Famous for its white sandy beaches, grand gold temples, sizzling hot street food and a rich culture; Thailand is the sort of country that keeps on giving. Once you get there, you’ll realise that this is only the beginning of all that this simply stunning country has to offer.
From the bursting concrete jungle of Bangkok, Thailand can seem like a whirlwind experience. The city will lure you in with its mysterious charm where elaborate temples are met with boutique shopping experiences, often on the same street.
No matter where you go from here, there will always be an option to stop on the way to learn more about Thai history and culture, whether that’s the old capitals of Ayutthaya and Sukhothai or the infamous Bridge over the River Kwai. Any journey in Thailand is not complete without a little informative break.
Outside of the city, life is much more simple. Jungle and countryside will lead you to the mountainous north where tradition holds its own. Between the rolling hills, Lanna culture whispers in the background of Chiang Mai’s city streets that are charging towards modernity.
With the mountains behind you, from Bangkok, most decide to go south to the islands. Whether you choose to go halfway to Koh Tao, or all the way towards Phuket and the Phi Phi islands, you’ll be met by the iconic limestone karsts and azure waters that made this country so famous. You won’t believe your eyes.
No Thailand guide book is complete without mentioning the food. Sprinklings of chilli and a heavy hand of lime will season your time here. Thai food is known for its aromatic flavourings where health sits at the centre of all cooking. From night markets to street corners, it’s worth trying as much as you can; food sits at the heart of Thai culture.
It’s impossible to cover all that this country has to offer, but we are going to give it our best shot. Here are our finest picks for your first -or next- Thai adventure;
When to Go to Thailand
The winter season, from November to February, is most popular with travellers to the North of Thailand. While the northern region remains warm during the day, temperatures decrease significantly in the evenings. Depending on where you are travelling from this could be challenging for you.
While the summer months, March to May, may benefit those who are accustomed to a warmer climate, this is the north’s burning season, when the pollution levels are high and visibility is low. The rainy season, from May to October, can be a great time to travel the north when temperatures are comfortable and the mountains are at their most green.
Central and Southern Thailand
Temperatures in Central and Southern Thailand remain hot throughout the year. However, both regions are subject to adverse weather. Central and Southern Thailand have just two seasons, hot and rainy. The hot season ranges from November to May, only to be interrupted by the odd typhoon. The rainy season lasts from June to October although this varies from year to year.
Best Places to Include in Your Thai Tour Package
Bangkok and the Grand Palace
Bangkok is the electric capital of Thailand, a city that has been hot on the tip of travellers tongues for decades. Alive and thriving, Bangkok is bursting at the seams with activity. No trip to the city is the same as you discover avenues, quirky shopping malls, flavoursome food and markets.
Your typical Bangkok sightseeing tours will take you to the most important buildings in the country, including the Grand Palace and the city’s most famous, and sacred temples, Wat Phra Kaew and Wat Pho.
You’ll also have time to discover the many markets in and around the city, including Chatuchak, the largest in the country, the flower market and the train market. No Bangkok private tour is complete without stopping in Chinatown, a city of its own with some of the best street food around.
Phuket and Phi Phi
As Thailand’s largest and most accessible island, your time in Phuket will be what you make of it. If you are looking to be transported to a world of relaxation, you’ll find it. On the flip side, if you are looking to party like you never have before, Phuket will happily deliver.
At its core, Phuket is the introductory island to the remote paradisiacal escapes that await further afield. A continuum of rolling green hills that open up to beautiful bays, the main bases in Phuket are the resort towns of Patong, Karon and Kata. From there, all of Phuket’s places to visit are easy to access, including the quiet beaches you may have been looking for. Back in the resort towns, all the lively activity and parties are waiting for you.
Koh Phi Phi (pronounced pi-pi) is actually six islands, however, only one is inhabited, now mostly by tourism. The Phi Phi islands are the quintessential Thai islands that you were looking for. However, with over one million guests a year, the islands may have a remote location, but they are far from feeling it.
The largest island is Koh Phi Phi Don where all Phi Phi island tour packages begin. From here, you’ll go on boat tour after boat tour to discover the beaches and snorkelling spots and witness the astounding beauty that Thailand is home to, you won’t believe your eyes.
