Growing up in a place heavily influenced by Western culture, the exotic appeal of Thailand was irresistible when I embarked on my first solo trip abroad.

With so many places catered to budget travelers, it’s easy to travel cheaply and still be able to enjoy fascinating places around the country. Of course, all the while enjoying the bliss that is Thai food.

Thailand’s best & must-see sights include stunning islands, temples, and highlands. Go south, to the Andaman coast and the Gulf of Thailand to visit the best beaches. Go north, for amazing temples, mountain scenery, and waterfalls.

If you only have a short trip, you can find a lot of top tourist spots in Bangkok and Central Thailand that are easy to visit.

Inspire your adventure with these must-visit places and top things to do for first-time travelers.

1. Koh Lipe

My search for Thailand’s most beautiful beaches led me to Koh Lipe, located near the Thailand-Malaysia border. Getting there takes more effort than most places featured on this list, but it’s going to be worth the trip if you’re seeking the best islands and underwater views, especially if you’re set on a cross-country trip to/from Malaysia. Also check out nearby Tarutao National Parkbefore you leave. The nearest airports to Koh Lipe is Hat Yai and Trang.

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Ko Lipe travel tips

2. Bangkok

Bangkok should be on everyone’s bucketlist in Thailand, and for good reason! Start with a trip to the Grand Palace for a quick peek at the famed Wat Phra Kaew (Temple of the Emerald Buddha). Then, go on a tour of the city’s most sacred Buddhist temples including Wat Pho (Temple of Reclining Buddha), Wat Arun (Temple of the Dawn), Wat Saket (Golden Mount Temple), and Wat Traimit (Temple of Golden Buddha). Shop ’til you drop at CentralWorld, Terminal 21, Siam Paragon, MBK, Platinum Mall or Chatuchak Weekend Market.

For yummy local eats, head to Yaowarat (Bangkok’s Chinatown). Take a break from the busy city life at Jim Thompson House, Lumphini Park or go on a scenic cruise/ferry ride along the Chao Phraya River. Cap off your night at Khaosan Road or Bangkok’s best rooftop bars. If that’s not enough, take a day trip to floating markets nearby like Amphawa & Damnoen Saduak.

How to go

Touchdown at any of these two airports that serve Bangkok — Bangkok-Suvarbahumi International Airport (main airport located about an hour east of the city center) or Don Meuang International Airport (de facto low-cost airline hub located 45-minutes north of the city). Major airlines include Thai Airways, Bangkok Airways, Jetstar, Nok Air, AirAsia & Lion Air.

From the Philippines, Cebu Pacific, Philippine Airlines, AirAsia and Thai Airways serve direct flights from Manila. Travel time is around 3 hours and 30 minutes.

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Bangkok travel tips

3. Chiang Mai

The best way to enjoy Thai culture is by indulging in delicious Thai food. Chiang Mai is undoubtedly the best foodie destination in Northern Thailand. Not to mention, it’s also one of the cheapest places to travel in Southeast Asia! For local eats, visit the Sunday Walking Street near Tha Pae gate, Saturday Night Walking Street on Wua Lai Road, the daily Warorot Market or Night Bazaaron Chang Klan Road.

While you’re eating your way through the city, drop by Chiang Mai’s beautiful temples. Don’t miss Wat Chedi Luang & Wat Phra Singh. There are over a hundred more temples in Chiang Mai if you want to go on a crazy temple run.

For stunning views overlooking Chiang Mai, venture outside the Old Walled City gates and visit Wat Phra That Doi Suthep. For gorgeous views of nature, head to Doi Inthanon National Park, home to the highest mountain in Thailand and the massive Mae Ya Waterfall.

How to go

Chiang Mai is around 1 hour north of Bangkok by plane. Chiang Mai International Airport is well connected with other major airports in Thailand and serves direct international flights from many airports in East Asia and a few in Southeast Asia. Land travel from Bangkok to Chiang Mai takes 10 hours by bus or around 12 to 15 hours by train.

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Chiang Mai travel tips

4. Krabi

Go south to visit Thailand’s World-famous beaches. Krabi is home to the country’s most spectacular seascapes with picture-perfect beaches surrounded by towering limestone cliffs. Ao Nang, formally Ao Phra Nang (“Princess Bay”), is the main tourist beach. It’s the perfect base to maximize your tour of Krabi. Hop on a boat and go rock climbing in Railay (Rai Reh) or go island hopping to Ko Poda, Koh Kai (Chicken Island), Phi Phi Islands and Hong Island in Phang Nga Bay. Krabi is also popular for its easy ferry connections to Phuket & Koh Lanta. During the high season, you can go even farther to Koh Lipe & the Trang Islands.

