Fondly known as 'the land of the smiling faces', Thailand is commonly associated with gorgeous golden sand, palm-lined beaches, warm aquamarine waters, glorious temples and verdant jungle-clad mountains. With sixteen million foreigners flying into the country each year, Thailand is the primary travel hub of Southeast Asia, offering a diverse range attractions and activities to suit all tastes and budgets. Whether exploring the teeming metropolis of Bangkok, relaxing on the tropical beaches of the southern islands, scuba diving in the underwater wonderland off the coast of Koh Tao, jungle trekking in the North, or discovering the ancient cities of Chiang Mai, Thailand is filled with attractions to satisfy any interest.

Northeastern Thailand (Isan)

Thailand’s vast northeastern bulge is one of the country’s largest but least travelled regions. It is primarily an agricultural region, liberally swathed with tracts of rural land and emerald green rice paddies. Isan is known for its rich, authentic culture, which is a blend of Thai, Laos and Cambodian heritage and traditions – a legacy of the area’s proximity to these neighbouring countries – as well as for its fiery cuisine. Highlights include the fauna-rich mountains of Khao Yai National Park, the lofty rolling hills of Loei, Phimai Historical Park, with its ancient Khmer temples, and the city of Udon Thani, famous for the Ban Chiang archaeological site.

 

Northern Thailand

Northern and Southern Thailand were once two distinct countries – Lanna and Siam respectively – and the two regions still retain many distinctions, reflected in local cuisine, culture and traditions. Chiang Mai – the ‘Rose of the North’ and the regional capital – offers urban flair, luxury hotels and five-star restaurants, complemented by glittering Buddhist temples, historical city walls and lush mountainous surrounds. Other key attractions of the North include Mae Hong Son, with its diverse ethnic influences; the laidback city of Chiang Rai, with its resplendent White Temple; and the tranquil riverside town of Pai, with its natural hot springs, emerald green rice paddies and jungle-clad mountains.

 

Southern Thailand

Southern Thailand is the stuff of travellers’ dreams: temperate turquoise waters, pearly palm-fringed beaches, majestic limestone karsts and idyllic tropical islands. Visitors can experience world-class beaches and sublime seafood on Koh Samui; indulge in R&R on secluded islets such as Koh Kood and Koh Mak, enjoy spectacular snorkelling and diving in Similan and Tarutao marine parks, or experience the country’s diverse wildlife in Khao Sok National Park. Or if it’s city style and stellar nightlife you’re after, you’ll love Bangkok’s glitzy urban allure and Koh Pha Ngan’s world-famous full moon parties.

Bangkok

 

Steamy, frenetic and exhilarating, Thailand’s capital city is a legendary travel destination, equally famous for its rich cultural offerings, effervescent nightlife, superb shopping, and diverse dining options – which range from bustling, fragrant street markets to five-star haute cuisine establishments. The capital’s attractions are almost limitless, but if you only have limited time, not-to-be-missed attractions include the vast Reclining Buddha at Wat Pho, a morning boat trip down the canals to see the floating markets, and the opulent Grand Palace. For shopping, head to the tourist hub of Khaosan Road, the MBK Centre, Siam Square, or on weekends, the vast Chatuchak market, while for dining and entertainment it’s best to check with your guide on the hottest spots of the moment.

 

 

Phuket

 

One of Thailand’s most famous and popular island destinations, Phuket draws scores of tourists each year to its sand-fringed shores, inviting them to bask in the tropical sun, swim and snorkel in its azure bays, and revel in the endless leisure and adventure activities on offer. Phuket’s refurbished old town is one of its trendiest areas, where the diverse cultural and architectural influences of the past have been fused and immortalised – vivid red and gold Chinese temples stand side by side with Indian roti restaurants and antiquated colonial buildings. Patong is the hub of Phuket nightlife, with scores of bars and pulsing nightclubs lining the streets, while more relaxed beachside bars and restaurants dotting the coast. Those who prefer nature and serenity should head to the secluded beaches of the north, or to Promthep Cape, a rugged peninsula that forms Phuket’s southernmost point, providing dramatic scenery and breathtaking sunset views.

