Glamorous city break, lazy beach getaway, gourmet travel or cultural exploration? You don’t have to choose: it’s all here.
The beating heart of South-East Asia, Thailand’s reputation as a holiday hotspot for every type of traveller is known across the globe. The capital of Bangkok vibrates with energy created by its modern skyscrapers, floating markets and renowned dining scene, while Phuket, Krabi and Khao lak serve up beachside vibes and five-star resorts for families and couples looking to flop and drop.
While first-time travellers will flock to the capital, limestone karsts and white-sand beaches, those looking to really delve into the soul of this magnificent country will find the northern city of Chiang Mai and the lesser known islands deliver an authentic Thai experience.
Commonly used as a transit city, this vibrant and exciting destination is worthy of an extended stopover. With historical palaces and temples, parks and glitzy shopping malls there is plenty to see and do.
Visit the famous Grand Palace and admire its exquisite architecture, and be awe-struck by The Reclining Buddha, covered in shimmering gold leaf. If you want to pick up a souvenir or two, Chatuchak Market is one of the largest in the world, perfect for finding a special memento of your trip. Or for something slightly different, you can visit Pak Khlong Talat, a 24-hour flower market home to every kind of bloom imaginable. After a day of exploring, you will have your choice of a myriad of eateries where you can sample famous Thai cuisine, from street vendors to fine dining establishments.
The island of Phuket boasts some of Thailand’s most sought-after white-sand beaches, with excellent diving, a plethora of restaurants, bars, shops and markets and a buzzing night scene.
Phuket has a reputation as a party island, but simply bypass Bangla Road if that’s not your scene: resorts in quieter spots on the island offer perfect family-friendly escapes, whilst the historic Old Town – with its temples and a fascinating medley of architectural influences – add a dash of culture to the mix.
The added beauty of Phuket is its proximity to some of the most captivating sights in Thailand: the breathtaking Phang Nga Bay, with its dramatic limestone rock formations, islands, caves and emerald green waters scattered with coral reefs, and the glorious Phi Phi islands, home to Maya Bay where the famous film The Beach was shot.
One of Thailand’s most popular islands, Koh Samui is also one of the sleekest and most tourist-friendly, and continues to attract holiday-makers with its increasingly glossy resorts and high-end experiences.
By day, explore the island with its sandy, palm-fringed beaches (Chaweng is one of the best), waterfalls, temples and monuments, and by night, stroll through the Fisherman’s Village in Bophut with its eclectic mix of boutiques, restaurants, bars and street vendors. On the seashore, music and revellers from the beachside bars and restaurants spill onto the sand as lanterns float up into the sky.
If Koh Samui isn’t quite the unspoiled paradise you’d dreamed of, postcard perfection is within easy reach: take a boat trip to the idyllic Koh Tao – one of the most sought-after scuba-diving sites in Thailand – and go kayaking around the mangroves of Ang Thong Marine Park; an archipelago of 42 islands boasting spectacular scenery of lush jungle, mountains, aquamarine waters and white-sand beaches.
The serene Khao Lak – around a two-hour drive north of Phuket on the mainland – offers a peaceful resort vibe nestled between the rainforest and the glorious long beaches stretching the coast of the Andaman Sea. Offering a more authentic taste of Thailand – with less of the tourist trappings of other destinations – Khao Lak gives visitors an insight into Thai life and easy access to the spectacular natural scenery that makes this country such an idyllic location. Spend your day tanning at Nang Thong Beach, hike to the picturesque Lam Ru waterfall, soak in Sapong hot springs or sample local cuisine at the Ban Niang Night Market. Perfect for a laid-back seaside escape, Khao Lak is also an ideal launchpad from which to explore the islands of Mu Ko Similan and Mu Ko Surin.
In contrast to laid-back island life, the vibrant city of Chiang Mai is buzzing with energy and activity, with tuk-tuks and traffic pulsing down the streets, night markets teeming with locals and tourists alike and magnificent ancient temples hiding amongst the modern-day metropolis.
A stroll through the nightly market is an assault on the senses: allow yourself to be carried with the swell of bodies and spot stalls selling everything from souvenirs to street food, from deep-fried insects to more palatable Nutella crepes. The only moment when the commotion stops is when Thailand’s national anthem crackles over the speakers; an automatic signal for all to stop and stand in quiet respect.
Need space from the city? Chiang Mai is embraced by lush green mountains and national parks that are perfect for hiking.
Away from the hustle and bustle that some areas of Thailand are renowned for, Koh Lanta is a peaceful haven in the country’s south near the islands of Phi Phi, boasting beautiful white-sand beaches, coral-rich turquoise waters and lush rainforests. The island is relatively flat, making it perfect for exploring by motorbike, though less adventurous types may prefer strolling down Long Beach. Venture to the eastern side of Koh Lanta and you will be rewarded with the charming Old Town, where you can admire gorgeous teak houses perched on stilts over the water. Hailed as one of the ten best islands in Thailand by Conde Nast Traveller, Koh Lanta is home to dreamy beaches that are perfect for diving and kayaking, while the island of Krabi is just an hour away by boat.
Krabi on the western coast of Thailand is the more serene sister of the adjacent Phuket, offering natural, unspoiled beauty with white-sand beaches, caves, jungle, islands and lush mangroves to explore. This stunning natural playground lends itself to outdoor pursuits such as kayaking, rock climbing, snorkelling and diving. When in Krabi, a must-visit is the magnificent Railay Beach. Accessible only by boat thanks to the imposing limestone cliffs that cradle this secluded spot, Railay Beach will be a highlight of any trip to Krabi. Trade white sands for green jungle and hike through Thung Teao Forest Natural Park , where you might stumble upon the crystal-clear waters of the Emerald Lagoon. Less touristy than Phuket, you’ll find charming, rustic beachfront eateries and bars in which to while away the evenings. Ascend the mountain to the Tiger Cave Temple and be rewarded with panoramic views over Krabi.