden crates than air-conditioned coaches. Although they are very cheap, bus travel can be a bit confusing and intimidating. Ask for directions at your hotel’s front desk – and then keep asking like a moron until you reach your final destination.

Hey, looking stupid is part of the globetrotter’s glory, after all.

Tuk tuk driver in Bangkok
One of Thailand’s most iconic means of transportation.

However, individual traffic is mainly handled by the numerous cabs, motorcycle taxis, as well as iconic tuk-tuks. Taking these vehicles, you have to haggle – which can be a bit nerve-wracking.

In Bangkok, cabs are metered. To get a fair price, the meter has to be on, obviously. If the driver refuses to put the meter on, just get out and get another cab. 

Where to Stay

In a country that’s living mainly on tourism, you’ll find at least a small choice of lodging options in every corner of the land.

I recommend accommodations for certain places in the individual posts. However, here is a search box that will help you book places to stay across the country.*

Booking.com

In case you get to Bangkok on a very late flight or you travel outbound really early, it’s a good idea staying close to the airport and take it from there.

Room at the Vismaya Suvarnabhumi
Bathroom with a view at the Vismaya Suvarnabhumi.

On my last trip, I stayed at the Vismaya Suvarnabhumi Resort just a ten-minute drive from Suvarnabhumi International Airport. They offer a free airport pickup for arriving passengers. The trip to the airport is around 200 Baht. There is a restaurant and an outdoor pool at the hotel and a convenience store is within walking distance.

Vismaya Suvarnabhumi Luxury Resort
98 Moo15 Soi King Kaew 43, King Kaew Rd, Rachateva, Bangpee Samutprakran 10540
Phone: + 66 – 2 – 738 49 88
Email: contact@thevismaya.com

Hallway at the Shanghai Mansion
Although there are hardly real windows at the Shanghai Mansion, clever interior designers make it look – and feel – like a luxurious SPA resort.

For your first – or last – days in Bangkok, I highly recommend the Shanghai Mansion*. You’ll find more info on this mesmerizing place in the Bangkok-post.

What to Eat

While you’ll find restaurants for every taste in Bangkok and other big, touristy places, in spots that are rather off the beaten tracks, you’ll find mostly Thai cuisine, obviously.

Streetvendor in Bangkok
A whole restaurant on one square meter.

Apart from western-style restaurants, you’ll see food stalls and market stands all over the place. There, you can eat your fill at unbelievably inexpensive prices. This being said, you might have to compromise on equipment and hygiene standards. However, the food from these open-air kitchens has become an integral part of the daily life of many Thais.

Cash And Cards

In Thailand, you pay in Baht. A Baht is divided into 100 Satang. 25 Satang are a Salueng.

Banknotes are 20, 50, 100, 500, and 1000 Baht and coins are 1, 2, 5, and 10 Baht. There are also coins for 25 and 50 Satang, but these are only used in larger supermarkets.

It’s a very touristy country, hence, credit cards are widely accepted. Obviously, you can get cash at ATMs. Beware that not every ATM works with every international card. Don’t freak out, just try a teller from a different bank.

One US-Dollar equals 30 Baht (THB) as per January 2021, but you can check the current rate on this page.

Language

You probably guessed so, Thai speak Thai. The language is actually mutually intelligible with other Asian languages. The Thai alphabet has 44 consonant symbols and 16 vowel symbols that combine into more than 32 vowel forms. Since the Thai language has a difficult orthography with a system of markers, signs in public places such as airports and stations are written in Latin letters, too. This goes also for signs and street names in major tourist places. However, in rural areas off the beaten tracks, you might find only writings in Thai.

Thai name of Bangkok written in Thai.
Well, if you want to say Bangkok’s name properly, here it is.
(Photo: Immanuel GielBangkokThaiCC BY-SA 3.0)

This being said, I don’t presume that you’ll learn this complex language just to go on a vacation. However, it’s a nice gesture to say at least the greeting Sawasdee Kha and Sawasdee Khun as well as Khop Khun Kha respectively Khop Khun Khap. Kha is a suffix used by women, men are using Khap.

Lost Without Translation

Since Thailand is so over-touristy, I thought everyone – at least in the tourist industry – would be more or less fluent in English. Well, while in Bangkok, you’ll find many people who have at least a rudementary command of the language, there are places where people don’t speak one word. Or if they do, their accent is so peculiar that you won’t understand them. Also, they might not really understand what you are saying but just grasping the supposed meaning from one or two words they got from your sentence. Hence, prepare for some hopeless explaining, quirky conversations – and many bright smiles.

Communication and Connection

Like during most of my trips where European roaming is not available, I did not get a national SIM-card. I rather used free WiFi. There was a connection to the internet without any issue at basically every eatery or café and, of course, hotel. Worked like a charm.

