To call Thailand the “Land of Smiles” is an understatement! The energy of this Southeast Asian jewel of a country is beyond infectious. Split between the neon glare of cosmopolitan cities like Bangkok and the raw, verdant islands in the Andaman Sea, Thailand is a culturally-rich destination for exploring temples, night markets, and the non-stop festivities of its many unique celebrations. Here is our look at the top things to do in Thailand.
Floating Markets, Railway Markets & More
Whether you are pulling up a stool by the piping steam of food carts, or reaching out for a bowl of mung bean noodles off the side of a boat rowing down the canal, visiting the markets in Thailand will let you to wine, dine, and haggle in the unlikeliest places imaginable.
The locals live and swear by traditional markets like Chatuchak Weekend Market and Klongsan Plaza Market, while backpacker launch pads like Khao San Road continue to generate buzz for international travellers with their busy nightlife.
With over 15,000 stalls selling almost everything from across the country, Chatuchak is a bustling maze of Thai porcelain ware, silk dresses, fish tanks, and wood carvings strewn across a 1km stretch of market space just north of downtown Bangkok, and draws more than 200,000 visitors every week.
Outside Bangkok, there are several places to experience Thailand’s own movable feast in-person. From the tourist-driven floating markets like Damnoen Saduak and Ayothaya to the Maeklong railway market spread around train tracks in Central Thailand, these portable markets bursts with the colour of fresh produce, awnings, and the hubbub of a market on the constant move.
Island and Beach Hopping in Thailand
From vibrant, animated beaches to eerily quiet and secluded hideaway surrounded by tropical fauna, island-hopping in Thailand will take you across some of the most breath-taking landscapes in the world.
Some islands like the Phi Phi Islands, where the drama film The Beach was shot, are household names and suffer from over-tourism due to their popularity. But others, such as Phuket and Koh Samui remain synonymous with upscale, ritzy, resort destinations for vacationers and honeymooners hoping for beachfront luxury without being too far-flung from civilization.
For a Thai island experience that goes beyond the well-beaten tourist path, venture farther out from the coast to the Similan Islands, and you’ll find endless stretches of tranquil, pearl-white beaches untouched by all-inclusive resorts or hotels. The only way to stay on the islands is to stay in straw roof bungalows or on campsites.
If you were hoping to party like the locals, Koh Phangan is notorious for its non-stop beachfront Full Moon Party that lasts until sunrise, while secluded romantic getaways can be found by Koh Lipe and Koh Tao’s emerald waters and velvety beaches.
Go on a Palace, Ruins, and Temple crawl
From fantastical architectures of imposing Buddhist temples to the soaring golden spires of royal palaces, Thailand is home to several UNESCO World Heritage Sites and modern temples worthy of a weeklong crawl.
Siam Kingdom relics such as Wat Mahathat temple grounds in Sukhothai Historical Park and Wat Chaiwatthanaram in Ayutthaya Historical Park offer perfect photo opportunities to capture Thailand’s rich history and Buddhist culture scattered among picturesque sceneries.
More recent temples, with some still undergoing construction, like the Wat Rong Khun (White Temple) resembles large-scale contemporary installation pieces. The intricately designed temple seemed straight out of Lord of the Rings, with a façade of swirling fire and faces of grimacing demons jutting out from its exterior.
The Sanctuary of Truth in Pattaya might just give the White Temple a run for its money in creative elaborateness. Comparable to a Thai version of Gaudi-esque architecture replete with Buddhist motifs, the Sanctuary is an ever-evolving presentation of eastern religious philosophy surrounding the cycle of life and transcendence. The construction is scheduled to be completed by 2050.
Thailand’s many royal palaces, including the iconic Grand Palace and Bang Pa-In Palace are impressive complexes to be explored, and showcase the continued influence the Thai Royal family has on modern Thailand.
Attend Thailand Festivals
Festivals in Thailand can be both spectacles and citywide parties. The traditional New Year Festival, Songkran, is a countrywide water fight that lasts up to three days. Wherever you are in Thailand between April 13th to 15th, expect all day long street parties, booming music, water guns firing off every direction, and soaked from morning till night until the madness is over.
Quieter spectacles like the Yi Peng lantern festival in Chiang Mai are photogenic events and once-in-a-lifetime chances to be fully immersed in Thai culture. On the full moon of every twelfth lunar month, usually falling between mid to late November, the riverbanks of the city swarm with thousands of sky lantern lights. Baskets with offerings to the water spirit, called Krathong, are floated downstream along with the lanterns. Together, the ritual symbolizes letting go of past illness and misfortunes.
Other large-scale festivities with colourful, vibrant, and outlandish ceremonies such as the Ghost Festival (Phi Ta Khon) and the Lopburi Monkey Banquet Festival are so wildly unique that they are impossible to pass up on when visiting the country.
Explore the Cities of Thailand
From sprawling cosmopolitan cities to beachside paradise, exploring the hubs of Thailand can take you anywhere from solemn, decorated halls of golden temples to rowdy red-light districts dotted by exotic clubs and lurid neon signs.
Modern Thailand is built on the back of its traditional past. In Bangkok, you’ll find glittering skylines juxtaposed by the chedis of Wat Pho temple and the golden spires of the Grand Palace. A similar clash of history and urban development can be found in Chiang Mai, where the historical monuments of its old city are found alongside bustling night bazaars and a short drive from untamed countryside teeming with, rainforests, waterfalls and elephants.
Further out from urban centres and into northern parts of the country, Kanchanaburi and Pai are both scenic towns surrounded by sweeping rice paddy fields and tranquil hillsides, and are places to experience Thailand without touristy attractions. Kanchanaburi is also famous for the Burma Railway of World War II that run across the Bridge on the River Kwai. Here, you can trace the railroad’s route through the rugged mountainsides and enjoy one of the most picturesque parts of the country.
Whether it be modern or traditional, action-packed or laid back things to do, Thailand has got it all.