Thailand, also known as the Land of Smiles, is a jewel of Southeast Asia, is a country ripe with opportunity for once-in-a-lifetime travel experiences. There are many fascinating places to visit in Thailand but the seaside resorts attract most of foreign visitors. There are a lot of world-class hotels and all manner of international cuisine.
Cities like Bangkok and Chiang Mai are bustling hives of activity and commerce, in the mountains we can find elephants or the bold monkeys (who will steal your lunch as soon as look at you). Thailand’s attractions are diverse and each provides a rewarding and memorable experience in its own way.
Bangkok began as a small trading center and port community on the west bank of the Chao Phraya River 200 years ago. Today, while the city is up to speed with modern times, the grandeur and glory of its illustrious past still prevails. It has dazzling temples, spectacular palaces, a world-famous floating market or colorful Chinatown, each of these famous places has an intriguing story to tell.
If there is one must-see sight that no visit to Bangkok would be complete without, it’s the dazzling, spectacular Grand Palace, undoubtedly the city’s most famous landmark. Built in 1782 –and for 150 years the home of the Thai King, the Royal court and the administrative seat of government– the Grand Palace of Bangkok.
It has beautiful architecture and intricate detail, all of which is a proud salute to the creativity and craftsmanship of Thai people. Within its walls were also the Thai war ministry, state departments, and even the mint. Today, the complex remains the spiritual heart of the Thai Kingdom.
Within the palace complex are several impressive buildings including Wat Phra Kaew (Temple of the Emerald Buddha), which contains the small, very famous and greatly revered Emerald Buddha that dates back to the 14th century.
Wat Arun (The Temple of Dawn)
The impressive silhouette of Wat Arun’s towering spires is one of the most recognised in Southeast Asia. Constructed during the first half of the 19th century in the ancient Khmer style, the stupa showcasing ornate floral pattern decked out in glazed porcelain is stunning up close. Apart from its beauty, Wat Arun symbolises the birth of the Rattanakosin Period and the founding of the new capital after Ayutthaya fell.
Wat Pho (the Temple of the Reclining Buddha), or Wat Phra Chetuphon
It is located behind the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, it’s one of the largest temple complexes in the city and famed for its giant reclining Buddha that measures 46 meters long and is covered in gold leaf. This is also a great place to get a traditional Thai massage. Wat Pho is often considered the leading school of massage in Thailand.
Jim Thompson’s House
Jim Thompson’s three decades of dedication to the revival of Thai silk, then a dying art, he changed the industry. After he mysteriously disappeared into the jungle of Malaysia, he left a legacy behind, which is reflected through his vast collections of Thai art and antiques now on display at the Jim Thompson’s House and Museum, itself a lovely complex of six Thai-style teakwood transported from Ayutthaya and Bangkok’s Ban Krua community, echoes Jim Thompson’s 30-year love affair with Southeast Asian art and cultural heritage.
Wat Traimit (Temple of the Golden Buddha)
The Golden Buddha, officially titled Phra Phuttha Maha Suwana Patimakon, is a gold statue, with a weight of 5.5 tons. It is located in the temple of Wat Traimit, Bangkok. At one point in its history the statue was covered with a layer of stucco and coloured glass to conceal its true value, and it remained in this condition for almost 200 years, ending up at what was then a pagoda of minor significance. The statue is 3 metres (9.8 ft) tall.
Wat Suthat is the highest royal temple. Inside the wí·hăhn (sanctuary for a Buddha sculpture) are intricate Jataka (stories of the Buddha) murals and the 8 meters high Phra Si Sakayamuni, Thailand’s largest surviving Sukhothai-period bronze, cast in the former capital of Sukhothai in the 14th century. Today the ashes of Rama VIII (King Ananda Mahidol; 1935–1946) are contained in the base of the image.
Named after the Buddha’s place of birth in Nepal, Lumphini Park is the best way to escape Bangkok without leaving town. Shady paths, a large artificial lake and swept lawns temporarily blot out the roaring traffic and hulking concrete towers.
Phuket is Thailand’s biggest island, it is about 50kms long by 20 kms wide, and it is connected to the mainland by a road bridge.