 

Chiang Mai

 

Dubbed ‘The Rose of the North’, Thailand’s northern capital is far smaller and more serene than Bangkok. Despite this, the city has seen extensive development in the last decade that has transformed it from a low-key, old-world city into a modern hub, complete with top-notch restaurants and five-star hotels. A walk around the inner-city moat will take you past the array of glittering temples, aromatic food markets and eclectic shops of Chiang Mai’s downtown, while just five minutes away is the popular Night Bazaar – a shopping Mecca for tourists. Other highlight attractions include a visit to the trendy Nimmanhemin district, with its upmarket bars and shopping outlets, and a trip up Suthep Mountain, to see the hilltop temple and take in panoramic views of the city below.

 

Koh Samui

 

Koh Samui is one of Thailand’s most popular holiday destinations, by virtue of its idyllic sand beaches, azure waters, spell-binding vistas and easy accessibility from the mainland. The last decade has seen extensive development on the island, bringing with it a flood of luxury hotels and resorts – often complete with beautiful private beaches. The coastline is the main drawcard here, but other attractions on Samui include the Big Buddha temple with its 12-metre effigy, the 30-metre Na Muang Waterfall, and the array of world-class spas and restaurants, as well more laid-back beachfront bistros and bars.

 

 

Pattaya

This lively coastal city is one of Thailand’s most visited and well known beach resorts. Spend your days relaxing on the bustling beaches or indulging in some of the many watersports on offer. After dark the city’s streets come alive with a vast and varied nightlife scene where the party typically continues until dawn. Pattaya has come a long way in outgrowing its reputation as a seedy beach town and now offers activities for a wider audience including young tourists in search of a wild night out, families or business travellers. The main beach of Hat Pattaya provides a wide range of attractions such as souvenir stalls, food stands and beach bars. Hat Jomtien just to the south is a relatively quieter option, while Hat Naklua to the north is the most family-friendly beach. Popular activities include golf, go-kart racing, the collection of oddities at “Ripley’s Believe it or Not”, and the Vimantaitalay tourist submarine which offers 30-minute trips underwater to see corals and marine life just a few kilometres offshore.

 

Koh Phi Phi

 

Set right in the middle of the magnificent Phang Nga Bay, Ko Phi Phi is a small archipelago in Southern Thailand’s Krabi Province, known for its spectacular natural beauty and its exceptionally lively nightlife. Phi Phi Don is the main island of the group and is home to an impressive array of restaurants, dive centers, bars, cafes and shops. The surrounding uninhabited islands are part of a protected national park, and can only be visited on a guided tour. With its limestone cliffs, crystal clear turquoise waters, pristine white sand beaches and miles of lush forest, Ko Phi Phi is widely considered to be Thailand’s most idyllic tropical island. Visitors can enjoy a range of activities including rock climbing, swimming, snorkelling, scuba diving or simply relaxing on a beach lounger with a cocktail in the one hand and a good book in the other.

 

Phrae

 

Located in the northern reaches of Thailand, the friendly town of Phrae serves as the capital of the scenic eponymous province, known for its rich cultural heritage, traditional architecture, and magnificent rugged landscapes. Phrae sprawls out from the lush banks of the Yom River, where travellers can enjoy a leisurely boat trip to take in the scenic surrounds. Visitors can look forward to an array of wonderful attractions and activities including: visiting the 12th-century Wat Phra That Cho Hae, a well-known royal temple; and wandering along the picturesque streets of the walled Old Town – said to be reminiscent of the historic Lao city of Luang Prabang – with its cluster of heritage buildings, sacred temples and verdant countryside . Must-do activities include: exploring the collection of traditional teak buildings, sampling the enticing variety of traditional Thai cuisine, and hiking through the magnificent mountainous terrain surrounding this hidden gem.