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Krabi travel tips

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5. Phi Phi

A boat trip from Krabi or Phuket takes you to the Phi Phi Islands. The most popular attraction here is Maya Bay in Koh Phi Phi Leh. This paradise is the famous setting of “The Beach,” the iconic backpacking movie starred by Leonardo DiCaprio and based on the novel written by Alex Garland. In case you find yourself in Koh Phi Phi Don, the main tourist island, don’t miss the trek to Phi Phi Viewpoint, Monkey Beach & Long Beach.

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Phi Phi travel tips

6. Phang Nga & Koh Hong

The day cruise to Phang Nga is one of the best island hopping tours that you can book from Krabi or Phuket. This beautiful bay is known for mass limestone formations that jut out from the emerald green waters. The most famous spot is James Bond Island (Ko Tapu), which appeared in the 1974 James Bond movie — The Man with the Golden Gun. If you’re traveling from Krabi, make sure your itinerary includes Ko Hong, which features a stunning lagoon with crystal clear waters.

7. Phuket

Phuket’s beaches may not be as impressive as the other places featured here but there’s one compelling reason to go — the superb resort experience. Phuket is a paradise for travelers who want to enjoy a 4 or 5-star hotel splurge at amazing value for money. Another reason why Phuket is so popular is the easy accessibility thanks to well-connected Phuket Airport. While you’re here, visit Patong (the main tourist spot) for a beautiful sunset view along the beach, delicious seafood dinner or outlet mall shopping. Nearby Hat Karon, offers a more quiet vibe, Meanwhile, go to Phuket Town for a more local experience. From Phuket, you can easily set off to other island destinations in the Andaman Coast like Phi Phi, Krabi, Phang Nga Bay (Koh Hong/Koh Yao), Raya Island & more.

8. Koh Samui

Want to see the beautiful east coast of Thailand? Start with Koh Samui, an upscale rival to Phuket, but with nicer beaches, fewer crowds and a more chill nightlife. Koh Samui is the 2nd largest island in Thailand and the largest in the Gulf of Thailand. It’s also a good base to explore Mu Koh Ang Thong National Park and a convenient jump-off point to Koh Tao, Ko Pha-ngan/Koh Pha Ngan (infamous for epic full moon parties at Haad Rin), and other Surat Thani islands.

How to go

Samui is around one hour south of Bangkok by plane. Samui Airport serves direct flights from Bangkok and direct international flights from Singapore, Hong kong, Kuala Lumpur, and Penang. Daily ferries are available from Koh Samui to Koh Pha Ngan and Koh Tao. Travel time by high-speed boat takes 20 minutes and 2 hours, respectively. A cheaper alternative is to arrive at Surat Thani Airport or Chumphon Airport found on the mainland and then continuing the journey by land+ferry connections to your island destination.

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Ko Samui travel tips

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9. Koh Tao

Koh Tao is widely known as one of the cheapest places in the World to get a SCUBA diving license. Located in the northernmost part of the Chumphon Archipelago/Surat Thani Islands, Koh Tao is home incredible marine life. There are a lot of travel-worthy “overwater” views here as well. Koh Nang Yuan and several hilltop viewpoints on the main island offer lovely views overlooking white sand beaches and the sparkling sea.

10. Hua Hin

If you’re planning to visit a beach near Bangkok, you can either go to Hua Hin or Pattaya. Hua Hinoffers a more relaxed seaside vibe and a wider variety of things to do. Land travel time only takes one additional hour! The main attractions here include the expansive Hua Hin Beach, scenic overlooks, and theme parks like Santorini Park, Vana Nava Waterpark & The Venezia. You can also explore the Phraya Nakhon Cave at Khao Sam Roi Yot National Park, indulge in affordable Thai seafood at the night markets, explore heritage sites & enjoy wine-tasting at Hua Hin Hills Vineyard.

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Hua Hin travel tips

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11. Ayutthaya

Ayutthaya is filled with massive ancient temples ruins, easily reached on a day trip from Bangkok. The Historic City of Ayutthaya, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, served as the second capital of Thailand. Its strategic location between China, India, and the Malay Archipelago made Ayutthaya the trading capital of Asia. It once held the title as the largest city in the World. This place is where you can find the iconic sight of the head of Buddha covered by roots, in Wat Mahathat (temple).

