City lovers and beach bums, trekkers and yogis, temple lovers and wildlife buffs, partiers and everyone in between, are certain to find something suitable in the fabled Land of Smiles. When you come to planning those Thailand holidays this year, be sure to check this list of LBW’s 8 picks for the greatest spots. It’s got everything from shimmering white beaches in the Gulf to jungle-topped karst mountains and hidden hill towns close to Burma. Enjoy…
Setting the ball rolling is perhaps the single most famous spot for those typical, sun-drenched Thailand holidays. But despite the much-trodden sands and luxurious beachside resorts of Lamai and Chaweng town, Koh Samui is an island of many sides. Like Ibiza, its bars may pulse on the south coast, but there are still empty coves and beautiful tropical coastal stretches in the north, around Laem Yai and Mae Nam. And then there’s the earthy little fishing settlement of Bophut, where it’s possible to sample some of the most acclaimed Thai seafood in the islands, and watch sunsets that are simply to die for. Add to the mix a medley of butterfly gardens and the pagoda of Laem Sor, some soothing Buddhist shrines and the mummified monk of Wat Khunaram, and it’s easy to see why this one’s such a pull!
Koh Phi Phi
A cocktail (in a bucket of course) of partying and scintillating sands, thick jungles and beautiful coral reefs, Koh Phi Phi is actually more than just one island - it’s three! Yep, this sprinkling of little tropical rocks off the western coast of the Land of Smiles is surely one of the top places to while away those Thailand holidays. Endowed with all the rugged beauty that’s made the Andaman so famous, the island of Koh Phi Phi Leh is perhaps the handsomest. This is the spot that DiCaprio wallowed during the famous filming of The Beach; a medley of abandoned coves and sea caves, swinging jungle vines and remote little stretches of sand. However, it’s Koh Phi Phi Don that draws the largest crowds. This boomerang-shaped speck on the map is actually the largest in the archipelago, and thumps to the tunes of dub and the off-beats of reggae right throughout the high season. The bona fide party king of the western isles, it’s got beach bars and fire shows, wild all-nighters and a clutch of hidden resorts to balance out the action!
Chiang Mai is the northern powerhouse of the Land of Smiles. Perfect for those off-the-beaten-track Thailand holidays, the old and aged city is one that rarely fails to capture the imagination with its unique blend of culture and heritage. Start off with a tour of the half-crumbled city walls, which ring the Old Town of Chiang Mai in a series of bulwarks and moats. Then, head for the heart of the city to seek out the Lanna shrines of Wat Phra Singh and the Wat Chedi Luang of the 1400s – both glimpses of the old kingdom that once ruled these northern hills. It ain’t just history here either though. Nope, Chiang Mai is also a laid-back, quirky little stopover; one that’s done well to eschew the party-sunbathe rigmarole of the south. Expect cool vegetarian eateries, interesting live music in the Rasta-themed bars and one of the best night bazaars in the country!
Kanchanaburi is the place for folk looking for history-filled, heritage-packed Thailand holidays. Nestled between the emerald-green mountains of the Tenasserim Hills just to the west of Bangkok, it’s a really popular weekend getaway for ex-pats, locals and backpackers coming from the country’s frenetic capital. It can be found straddling the meanders of the famous River Kwai, where the steel arches of the iconic WWII bridge still cast their shadow over the water. Come here to ride the rattling train carriages and see where the POWs would have once toiled in the tropical heat. Come to see the striking tracks of the Hellfire Pass, carved straight out of the ridges around town. And also come to sip cheap Chang beers on the street side, to taste noodles in night markets, and to swim in the breathtakingly beautiful Erawan Falls!
Just 21 square kilometers in size but packing one serious punch, little Koh Tao is one of the undisputed gems of the Thai Gulf. Less in the spotlight than its near neighbor of Samui, the little forest-clad speck on the map cut its tourist teeth in the trade of diving. Yep, SCUBA heads and bubble boys flock here from all over the globe. They come to explore the underwater Twin rocks, where moray eels weave between clusters of curious little pipefish, or to dive between the turtle-spotted stones of Hin Wong or Nang Yuan – two acclaimed dive sites. Today though, tiny Tao is no longer just about taking on the tanks and diving. It’s developed its various facets to become one of the most coveted spots for Thailand holidays in the gulf. Visitors can wax up the walking boots and opt to trek the dense, deep jungles that sprawl out over its rocky hinterland. They can kick-back on the boulder-peppered sands of Sai Nuan, or watch the red-pink sunsets shimmer and shine over the cliffs of Mae Haad. Sailing is also popular, while climbers wanting to scale some of the most challenging rock faces this side of the Andaman have plenty on the menu!
If Chiang Mai still ain’t cool and quirky enough for you, or you keep looking up longingly to the misty hills of Mae Hong Son Province from your timber guesthouse window in the capital of the Thai north, then perhaps it’s time to make a beeline for the little town of Pai. Set deep in the hills where the old Shan tribes still live in bamboo villages, the spot is a rustic and pretty picture of old, bucolic Thailand. It’s also one of the most laid-back stop-offs on the backpacking route through the Land of Smiles. That means days here are spent moping around the local pool sipping cold Chang beers, or guzzling cocktails next to fire pits after haggling through the Rasta stalls of the night market. There are also hot springs to bathe in, waterfalls to hike to, and some seriously awesome vistas of jungle-clad and canyon-carved mountains to gawp at!
The largest island in the country and a veritable hub for folk hitting the Land of Smiles for sun-drenched, party-fuelled Thailand holidays, Phuket makes its home just on the edge of the Andaman coast. Easy to access (there are regular flights here from Bangkok and oodles of other Southeast Asian airports) and packed with great places to go, it’s one of the most convenient destinations in the region. For the hedonists there’s beach-fringed Patong, throbbing with neon lights and club music and go-go bars and more until the early hours. For the sunbathers there’s brochure-worthy Bang Tao, where the ivory-white sands are lapped by a salty Indian Ocean. And for the adventurers there are treks to the untrodden cove of Freedom Beach. Throw in oodles of clifftop sunset bars and chilled backpacker haunts, and bingo: Phuket might just be the perfect choice!
Last but most certainly not least on this list of the top places in the Land of Smiles for those Thailand holidays is the sprawling megalopolis of Bangkok. Not for the faint-hearted and certainly not for those in search of plain old rest and relaxation, this sprawling capital promises to excite and enthrall. From the endless hawkers and bazaars of Chatuchak Market to the water taxis of the Chao Phraya, the golden pagodas of Wat Phra Kaew to the impossibly rich Royal Palaces, there are countless things to do and see here. There’s also everything from swish five-star resorts with rooftop pools and panoramic bars, to lively hostels packed with outgoing backpackers!
Can you think of any other great places to add to this list? Or, if you’re interested in hitting one of these (or all of these) destinations on one of your upcoming Thailand holidays, be sure to check out LBW’s itineraries for the Land of Smiles…
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