 

Ko Phra Thong

 

Dotting the Andaman Sea along Thailand’s western coast, Ko Phra Thong is an island within the incredibly scenic Phang Nga Province. The island is a popular tourist destination owing to its glorious collection of unspoilt beaches. Traditional villages can be explored by visitors to take in the heritage and history of fascinating Thai culture. Explore the offshore underwater wonderland of coral gardens inhabited by a wide range of multi-coloured tropical marine life, relax and swim one of the many remote and beautiful beaches and discover lush mangroves, an array birdlife and rare orchids. Don’t miss the opportunity to dive at Richelieu Rock, considered one of the top ten diving locations in the world and visit to the nearby Ko Ra, situated in the north of the island, as this area boasts a large rainforest that houses many different animal species.

 

Phrao

Situated in Northern Thailand, Phrao District lies in the northeastern reaches of the scenic Chiang Mai Province. Resting in a wide fertile valley dotted with rice paddies, the friendly little of town of Phrao or ‘Wiang Phrao’ serves as the administrative headquarters of the District and provides an excellent base from which to explore the spectacularly scenic surrounding area. Phrao’s landscape is characterised by lush undulating hills dotted with traditional villages. Travellers often stopover en route to Chiang Rai, Fang, or Tha Ton. Visitors can look forward to exploring these remarkable landscapes with the forested mountains of Sri Lanna National Park featuring cascading waterfalls, mystical caves and freshwater springs. Commonly spotted wildlife species include: tiger, barking deer, serow and wild boar.

 

Patong

 

Resting on Phuket’s western coast, the resort town of Patong is a bustling beachside destination. With a lively seafront strip, it draws visitors to lap up the sun, bathe in the temperate azure waters and engage in an array of leisure activities such as sailing, parasailing and snorkelling. Patong is said to boast the greatest number of attractions in Phuket, being a prime hub for nightlife, and featuring a dazzling array of cafes, clubs and restaurants, as well as somewhat more risque go-go bars and spicy transgender cabarets. The modern Banzaan Market offers wonderful fresh produce and almost anything one can think of, at reasonable prices, and is conveniently close to the megamall Jungceylon. Patong is also famous for its massages and spa treatments, as well as its huge number of personal tailors.

 

Koh Tao

Named for both its turtle-like shape and its history as a turtle breeding ground, Koh Tao is the little sister to the world-famous islands of Samui and Pha Ngan, Koh Tao has made a name for itself as a diving and snorkelling hotspot, due to the profusions of coral reefs that lie within easy access of its coast. Favourite dive sites around the island are Chumpon, where divers have the chance to glimpse feathery scorpionfish, giant barracuda, underwater pinnacles crusted with brightly coloured sea anemones, and on occasion, even whale sharks; Shark Island, with its proliferation of corals frequented by stingrays, moray eels and nudibranchs; and ‘The Twins’, home to a family of rare and elusive saddleback clownfish. When you’re not immersed in the pleasures of Koh Tao’s underwater world, you can explore the island’s terrestrial attractions, including its lush trekking routes, stunning viewpoints and burnished beaches.

 

Krabi

 

Krabi is the capital city of Krabi Province, set on a river mouth on the Andaman Sea. It is a bustling fishing town with a colourful weekend night market and plenty of bars, restaurants and nightclubs. Krabi is the kick off point for some of the province’s most beautiful coastal destinations, including Ton Sai, Railay Beach and Phi Phi Island. The scenery at these locations is characterised by turquoise waters and striking limestone karsts jutting out of the ocean. The main attractions in and around town are the ‘Dog’s Ears’ rock formations and cave, Koh Klang, a traditional fishing village on an island in the river, and the mangrove swamps along the estuary. Rich in birdlife, they are best experienced via a longtail boat tour. Five kilometres from the town lies the Tiger Cave Temple, a series of caverns and a temple perched high on a mountain covered in rainforests.

