Travelling Thailand for 2 months, we got to see some amazing places, ranging from the quiet and traditional north, to the busy cities and villages of central Thailand and onto the un-rivalled island beaches of the south. There are certain places that stood out for us as ‘must-sees’ for anyone looking to travel around the country. Our favourites and tell you in detail exactly why you should go.
Check them out and be sure to add as many as you can to your itinerary!
1. Railay Beach, Krabi – “A hidden Krabi cove with natural caves and a beautiful beach”
Railay beach is a small and secluded collection of beaches in the southern region of Krabi. In our opinion Krabi has some of the best beaches in Thailand. The bays and coves are populated by sprawling caves and giant Limestone cliffs make Krabi the go-to for many events and movie filming locations.
Railay is a hidden getaway to the south of Krabi. Tall limestone cliffs surround it and thick jungle terrain; meaning the only way to get there is by boat. Many visitors opt for taking one of Thailand’s famous and cheap longtail boats from one of the nearby towns, with Ao Nang being the best place to access Railay from.
Once you arrive at the secluded beachfront, you’ll find a long white sand beach with almost clear sea water stretching across the bay. It’s a relaxing and quiet area compared to many of the more touristy Thailand beaches but also has plenty to do. When you’re not relaxing on the beach, explore the forest trail, browse the small selection of local beach shops, try some water sports and explore the caves when the tides are out. One cave is particularly special and is very popular with tourists – a large cave shrine that pays homage to the God of fertility. Check it out yourself and you’ll see what we mean.
If you’re feeling more adventurous, rock climbing is a top activity in the Krabi area and attracts the best of the best. We actually found it very challenging – hanging backwards on an inverted cliff-face? Maybe not.
We’d recommend staying in Railay for at least 3 days for relaxation and exploration, although you could easily stay longer. It’s the perfect place to wind down after partying on the other islands or doing a lot of sightseeing in the north. There are a handful of hotels on Railey beach. They can be a little bit more expensive than mainland Krabi resorts but are well worth the little bit extra for the uniquely secluded location. Railay can also be visited in a day trip from Ao Nang on a long-tail boat.
2. Chiang Mai Jungle – “Possibly the highlight of your trip – a thrilling adventure”
Thousands of backpackers and holidaymakers pass through and stay in Chiang Mai every year and for great reason. This ancient town is truly unlike anything we’ve seen in Thailand. It’s very traditional and as with a lot of the northern territory, there is plenty to do.
Many people opt for a visit to the jungle or one of the attractions within (such as the Elephant Sanctuary, a tribe visit, the Zipline adventure park, etc) but we’d strongly recommend taking it a step further and going on a deep jungle trek for 2 or 3 nights. It’s a truly awakening and fulfilling experience. We also recommend avoiding any tours that include a trip to the Tiger Palace/Sanctuary. The animals are quite obviously sedated and tourism encourages the continued harm of these animals.
Set back in the mysterious and towering mountains which are a backdrop to the Chiang Mai city walls is an untouched jungle with hundreds of kilometres of trees, rice fields, exotic animals and tribe folk who make this unique environment their home. Although we booked our trek in Bangkok, we’d advise on booking online before you arrive or checking reviews for different operators and booking when you arrive in Chiang Mai for the best prices.
The jungle trek is challenging and only for those for are quite fit and don’t mind walking but don’t let that put you off. It will take you on a whirlwind of adventure, climbing steep forest hills for multiple hours a day, crossing canyons, rice fields and stopping by impressive waterfalls for lunch. As part of the tour, you often get to meet the local rice farmers or tribesmen and get to appreciate the hard work and simple life they live.
On an evening, we stayed with a local tribe in a hilltop village where we cooked our own rice and Thai curry, shared stories by the fire and sang Thai songs with a guitar until the sun went down.
A Chiang Mai jungle trip is definitely one of our top recommendations. You’ll get to meet other travellers, live like the locals for a few days, capture some amazing pictures and live an adventure you’ll never forget. If you’re looking to book your trek online before you go, we recommend Chiang Mai Trekking.
3. Ko Tao – “A small island paradise for scuba diving and snorkelling”
With so many Thai islands in the south on both the Gulf and Andaman sides of the country, it can be difficult to narrow your choice down to only one or two of them in a 2-week holiday. Having visited most of them and with each of them offering something unique, Koh Tao is definitely top of our list of places to visit, closely followed by Koh Lanta. It’s smaller than the more touristy Koh Phangan and Koh Samui and is a lot less developed and crowded.
