Thailand is spectacular, plain and simple. Narrowing such a country down to twelve must-see attractions seems impossible. But, if you’re coming for a visit in Thailand and you want to be sure that you don’t miss the highlights, this is your go-to list.
1. THE GRAND PALACE AND WAT PRAKEAW
Built in 1782, and home of the Thai King, the Royal court, and the administrative seat of the government for 150 years, this gorgeous structure is now the spiritual heartbeat for the Thai kingdom.
Several amazing temples and buildings are found within the structure of the palace itself, including the Outer Court and the Temple of the Emerald Buddha (the most important temple in Thailand). This is truly a must-see site if you want to better understand Thailand.
A word about visiting the Grand Palace: a strict dress code applies. Men must wear long pants and their shirts must have sleeves. Sandals or flip flops require socks (no bare feet). Women must be modestly dressed without bare shoulders. Proper clothes can be acquired at the gate for entrance to the temple with a deposit.
2. ERAWAN FALLS, ERAWAN NATIONAL PARK
Said to be the most beautiful of all waterfalls in Thailand (a nation with many, many waterfalls), Erawan Falls has seven levels of water dropping and rushing down the rocks!
You can climb to the different levels with relative ease, though the trip all the way to the top may take some doing. However, if you have it in you, the view is spectacular, and the falls themselves are refreshingly beautiful. You might even want to take a quick swim in some of the pools created by the falls!
3. DAMNOEN SADUAK FLOATING MARKET
Though there are many floating markets found in Thailand, the most famous is most certainly Damnoen Saduak. It is located about 100 kilometers south of Bangkok, and is best seen and experienced early in the morning before the huge crowds begin to arrive.BangkokWhat will you find? You’ll find brightly colored clothing and wares as merchants paddle their boats along the canals. They’ll be filled with fresh fruits and vegetables, along with other items. Do be willing to bargain, but don’t expect the price to be lowered more than a few baht.
4. ELEPHANTS OF CHIANG MAI
Chiang Mai is located in Northern Thailand, in the “hill country”, a region with more temperate climate. Here you will find the Thai elephant, a creature who all but symbolizes much of Thailand. You’ll see it in the art and traditions of Thailand, and if a true taste of Thailand is what you’re after, you’ll want to see the elephants of Chiang Mai.
Though the numbers of wild elephants in Thailand has plummeted, you can visit preserves and centers dedicated to the care of these beloved creatures.
5. MAYA BAY, PHI PHI ISLANDS
Visiting Koh Phi Phi has almost become obligatory for any traveler to Thailand. The movie The Beach, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, made this island (and its beaches) famous.
This means it is heavily trafficked by tourists, with the beaches and town quite crowded during the day before most of the day-trippers head back. It does not resemble the deserted paradise of the movie, but Maya Bay, with its towering limestone cliffs and beautiful water fringed by white sand, is still worth a visit.
6. PHANG NGA BAY, PHUKET
Phang Nga Bay is located between the island of Phuket and the mainland. It has been protected as the Ao Phang Nga National Park since 1981, and with good reason.
This shallow-water bay is known for dramatic limestone cliffs, or karsts, that jut out of the emerald water. They look like freestanding pillars, and are best enjoyed by taking a relaxed boat cruise through the bay and avoiding the tourist stops in favor of more secluded beaches.
7. WHITE TEMPLE, CHIANG RAI
The White Temple is almost too unreal to believe. Completely white (a symbol of the purity of Buddha), it looks like something out of a fairy tale.
This is not an ancient structure. It was started in 1997, and is a structure full of incredibly ornate detail. The statuary that you’ll see as you walk through the park surrounding the White Temple may startle and shock you. It represents many aspects of Buddhism. It is well worth spending a fair amount of time really looking at the detail and contemplating the messages found in this temple rather than rushing through.
8. ANG THONG NATIONAL MARINE PARK
This marine park is made up of about 40 different islands which are known for being lushly forested and pierced by unique rock formations. It covers about 250 square kilometers, but most of the islands are fairly close to each other.
Sailing around the park will take your breath away. You’ll see much wildlife there, and even the dolphin or two.
Mae Ko Island is one you should be sure to visit; in the center of the island is a seawater lake, surrounded by limestone cliffs. It’s like looking at green glass, and a magnificent view.
9. RUINS OF ANCIENT CITY OF SUKHOTHAI
Sukhothai means “the dawn of happiness”, and even though this impressive ancient city is now in ruins, it was once the capital of Siam over 800 years ago.
Visit Sukhothai November through February, when it is cooler. Take in the Buddha statuary, and be prepared for exploring — the entire site takes in over 27 square miles! That means you have your pick of where you’d like to go.
10. THE EAST COAST ISLANDS
The islands found off of the East coast of Thailand, Koh Samui and Koh Phangan, should be found on your itinerary. Koh Phangan is known for a more bohemian (and sometimes wild) party culture. Koh Samui is a more laid-back and relaxing island. Both islands are known for pristine white beaches lined with palm trees and drenched with turquoise blue waters.
Koh Samui features several famous points of interest in addition to the gorgeous beaches. Wat Phra Yai (better known as Big Buddha Temple) is located on Koh Phan and connected to Koh Samui by a causeway. There are also many other attractions on Koh Samui to fill the day before heading back to your villa for a relaxing night’s sleep. Some islands remain noisy at night due to bars and partying, but Koh Samui, though popular because of available amenities and dining, has avoided a similar fate entirely.
11. KHAO YAI NATIONAL PARK, NAKHON NAYOK
The first of Thailand’s many national parks, Khao Yai National Park spreads across four provinces and is a true jungle filled with wildlife. A mix of tropical rainforest (70% of the forest) and dry evergreen forests, along with some grasslands, make up the park. Several waterfalls, including Heaw Suwat Waterfall, which was shown in the movie The Beach, are located in this park.
If you’re a bit worn out by beaches and lots of tourists, Khao Yai has a road through the center of the park with facilities and accommodations. It might be the perfect break you were looking for.
12. BUDDHIST TEMPLE OF DAWN (WAT ARUN)
With over 31,000 temples in Thailand, it is easy to become numb after seeing a few. Don’t let that stop you from visiting Wat Arun.
This spectacular temple could be considered one of the most stunning in Bangkok–some might say in all of Thailand! It is located along the river, and is unique in design. Colorful spires, ornately decorated, make up much of this temple. Visit this temple at sunset when it is partially lit up, and you won’t ever forget it.