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Ayutthaya travel tips

12. Sukhothai

Visit Sukhothai to see some of the oldest temples ruins in Thailand. The ancient city was the first capital of the Kingdom of Siam. Sukhothai Historical Park/Sukhothai Old City, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is home to the partially restored 13th to 14th-century palaces and temples. For off-the-beaten-path ancient sites, don’t miss nearby Kamphaeng Phet and Si Satchanalai.

How to go

Sukhothai is one hour and 15 minutes north of Bangkok by plane. Most travelers arrive by land from either Chiang Mai, which is 4 hours away by bus, or Bangkok, approximately 7 hours away by bus or train.

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Sukhothai travel tips

13. Chiang Rai

Chiang Rai, found farther north of Chiang Mai, is home to artistic architectural masterpieces that are worth the detour. Here, you can see the bizarre White Temple (Wat Rong Khun) and the Black Houses (Baan Dam). Chiang Rai is also a must-visit stopover if you plan to cross the North Thailand-Laos border, on your way to Luang Prabang.

How to go

Chiang Rai is around 1.5 hours north of Bangkok by plane. Its airport mostly serves flights from Bangkok. Most tourists arrive from Chiang Mai, which is approximately 3 hours away by land.

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Chiang Rai travel tips

14. Umphang

Do you love visiting massive waterfalls? Umphang is home to Thi Lo Su/Thi Lor Su, the country’s grandest cascade! Getting there is a remarkable journey in itself as it requires a scenic river cruise & trekking through a pristine rainforest.

How to go

The main gateway to Umphang is Mae Sot in Tak Province. Mae Sot is approximately one hour north of Bangkok by plane. From Mae Sot, continue the journey by land to Umphang. Travel time takes around 4 to 5 hours by jeep or private car.

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Umphang travel tips

On My Bucketlist

15. Similan Islands

The Similan Islands should be one of your travel goals in Thailand if you’re set to see the most beautiful islands in the country. These remote islands in Mu Ko Similan National Parkare popularly reached by boat from Tab Lamu Port near Khao Lak. Phuket is the nearest major gateway. If you’re looking for more off-the-grid adventures, also check out the Surin Islands.

16. Koh Lanta

Koh Lanta is popular with tourists seeking a holiday away from wild party crowds of more popular beaches/islands in South Thailand. Composed of Koh Lanta YaiKoh Lanta Noi, and 50 more islands, Mu Ko Lanta National Park features white sandy beaches, tropical jungles, and plenty of underwater life. Koh Lanta can be reached easily from Krabi or Trang.

17. Koh Chang

Koh Chang (Elephant Island) features jungle-clad peaks and fine sandy beaches. This island in Trat, Thailand’s easternmost province, maintains its remote and rugged spirit despite the growing tourist arrivals. Koh Chang is a fine destination to add to your bucketlist if you want to follower the coastal route between Cambodia & Thailand.

18. Pattaya

Pattaya is the most popular beach destination in Bangkok. Travel time from the city to Jomtien Beach, the tourist center, takes 2 to 3 hours. Or less, if you’re coming from Suvarnabhumi Airport. Pattaya’s top sights include island tours to Ko Lan, the massive Sanctuary of Truth wooden temple, spectacular cabaret shows & cool water parks.

19. Pai

Located in a picturesque valley north of Chiang Mai, Pai is a popular highland destination for backpackers and travelers seeking a relaxed atmosphere close to nature. There are many beautiful treks and waterfalls in the area. If you go, don’t miss the Pai Canyon, narrow red ridges with steep-sided valleys often described as a smaller likeness of the Grand Canyon.

20. Kanchanaburi

For most travelers, the main reason to visit is the Bridge on the River Kwai, the most famous section of the Thai-Burma Railway Death Railway. Extend your trip to Kanchanaburi by exploring easily accessible national parks and waterfalls like the Erawan Falls in Erawan National Park.

See more sights in Thailand

Khao Sok National Park, Surat Thani

Khao Yai National Park, Nakhon Nayok

Phanom Rung Historical Park, Buri Ram

Phimai Historical Park, Nakhon Ratchasima

Top Tourist Spots & Places to Visit in Thailand + Map

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Note: Destinations featured above are not listed by rank.

What places did you add to your bucketlist? How many travel goals have you achieved? Got places in mind that should be included? Share your photos/videos & tag #detourista. Click below to see more travel goals in Asia & beyond on:

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