Spend your days relaxing on a secluded beach in a villa or beach hut, explore the inland temples and mountain via moped or catch a boat trip around the island to Ao Tanot Bay and Koh Nang Yuang sandbar/viewing point.
The number one thing to do when visiting Koh Tao is scuba diving, or snorkelling if you’d prefer. The marine life is thriving, prices are cheap and there are numerous qualified diving companies that will cater to beginners and those with experience who want a more challenging dive. We spent 3 full days learning to scuba dive during our trip and managed to capture some great pictures of the tropical fish and small sharks. Be sure to buy an underwater camera for your trip!
Koh Tao has received some bad press in recent times but (as with any far-east country you visit) there is an element of sketchiness and extra care needs to be taken when out and about, such as staying in well-lit and busy areas, not getting too drunk and travelling with others. In our opinion, Koh Tao is still well worth visiting and one of the highlights of our trip.
Islands falling in a close second a third place on our recommendations would be Koh Lanta and Koh Phi-Phi.
4. Chiang Rai white temples – “The best temples in Thailand”
With Buddhism being the largest religion in Thailand, there is no shortage of intriguing and impressive temples. No matter where you go in Thailand, there’s a strong chance that a temple is nearby for you to explore. We actually visited so many temples during our visit that they started to look similar and less impressive after a while, however, not in Chiang Rai! Chiang Rai is home to the famous white stone temples; notably Wat Rong Khun, Wat Phra Kaeo and White Temple.
The white colour of Wat Rong Khun stands out as one of the most photographed temples in Thailand, unique with its brilliant white colour, white symbolising the purity of Buddha. The temple is made from a collection of white plaster and marble with intricate shards of glass to give a distinguished glisten in sunlight. This impressive temple is located just outside of Chiang Rai and is one of 4 must-see temples in the area. Entry to Wat Rong Khun is 50baht per person and the temple is open daily.
Chiang Rai itself is often overlooked in favour of nearby and more popular Chiang Mai but we strongly suggest visiting both. Chiang Mai has an allure for its bustling local city life, thick jungle surroundings and having plenty of things to do, whilst Chiang Rai is less touristy and has the best temples in Thailand (in our opinion). Did we mention that both cities have excellent night markets? The journey time between cities is a 3-hour scenic road trip.
Temples are one of the most frequented and unique attractions of Thailand and Chiang Mai has to make our list for having such an impressive collection.
Side note: remember to wear long clothing which covers your arms and legs when you visit the temples. It’s out of respect for the local religious culture and you may not gain entry if you don’t.
5. Lanta Animal Welfare Centre
If you love animals or even if you just want a cool animal meet and greet experience on a tropical island, the Lanta Animal Welfare Centre is an excellent place to visit and clear highlight for us. The centre is set on the beautiful and tranquil island of Ko Lanta, set back inland from the main beach in a quiet nature environment.
The animal welfare centre is donation funded and operated by a group of volunteers that save the lives and care for local stray cats, dogs and other animals. It’s really endearing seeing the animals being cared for so well and the centre does tours on the hour every day, inviting you to come and help care for the animals in the charming nature environment. Walk dogs by the river on the nature trail or cuddle up with cats in this free and interesting tour. Although it’s free, there’s no doubt you’ll be thrilled to donate to the cause after seeing how well organised and effective the welfare centre is.
Find out more about Lanta Animal Welfare Centre on their website here.
Although you may not be inspired to fly all the way to Ko Lanta just for the Animal Welfare Centre, Ko Lanta is one of our favourite islands in Thailand and there’s so much on offer for a relaxing beach holiday. The centre just happens to be an attraction highlight on the island and one of the top-rated things to do in Thailand according to Tripadvisor **insert link**. Find out more about Ko Lanta in our Thai islands comparison guide here. **insert link**
To summarise, there’s a ton of great places to visit in Thailand, both for natural beauty and culture. If you’re visiting for 2 weeks or less, we’d recommend sticking to Northern Thailand if you’re looking for rich culture and traditional Thailand, or Southern Thailand and the islands if you want amazing beaches, beautiful islands and relaxation. Anything more than two weeks? Visit a bit of both. Bangkok should be included in your itinerary for a few days no matter what.