must-sees in Thailand
Tourism has been developing seriously in the kingdom since the 1970s. Today, there’s both a very well trodden trail and a very well developed travel infrastructure to take any pain out of travel here. Relatively easy to get around, and, by regional standards, quite affordable, the country attracts a vast number of tourists from all corners of the globe—you’re just as likely to be sharing a beach bar with an Australian as an Austrian, or indeed a Singaporean.
Thailand packs a solid punch when it comes to offering appealing attractions, but when it comes to the absolute must-sees in Thailand, a few spots really shouldn’t be missed. Choose from scores of tropical islands, multiple sites of fascinating ruins, trekking destinations in the north and, for those seeking an intense megalopolis experience, the nation’s capital Bangkok never disappoints.
Bangkok: Set astride the majestic Chao Phraya River, Bangkok represents all that is good and bad about an Asian mega-city. It’s a city with something, somewhere for everyone, whether it be delicious street food, offbeat nightclubs, serene yoga classes or colourful market shopping.
Chiang Mai: This is Thailand’s northern capital, and with its smaller size and population, Chiang Mai has a lot to offer travellers. The centre of town is packed with glittering temples, excellent restaurants and expansive shopping markets, all of which are easily taken in on foot.
Historic ruins: Three destinations between Bangkok and Chiang Mai are home to important historic ruins dating back as far as the 13th century. Both Sukhothai and Ayutthaya were former capitals and are the two most popularly visited. Kamphaeng Phet will appeal to those looking to get a little further off the beaten trail.
Islands: With so much variety, we’re wary of nominating absolute faves, but these four very different islands are difficult to beat. Ko Pha Ngan is a highlight for its amazing variety of beaches and affordable accommodation, Ko Jum boasts a bo-ho laidback vibe, Ko Bulon Lae shows how tourism can exist in harmony with the tranquil rhythm of the islanders and Ko Kut offers a more upmarket and serene option—and the beaches are gorgeous.
Kanchanaburi: A short hop from Bangkok, Kanchanaburi is home to pristine national parks, cavernous caves, majestic rivers, lakes, waterfalls and temples. For many though, this takes a backseat to the area’s World War II history.
Pai: Once a sleepy and somewhat remote Shan town, Pai, while still a bit of an effort to reach, is these days well and truly on the traveller’s map of northern Thailand. If you’re a young backpacker on a first trip to Thailand, it can be a great scene.
Nong Khai: Overlooking the Mekong River within earshot of Laos, Nong Khai boasts magnificent landscapes, waterfalls and forest temples nestled into its surrounds. Add in a good mix of affordable accommodation, yummy food and one quirky yet awe-inspiring sculpture park and you have an appealing destination.
Hua Hin: A vast white-sand beach, thriving art scene, tacky tourist sights, early 20th century architecture, seedy bars, scenic hills and golf courses, hastily developed streets, aggressive touts, inflated prices, family-friendly resorts and lots of European retirees: Love it or hate it, Hua Hin has a character all its own.
Krabi: A mash-up of funky bars, Western restaurants and old-school markets slinging fiery curries somehow come together to form a fun and intriguing town, better known as Krabi.
What to watch out for
Sadly Thailand has more than its fair share of scams. Gem scams, especially in Bangkok, persist. Petty theft, snatch and grabs and other crimes of opportunity are not uncommon in heavily touristed areas.
Violent crime specifically aimed at foreign travellers remains rare, but does happen. Use your common sense, stay under control and, if a situation becomes uncomfortable, leave or seek assistance immediately.
Having adequate travel insurance cover is essential.
Thailand’s road toll is extremely high. Drink driving is endemic, especially over public holiday periods, when hundreds of people die on the roads. Bus accidents are frequent. Always wear a motorcycle helmet when riding a bike. Do not ride a motorbike if you don’t know how. Public boats are frequently overloaded and speed boats are often overloaded and driven erratically or dangerously. Public boats sink frequently, often with insufficient life jackets. If the boat looks overloaded to you, or the weather dangerous, do not get on board. There will be another.