Thailand has much to do, see, experience, and discover; it’s a top bucket list destination for many travelers. Thailand has something for everyone with its fascinating mix of bustling cities, stunning beaches, and remote villages.
In this ultimate beginner’s guide to Thailand travel, we cover everything you need to know about this unique travel destination to help you determine whether you should book that flight across the globe. If you’re making Thailand travel plans, add these unforgettable destinations and experiences to your bucket list Thailand itinerary!
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Getting to Thailand
Most travelers entering Thailand fly into Bangkok International Airport. As the nation’s capital, it’s the easiest to access with the biggest airport.
Wherever you enter the country, you’ll need public transportation to get to your hotel, rental apartment, or where you’re staying. Here are some tips for local transportation in Thailand:
- When using a taxi (or tuk-tuk), make sure to use licensed taxis found at official taxi stands. Operate the meter instead of negotiating a pre-fixed price. It will be cheaper, and you’re less likely to be scammed. Use Google Maps to map and follow the route to your destination, which allows you to see if the driver is taking a longer route to jack up meter prices.
- Consider taking the local bus to and from the airport.
- Use Grabr app or Uber app – both are available and widely used in Thailand.
- Take the BTS Skytrain from the airport.
Entering Thailand requires a tourist visa for most travelers. You can apply and obtain one online at Thailand e-Visa before arriving in the country. Thailand also offers an array of other visas for travelers looking to stay for longer or have different visa needs.
Interested in staying in Thailand as a digital nomad? Thailand has announced a new “work from Thailand” visa for a stay of up to 10 years in the country. Long a favorite destination for digital nomads, Thailand is one of the best places to work remotely, this new visa category is a welcome addition to a long list of digital nomad visas offered by countries around the world.
Thailand has over 70 languages spoken, with the most common being the language you’ll hear when you visit: Thai. Learning even a few basic but essential words in Thai can help you navigate more easily while traveling here.
The local currency is the Thai Baht. The most recent exchange rate with the US dollar is 1 USD = 35.5 THB
If you’ve ever been to a spa, you’ve probably seen the option for a Thai massage. There’s no better place to experience an authentic one than in Thailand!
A lovely spa day there will afford you a luxury Thai experience, often at a bargain price. It’s well worth the cost.
Who doesn’t love good Thai takeout? As you can imagine, the version of Thai we experience at home is not the same as what you will experience in Thailand. Expect slightly different flavors and spicier options.
Don’t worry, though. Thailand is a very diverse and accommodating country. You will surely find what you’re craving if you need a break from eating the local cuisine.
If you’re interested in the food scene in Thailand, consider taking a Thai cooking class. Learn the ins and outs of putting together an authentic meal and then eat and enjoy! Otherwise, make it a point to try everything, from upscale restaurants to mom-and-pop joints to the street food stands. You won’t be disappointed.
While you’re there, check out the local fruit. The tropical climate allows locals to grow exotic fruit we don’t always find here at home. Take advantage, push your comfort zone and be sure to try them all!
Thailand can be an excellent destination for sustainable travel and has tons of unique eco-hotels, lodges, and more. To easily find sustainable tourism options in Thailand, make sure you avoid unethical animal experiences and choose tourism providers with sustainable practices.
It can be easier to have a sustainable trip than you might think!
Things To Do in Bangkok
You may have attended your fair share of farmer’s and local markets, but you’ve likely never been to a floating market.
Bangkok is famous for these markets, so make sure to add them to your Bangkok itinerary! The canals and waterways were how people used to get around back before the city became the developed urban space we know today. As for the experience, you are floating through the city in a canoe while vendors, in their canoes, are selling their goods.
What are they selling? Items range from flowers and spices to food and souvenirs.
Bangkok’s most popular floating market is the Damnoen Saduak Floating Market, located about an hour outside the city. While it’s usually crammed with tourists, a visit to this bustling market is well worth the time. Traveling along the waterways in this area will get you views of different plantations and remote villages.
There are plenty of temples to choose from in Bangkok. Each one carries its own history, opulence, and significance. Plan to add a few of these beautiful temples to your Thailand itinerary.
Two of the most famous are Wat Arun, opposite the Grand Palace, and Wat Pho (the oldest temple in Bangkok). Built during the 17th century, its full name of ‘Wat Arun Ratchawararam Ratchawaramahawihan.’ Or, as people also like to say, the ‘Temple of the Dawn.’
Several palaces in Bangkok are available for open to visitors, and they’re some of the city’s most incredible attractions.
The most iconic is the Grand Palace. Built in 1782, this palace was the home of the Thai King for 150 years, plus the Royal court and the administrative seat of government. The Thai war ministry, state department, and even the mint are within its walls.
In addition, a visit to the Grand Palace will get you a view of Wat Phra Kaew, or the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, which dates back to the 14th century.
Shopping At Chatuchak Market
If you like shopping, you need to check out the incredible Chatuchak Market. The market includes 8,000 plus stalls that cover 27 acres. Open only on the weekends, the market attracts 200,000 visitors a day. It is one of the largest markets in the world.