In Railay we find white sand beaches, clear blue water, and a feeling that you’ve found a slice of paradise. You have to take a boat to reach the island getaway, with services available from Krabi town and Ao Nang. You can also go elephant trekking, whitewater rafting, kayaking, and snorkeling, or take on some lighter options such as cooking classes and indulging in a massage. There’s also the tourist-friendly Diamond Cave, with a convenient walkway to accommodate curious visitors looking to do some exploring between stretches of sunbathing.
The Phi Phi Islands
The Phi Phi Islands are one of Thailand’s most popular resort areas for a reason. Only Phi Phi Don is inhabited, with day trips available to the surrounding islands. One of the fun spots on Koh Phi Phi is Monkey Beach, where you’ll come face-to-face, literally, with the namesake creatures. You can hire a guide to take you out on a small wooden boat or rent your own kayak. There’s also a small stand where you can buy snacks and fruit shakes, but hang onto your treats. If you leave them unguarded, the monkeys will brazenly dig in and chow down right in front of you. Long Beach is another nice spot on the island; it’s not a secluded place, but is great for watching the sunset. If you’re lucky and the tide is out, it’s a beautiful walk back toward the main part of the island.
Ayutthaya: a fascinating historical park and UNESCO World Heritage Site
Ayutthaya was the second capital of Siam (Thailand) for 417 years from 1350 to 1767 until its destruction by the Burmese. In their attack, Burmese forces burned the city to the ground and destroyed sacred shrines, chedis, and Buddha statues. The structures that managed to survive the fire were buried beneath the ground for hundreds of years.
Nowadays, much of Ayutthaya has been unearthed and its ruins form an archaeological park. Visitors can walk around the ruins with relative freedom to see magnificent temples, palaces, and Buddha statues. The park is home to several striking buildings. Among them are Wat Phra Ram Temple, Wat Chaiwatthanaram monastery, and Wat Phra Si Sanphet.
Ayutthaya presents a glimpse into the glory of ancient Thailand, where you can visit the ruins of the former capital. After the Sukhothai period, the city was the most important in Thailand, and the old palaces and temples stand as a testament to this. There are also several foreign settlements, where you can gain a greater understanding of the influence other countries had in Thailand at the time.
After the destruction of Ayutthaya, the capital of Siam was established along the Chao Praya River in Bangkok. The Grand Palace complex was built for the new capital; a 218,000 square-meter walled city comprised of royal residences, throne halls, government offices, Buddhist temples, and priceless works of art.
Chiang Mai sits atop Doi Suthep, a mountain overlooking Thailand’s northern rose of a city. In a crowd of monks, devout Buddhist followers, and fellow travelers, you’ll have a chance to marvel at intricate religious carvings, observe worship rituals, and gaze out over the ever-growing sprawl of Chiang Mai city.
Chiang Mai is known as the “Rose of the North.” Expats from all over the world are seduced by Chiang Mai’s laid-back culture, beautiful Buddhist temples, plentiful restaurants, and spirited nightlife. Every evening, the city hosts its night bazaar, a favorite among bargain shoppers.
Chiang Mai is located far away from the sea in the hills of northern Thailand. Its mix of beautiful scenery and the architectural reminders of its rich history particularly appeals to people looking for a more cultural experience on their holiday.
Wat Rong Khun
Wat Rong Khun, or the “White Temple,” is a visually striking, ornate Buddhist temple located a 20-minute drive south of Chiang Rai. Conceptualized and built by Thai artist, Ajarn Chalermchai Kositpipat, the White Temple has become a highlight on many Thailand itineraries.
The White Temple’s design does not match the traditional styles of other Buddhist temples throughout Thailand, and that was the artist’s intention. Chalermchai has created a surreal representation of what he sees are obstacles to the path of enlightenment.
Thailand’s markets are exciting, lively and a significant part of the local culture. Experiencing the flurry and sensations of a floating market from a long-tail boat is a memorable way to spend a morning.
A visit to one of the floating markets is a fun way to do some shopping and eating while supporting local vendors and observing local commerce in action. Some do seem to cater more to the tourist crowds than to be part of the fabric of local Thais’ daily lives, but there are others that make for a nice authentic travel experience. You’ll need to get up early to visit a floating market, as vendors are out in their long wooden boats first thing in the morning with their goods, fresh fruits, vegetables, spices, and tasty dishes.
There are several floating markets near Bangkok, Amphawa and Damnoen Saduak being among the most popular.