This overview of the best places to visit in Thailand shows where to find the cultural, historic and natural attractions
Whether it is places to visit in Thailand for honeymoon, the best places to stay in Thailand or Thailand attractions for adults, it really helps to know what’s where. On a 12-hour flight into the country, I often see people going through a Lonely Planet or a Capitol guide, but especially now, with the military in power I would say these guides have a way of becoming outdated very quickly.
With the army maintaining a grip on the country, initial fears that tourism would suffer seems completely unfounded. If anything, thing shave gotten better with a clampdown on the tourist areas rife with scams. Also, businessmen and entrepreneurs speak highly of the regime as they see structural change for the better. Of course Thailand is not Singapore quite yet, but I would say things are going in the right direction. All you have to know, is that as a tourist, things have improved for you.
In the sections below I will go over the top 5 destinations in Thailand, and add some additional points here and there as well. I am well aware that a backpacker is looking for different information than a retiree looking for the best golf courses and restaurants. But bear with me as I think reading the article will paint you an accurate picture of what you would like to do.
For most travelers, especially the transcontinental ones, Bangkok is where they arrive in Asia. And even if you are not too fond of big cities, Bangkok deserves your attention. Perhaps you are jet-lagged and wish to be pampered before you continue to your beach resort, or you want to take advantage of the “Bangkok highlife” for a couple of days.
With a wide range of skyscrapers, ultra-luxurious malls, clinics and members-only clubs, Bangkok is a popular destination for millionaires who like to flaunt their wealth. But for westerners, accustomed to a different pricing level, all of these luxuries in the service industry are extremely affordable as well. That means I wouldn’t encourage you to buy your next BMW in Bangkok, but spending an evening at a high-rise restaurant, followed by cocktails and a high-end clubbing experience does not have to break the bank like it would in London or Paris.
And budget travelers should not despair either, as there are different sections in the city that cater perfectly to those with a more modest budget. More and more boutique hostels are opening up outside of the traditional backpackers-district, so anyone looking to spend some time in Bangkok has the luxury of choice.
In a nutshell, the central area around Nana offers the most to people focusing on the nightlife, but don’t be afraid to venture out to Thong Lor. It’s more diverse in its choice of nightlife venues, cleaner and you will come across less tourists. Prostitution is restricted to private clubs only in this part of the city so if you can’t deal with “the oldest trade” in the world, Thong Lor is a great district to spend your time.
The best shopping malls are to be found on Sukhumvit road though, and are all a stone’s throw away from either Nana or Thong Lor, so at the end of the day it isn’t that much of a difference. I am making a point of not listing the different attractions in Bangkok because there truly are so many, and all of them serve different interests. For instance, I would love to recommend a bicycle tour, except in the rainy season and outside Bang Krachao district cyclists will have to fear for their lives. Bangkok is all about finding your own way pilgrim – but please experiment and try as many things as possible!
I’ve briefly touched on the nightlife entertainment in Bangkok, but as far as I am concerned, it is relatively restricted to certain areas in the city so it’s not as in-your-face as other tourists or guides will have you believe. Pattaya on the other hand is a little different, and its nickname “Sin City” tells you all you need to know. Unless you are deaf and blind, you will come across Thailand attractions for adults in Pattaya. Despite popular belief, nobody will force you inside though and the seaside town is more than just that.
For instance, Pattaya is the closest beach town to Suvarnabhumi airport. Bang Saen beach maybe even closer, but it’s too small to be considered. Pattaya on the other hand has it all; a wide variety of golf courses, malls, family-friendly resorts and countless other attractions for people wanting to explore Asia. My personal favorite is the Sanctuary of Truth, which you should check out one afternoon.
Another definite highlight outside of Pattaya is the Silverlake Vineyard. Blink your eyes and you may think you’ve accidentally ended up in Tuscany, due to the architecture and various vineyards.
This is a great one-day trip out of Pattaya or Jomtien (a beach resort just under Pattaya), and with the additional attraction of seeing Buddha Mountain you quickly discover that there is more to Pattaya than what you initially heard. Waterparks, Golf courses, family-friendly resorts, shooting ranges and a wide variety of group activities like dirt-bike tours or quad rentals – Pattaya has it all, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that this is the second most-visited place in the Kingdom, just after Bangkok.
If you are worried about the seedy rumors of the city, don’t fear! Simply book a resort in Jomtien beach, which is close enough to the city but less chaotic and a lot more quiet. In other words, you get to enjoy the beaches and all the other amenities that cater to tourists and if you decide that Jomtien’s rowdy neighbour deserves a visit, the Pattaya nightlife is just a taxi ride away. Both Pattaya and Jomtien are definitely places to visit in Thailand with family, and your choice of hotel or resort is going to determine what kind of holiday you are going to have.
After Bangkok as a port of arrival, Phuket is the 2nd most popular point of arrival for Australians, Singaporeans and travelers from the Emirates. Unlike the more urban character of Bangkok, Phuket offers island life and tropical paradise. It is a great stepping stone to other areas in the South, and whatever you are into in terms of sports or beach relaxation, you can find it on- and around Phuket. Where to stay exactly on the island is covered in more detail in this article.
