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

With so many places catered to budget travelers, it’s easy to travel cheaply around fascinating destinations in the country.

Of course, while enjoying the bliss that is Thai food.

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

1. Bangkok

Wat Arun (temple) lit up at dusk along Chao Phraya River in Bangkok, Thailand

Wat Arun (temple) lit up at dusk along Chao Phraya River in Bangkok, Thailand. Photo by Marcos Detourist.

Why go — Bangkok is jam-packed with interesting things to discover at every corner. The city has many of the country’s grandest and most sacred Buddhist temples, scenic riverside views, rich culture, and unrivaled street food… all enclosed in a modern urban sprawl.

The Grand Palace houses grand royal buildings and temples with beautiful architecture and intricate detail including Wat Phra Kaew (Temple of the Emerald Buddha), one of the most sacred sites in all of Thailand.

Hundreds of remarkable Buddhist temples that offer a glimpse of Thai & Buddhist culture, architecture, and craftsmanship. Wat Arun (Temple of Dawn), Wat Phra Kaew, Wat Pho (Home to Thailand’s biggest reclining Buddha statue), Wat Benchamabophitr (Marble Temple), Wat Saket (Golden Mount Temple) are among the most popular.

Chao Phraya river cruise and ferries — the best way to get to & around Bangkok’s popular temples and tourist spots.

Many excellent rooftop bars and observation decks for spectacular views overlooking Bangkok’s cityscape and the Chao Phraya River.

Many options for easy day trips including the floating markets, Ayutthaya, and Pattaya Beach.

Extensive flight and land connections to/from the rest of Thailand, Asia and beyond.

Plan a trip

How to go — Two airports serve Bangkok. The main gateway is Bangkok-Suvarbahumi International Airport. Meanwhile, Don Meuang International Airport is the flight hub for several budget and legacy airlines including AirAsia.

Bangkok hotels & hostels.

44% OFF SEA LIFE Bangkok Ocean World Admission.

Bangkok tours & discounts.

See moreBangkok blogs & guides.

2. Chiang Mai

Buddhist monk walks past Wat Chedi Luang (temple) in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Buddhist monk walks past Wat Chedi Luang (temple) in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Photo by Marcos Detourist.

Why go — Located in Northern Thailand, Chiang Mai should be part of your Thailand itinerary if you’re the type to skip beach parties and would rather have interesting cultural encounters or enjoy peaceful mountainside views. This province is not only a beautiful place to visit, it’s also one of the cheapest travel destinations in Southeast Asia.

Chiang Mai is a City of Temples, home to hundreds of beautiful temples and museums found inside and surrounding the Old Walled City of Chiang Mai.

Mae Ya Waterfall, one of Thailand’s most majestic can be found on the foothills of Doi Inthanon, the country’s highest mountain. The summit of Doi Inthanon can be reached easily by car from Chiang Mai city Center.

Lots of hiking trails in Chiang Mai and nearby provinces.

Relaxed, charming and down to earth. It is probably the cheapest travel destination in the country.

Delicious Northern Thai food.

Plan a trip

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 and between 12-15 hours by train.

Chiang Mai hotels.

Chiang Mai tours & discounts.

See moreChiang Mai blogs & guides.

3. Ko Phi Phi & Krabi

"The Beach" of Ko Phi Phi Leh (island) in Krabi, Thailand

“The Beach” of Ko Phi Phi Leh (island) in Krabi, Thailand. Photo by Marcos Detourist.

Why go — Go south to visit Thailand’s World famous beaches. Krabi is home to the country’s most spectacular island landscapes with picture-perfect beaches surrounded by towering limestone cliffs.

Island tour to Ko Phi Phi Leh, the setting of “The Beach,” the iconic backpacking movie starred by Leonardo DiCaprio and based on the novel written by Alex Garland.
Rock climbing in Rai Leh.

Spectacular beaches, views, and island tours from Ao Nang and Had Yao.

Lots of off-beat islands including Ko Lanta, Ko Jum, Ko Por, and Ko Siboya.

