Top 10 destinations in Thailand

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Thailand

Thailand is a land of temples, mystery and gorgeous scenery. The temples are the biggest tourist draw more often than not and whilst they need to be included on any list of the best attractions in Thailand, there is simply so much more to this fascinating country. Quite often, the tiny unimportant temples can provide just as a rewarding experience as the larger more famous ones. Thailand’s natural scenery provides wonderful places to go and things to do. Here are ten favourites, all would be a worthy addition to any Thailand holiday.

Ayuttaya

An hour’s drive to the north of Bangkok is Thailand’s ancient capital city and now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is worth considering taking a train out, it is a slow moving ride but an interesting one and gives you a taste of train travel in Thailand. It was original chosen as the site for the capital due to its position. Surrounded completely be rivers and a man-made canal, it was strategically easy to defend against Burmese insurgents. However over the years it was pillaged and plundered of its riches, fell into disrepair and was simply overtaken by Bangkok.

At every turn there are important temples, ancient buildings and places of interest. It is a fascinating place to walk round. It can be quite tiring as there is much to see and plenty of stairs to climb. It is a good idea to get a friendly tuk tuk driver and get him to stay with you for the day.

Wat Mahathat
A famous photo opportunity, the Buddha’s head encased in the roots of a banyan tree at Wat Mahathat
A draped reclining Buddha.
A draped reclining Buddha.

Hang Nga Bay

Thailand’s answer to Vietnam’s Halong Bay, is to the east of Phuket. The rich emerald green sea is peppered with small islands, limestone Karsts, that rise out of the water and tower about the tiny boats taking holiday makers to see the sights. It is here that the now famous “James Bond Island” is located. Koh Ta-pu, the name means Nail Island, was used for the filming of “The Man With The Golden Gun”. It is an amazing geological feature.

Koh Ta-pu
The iconic, James Bond Island, Koh Ta-pu

Also here is the floating Village of Koh Panyee. This is an amazing place. It looks like a tourist trap when the boats arrive, bringing tourists for lunch. But as soon as he boats depart it reverts back to a genuine floating fishing village. It was here that the locals boys built a floating Football pitch years ago and took on other teams from Thailand. Amazingly the floating village escaped major damage in the Tsunami of 2004.

 football pitc
The football pitch at Koh Panyee

The Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew

Undoubtedly the biggest tourist draw in Bangkok. The Palace was built in 1782 and for the next 150 years was home to the Royal Family and also the administrative headquarters for the country. It is a remarkable set of buildings, all delicate decorated. It remains the spiritual focus for the Thai people.

Inside the grounds the most famous building is Wat Phra Kaew, the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. The Buddha itself is tiny in stature but huge in religious significance. The King changes the robes on the Buddha at the start of each season. Visitors have to follow a strict dress code here. Cover your shoulders, no shorts, socks must be worn if you are wearing sandals and ladies cannot wear anything of see-through material.

Wat Phra Kaew
Wat Phra Kaew

Khao Yai

The UNESCO World Heritage Site of Khao Yai is certainly one of the best attractions in Thailand. It is a large lush mountainous place, spreading across four provinces, its main area being in Khorat. It covers 115 square miles and has the 4,400 feet high Khao Rom Mountain at its heart.

There is a huge amount of varied flora and fauna in the park, with 3000 species of plants, 320 bird species and 66 species of mammals. There are beautiful waterfalls including the spectacular Heo Narok and Heo Suwat, that featured in the movie, “The Beach”. There are plenty of things to do in the park, whether you are more interested in the scenic beauty and wildlife or having fun. It offers waterfall hiking trips, golf, farm tours, scenic mountain bike rides, horse riding, and combat-style games. A great day out for all the family it’s loads of fun, being one of the best attractions in Thailand for kids.

Khao Yai National Park
Khao Yai National Park

Chiang Mai and Doi Suthep

Chiang Mai is a delightful walled city in the north of Thailand. One of my favourite spots I lived there for a while. It has a laid back pace to life and simply forces people to chill out. casual markets selling pineapple, watermelons and durian spring up around the walls every day. The main traffic uses the inner ring road or the newer outer one and this means that things inside the old part of town manage to remain quiet, by Thai standards. There are lovely restaurants especially down by the waterfront and an abundance of live music.

To the Northwest of the city the mountain of Doi Suthep overlooks proceedings, standing 5528 feet at the summit. It has some of the most well respected and love treasures of the country, situated on it. In 1981 it was named as a National Park. The total size od which is now about 100 square miles. The most well visited site here is Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, a one of the most holy Buddhist sites in Thailand. The temple is a major pilgrimage destination, with thousands making the trip during during the Buddhist holidays of Makha Bucha and Visakha Bucha.