 

Ko Pha Ngan

 

There’s much to love about Koh Pha-ngan. Most famous for its riotous full moon parties, it’s also a

stunningly scenic island with plenty of lush jungle trails, beautiful white-sand beaches and palm-

fringed coves. And it’s easily accessible to boot, making it an ideal destination for visitors without

much time to spare. If it’s a party you’re after, Hat Rin’s monthly full moon celebrations are second

to none, with tens of thousands of revellers descending on this southern beach to dance the night

away. If you find the thought of the main event somewhat intimidating, you might prefer to check

out the half moon and new moon parties at the same location, which are not quite so wild and

crowded. Many travellers to Koh Pha-ngan, however, choose to stay far away from the festivities

and instead indulge in the island’s natural pleasures – sun-bathing on the secluded beaches of the

north, snorkelling in crystal-clear aqua bays rich in marine life, or hiking through tangled rainforests

teeming with tropical life.

Phang Nga Province

 

Situated off the west coast of Thailand, the province of Phang Nga is best known for the remarkably scenic Similan Islands. These islands offer some of Thailand’s or even the world’s best scuba diving and are renowned as the site where the James Bond film ’The man with the golden gun’ was filmed. The islands boast white-sand beaches lapped by calm turquoise waters. Visitors can soak up the natural beauty of the spectacular surrounds including Koh Surin National Park, the pristine beaches of Khao Lak, Koh Phra Thong, Koh Yao, and the magnificent Khao Lampi-Hat Thai Mueang National Park. Don’t miss the opportunity to visit the Moken ‘sea gypsies’ of Koh Surin, who live traditionally nomadic sea-faring lives.

 

Koh Phi Phi

 

Set right in the middle of the magnificent Phang Nga Bay, Ko Phi Phi is a small archipelago in Southern Thailand’s Krabi Province, known for its spectacular natural beauty and its exceptionally lively nightlife. Phi Phi Don is the main island of the group and is home to an impressive array of restaurants, dive centers, bars, cafes and shops. The surrounding uninhabited islands are part of a protected national park, and can only be visited on a guided tour. With its limestone cliffs, crystal clear turquoise waters, pristine white sand beaches and miles of lush forest, Ko Phi Phi is widely considered to be Thailand’s most idyllic tropical island. Visitors can enjoy a range of activities including rock climbing, swimming, snorkelling, scuba diving or simply relaxing on a beach lounger with a cocktail in the one hand and a good book in the other.

 

Khao Lak

 

Located less than 100km from Phuket, Khao Lak comprises some 20-odd kilometres of idyllic beaches and wild jungle along Thailand’s Andaman coastline. Low key and laid back, the area is perfect for families or travellers seeking serenity, solitude and unspoilt nature. Don’t miss the sunset views from Laem Pakarang promontory, a short drive from the town centre. Khao Lak is also a convenient gateway to the Similan and Surin national marine parks, offering spectacular snorkelling and scuba diving. The region makes a convenient central base to explore the Similan and Surin Islands, as well as several other areas such as the extra-quiet Hat Pakarand and Hat Bang Sak, a gorgeous stretch of beach surrounded by rubber-tree plantations and dense mangroves. Other highlights include: various luxury spa centres, an abundance of waterfalls, and the Royal Thai Navy Third Fleet Sea Turtle Nursery.

 

Khao Yai National Park

 

Thailand’s original and third-largest national park, Khao Yai was founded in 1962 and remains one of the country’s most renowned and popular protected areas. It sprawls across more than 2000 square kilometres of jungle, evergreen forest and grassy plains, and incorporates roughly 50kms of stunningly scenic hiking and biking trails, ranging from 500m to 8kms in length. It also encompasses several spectacular waterfalls, including the 20-metre high Huay Suwat, which was featured in the blockbuster movie ‘The Beach’. The park is a hub of biodiversity, home to around 3000 botanical species and a vast array of exotic animals, including macaques, gibbons, bears and elephants, as well as a dazzling array of birdlife.