The most obvious destination to hop over to from Phuket is Krabi provinces and the variety of destinations in that province. Characterised my limestone rocks, the area is a favourite amongst rock climbers, but divers travel here in droves as well.
Think of giant boulders, covered in rainforest and wild monkeys and you get the idea. An occassional traditional junk is spotted as well although nowadays, most boats are the more normal single-hull variant we see in the West as well. Ko Lanta and Phi Pi are top tourist attractions and well known to backpackers, sailors and divers. Ko Lanta is also special because there is a community of sea gypsies, sustaining themselves mostly through fishing and are largely cut off from the rest of Thailand.
I’ve never actually been in the area, but living in Phuket they often appeared in the news, constantly being threatened in their way of life, but civilization steadily progressing in their direction.
Another ultra-popular destination from Phuket is Phang Nga bay, made famous by a James Bond villain back in the seventies. “The Man with the Golden Gun”, Scaramanga had his iconic liar there, which which he sold some stolen top-secret plans. Mind you, for almost two decades now, tourist boats are not allowed to go near the island, as their many bow waves were gradually speeding up erosion of the limestone rocks. So don’t expect to walk on the same beach as James Bond or Nick-Nack!
Completely of my radar, I once drove up the Northern part of Phuket to make it to Ranong for a visa extension. Completely against my expectations, I came across a collection of incredible resorts, some glued to the National Parks like Khao Lak-lam Ru, Khlong Panom or Khao Sok.
During the trip, we often stopped in these resorts for coffee or dinner, and whether you want an ultra-luxurious pampering-style resort on the Andaman sea, or an adventurous floating condo on a lake, you can find pretty much anything you desire if you know where to look. I think you could do worse on a Honeymoon than some of these resorts…
Most Thailand first-timers tend to go to the South or stick around Pattaya for the first time. The second time around, they may opt to spend more time in Bangkok, but from what I’ve heard, by far the most of them tend to travel to Chiang Mai their second time around. Enticed by the prospect of seeing a more authentic Thailand, and not spending their entire holiday on a beach somewhere, travelers fly in to Chiang Mai or find more exotic and rougher ways to get there.
I’ve written before about Chiang Mai, and what exactly you can do out there, so make sure you read up on that over here. The best way I can describe Chiang Mai is that it is less hectic than Bangkok, and most certainly less commercial than the other tourist destinations in Thailand. It’s like Thailand’s very own Berlin, where artists, creative and artisans flock together to do “their thing” up in the North.
As a result, you come across hipster coffeeshops, young adults trying to get their own brand of handmade soap of the ground, and engineers from a local college trying to build vintage motorcycles with electric drivetrains. And at the same time, the older Thai go about their ways, like they have always done before, with excellent street food, great little hotels and all types of artisan workshops producing small orders for Asian customers.
It’s a unique atmosphere and when I was hunting for a very specific Japanese car from the seventies, I wasn’t surprised to find the perfect example in Chiang Mai and not in Bangkok. The people up in Northern Thailand love everything vintage.
When you think about islands in Thailand, you can’t forget about Koh Samui. Also situated in the Southern part of Thailand, but a good 5 hours away from Phuket, this is the more quiet and exclusive island, especially compared to Phuket.
My personal feeling is that Koh Samui caters to a wider range of tourists, with very affordable accommodations, but also some very serious design villas for honeymooners or corporate excursions.
Koh Tao is a neighboring island and the snorkeling is incredible. The exotic fishes are easy to spot and the water is crystal clear. While you’re on the island of Koh Tao, why not take things one step further and travel on to Koh Nang Yuan? These three little micro island are connected through banks of white sand, making for excellent Instagram bait, and the water is just as rich as the sea surrounding Koh Tao.
Nothing is easier as getting to both of these islands, just get to the harbor and ask around about ferry times. If you are with a bigger group of people, you may even want to look into hiring your own longtail boat, just make sure you pay once you get back.
I’ve brushed on the topic briefly, but generally speaking I left out a list of places to visit in Thailand for honeymoon. As I am not in the market for these kind of trips myself, and I know there are many luxurious resorts and other establishments all over Thailand I highly recommend doing your own research. I’ve seen some amazing pictures from Koh Kut and travelers told me the island is deserted at times. So for those looking to celebrate a Honeymoon without noisy families and the partycrowd, look into that little island.
I’ve also left out Koh Phangan and its full moon parties, for the simple reason that I have never been to one of those and probably never will.
More Thailand: Check out other amazing things you can do in Thailand
Melissa is a passionate foodie, travel writer, and editor working in media internationally and in the USA. She has lived in Bangkok since 2004 and has a background in the travel industry. Melissa’s writing has been published globally in many prestigious online and print magazines for over a decade. Her motto for life is “You cannot live or love well if you have not wined and dined well!”