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Thailand’s capital is a fast, buzzing city of over eight million people. Known for its cosmopolitan feel and vibrant street life, Bangkok is also a great gateway to the country’s best temples and palaces. And while it’s easy to forget when walking among Bangkok’s skyscrapers, the city’s heart is on the water–the many canals networking throughout the neighborhoods and the vibrant Chao Phraya River, which you can tour on a long-tail boat cruise.
Ko Phi Phi
Situated off the southeastern coast of Phuket in the Krabi Province is the idyllic Phi Phi Island archipelago. The largest island is Ko Phi Phi Don, a popular vacation destination famed for its sun-soaked beaches, beautiful limestone cliffs and laid-back atmosphere.
Tonsai Bay and Long Beach attract the most tourists, while secluded beaches like Phak Nam Bay offer a tranquil escape away from the crowds. It’s also possible to hike up to Phi Phi Viewpoint, which boasts dramatic 360-degree views over the entire island.
Shrouded in misty, jungly mountains, Chiang Mai is one of the best destinations in Thailand for travelers looking to see a different side of the country–a city of ancient constructions, thick tropical rainforests, and hill trekking. A good way to see the wild side of Chiang Mai is to head out to Doi Inthanon National Park, which is part of the Himalayan mountain range and home to remote villages and stunning viewpoints.
Known for its gorgeous beaches, excellent diving and an abundance of luxurious spas, Phuket is Thailand’s leading tourist destination. Located in Southern Thailand, Phuket is the country’s largest island, connected to the mainland by two bridges.
Located about 80 kilometers north of Bangkok, the ancient city of Ayutthaya was once Thailand’s capital–back in the 14th century, when the kingdom of Siam was at its strongest.
Today, the ruins of the kingdom can be toured while walking the Ayutthaya Historical Park, a UNESCO site. Home to many prang (reliquary towers), wat, and stucco statues, the park is surrounded by three rivers and deep moats and covers an area of 289 hectares.
As Thailand’s fifth-largest island, Ko Pha Ngan is a mix of rolling hills, lush jungles, and white-sand beaches. Compared to the neighboring island of Ko Samui, Ko Pha Ngan is relatively less developed, although it still offers plenty of activities for travelers and outdoor enthusiasts.
Diving is a popular activity in Ko Pha Ngan. The island is located near some of the best dive sites in the Gulf of Thailand, including the iconic Sail Rock site.
Beachgoers are also spoiled for choice, as Ko Pha Ngan is home to over 30 different tropical beaches.
Kanchanaburi is best known for its dark connection to WWII, especially the construction of the bridge over the River Kwai. Infamous for being part of the “Death Railway,” the bridge was part of the line meant to connect Thailand with Burma (Myanmar), and it was built using forced labor provided by Allied prisoners of war.
Over 16,000 POWs died during the construction of the railway, including many British soldiers. The Royal Air Force bombed and damaged the bridge extensively during the war–but it was quickly rebuilt and still stands today. Most of the railway line, however, was eventually abandoned or not finished.
Sitting right on the border with Myanmar and Laos, the mountainous city of Chiang Rai is famous for its trekking in Lam Nam Kok National Park, with trails leading to stunning waterfalls such as the 70-meter-tall Khun Kon waterfall, lush forest, and hilltop tribe villages.
As with most Thai cities, temples are a huge attraction in Chiang Rai, with Wat Rong Khun (or White Temple) coming up at the top of the list. Wat Rong Khun is technically no longer a temple but a privately-owned compound redesigned and rebuilt by Chalermchai Kositpipat, one of Thailand’s most famous contemporary visual artists. Another popular temple is Wat Tham Pla (also home to a cave and thousands of wild macaques), which can be reached by climbing a staircase flanked by the guardian Naga serpents.
A small city in northern Thailand, Sukhothai is a popular tourist destination due to the nearby ruins of an ancient city by the same name. Historic Sukhothai was the first capital of Thailand, then Siam, during the 13th century. Many temples, palaces, and monuments from this era can be found in the Sukhothai Historical Park.
Khao Sam Roi Yot National Park
Khao Sam Roi Yot (which means “mountain of 300 peaks”) national park is home to Thailand’s largest freshwater marsh, as well as mangrove swamps, scenic beaches, limestone caves, and lots of tropical jungle trails.
There’s too much to see and do here for a quick day trip, so plan on staying for a weekend at least if you want to tick several spots off your list. If an overnight stay is in the books, start at the northwest corner of the park, where Thung Sam Roi Yot Freshwater Marsh is located. You’ll get to see many species of waterbirds, as well as a magnificent background of blueish mountains. A small campground and some bungalows are nearby if you need a place to stay for the night.