 

Koh Yao Yai

 

Dotting the Andaman Sea, the island of Koh Yao Yai is a true paradise. This idyllic island is known for its incredible tropical landscapes scattered with beachside resorts, and a string of palm-fringed white-sand beaches lapped by crystalline turquoise waters. Visitors can visit the collection of little fishing villages, visit the mangrove swamps, and discover the rich underwater wonderland teeming with an array of exotic marine life. Other popular activities include: hiking, kayaking, fishing, swimming, snorkelling, diving, relaxing on one of the many picturesque beaches, island-hopping in a long-tail boat, or cycling around the island to take in the natural landscapes and breathtaking vistas. Don’t miss the opportunity to visit the unspoilt Loh Paret and Loh Jark beaches, and explore the pinnacles of Shark Point as well as the King Cruiser Wreck near Anemone Reef.

 

Koh Samet

 

Located just 200-odd kilometres from Bangkok and largely incorporated by the Khao Laem Ya-Mu Ko Samet National Park, Koh Samet offers an easily accessible beach escape, complete with picture-perfect shores, calm turquoise bays and superb seafood cuisine. The island is small, meaning exploring can easily be done on foot, by bike or motorbike, and there is plenty of lush jungle to hike through as part of the beautiful Khao Laem Ya/Mu Ko Samet National Park. The huge array of beaches offer something for everyone – from quiet coves to bustling parties. Haad Sai Kaew (Diamond Beach) is a hub of activity on the island, where visitors can go swimming, windsurfing, snorkelling, jet skiing and sailing by day, and enjoy the vibrant beachfront nightlife after dark. Don’t miss the opportunity to see fantastic fire shows outside the Ploy Talay Restaurant.

 

Kanchanaburi

 

The capital of Kanchanaburi province, Kanchanaburi town’s temperate climate, proximity to Bangkok and many natural and cultural attractions have made it a popular holiday destination. Highlights of the area include Wat Tham Phu Wa – a Buddhist temple complex that consists of a series of cave shrines – and The Bridge Over the River Kwai, which was built by forced Asian labourers and Allied POWs as part of the Thai-Burma Railway during the Japanese occupation of Kanchanaburi in WWII. Scores of men lost their lives while building it and two museums in town document this tragic event and commemorate those who died in the process. The two-hour ride along the infamous ‘Death Railway’ of which the bridge formed part takes in incredible views of sheer mountain cliffs, lush jungle and winding waterways.

 

Khao Sok National Park

Khao Sok National Park is an incredible lowland jungle reserve in Southern Thailand. Extending over 646 square kms, this spectacular stretch of wilderness is home to the exquisite Cheow Lan Lake, some remarkable limestone formations, a host of jaw dropping waterfalls and an unbelievable rainforest believed to be over 160 million years old. Visitors to the park can indulge in a wide range of exhilarating outdoor activities including tubing down the river, caving, kayaking, and ziplining through the forest canopy while trying to spot some of the park’s rare wildlife which includes bears, boars, marbled cats, wild elephants and even tigers. If you are only able to visit one national park in Thailand, head to Khao Sok. You won’t be disappointed.

 

Koh Chang (Yai)

 

Koh Chang, meaning ‘Elephant Island’ in Thai, is one of the largest and most beautiful islands in the Gulf of Thailand. The island falls within the Mu Ko Chang National Park, a spectacualar nature reserve extending all the way from the jungle-clad interior to the pristine offshore coral reefs. Ko Chang’s long stretches of coastline feature some exquisite white sand beaches and are dotted with lovely little laid back beach villages including Bang Bao, built on piers, and Hat Tha Nam, which boasts a lively waterfront party scene. Visitors can look forward to hiking through dense tropical jungle, discovering magnificent waterfalls, kayaking through beautiful mangroves, exploring local villages, island hopping around the smaller surrounding islands, and even taking Thai cooking classes. Other popular activities include snorkelling, scuba diving and fishing.

