The Best Places to Visit in Thailand for First Timers
For many travelers, Thailand is the gateway to Southeast Asia. Known as the Land of Smiles, this friendly country is home to a wide variety of adventures, making it difficult to choose where to go. There is the bustling city of Bangkok, the northern mountains of Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai, and the multitude of magical Thailand beaches in the southern part of the country. Whether you’re a diver, a foodie, a backpacker, or a luxury traveler, Thailand has it all. Having visited Thailand three times, we’ve explored a large portion of the country and have created the ultimate list of the best places to visit in Thailand.
- When to Visit: October to April is tourist high season (the best time to visit Thailand), U.S. Summer months are rainy season
- Festivals to Visit: Songkran, Loi Krathong, Lantern Festival
- Transportation: Tuk Tuk, Uber, Taxi, Metro
- Tip: don’t try to squeeze too much in one trip. It’s easy to want to jam in every island and city into one trip (yes, I’m talking to you, my fellow Americans), but it’s completely unrealistic. To fully enjoy your trip to Thailand, don’t spend too much time traveling between locations. Accept that you’ll want to (and will) visit Thailand again and again. We would recommend maximum of three locations in 10 days. Choose wisely and limit your places to visit in Thailand.
- Tip: Don’t stay at only big name hotels. There are so many beautiful boutique hotels in Thailand – it’s worth it to try some local brands.
- Tip: When visiting temples, prepare to take your shoes off and cover your body. Thailand is a very religious country and tourists should abide by its customs and traditions. For both men and women, this means covering your knees and shoulders.
- Tip: Prepare to haggle. If you’re buying something at a market, understand that the first price isn’t the final.
- Tip: Agree on a price beforehand. For taxi’s, tuk tuk’s and other transportation, agree on a price beforehand and be very explicit with setting that number.
- Floating Market: Located an hour outside of Bangkok, the Damnoen Saduak Floating Market is a great place to shop local products and produce. Hop on a small boat and cruise your way through markets at one of the most unique shopping centers in the world. While this is a touristy endeavor, it is worth the trip. If you can, try to book a sunrise tour when there are less tourists.
- Grand Palace: The Grand Palace is the former home of various Thai kings. The impressive complex is home to various beautiful buildings including the Temple of the Emerald Buddha.
- Wat Pho: Known as the location for the Reclining Buddha, Wat Pho is located very close to the Grand Palace.
- Drinks at the Sky Bar at Lebua Tower: The Sky Bar may be famous as the location for the Hangover 2, but this rooftop bar holds its clout because of its delicious cocktails and outstanding city view. Located 820 feet above the metropolis of Bangkok, Sky Bar is the chicest spot for cocktails. If you do visit the Lebua Tower, dress to impress. This is one of the few places in Thailand where shorts and flip-flops are NOT accepted.
- Patara Elephant Farm: Any first time visitor to Thailand should be weary of elephant “shows” and “camps” as many of these facilities are inhumane. Patara Elephant Farm is a safe and humane way to interact with Thai elephants in the jungle.
- Muay Thai Fight: Muay Thai is the national sport of Thailand so any first time visitor to Thailand needs to see a Muay Thai fight. The two most popular arenas in Chiang Mai are Thapae Boxing Stadium and Kawila Boxing Stadium. You can purchase tickets through your hotel or directly through your arena. If you take a tuk tuk to the event, the driver may try to scam you by telling you the fight is sold out. Don’t believe the driver, as the fights are NEVER sold out. Insist on going straight to the arena and ignore his or her comments.
- Wat Phra That Doi Suthep Temple: Known as Doi Suthep, this ornate temple overlooks the city of Chiang Mai. This temple was built hundreds of years ago and is one of the most popular temples in all of Thailand.
- Chiang Mai Night Bazaar: Chiang Mai is filled with markets, but one of the best places to shop is the Chiang Mai Night Bazaar. Tourists can shop for souvenirs, clothing, art, and jewelry. Remember, haggling is completely accepted and welcomed here! Never say yes to your first offer.
- Sailing: The seas around Samui were made for sailing. Hop aboard the Dreamcatcher to go Sailing around Samui. We went sailing with Samui Ocean Sports & Yacht Charter where our captain, Kunta, took us around the island of Koh Samui as well as to nearby Koh Pha Ngan. Stop for swims, snorkels, and local beachside lunches. For a longer stay on the Dreamcatcher, book an overnight trip to dive around the island of Koh Tao.
- Drive around the Island: The easiest way to get around Koh Samui is by moped. Head to downtown or speak to your concierge about renting a moped for a drive around the island. There is only one main road that circumnavigates the island. It will only take a few hours, but it’s worth stopping off at beaches and towns along the way.
Koh Pha Ngan
- Full Moon Party: Is it touristy? Yes. Is it one of the most debauchers parties in the entire world? Yes and yes. Prepare for an all-night party filled with fire dancers, buckets of booze, and lots of dancing. Hot tip: Organize private transportation ahead of time as boats are regularly overcrowded. Another option is to stay on the island or stay up all night. Either way, plan ahead and don’t count on a public boat.
- Phuket: We would recommend skipping Phuket all together because of its crowds and lack of authenticity. The only reason to visit this tourist trap is for a stay at the famed Sri Panwa Hotel. Sri Panwa is a five-star hotel with some of the best villas, suites, and restaurants in all of Thailand. As Instagrammers and luxury lovers, it’s a heavenly destination. However, there are so many beautiful and authentic parts of Thailand to visit that it’s not worth spending your time in Phuket solely for this hotel.
- Andaman Islands: The islands of Koh Phi Phi, Koh Yao Noi, Koh Yao Yai, and the surrounding islands are some of the most picturesque islands in the world. While these islands are beautiful to visit, especially via longtail boat, they’re not our top choice for a first timers visit to Thailand. If you were set on visiting these islands, we would recommend staying at Six Senses or Ani Villas on Koh Yao Noi. The island of Koh Yao Noi is a respite from the hustle and bustle of the Andaman Sea Islands, however there is not much action. For a first time visit to Thailand, Koh Samui is our favorite as it combines fabulous beaches, fun nightlife, and five-star hotels all in one.