But if you insist on being online 24/7, you can get a national SIM-card.

In Thailand, plug types C and O are the official standard. However, you’ll also find types A and B.

The standard voltage is 230 V and the frequency 50 Hz.

But as you know, nowadays, all these chargers for phones and readers and computers have integrated adapters so that different voltage and frequency don’t really matter.

Gone are the days when you blew your electric appliances since you forgot to switch them from 110 to 220…good times.

By the way, you’ll find this kind of practical travel info in my post World’s Most Complete Travel Information – an indispensable globetrotter-classic.

This Is the Route I Have Travelled

These Are the Places I Have Visited

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Note: This post is being regularly completed, edited, and updated – last in January 2021.

47 Replies to “THAILAND – all the must-see places”

  1. Vacation in Thailand is always a dream. I am planning a solo Thailand trip want to have a idea about all the places that i can visit.

  2. Had never heard about the other side of Thailand from anyone before. It must be a wonderful experience to visit non tourist places.

  3. I’m yet to explore Thailand, like you I’m not very keen on planning a trip to this country as I have certain reservations. Regarding your post I’m thinking maybe even I should give it a try. Thanks for all the information you have shared here.

  4. I felt that same way about Thailand even though I know many people who have gone and loved it! You may have just changed my mind about visiting, so thank you!!

  5. Thanks for sharing. Thailand has been on the top of my bucket list forever. You shared so much important information that's necessary for anyone thinking to head to there. I look forward to planning a trip there in the next year.

  6. I am going to spend some more time looking at your places that you travelled. Your map of Thailand look like you made a great exploration of the area. So much to see there!

  7. Great to know you found the parts of Thailand that you liked. And it was really interesting to read a bit of history of Thailand here. I also want to visit the beaches of Thailand, who knows, when I go, I might discover better parts of the country like you 🙂

  8. Thailand's reputation as a premier tourist attraction with good local fare and inexpensive shopping has oftentimes been marred by its sex tourism industry. Nevertheless, it's great to hear that you ignored the prejudices and managed to enjoy yourself in the country.

  9. I'm so glad to have read your post about Thailand. I, too, had mxied feelings about traveling there but I'm glad to know you had some of the same fears and ended up loving the country. Chiang Mai is on my list! Thanks so much.

  10. I couldn't agree more! It is easy enough to have a holiday in Thailand where all you do is sit and tan but there is SO much to see and do, especially in the North of the country. It is a good lesson in not judging a place before we visit.

  11. I am so happy to read that you've enjoyed Thailand. Thanks fr sharing your awesome experience with us and enlightening us, Renata!

  12. Thailand is so diverse and has so many different experiences to offer to every traveller. Our thailand trip is still pending and wish to go there soon. Krabi is my Fav and looks like you have covered lot of lovely places in thailand.

  13. I love that you challenge your thinking about a destination, and see it with open eyes. The thought of all that history makes me eager to visit, and I can imagine it being a fascinating trip. I'm glad that you found something there that resonated with your travelling soul.

    1. '…that resonated with your travelling soul' – thank you, Bernie, this is so poetic! And yes, I think I do have a travelling soul – I need to pay more attention to that.

  14. I enjoyed Thailand so much. I went with my daughter, and it was so easy to get around and there are plenty of things to do. We did not go to the beach…I know…strange.

    1. No, Corinne, I totally get you. As I wrote, it's not the beach area that makes me love Thailand, it was the landroute up north.

  15. I have had lots of mixed feed back from people who have been to Thailand. Sure its cheap but is it everyone's up of tea? Your blog has definitely answered that question. You have made me want to visit Thailand. I am going to try the places you have recommended especially KO PHI PHI.

    1. Thanx, that was exactly what I felt. I was afraid to end up somewhere between disgusted and bored – but by no means! Ko Phi Phi is nice, but man, is it a Partyplace….my favorite was Ko Jum, but I like secluded…anyway, happy travels!

  16. True. Some countries have had a bad image that stopped people from traveling and seeing their beauty. For me though, being an Asian, I felt Thailand won't be on top of the list, but your photos made me want to take a tour to the country. =)

  17. It is always an eye-opener to see a city/place first-hand and disprove the image that some news reports make us believe. 🙂 It is a good thing that the experience made you see it differently. And such a wonderful experience…great photos!

    1. Actually the bad image is there for a reason, but you can easily avoid the places all this disgusting monkey business takes place. You then see these 'gentlemen' only at the airport – which is repulsive enough, though.

  18. I've traveled to Thailand several times for work and vacation and fell in love with the country. It is unfortunate that it does have that bad reputation for sex tourism, but I am happy that you were able to go and see a whole different side!

    1. Well, Jessica, it has this image for a reason. But I was pleasantly surprised how easy it was to stay away from these horrible hot spots and just see how wonderful it is. It's been probably my nicest trip to Asia so far.