 

Koh Lanta

 

Koh Lanta is one of Thailand’s destination gems: located off the country’s western coast in the Andaman Ocean, it has gained a reputation amongst travellers for its relaxed atmosphere, beautiful beaches, and superb sunsets. Plus it’s less developed than many of the country’s islands, but still relatively easily to reach. The quietest beaches are located in the island’s far south – so if it’s seclusion you’re looking for, heading in this direction will get you closest to your goal. Alternatively,the northern shores offer a busier, but fun and social experience, with restaurants and bars lining the beachfront. Wandering through the streets of Koh Lanta’s old town will take you past many traditional teak wood houses and give you a sense of Thailand’s days of old, while the food market offers a colourful glimpse into local life.

 

Pai

 

Set on the banks of the Pai River amidst emerald-green rice paddies and mountains swathed in lush jungle, Pai was once a sleepy hamlet frequented mainly by hippies and backpackers. Over the last decade, however, word of the area’s abundant natural charms and laid-back atmosphere has caused its popularity to skyrocket, and the town is now considered one of Northern Thailand’s primary attractions. Highlights include the hot springs, located in a tranquil forest; the Mo Paeng Waterfall; and the Pai Canyon for spectacular sunset views.

 

Hua Hin

 

The seaside town of Hua Hin is located just a few hours’ drive from Bangkok, making it a popular weekend getaway with locals and ex-pats living in the capital, as well as tourists seeking an accessible coastal escape. This affluent destination has been a favourite holiday spot of the Thai royal family since the 1920s, and is still the site of the current king’s summer residence today. Hua Hin’s long, palm-lined sand beach offers endless opportunities for sun-tanning, swimming and snorkelling, and its lush surrounds encompass caves, waterfalls, mountains and national parks waiting to be explored. The town’s vibrant market is great for shopping and sampling local culinary specialities from streetside stalls, while Cicada Market in neighbouring Cha-Am offers a more arty experience, with its quirky selection of handcrafted wares.

 

Surat Thani

 

The capital of Surat Thani province, Surat Thani is one of Thailand’s larger urban centres and the kick-off point to the world-renowned destinations of Koh Samui, Koh Pha Ngan and Angthong National Marine Park. Yet despite its size and popularity, the city has remained surprisingly authentic and serene – here you can get a taste of the ‘real’ Thailand. Take a wander through the city to see the glittering splendour of its Buddhist temples, or enjoy steaming dishes of spicy Southern food at the bustling riverfront night market. The Monkey Training Centre, just outside of town, makes for an interesting visit – here monkeys are ethically trained to become efficient coconut collectors, using only positive reinforcement techniques.

 

Hat Yai

 

Despite being one of Southern Thailand’s largest and busiest cities, Hat Yai still retains a laid back atmosphere typical of the tropics. It is most frequently a stop-off spot for travellers headed south to Malaysia, or north to Thailand’s beautiful beaches and balmy rainforests, however, those that choose to linger here can look forward to excellent shopping, superb regional cuisine and lively nightlife. Visitors can take scenic horse rides along Samila Beach, explore over 100 food stalls at Kim Yong Market, and or take in scenic views and try delicious seafood at at Ko Yo Island. Other highlights include: swimming at the magnificent Ton Nga Chang Waterfall, some of the best Thai massages in Thailand, and the variety of lively traditional festivals.