Koh Tao and Koh Phangan
The diving capital of Thailand; if there is anywhere to get your PADI certificate, Koh Tao is the place. This small island in south-central Thailand is ideal for those that don’t have much time to go to the far south and want a more relaxing experience – Koh Tao is a calming escape surrounded by small bays and packed to the brim with waterfalls.
Just across the water is a rather different experience, Koh Phangan is also known for its diving sites, of which it has over 20. It’s also known for one of the most essential backpacking Thailand experiences, the Full Moon Party where youths party the night away, booze buckets in hand.
Away from the party, Koh Phangan is a beautiful island packed to the brim with natural experiences. If the party is not what you’re here for, you’ll spend your time hiking, chasing waterfalls and relaxing on one of the 30 beaches it’s home to. For another perspective, with such abundant sea life, this is the perfect opportunity to try sea canoeing in Thailand.
Pattaya and Hua Hin
For those that are short on time but still looking for the complete Thailand trip package, beachside locations like Pattaya and Hua Hin are just a short distance from Bangkok.
Of all the places in Thailand, Pattaya tours are those with the most weight to them. The beachside city has a sleazy reputation for its role in the country’s sex industry that cannot be avoided, particularly if you choose to take a stroll down its walking street.
Just outside the city, you’ll have to double-check you are still in Thailand’s “sin city”, Pattaya sits on the doorstep of Thailand’s eastern islands such as Koh Samet and Koh Chang, if you wish to extend your time in the eastern side like in this Thailand 2-week holiday.
On the western side, exactly the same distance from Bangkok is Hua Hin, a resort town that caters to a similar age group but without such a heavy hand of sleaze. Hua Hin has a pleasant mix of foreign tourist bars and restaurants with a mix of Thai tourism that offers a much more local touch. Fronted by a long strip of beach, Hua Hin tours will show you that there is something for everyone here.
Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai
Sitting tall in stark contrast to the karsts of the south, Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai are nestled in Thailand’s northern mountainous region running on a completely different climate.
Chiang Mai is the former capital of Thailand’s Lanna region, a golden era for the north when the city was founded and much of the northern culture developed. The city is centred by temples and a fortress that takes you back in time, an essential part of any Chiang Mai tour package.
Chiang Mai is a city of charming contrasts where tradition is respectfully met by the blossoming digital reputation that the city has become known for. With it, comes innovation at its finest.
Chiang Mai’s neighbour is Chiang Rai, a small city that you can reach by journeying through the mountains but not before you stop at Thailand’s highest temple and tallest mountain, Doi Inthanon, a nature lover’s paradise that takes you past waterfalls and walking trails before you reach the temple.
Chiang Rai is most famous for the White Temple, Wat Run Khun, less of a religious structure and more of an ongoing art project with the most intricate detail that warrants careful exploration. Outside of Chiang Rai, you can head towards the Golden Triangle, where history, religion and the Myanmar-Lao-Thai borders meet.
Phang Nga and Krabi
These two stunning regions cover the westernmost point of Southern Thailand including the islands.
Phang Nga is best known for its island-filled national park that is the main highlight of any boat tours from Phuket and beyond. The region dips into and out of the beautiful Andaman Sea and goes across to Phang Nga Bay with endless karsts and bright blue water.
In Phang Nga, the locations seem to get better and better as you’ll see on this 11-day authentic south Thailand tour. Among Phang Nga’s things to do is spend time in the beautiful Khao Lak, which gives you a sense of island life without actually being on an island. Then there’s Ao Phang Nga National Park which is home to all the little islands that are dreamy sea canoeing destinations for you to explore.
Similarly, Krabi refers to the province which stretches across multiple mainland towns, beaches, dreamy karst lands, islands and landscapes that will make you want to pinch yourself. While in Krabi, things to do range from parties in the small town of Ao Nang, which acts as a gateway beach town to island hopping around some of the tiny karst islands that Thailand is known for. After all, this is Thailand’s number one island destination!
Thailand’s Old Capitals: Ayutthaya and Sukhothai
The former capitals of Siam (now Thailand) offer two fascinating historical insights into the birth of Thai culture in all the pride and glory that it has today.
