Sparkling white-sand beaches, verdant jungles and bustling cities mean Thailand is an amazing destination for the party-goer, nature-lover and beach bum. And there’s no avoiding it: Bangkok is a shopping paradise with multilevel malls and unlimited street markets.
Thailand meets Myanmar (also known as Burma) on the west, with Vietnam and Cambodia to the east. The southern cone sees a lot of shoreline with the Andeman Sea on one side and the South China Sea on the other. The two largest cities, Bangkok and Chiang Mai, are a short flight or long train or coach ride from each other, passing through farmland and dense rainforest, with some lovely groves and river views along the way.
Thousands of islands are found off the coastline, making for great chances to explore — either hitting the backpacker party islands or avoiding them and opting for undeveloped sites. The central highlands to the north are home to rainforest with excellent one-day and multi-day hiking trips available.
People come to Thailand for the shopping and parties, with all the love starting in Bangkok and radiating down from there to popular islands like Ko Phi Phi. Many people tired of the party scene are drawn to Chiang Mai: slower and smaller, it’s the perfect city in which to recharge and explore Northern Thailand from. Like neighbouring Cambodia, Thailand has its own share of ruined temples and jungle-claimed cities. If you can’t get to Angkor Wat, head to Sukhothai’s old city for a taste of what you’re missing.
City focus: Bangkok
Bangkok is the capital of Thailand, and the most popular place to fly into. Access from Cambodia and Laos is also pretty close and very well provided for. For most travellers, the heart of Bangkok is Khao San Road, or KSR for short, which is home to most of Bangkok’s cheap hotels, tour companies, and travel agents. The area is beautiful and historical, but the suit-sellers, ID-forgers and more nefarious beings make it irritating and shady. It’s important to escape the backpacker trail here and explore more of the city. Many expats find a place to stay in Sukhumvit, which has its own great nightlife amongst the mega-malls.
Getting to and from Thailand
Flights to Bangkok will arrive at the pleasant, modern Suvarnabhumi airport with the Skytrain providing a cheap, convenient way into the city. When flying from there, be aware that they are very strict with sharps and liquids, and some gates have secondary checks (so you can’t buy duty free before you fly).
Almost everyone flies to Bangkok but Chiang Mai, Ko Samui, Phuket, Krabi, Hat Yai and Udon Thani all have international airports.
Crossing by land border may take the form of a walk, tuktuk ride, boat over the Mekong or even a train (a ten-minute ride from Laos before you change into another train). Borders seem less corrupt than they used to be, making things much easier for most travellers.
Thailand travel resources
Check out our Best places in Asia podcast or browse the articles below.