 

Koh Lanta

 

Koh Lanta is one of Thailand’s destination gems: located off the country’s western coast in the Andaman Ocean, it has gained a reputation amongst travellers for its relaxed atmosphere, beautiful beaches, and superb sunsets. Plus it’s less developed than many of the country’s islands, but still relatively easily to reach. The quietest beaches are located in the island’s far south – so if it’s seclusion you’re looking for, heading in this direction will get you closest to your goal. Alternatively,the northern shores offer a busier, but fun and social experience, with restaurants and bars lining the beachfront. Wandering through the streets of Koh Lanta’s old town will take you past many traditional teak wood houses and give you a sense of Thailand’s days of old, while the food market offers a colourful glimpse into local life.

 

 

Doi Pha Hom Pok National Park

Doi Pha Hom Pok National Park, formerly known as Mar Fang National Park, is the northernmost national park in Thailand. Aside from boasting over five hundred kilometres of beautifully rugged mountainous terrain, covered in pine forests and deciduous plants, Doi Pha Hom Pok is famed for its spectacular geographical features; Pha Hom Pok mountain, which at over two thousand metres is the second tallest peak in Thailand; and the geyser, which at over thirty metres is the highest in the country. The park’s lush terrain offers famous trekking, climbing and four-wheel driving trails, as well as remarkable bird watching opportunities and a plethora of enchanting hot springs. After a day of exploring, travellers can meander through the souvenir store, or relax with a drink and a pond-side snack at the visitor centre.

 

Damnoen Saduak

 

 

 

The village of Damnoen Saduak lies about an hour west of the capital of Bangkok in southern Thailand. This village is known for its popular floating market – also called Damnoen Saduak – a bustling, colourful place where you can buy everything from fresh produce to clothing and stationery. The floating market of Damnoen Saduak operates every day and the vendors row into the canal with their wares just before sunrise. Visitors can either travel to the village the night before to beat the crowds with an early morning start, or else it is possible to book day tours from Bangkok.

 

Surin

 

Often referred to as the ‘millionaire’s row’, Surin, an idyllic tropical location, boasts stunning high-end resorts along breathtaking, pristine beaches lapped by bright blue, clear waters. Located in Northeast Thailand, Surin is the namesake capital of the province, and is also known for its numerous magnificent Khmer ruins, exquisite hand-woven silks, and fragrant jasmine rice. Must-see attractions include the enthralling San Lak Meuang shrine; the fascinating National Museum, which delves into the unique heritage of the area’s three ethnic groups; and the silk village Chansoma, where visitors can marvel at the fine brocade fabrics and watch the extraordinary master process.

 

Koh Mak

 

Extending across just 16 square kilometres, Koh Mak is a small but idyllic satellite island of Koh Chang, ideal for the traveller looking for pristine ocean and beautiful beaches, but not hung up on nightlife. This is the ultimate R&R island, where you can explore lush jungle trails, sunbathe on deserted tropical beaches, and enjoy sublime snorkelling just metres off the shore. As the sun goes down, savour delicious seafood or classic Thai dishes at the laidback restaurants and bars peppering the coastline.

 

Nakhon Lampang

Nakhon Lampang is city spread along the banks of the Wang River in the Northern River Valleys of Northern Thailand. The city makes an excellent base for exploring the extensive forested hills and national parks of the Lampang province at large. While not exactly a tourist hotspot, the laidback town is pleasant, with plenty to see for a day or two and several good eateries. Popular attractions in the area include a Lanna-style Buddhist temple known as Wat Phra That Lampang Luang, the Thai Elephant Conservation Center, the Wang Kaeo waterfall and the Chae Son National Park, which combines a natural hot springs with large waterfalls. Don’t miss the chance to ride one of the horse-drawn carriages for which the town is known.

 

Hua Hin

 

The seaside town of Hua Hin is located just a few hours’ drive from Bangkok, making it a popular weekend getaway with locals and ex-pats living in the capital, as well as tourists seeking an accessible coastal escape. This affluent destination has been a favourite holiday spot of the Thai royal family since the 1920s, and is still the site of the current king’s summer residence today. Hua Hin’s long, palm-lined sand beach offers endless opportunities for sun-tanning, swimming and snorkelling, and its lush surrounds encompass caves, waterfalls, mountains and national parks waiting to be explored. The town’s vibrant market is great for shopping and sampling local culinary specialities from streetside stalls, while Cicada Market in neighbouring Cha-Am offers a more arty experience, with its quirky selection of handcrafted wares.