Sukhothai is the oldest of the capitals, the birthplace of the Thai language in its oldest form of the Sanskrit tablatures. Sukhothai is a tightly packed complex of the historical park of the same name. Considered the cradle of Thai culture, Sukhothai is home to the oldest example of Thai art and architecture as we see it today. Sukhothai was left after Ayutthaya became the capital in the 14th century.
Ayutthaya is much larger than Sukhothai, reigning as the capital for double the time until it was invaded by the Burmese in the 1800s. Ayutthaya’s ancient historical park with its many temples, and royal complexes give an idea of what this ancient capital looked like in its prime – it was one of the largest cities of its time next to Angkor and drew some influences from its style.
The most fascinating element of the park, as you’ll see in this 1-day historical Ayutthaya and cruise back to Bangkok Thailand tour, is the way that the Burmese desecrated the city, chopping the heads off of Buddha images that have been left to grow into trees.
Khao Sok National Park
With a climate that has evolved over 160 million years, Khao Sok is not one to disappoint – it’s one of the oldest on the planet. From jungle trails leading you out in search of some of the many species that are found in the park to spending a night or two on the famed Cheow Lake, Khao Sok’s activities come with a cooling mist from the forest canopy. Back on Cheow Lake, it continues to linger between the karst limestone landscape that characterises this part of Thailand so well.
Staying on Cheow Lake is an essential experience while in Khao Sok. A chance to stay in a floating hut is met with kayaking, swimming and the essential sunrise over the karsts like in this 3-day Khao Sok National Park tour that will give you that southern Thailand experience you were looking for.
Ethical Elephant Experiences to Take Part In
One of the main draws to Thailand is to come into contact with elephants. Known as the country’s national animals, Thailand was once home to a large population of Asian elephants, of which a few still roam in the wild.
In light of responsible tourism, it’s important to avoid riding elephants or engage in practices that force the elephants to do things that they wouldn’t normally do, which is eat all day!This can range from anything from circus acts to letting humans bathe them, an operation that can run several times a day to make money. It’s important to acknowledge that while this may not seem like much, they have been trained to do so and are often underfed because of it.
There are just a few experiences that ensure the elephants are as free as they possibly can be, most of which act as retirement homes for elephants that can no longer work in their industry that make a great addition to Thailand adventure holidays. While these experiences can appear to be on the more expensive side, the money goes towards the elephant’s care and most of all, the food that they eat, which is over 100 kilograms a day!
How to Get Around Thailand
Buses and Minivans
Travelling up and down the country, buses and minivans are the cheapest way to get around Thailand.
Minivans will be ready to take you short distances such as around islands, between close by cities or from the airport to your hotel when booked with our Local Experts in Thailand.
The buses are a favourite among backpackers in Thailand, particularly the sleeper buses which often offer significantly more privacy. If you choose to travel during the peak season, book your bus in advance to get the best options.
Tuk Tuks and Songtaew
Operating across the country, tuk-tuks are an iconic symbol of Thailand that everyone is dying to try. Dressed in vibrant colours with everything from elaborate horns to mobile disco stations, getting a tuk-tuk can be an experience. However, it does come at a price for travellers. You can be expected to pay 200 Baht per ride, no matter the distance.
In the countryside and around Krabi and Phuket a songthaew is a larger open vehicle that is similar to a tuk-tuk but more like the bus version. The songthaew only leaves at capacity and is a popular local way of getting around, songthaews can be around 50 Baht per journey.
Operating on four lines that reach all corners of the country, the train services in Thailand are by no means the most efficient way of travelling. With some carriages operating without windows, the trains go slowly, taking their time so much so that taking a bus is often fast. In addition to their slow pace, the trains are also notoriously fast. However, many argue that, if you have the time, it’s worth the slow journey; it’s one of the best ways to enjoy Thailand’s countryside.
The comfort levels range from first to third class, with bunk beds in first class, padded chairs in second and benches in third. Since the train has become a popular method of getting to Chiang Mai, TV’s have even been fitted in first and second-class options.
By far the fastest way to get around, travelling by plane in Thailand is fast, cheap and easy when booked in advance. The main Thai airlines operating are Lion Air and Thai airlines, while there are other airlines operating, these also prove to be the airlines that are on time and fastest operating at the airports.
Please note that in peak season, the airports can be extremely busy, book in advance and come early!
