Once the destination-du-jour for gap-year backpackers, Thailand is progressively appealing to a wider market of luxury travellers and families with its increasingly sophisticated resorts from the likes of Four Seasons, W and Six Senses.
Whilst modern comforts are there for the taking, those visions of a far-flung paradise from the movie The Beach still remain, with postcard-perfect tropical islands, white-sand beaches, exotic coconut groves and historic temples all waiting to be discovered.
Its reputation for beauty by day and brash nightlife by sundown may still precede it, but it’s all part of Thailand’s cheeky charm, and despite misconceptions it’s not all Full Moon Parties and go-go bars: indeed, the bold and brash is there for those that seek it, but it’s easily avoided for those after a serene and family-friendly escape.
From bustling cities to paradise islands, check out our guide to Thailand’s top destinations.
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 something of 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 – adds 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.
You can now leave it all behind and experience the ultimate Thailand escape steps away from the famous Karon Beach – one of Phuket’s most pristine beaches, in one of these incredible resorts.
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 from the likes of W Koh Samui’s rooftop Woobar.
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 revelers 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 touristic trappings of some of the other destinations – an insight into Thai life can be gained here.
Or opt for the adults-only route. Pristine sand, untouched nature and uninterrupted relaxation are the order of the day when staying at the incredible, beachfront Beyond Resort Khao Lak, an all-villa resort with a no child policy that is the ultimate romantic retreat. Perfectly situated just 15-minutes’ drive from Khao Lak centre and less than 90 minutes’ drive from Phuket International Airport, the resort overlooks the crystal-clear Andaman Sea and the beautiful white sands of Pakweep Beach.
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.
Commonly used as a transit city, this vibrant and exciting destination is well worthy of an extended stopover and offers so much more than the gritty underbelly it is famed for: with historical palaces and temples, parks and glitzy shopping malls there is plenty to see and do, while there is a myriad of eateries from which to sample the famous Thai cuisine, from street vendors to fine dining establishments.
Rising 61 floors, the five-star Banyan Tree Bangkok is one of the tallest hotels in the world and offers guests a chic sanctuary in the heart of one of the world’s most vibrant cities. Having been featured in Travel + Leisure and The Telegraph and having been stamped with a TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence, the luxury hotel combines elegantly-appointed rooms and world-class service with the out-of-this-world Vertigo Rooftop Bar, award-winning Banyan Tree Spa and high-end, modern facilities to create a tranquil urban retreat that guests won’t forget.
Feel like James Bond and arrive on Koh Maphrao in style via a short speedboat ride from the east coast of Phuket. Floating just two kilometres off the coast in the Gulf of Thailand, one of Phuket’s smallest islands can be spotted as a cluster of vibrant green coconut plantations, interrupted only by the beach bars and cabanas of The Village Coconut Island Resort – a five-star, all-inclusive, private island escape enticing travellers from around the globe to wind down in lavish style.
Lightyears away from its over-developed sister island, “the island of coconuts” flaunts seafoam-green waters and unspoiled beaches – the largest being a 500-metre stretch of golden sands planted conveniently in front of The Village Coconut Island Resort.
Oozing exclusivity in every way, the ultra-secluded resort blends A-list luxury with a laid-back ambience and boasts tropical Outdoor Jacuzzi Suites as well as opulent Pool Villas, two lavish infinity pools and all-day gourmet food accompanied by free-flowing alcoholic drinks.
Converse 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 the 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, and boasts beautiful white-sand beaches, coral-rich turquoise waters and lush rainforests. Hailed as one of the ten best islands in Thailand by Conde Nast Traveller (read more here), 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. Less touristic 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.
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