  19. I've only been to Bangkok in Thailand and I wasn't much of a fan of the city. However I've heard so many wonderful things about the rest of the country that I would definitely want to go back and go elsewhere.

  20. I am not too excited about it either, but I do want to see Thailand and check it out. Glad you got to experience it and have a change of mind.

  21. I'm glad that Thailand was able to make you change your mind. It's a pretty spectacular place, isn't it? I too am totally turned off by the sex-tourism-destination and the super-beaten-beach-path, but Thailand is SO MUCH more than that! Next time you go, you should check out Kanchanaburi. I think you'd love it!

  22. I absolutely loved Thailand. It really does have something for everyone, whether you want to laze on a beach or discover the amazing historic and cultural attraction… and OMG the food!

  23. I really enjoyed my time in Thailand. I explored temples and learned a bit about the culture, but I also spent time on the beach. I think it's possible to do both. I'd love to go back!

  24. Ohh this looks interesting. We are heading to Thailand in the middle of the year. I've already spent 2 months there but my partner has never been. I didn't go anywhere in the middle of the country, is it worth stopping there? What was the least touristy place you went?

    1. Great question, Rohan. The least touristy spot worth visiting was Kamphang Peth: It has an archeologic park right downtown and another one just ten minutes by bicycle from the city center. There is good food at the night market – and I was the only tourist I've seen: https://byemyself.com/kamphaeng-phet-and-phitsanulok-two-unnecessary-detours
      However, my favorite place was Sukhothai with all the temples and nice places.
      Regarding islands I liked Ko Jum the best – it's so secluded, they don't even have a jetty: https://byemyself.com/island-hopping-in-the-andaman-sea
      Wherever you end up: have great trip!

  25. Thailand has so much to offer, I'm glad you changed your mind! My heart is in everlasting love with Cambodia, but I used to travel to Thailand often to reset my Visa and every time I discovered some new and wonderful bit 🙂

    1. As a matter of fact, Erica, I liked Thailand much more than Cambodia. But it always depends on incidents and people you meet and many factors that actually don't have much to do with the country itself; sometimes it's even the weather that shapes your image of a country.

  26. I wrote a paper on the sex trade in Asian in college and ever since I haven't been crazy about going to Thailand either. Good to know you felt the same, and ended up falling in love with it. 🙂

    1. Yes, Lara, there are strong up- and down-sides to Thailand and the sex tourism is probably the most disgusting one. But when you just stay away from certain places, it's fabulous!

  27. It's a shame that it is so often tourist who ruin the reputation of destinations. When foreigners travel to countries for unsavoury reasons they tarnish the rich culture and histories the locations offer.

    You have done a great job of looking past stereotypes and immersing yourself in everything that is great about a Thai adventure.

    We firmly believe it the responsibility of Travelbloggers to break stereotypes and help to educate travellers how to experience other cultures, while treading lightly and not imposing their own prejudice or destructive tendencies.

    Thanks for sharing. Keep travel blogging. Adventure is better shared with friends!

    1. Here you are again, Anthony, leaving such a deep and lovely comment – thank you, you are really encouraging me a lot! Happy travels!

  28. Thailand can be everything! Sex tourism, drunk idiots on the beach, poverty, riches, incredible culture and full of history. A few years ago I did an exchange semester in Bangkok and Thailand absolutely grew on me. The people are so incredible friendly and there are beautiful things around every corner, especially when you move away from the tourist masses.

    1. Hahaha, yes, I skipped the drunk idiots on the (Party-) islands – and I totally agree with what you are saying!

  29. I haven't been to Thailand so far, but I pretty much have the same impression that you had initially! It seems that I really need to go there to see for myself what is going on! Your article, with each location and pictures is really nice. I particularly like the Chiang Mai one, as I had just read about that location. It is really interesting how they got the ex-cons and cons to work. Keep it up and safe travels!

  30. I'm glad you ended up having a positive experience despite your expectations! Thanks for adding your perspective. I've heard so much about the beauty of Northern Thailand that it sounds like I'd have to add it to the itinerary. I'm generally a beach girl, but it looks stunning!

  31. I agree with you on the sex tourism and so forth, however, Thailand is a tourist destination for a reason. As I live in Yangon, Myanmar at the moment I need to go there every three months for a visa run. It has slowly grown on me.

    It is a great place to relax, the food in Bangkok is epic, and it has an incredibly rich cultural history.

    I am also a fan of Koh Lanta, which is not yet overrun by tourism.

    1. I absolutely agree with what you are saying. Yes. Ko Lanta is very nice – but I liked Ko Jum even better, which of course has hardly any infrastructure whatsoever….

  32. Thailand has so much to offer the traveler! Whether on a budget or seeking luxury finds, it's a country that seems to have it all. Glad you enjoyed yourself so much there!

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