 

Phitsanulok

 

Phitsanulok (or simply P’Lok for short) is a fairly large, historic city set along the Nan River, in lower northern Thailand. This ancient centre of Thai culture and politics is a busy, dynamic city and one of the larger of Thailand’s provincial capitals. Phitsanulok’s primary tourist attraction is Wat Phra Sri Rattana Mahathat, a famous temple, built in 1357, which houses the Phra Buddha Chinnarat, one of the most revered Buddha figures in Thailand. Other popular attractions include the Chandra Palace, a Buddha image foundry and a nearby folk museum. The city is also known for its excellent markets, its Nan River houseboats, and it’s interesting houseboat museum.

 

 

Doi Pha Hom Pok National Park

 

Doi Pha Hom Pok National Park, formerly known as Mar Fang National Park, is the northernmost national park in Thailand. Aside from boasting over five hundred kilometres of beautifully rugged mountainous terrain, covered in pine forests and deciduous plants, Doi Pha Hom Pok is famed for its spectacular geographical features; Pha Hom Pok mountain, which at over two thousand metres is the second tallest peak in Thailand; and the geyser, which at over thirty metres is the highest in the country. The park’s lush terrain offers famous trekking, climbing and four-wheel driving trails, as well as remarkable bird watching opportunities and a plethora of enchanting hot springs. After a day of exploring, travellers can meander through the souvenir store, or relax with a drink and a pond-side snack at the visitor centre.

 

Trang

 

The capital of Trang Province, Trang town is set on Thailand’s western coast as is the primary departure point for trips to several islands in the Andaman Sea. It is somewhat of a cultural melting pot, with a mix of Thai, Chinese, Malay and European influences – a legacy of its centuries-old history as a trading port. The city’s various markets offer excellent opportunities for retail therapy, as well as a smorgasboard of mouthwatering cuisine options. A must for nature lovers is a visit to the botanical gardens just outside of town, which incorporate 12kms of walking trails through dense, pristine jungle. The waters off Trang’s coast offer some of the country’s most spectacular dive sites, and are one of the last places where divers can see the endangered dugong in its natural habitat.

 

Udon Thani

 

One of Isaan’s ‘Big Four’ and the capital of Udon Thani Province, ‘Udon’ is a pleasant city with a relaxed ambience and friendly locals. Nong Prajak Park provides a lovely spot in which to unwind during the heat of the day (local snacks and Thai massages are on offer here), while the city’s many temples will charm visitors with their serene opulence. There are several other national and historical parks dotted around the city’s periphery, including the archaeological site of Ban Chiang, a UNESCO World Heritage Site known for its attractive ancient pottery; and Phu Phra Bat Park, where you will find Bronze Age rock art and intriguing rock formations.

 

Rayong

 

Rayong City, the capital of the namesake province, lies two hours’ drive from Bangkok. More popular among locals than tourists, the neighbouring well-preserved islands of Koh Samet offer a somewhat more authentic experience than backpacker-filled spots like Pattaya. Koh Samet provides fire shows and a lively party scene as well as some serene beaches and coves, and the chance to enjoy banana boating, snorkelling, fishing, and turtle and shark spotting. Koh Talu is home to the most beautiful reef in Rayong. Gourmands can savour fresh seafood snacks at the Ban Phe Market, or indulge in the area’s sweet local fruit by browsing the Tapong Fruit Market or picking their own at the surrounding orchards. Soak up the heritage along the trendy historic Yomjinda Road, or pay homage to the beautiful sacred white pagoda, Phra Chedi Klang Nam, in the river.