Things to see and do in Thailand
Attractions in Thailand
Cheer the winning fighter at kickboxing match
Muay thai (Thai kickboxing) is the national martial art, an ancient form of combat with spiritual overtones. Awesome bouts can be seen in most major cities, preceded by elaborate rituals and accompanied by Sarama, the rhythmic music played on drums, cymbals and the Thai oboe. If you fancy getting in the ring, there are training academies across the country that offers training to beginners and experienced fighters.
Dive into the jungle in a Thai National Park
Large areas of Thailand are given over to national parks, many in the jungle-covered highlands where the landscape is too tortuous for agriculture. Doi Inthanon National Park near Chiang Mai surrounds the nation’s highest peak, while Khao Sok National Park near Phanom preserves the largest area of virgin jungle in Thailand.
Drift around the islands of Phang Nga Bay
Covering 400 sq km (154 sq miles) Phang Nga Bay is one of the world's great scenic wonders. Rising surreally from the turquoise ocean, are hundreds of limestone islands and outcrops, home to rare wildlife and peppered with caves and grottoes. If it looks familiar, it’s probably because The Man with the Golden Gun was filmed here in 1974.
Find a perfect beach on Thai islands
Thailand’s islands offer some of Asia’s finest beaches. Take your pick from resort luxury on Ko Samui, backpacker vibes on Ko Chang, or a peaceful experience on Ko Lipe. In fact, pretty much every Thai island has a perfect beach to kick back on.
Get in touch with your spiritual side on a meditation course
There are retreats all over Thailand where you can get in touch with your spiritual side, from yoga resorts on tropical beaches to remote forest monasteries offering strict training in Buddhist meditation. If you are just curious about Buddhism, try chatting to the monks at Chiang Mai’s popular ‘monk chat’ sessions.
Get soaked for Songkran
The biggest party on the Thai calendar, Songkran marks the Thai New Year every April. After genteel visits to monasteries to shower Buddha images with water, locals grab hosepipes and water pistols and engage in running water fights in the streets of Bangkok and Chiang Mai. The atmosphere is incredible, and everyone – foreigners included – gets a soaking.
Go temple hopping in Chiang Mai
The temple-studded city of Chiang Mai is the capital of northern Thailand, and the homeland of the Lanna people, who were once an independent nation before unification with the Kingdom of Siam. Within the ruined medieval city walls are dozens of timeless wats (monasteries) with soaring, tiered rooftops adorned with golden carvings of nagas (sacred serpents).
Interact with elephants at Elephant Nature Park near Chiang Mai
Thailand’s Elephant Nature Park (+66 53 272 855; www.elephantnaturepark.org) focuses on gentle elephant interactions. Visitors can wander with herds of jumbos rescued from tourist shows and logging camps. Elephant Nature Camp is one of the best, and visitors feed the herd and participate in elephant bath time.
Learn the fine art of Thai cooking
Why stop at just tasting Thailand’s fabulously spicy cuisine? Across the country, local cooks have started cooking schools where you’ll learn to whip up the perfect green curry and pound your own curry pastes, usually after a visit to a local market to buy ingredients. Bangkok is Thailand’s undisputed cooking school capital.
Make the pilgrimage to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep in Chiang Mai
The gleaming golden spire of Wat Phra That Doi Suthep rises above the rooftops of Chiang Mai from the slopes of Doi Suthep, the city’s most sacred peak. The monastery was founded in the 14th century, after the location was selected by a wandering white elephant, and it remains a stunning example of Northern Thai architecture.
Marvel at the grandeur of the Grand Palace in Bangkok
Rising like a gilded shrine beside the Chao Phraya River, Bangkok's glittering Grand Palace is one of the wonders of Asia. In the grounds is the equally glittering Wat Phra Kaew, a temple covered in gold and mosaics. Also known as the Temple of the Emerald Buddha in English, houses in its most sacred sanctum the legendary Emerald Buddha, once enshrined in both Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai.
Measure up against Thailand’s biggest reclining Buddha
A stone’s throw from the Royal Palace, magnificent Wat Pho is the most important monastery in old Bangkok and the spiritual home of Thai massage. As well as chapels piled high with golden Buddha images, the monastery enshrines the largest reclining Buddha in Thailand, measuring 46m (151ft) from its gilded topknot to its mother of pearl-inlaid feet.
Ride the Chao Phraya Express
All day, the crowded ferry boats of the Chao Phraya Express cruise up and down the Chao Phraya river, offering gorgeous glimpses of the spires of the Grand Palace and the towering prangs (temple towers) of Wat Arun (www.watarun.net). As well as front row seats for life on the river, the boats are buffeted by cooling breezes.
Roam through the ruins of a vanished empire in Ayuthaya
The ruins of abandoned royal capitals are scattered across the central plains in Thailand, but the UNESCO-listed remains of the Ayutthaya Kingdom, the most important power in the country from 1351 to 1767, are perhaps the most atmospheric. Exploring the ruins by bicycle, you’ll still be struck by the grandeur of the crumbling monasteries and Buddha images on all sides.
Scale the limestone cliffs of Krabi
Krabi was a sleepy country town before rock climbers discovered the astonishing karst cliffs at Ao Nang and Rai Leh. Today, hundreds of bolted sport climbing routes ascend soaring limestone buttresses that rise dramatically above white sand beaches, and Krabi has become an essential stop on the backpacker circuit. Local climbing schools can show you the ropes.
Scuba dive the teeming reefs of southern Thailand
Thailand’s coral reefs are one of world’s best places to scuba dive, attracting everything from miniature shrimps to gigantic whale sharks. The southern coast is dotted with spectacular dive sites, some accessible from shore, others only open to divers on live-aboard cruises. Topping the list are the Surin Islands and Similan Islands, north and northwest of Phuket respectively.
Step into Thai history in the Bangkok National Museum
Bangkok National Museum (+66 2 224 1333; www.virtualmuseum.finearts.go.th) is the largest museum in Southeast Asia and houses some remarkable relics from Thai history, including the gold-encrusted funeral chariots used for members of the Thai royal family. Nearby, on the far side of the river, are the Royal Barges used for ceremonial processions on the Chao Phraya River.
Trek in the hills above Chiang Rai
A hill tribe trek has become an established part of the Thai traveller experience, but the traditional image of hill tribe farmers in native costume is harder to find with each passing year. The most popular spot for treks into the hill tribe heartlands is Chiang Rai, a place worth visiting in its own right for its northern-style monasteries and laid-back attitude.
Unwind with a traditional Thai massage
Traditional Thai massages – reputedly founded by the personal physician of the Buddha more than 2,500 years ago – is offered on every other street corner in Thailand. Some of the best practitioners are trained by the massage school at Bangkok’s Wat PhoThai Traditional Medical and Massage School (www.watpho.com), the home of Thai massage, or graduates from government training programmes for the blind and rehabilitated ex-convicts.
Walk across the Bridge Over the River Kwai
Internationally famous thanks to the 1957 film The Bridge on the River Kwai, the iron-bridge that spans the Kwai River was constructed as part of the Japanese Siam-Burma 'Death' Railway during WWII. An estimated 16,000 allied prisoners of war died during in its construction, and the bridge remains a poignant symbol of the Japanese occupation.
Tourism Authority of Thailand in the USAAddress: 61 Broadway, Suite 2810, New York City, 10006
Telephone: +1 212 432 0433
Tourism Authority of Thailand in the UKAddress: Trafalgar Square, First Floor, 17-19 Cockspur Street, London, SW1Y 5BL
Telephone: +44 20 7925 2511