Plan a trip

How to go — Krabi is 1.5 hours south of Bangkok by plane. Krabi Airport serves direct flights from Bangkok and several airports in East Asia and Southeast Asia. Bus travel from Bangkok to Krabi takes around 10 hours. Direct ferries are also available from Phuket to Krabi Town or Phi Phi Don. Travel time by ferry takes around 2 hours.

Krabi hotels & hostels, Phi Phi resorts.

Krabi tours & discounts, Phi Phi tours & discounts.

See moreKrabi blogs & guides, Phi Phi blogs & guides.

4. Ayutthaya

Buddha head covered by roots at Wat Maha That in Ayutthaya, Thailand

Buddha head covered by roots at Wat Maha That in Ayutthaya, Thailand. Photo by Marcos Detourist.

Why go — Ayutthaya is filled with massive ancient temples ruins that is just one-hour away by land from Bangkok.

Exquisite temple ruins at The Historic City of Ayutthaya, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Its famous icons include the head of Buddha covered by roots in Wat Mahathat (temple).

The second ancient capital of the country. Its strategic location between China, India, and the Malay Archipelago made Ayutthaya the trading capital of Asia that once held the title as the largest city in the World.

Cheap travel costs and easy to reach by land from Bangkok.

Plan a trip

How to go — Ayutthaya is around 1.5 to 2 hours north of Bangkok by land.

Ayutthaya hotels.

Ayutthaya tours & discounts.

See moreAyutthaya blogs & guides.

5. Sukhothai

Moat and temple ruins in Sukhothai Historical Park

Moat and temple ruins in Sukhothai Historical Park. Photo by Marcos Detourist.

Why go — Exquisite temple ruins at The Historic Town of Sukhothai, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

More off-the-beaten-path ancient temple clusters in nearby Kamphaeng Phet and Si Satchanalai.

Plan a trip

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.

Sukhothai hotels.

See moreSukhothai blogs & guides.

See also

6. Chiang Rai

White Temple in Chiang Rai, Thailand

Wat Rong Khun (White Temple) in Chiang Rai, Thailand. Photo by Marcos Detourist.

Why go — Chiang Rai is a less known city found north of Chiang Mai. It is home to bizarre and artistic architectural masterpieces that are worth the detour.

The bizarre White Temple and Black Houses. Two artistic masterpieces worth visiting on the outskirts of Chiang Rai city center.

Lots of rock climbing and hiking trails, waterfalls, hot springs, and caves in Chiang Rai and nearby provinces.

A must-visit stopover before crossing the Northern Thailand-Laos border en route to Luang Prabang.

Plan a trip

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.

Chiang Rai hotels.

Chiang Rai tours & discounts.

See moreChiang Rai blogs & guides.

7. Umphang

Thee Lor Su Waterfall in Umphang, Tak, Thailand

Thee Lor Su Waterfall in Umphang, Tak, Thailand. Photo by Marcos Detourist.

Why go — Do you love visiting massive waterfalls? Umphang is home to Thi Lo Su, the country’s grandest cascade. You typically get there on a scenic river cruise through a pristine rainforest.

Home to Thi Lo Su, Thailand’s largest waterfall. Scenic river raft cruise with views of waterfalls and untouched rainforest.

Excellent hiking trails and camping tours.

Plan a trip

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.

Mae Sot hotels & hostels, Umphang hotels & hostels.

See moreUmphang blogs & guides.

See also

8. East coast Islands of Ko Tao, Ko Pha Ngan, & Ko Samui

Why go — Head to Ko Pha Ngan for the epic full moon parties that happen on the second or third week of every month. Nearby Ko Tao is famous for having one of the world’s cheapest and best diving tours.

Among Thailand’s best diving in Ko Tao. The famous full moon parties in Ko Pha Ngan.

Ko Samui (island) — Similarly developed like Phuket but less touristic.

Many beautiful islands nearby and at Mu Ko Ang Thong Island group.

Plan a trip

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 Ko Samui to Ko Pha Ngan and Ko 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.

Ko Tao resorts, Ko Samui resorts, Ko Pha Ngan.

Ko Samui tours & discounts.

Note: Destinations featured above are not listed by rank.