Where to Stay in Thailand
A vast plain of endless high-rises, quaint areas and vibrant life, Bangkok is a metropolis that proves difficult to pinpoint when it comes to accommodation. Our best advice is to choose somewhere that is close to the city’s BTS and MRT lines where you can easily navigate the city from.
Among Bangkok’s most popular areas to stay are Silom, anywhere on Sukhumvit’s incredibly long road and the Ratchathewi area, all of which offer you direct access to the city’s many attractions while still remaining quiet. For budget travellers, most backpackers choose to stay in the Khao San area as it is close to The Grand Palace and riverside area, however, it can get very loud.
Phuket island is much bigger than you think, so it’s important to choose the area well or you could end up with a very different experience to what you originally intended.
Areas like Patong, by far the wildest, Kata and Karon, all attract many travellers who are looking to party with the addition of all the questionable services that Thailand is unfortunately known for. Areas such as Phuket’s Old Town or Chalong have a host of activities while still remaining quiet. There are many quieter areas like Kamala or Bangtao that attract couples and family trips to Thailand looking to escape the Patong madness.
Thailand’s captivating Northern old capital has the hearts of many. To immerse yourself in the old-time charm of the city which is steeped in Lanna tradition, staying in the Old City, surrounded by its fortress walls, is a must. For a more modern immersion in all that Chiang Mai has to offer, the trendy area of Nimman will quickly show you why so many people end up living here.
Krabi is on the hot list of pretty much every traveller looking to witness the beauty of Thailand’s south. However, the biggest misconception is that Krabi is one, easily accessible area – it is a colossal province covering 130 islands and villages.
The gateway to the islands, Krabi town is the only place that goes by this name. Krabi is a quiet area with a bit of a charm to it, a perfect stopping point for travellers looking to head out to the islands.
Krabi offers access to areas such as the party-filled Ao Nang, Koh Lanta, Koh Phi Phi and the famous Railay. It’s important to remember that this is Thailand’s tourist capital, so price ranges are a little higher.
Food to Try in Thailand
Thai food is among some of the spiciest in Southeast Asia. Thai people know that travellers cannot eat this level of spice, so most restaurants will not serve you traditionally prepared food.
The meeting grounds for locals and travellers alike, night markets are bustling social occasions that you will find across Thailand.
You’ll quickly establish that Thai people love to shop and eat, and night markets bring the two together to create the perfect evening! At night markets, you’ll find everything that you want to try, from snacks to full meals, it’s important that you try a little of everything to see what you like!
Here are some of our favourites:
Pla Neung Manow
In Thailand, you’ll see many street hawkers grilling fish on the street. While it will smell amazing, this is the one to be avoided! It’s best to sit down at a local restaurant to make sure you have the freshest fish options.
A favourite is pla neung manow, a steamed fish marinated in helpings of fish sauce, lemongrass, chilli, ginger and lime. You may have the option to try it grilled too. This is best served along with other dishes in a group of people. Just as Thai people do.
Tom Yum Goong
A classic dish for locals and travellers, tom yum is a spicy, sour soup that has a satisfying aroma thanks to lemongrass, lime, tamarind and kaffir leaves that give it a distinct flavour. It’s typically served alongside other dishes or with sticky rice.
There are actually two versions of tom yum goong, one that has a clear broth and the other has a creamy broth that you can eat like a curry. As the dish is so popular worldwide, it’s important that you try it in its homeland to get the real deal!
Pad See Ew
A tasty alternative to the famous pad thai, pad see ew is a firm favourite. This noodle dish is known for its distinctly fat, flat noodle style that is fried up with lots of egg and your choice of chicken, pork or shrimp. To finish it off in true Thai style, you’ll have beansprouts, lime and chilli flakes to add as you wish.
Tom Kha Kai
Fresh, creamy, light and delicious, tom kha kai could be put in a similar category to tom yum. This refreshing dish is a coconut soup with chicken, which seems simple at first but the flavour explosion that you experience when you try the broth will blow you away.
The most important part of tom kha kai, and most of Thailand’s soups and curries is the mix of galangal root, which is similar to ginger, and the kaffir lime leaves that you will taste. This is the perfect dish for those that are looking to branch out from the old favourites without too much spice.
If you’ve ever met someone who has spent time in the north of Thailand, they will have told you about this classic dish. Khao soi is a curried noodle dish that is quite simple yet packs a punch.