If floating markets aren’t your thing, consider a cruise down the Chao Phraya River. This river and its many offshoots that permeate Bangkok give the city its nickname “Venice of the East.”
Some 50,000 locals use the ferry system on the river for their daily commutes. As a visitor, the ride will get you a sneak peek into the different layers of the city.
Visit a Rooftop
Want spectacular views, good food, and great drinks? Visit some of the famous rooftops in Bangkok.
One of the more popular choices is the Banyan Tree Hotel Vertigo and Moon bar on the 61st floor. The rooftop is designed to give unobstructed 360-degree views of the city. The views are incredible, and the food and drinks are even better.
Of note, they have a strict dress code, so double-check that before you head over!
Visit Chiang Mai
Another one of the best places to visit in Thailand, the northern city of Chiang Mai is a must for those looking to escape from the hustle and bustle of Bangkok. To reach Chiang Mai from Bangkok, you can fly, take the bus, hire a driver, or take the train.
A popular destination for digital nomads, expats, and both short-term and long-term travelers alike, Chaing Mai and the surrounding area have plenty to offer visitors to keep you busy for days (or weeks). These are some of the most popular destinations and activities for travelers.
Riding elephants is a popular addition to a Thailand travel bucket list for many travelers. However, doing so is not safe or healthy for the animal. For elephants to be domesticated enough to accept human travelers, they must be trained, and their training is brutal.
If you’re interested in visiting and spending time with these magnificent creatures, visit the Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai instead. They rescue these abused animals and let them roam free.
You cannot ride them, but you can walk alongside them and feed them. Since they are already trained, they are friendly towards people.
The Park also rescues dogs, an elephant’s favorite four-legged pal, and runs primarily via donations. The local caretakers developed one-on-one relationships with the elephants assigned to them, and you can see the beautiful friendships all in one place!
Another popular attraction in Thailand is the Tiger Kingdom. You’ve probably seen plenty of Instagram photos with people and tigers – it’s a popular spot for a photo opportunity!
While a visit might not be right for every traveler – some have qualms with visiting these animals in captivity – it’s a popular option to consider.
The best shopping in Thailand can be found in Chiang Mai. This city’s night market has all the souvenirs and goods you could hope for from a Thailand vacation. You can purchase clothes, shoes, art, decorative pieces, spices, food, and anything else you can imagine.
Bargaining is a must! So get ready to flex those muscles to try and get the best price for your souvenirs.
Visit Thailand’s World-Famous Beaches
Thailand’s beaches are well known for being some of the most impressive beaches in Asia. You’ll find a wide range of beach destinations, from beaches closer to the city to smaller, remote islands with deserted stretches of sand. No matter what you’re looking for in a beach vacation, you’ll find plenty of options in Thailand.
Koh Samui vs. Phuket
Two of the most popular beach destinations in Thailand, Koh Samui and Phuket are both popular and scenic, with pristine white sand beaches. Phuket may be more well-known from a tourist perspective, but Koh Samui is equally beautiful.
You’ll find similar costs for hotels and dining at each destination. So, how do you pick which to visit?
- Koh Samui has more quiet time at the beach, beach clubs, street markets for shopping, more water activities, access to friendly locals, and convenient food options.
- Phuket has a busier beach hub, nightclubs, malls for shopping, more land activities, unique local cuisine, and a more upscale clientele.
Depending on your interests and goals for the trip, you can decide which is a better destination to fit your plans! There is no shortage of activities to do while you’re at either beach. You can snorkel, scuba dive, rent out a boat or a jet ski, or just relax.
Islands in Thailand
Of course, Thailand has plenty of great beach destinations beyond Koh Samui and Phuket. Another popular spot on the mainland for a beach getaway is Krabi, and there are countless islands in western Thailand that attract travelers from around the world.
A popular trip is to the beaches in Phuket, then on to Krabi before traveling on to islands like Koh Phi Phi and Koh Lanta. It’s quite easy to travel from Krabi to Koh Lanta, and there are plenty of spots to find transportation to even more remote islands nearby.
Thailand is an incredible destination with plenty to keep any traveler busy. From visiting elephant sanctuaries in Chiang Mai to exploring floating markets and remote villages, you’ll find plenty to fill up your itinerary and leave you ready to plan your next trip to Thailand.
We hope this beginner’s guide to Thailand helps you make the most of your adventure!
This post originally appeared on Hello Sensible.
Carley Rojas Avila is a bilingual New York-based travel writer, editor, content marketer, and the founder of the digital travel publications Explorers Away and Home to Havana. Carley is an expert on all things Latin America, the Caribbean, and Cuba, having lived and worked in four different countries in the region. Her writing has appeared on the Associated Press wires and in Travel + Leisure, Yahoo, MSN, Euronews, The Weather Channel, and more. When she's not writing about her travels, find her front row at a Bad Bunny concert, befriending street cats, and taste-testing every pizza in Havana.