Beaches, bountiful noodle dishes, buckets pumped with energy drinks and vodka and who-knows-what, sleepless parties under the full moon, the electric character of Bangkok and the mystical hills of Mae Hong Son – the draws of the Land of Smiles are endless! In this ultimate bucket list, we’ll take a look at all the must-do things that folk heading off on a Thailand trip should have on the menu!
Taste pad Thai
No trip to the Land of Smiles could possibly be complete without at least a sampling of the country’s iconic pad Thai. With those aromatic peanut infusions, sharp lime overtones, succulent noodles, shrimp additions, and soy-doused egg omelette garnishes, who can blame anyone who over-indulges? Of course, pad Thai is best served piping hot from one of Thailand’s countless roadside eateries – check out the busy joints at the end of Khaosan Road!
See Chiang Mai
Chiang Mai: The onetime capital of the mighty Lan Na kings. This town of timber homes and crumbling medieval fortifications rarely fails to impress. Temple stupas like the Wat Chiang Man loom over the crisscrossing roadways of the Old Town, while the shimmering golden pagodas of Wat Phra That Doi Suthep soar on the horizon. Then there are the night markets, bustling and bubbling around the historic gateways after dark in a medley of reggae-themed paraphernalia and curious folk trinkets courtesy of the Karen tribes. There's also the wild side of things, with the Mae Ping River meandering nearby and great swathes of untouched forest to explore. Nice!
Swim in the Andaman
Running the length of Thailand’s western shore, the Andaman Coast is a place of rugged coastal mountains dressed in jungle, soaring stone needles to rival Ha Long Bay, hidden bamboo villages and salt-sprayed sands. It’s a truly beautiful place to kick-back, relax and dive into the warming waters of the Indian Ocean. Jewels like Ao Nang Beach, Khao Lak and Railay all make their home here, offering cliff-backed bays of shimmering blue seas and scintillating tropical sands.
Swim in the Gulf
The Land of Smiles’ second great coastal treat comes in the east. Over the peninsula from the Andaman, the Thai Gulf is a place of quintessential tropical beauty. Here, the rugged cliffs and karst mountains are replaced by classic cotton-coloured sands and sloping beaches. Swaying palm trees pepper the coves and bays, and hammocks swing on the decks of bamboo huts close to the shore. The island of Koh Tao is a regular star on the pamphlets that probably got you interested in Thailand in the first place, and it rarely disappoints!
Party on Khaosan Road
For better or for worse, Khaosan Road is now the introduction to the Land of Smiles for many a backpacker. Loud, Exciting, and unashamedly rowdy, the strip that runs through the heart of Bangkok’s Banglamphu district certainly isn’t for the faint-hearted. It’s peppered with loud market stalls touting Chang tees and neon onesies (stock up while you can!). It’s fringed with steamy roadside noodle shops. It’s got thumping super clubs and sleepless rooftop bars. Like it or loathe it, don’t miss it!
Party on Koh Phangan
The home of the legendary Full Moon Party simply can’t be missed. Set out between the sparkling waters of the Thai Gulf, Koh Phangan has been famed since the 1960s for its after-dark atmosphere. Today, the blowouts that erupt on the sands around Haad Rin have been known to draw in crowds of as many as 40,000 at a time. They come to get loose in the DJ bars, watch fire shows and sip (or slam) bucket cocktails. And don’t worry if your trip doesn’t fit with the lunar movements, there are also Half Moon Parties, New Moon Parties, Sunday night parties, Monday night parties – the list goes on!
Enjoy a bucket
Anyone who’s successfully checked off the last two Thai must-dos must surely have also nailed this one! Buckets are the ubiquitous party drink of the Land of Smiles. They are sold from the bamboo bars of Pai in the north to the beach shacks of Koh Phangan in the south. They are the currency of Full Moon Parties and the fuel of the country’s all-night festivities. One disclaimer: these bad boys hit hard, so don’t go whacking oodles back in one session!
Meet an elephant
Aside from being one of the national symbols of Thailand, the Asian elephant is also one of the Land of Smiles’ greatest touristic draws. Travellers come from far and wide to catch a glimpse of the majestic beast. Just make sure you head off to an ethical rescue sanctuary and avoid the shady trekking camps. This will let you encounter these friendly giants in the knowledge there’s no exploitation going on. Expect to help feed, care for and bathe the elephant on a typical trip!
Meet the Karen hill tribes
Deep in the dusty hills of northern Thailand, where the lowland plains give way to the rising foothills of Mae Hong Son and the border with Burma, there are still some native tribes living in the wilderness. Known as the Karen, these folk live in stilted bamboo villages and farm cascading rice fields for sustenance. Some of the tribes are also known to follow curious traditions and practices, like the long-necked Karen, who elongate their necks with brass coils from a young age. Cultural encounters with the Karen are one of the top things on the Thailand travel menu!
Go climbing in Railay
The veritable backpacker jewel of the Andaman coast, Railay can be found nestled behind great walls of rugged rock just outside of Krabi. Accessible only by boat or arduous trek, it ticks over to a lazy, laid-back vibe, without buzzing scooters or automobiles. Railay Beach is simply gorgeous, shining and sparkling in a golden yellow hue against the sky-blue Indian Ocean. But it’s the rock walls that really come up trumps here, offering climbers some awesome overhangs and adrenaline-pumping ascents. Get ready to strap on the harness folks!
Get PADI certified
Thailand remains one of the most popular (and affordable) places in the world to nail that PADI qualification. Islands like Koh Tao are now nothing short of legendary on the diving circuit, and there are SCUBA providers on every corner. Getting under the water here reveals a whole world of marine wonders. There’s Shark Island, with its alien molluscs and curious coral formations. There’s White Rock, with its huge stingrays and angelfish. There’s the Sattakut; a shipwreck laden with spiny puffers and multi-coloured schools of fish. That’s one way to return from a Thailand travel trip with another skill on the CV!
Bathe in the Erawan Falls
The impossibly beautiful Erawan Falls can be found cascading in seven tiers through the hills of Kanchanaburi Province, nestled in their own national park and accessed by a winding walking trail through the forests. One of the real natural wonders of the Land of Smiles, they offer up a series of turquoise-coloured water pools to swim in, not to mention a number of natural rock slides and jumping points carved out of the rocks. The waters are also filled with flesh-nibbling fish, meaning they are a great place to go for that exfoliation manicure!
Let us know in the comments below if you can think of any other must-dos to add to this ultimate Thailand travel bucket list? Then check out Life Before Work’s range of tours in the Land of Smiles and start checking off your own!
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