Wat Phra That Doi Suthep
Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

Pai

A favoured spot especially among backpackers, Pai is a blossoming town on route 1095 between Chiang main and Mae Hong Son. The town has many cheap guesthouses, souvenir shops, bars and restaurants.Also here or close by are many spas and elephant camps. This is a super place to use as a base for trips to see the ethnic minority people of the Karen, Lahu, H’Mong and Lisa hill-tribes.

Karen girl
The famous long necked women of the Karen Tribe

Its main source of economy comes from tourism and this has been boosted by the building of an airport. Thankfully none of the boosts to tourism have had much of a negative impact on the town and it remains a languid and restful place to stay. Many Thai’s now travel here especially since Pai was used as a venue for two popular Thai movies.

Railay Beach

This rocky headland is only accessible by boat, making it an especially tranquil place to be. This is tropical paradise at its best. White sandy beaches, huge limestone karst edifices, great viewing points, crystal clear water, and even a hidden lagoon. The only thoroughfares are paths and the only traffic consists of the long tail boats carrying people to and fro.

Railay Beach
Railay Beach

The more adventurous have known about this place for years but recently it has become a lot more popular. No doubt its delightful charm won’t last forever, but at the moment it is an amazing place. I couldn’t think of a list of the best attractions in Thailand that didn’t feature this. Situated at the southern end of Krabi it is about 25 miles east of Phuket.

Kanchanaburi

An absolutely beautiful area in Western Thailand noted for amazing scenery, National Parks and beautiful waterfalls. The provincial capital shares the same name. Its has a delightful tropical savanna climate, with dry and warm winters and hot spring and Autumn times. The monsoon comes between May and October, with daytime rain storms.

Deep Forest Waterfall
Deep Forest Waterfall In Kanchanaburi

It is here that the famous Bridge over the River Kwai is to be found. A dark time in history 50% of the forced workers died during its construction, by the Japanese. Understandably it receives many allied visitors and Thai people coming to pay their respects at the war cemetery and the Jeath War Museum. Also close by are Wat Tham Phu Wa in which many statues of the Buddha are found depicting him at various times throughout his life, and a Tiger Temple.

Koh Tao

Turtle Island, as its name mens, is situated in the Chumpian Archipelago of the Western coast of Thailand. Sadly its name will remain synonymous with the two British tourists tragically murdered here in 2014. However it is a delightful spot and worthy of its place on a list a best attractions in Thailand. It is a huge pull for scuba divers who describe the local dive sites as among the best in the world.

Although it gets its name as early settlers thought its shape resembled a turtle, it is an important breeding ground for Hawksbill and Green Turtles. A breeding programme established in 2004 has seen their numbers increasing from a low caused by human activity. It is a beautiful island and a great place to spend some time.

Turtle Island
Turtle Island, Koh Tao

Bangkok

It simply would be ridiculous not to include Khrung Thep the nations capital city on any list of best attractions in Thailand. It is the most visited tourist city in the world and provides visitors with an endless supply of things to see and do. The “City of Angels” is wild, noisy, polluted, at times dirty and one of the greatest cities on earth. It is a full on 24 hour party town and yet one of the most spiritual; places on earth. An abundance of Buddhist temples sit alongside girlie bars and go-go clubs in the most unusual of alliances. It is not uncommon to see bikini clad girls on the same streets as monks in their orange robes.

Bangkok is almost one of the world’s truly great gastronomic cities. Restaurants of every imaginable cuisine are all over the city, providing dining with everything from pizza to fine dining. Thai street food is legendary and nowhere is it ore readily available than here. The shopping is amongst the best in Asia with again, everything possible available. Designers clothes to cheap knock-off watches.

Bangkok at night
Bangkok at night

I know that other people will have other ideas, but I feel that these are all unmissable, and that’s why they make my list of best attractions in Thailand. Let us know your choices.

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Following a highly successful 25-year career as a singer/songwriter and musician, Keith pulled out of the rat race and moved to Southeast Asia in 2008. First living in Thailand, he moved to Cambodia and then relocated to Ho Chi Minh City in early 2013. Keith has had work published in magazines and websites in the UK, Europe, USA, Australia and Asia. He has written for the BBC and has appeared on TV and radio in many different countries. His great loves are music and travel, but he writes on a whole range of subjects.