Influenced by a similar soup that is popular across the Burmese border, where it is called khao suey, the dish is based on egg noodles with a fragrant curried soup that is typically served with beef or chicken and helpings of pickled onions and vegetables.
Larb or Lap
A dish that is popular around Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Central Vietnam, larb is a meat salad dish that is typically made with finely diced pork or beef mixed with mint leaves, chilli, onion, garlic and tossed in fish sauce. In Thailand, it is best eaten with a little basket of sticky rice to pick up this tasty, fresh dish.
Festivals in Thailand
One of the most anticipated events on the Thai calendar, Songkran is the celebration of Thai New Year that is celebrated in a truly unique way – the whole country takes part in what is the world’s biggest water fight.
Don your swimming goggles and load your water guns for a fun-filled three days of getting well and truly wet! In addition to the water fights there are parades and big feasts to celebrate, the temples are particularly busy at this time with everyone giving their blessings for the year ahead.
Important note: if this doesn’t sound like your kind of fun, consider travelling to Thailand at another time, it’s near impossible to avoid the water fights.
Chiang Mai’s lantern festival is one of the most beautiful events of the year. Head to the banks of the Peng River around November and you’ll witness thousands of lanterns being launched into the sky as people make wishes to be taken away by the breeze.
Letting go of the lanterns symbolises the washing away of bad luck or misfortunes of the past year in preparation for the one that follows. After this beautiful moment, there are many parades, fireworks and religious ceremonies that follow to continue the festivities.
Wonderfruit Music and Arts Festival
Taking place on the outskirts of Pattaya, Wonderfruit is Thailand’s answer to the small scale music festivals you are used to.
Welcoming local and international artists to the stage, Wonderfruit is growing year-on-year with a range of events surrounding the music including art workshops, yoga and some of the best food from Pattaya and Bangkok.
Boon Bang Fai
This rocket festival is celebrated among the Issan community across many villages in eastern Thailand. Boon Bang Fai is the last party before the planting season begins, with its biggest event in Yasothon province.
Taking place in either June or July, the main occasion for Boon Bang Fai is the rocket competition, where individuals are challenged to make a rocket that shoots high into the sky. If the rocket fails to launch, the maker is thrown into a puddle of mud.
Things to Know Before You Go to Thailand
Visa: Most countries have a free 30-day visa for Thailand which should cover your time there. If you want to stay longer you can apply for a three-month visa. It’s best to check before you go.
Currency: The currency used in Thailand is the Thai Baht. At the time of writing, April 2021, 31.25 Thai Baht is equal to 1 US dollar.
Language: In Thailand, people speak Thai. This is a Sanskrit language with letters following a similar pattern to Burmese and Lao. As Thailand is such a well-travelled country, most signs are in English too with a relatively large number of people speaking English.
Cultural: In rural parts of Thailand, it is rude to point, touch a young person’s head or show the soles of your feet to anyone.
Monarchy: Most Thai people hold the royal family in high reverence, particularly the late king who passed in 2016. Defacing anything which has the king’s face on it is considered illegal. For example, if you step on or rip Thai Baht, you can be fined.
Animal Cruelty: Animal cruelty takes many forms in Thailand. Among the most common are elephant rides, tiger photo opportunities and holding smaller animals like tarsiers for money. The only way to stop this is to not engage.
In Temples: Take a shawl or wear long-sleeve clothing and cover your knees for temples and stay quiet, this is a sacred place. When entering, take your shoes off and never show the soles of your feet to the Buddha image.
Scams: In Thailand, scams are well practised, complex and almost unavoidable, particularly in Bangkok and in the south. It’s best to read up on this to be aware of what can happen.
Feeling Intrigued by Thailand?
Thailand really ticks all the boxes. But, it can be difficult to know where to start – this country is packed to the brim with activity!
To start making plans for your trip, browse our range of fully-customisable tours to Thailand to get an idea of what this beautiful country is capable of.
If you can’t quite find what you are looking for, click on ‘design your own trip’ and answer a few simple questions to give an idea of your expectations and travel style. Then, our Local Experts in Thailand will get to work, creating your very own Thailand tour package.
Covering everything from accommodation and transfers to unique local experiences, our Local Experts have all the tools to create the trip of your dreams!