When you start preparing for your first trip to Thailand you can easily end up with a never ending list of places you’d like to visit during your trip to Thailand.
And the truth is that Thailand has a huge number of highly recommended places for all types of travelers: cities deeply rooted in history with spectacular Buddhist temples, National Parks with lush jungle, hiking trails and waterfalls, paradisaical islands and dreamlike beaches.
Obviously a good trip is a result of much more than a good choice of places to visit, and we cannot forget the warm and welcoming character of Thais, nor how delicious Thai food can be, aspects that you will find during your trip no matter the places you choose to go.
But sooner or later you will have to choose: what to see in Thailand? Which places in Thailand I should not miss?
Here are my recommendations of what to see in Thailand on your first trip, 15 must-see places in Thailand that you should not miss …
Although most of those who travel to Thailand for the first time soon decide that they will return as soon as possible… so don’t worry if you miss any of these places, you will already have the opportunity to visit them on your next trip to Thailand!
🗺️ Map of what to see in Thailand
In the following map we mark all our recommendations about the places and destinations that you should see on your first trip to Thailand. As it is aimed at first-timers, except for Khao Sok, all these places are among the most typical tourist destinations in Thailand.
How many days do I need to see all these places?
Well, it will depend. If you travel with a travel agency, for example with our tour operator InThailand Travel, you will be able to see all these places in about 20 days in Thailand. If you skip Koh Tao and Khao Sok, you can do it in about 15 days.
If you travel on your own, you will need more time. At least we recommend a month to get to know all these places. If you are one of those who travel slowly, you can easily stay 2 months. If so, please don’t let us know, we’d get very jealous!
🌆 What to see in Central Thailand
Grand Palace (Bangkok)
The Grand Palace in Bangkok is the most visited attraction in the city, and although it is usually very crowded with tourists, it is an authentic wonder that no one should miss.
The Grand Palace in Bangkok is a large enclosure filled with Buddhist temples, chapels, monuments and statues, stylized in shape and ornamented down to the smallest detail, which as a whole exudes a truly dazzling refinement and majesty.
The most prominent temple in the entire complex is the Temple of the Emerald Buddha –Wat Phra Kaew–, the place where the most sacred statue of Buddha in the kingdom is kept and worshiped. This statue is believed to influence the fortune of the Kingdom of Thailand.
At InThailand Travel we offer an excursion to the Grand Palace and other temples in Bangkok, which also includes Wat Pho and Wat Traimit.
Wat Pho (Bangkok)
Wat Pho monastery is undoubtedly one of the most recommended visits that can be made in Bangkok. This temple is very famous mainly for the gigantic reclining Buddha statue that lies in one of its chapels, really impressive with 46 meters long and 15 meters high.
But there is actually much more to see at Wat Pho: in addition to other temples and chapels, more than 400 valuable Buddha statues are preserved within the grounds, and the site is also considered the oldest university in Thailand, and the world’s leading center for Thai massage.
While traveling, markets are always worth visiting to get the pulse of whatever city you’re visiting. In Bangkok and its surroundings there are several markets that, in addition to being interesting, have the particularity of being on or next to the water: Floating Markets.
The most famous –and touristic– of them all is Damnoen Saduak floating market, but there are others also highly recommended, such as Amphawa.
Another special market in the vicinity of Bangkok is Mae Klong Market, also known as the Railroad Market, as it is literally crossed by a train track, so traders have to quickly dismantle their stalls 4 times a day so the train can pass.
If you travel to Bangkok and you feel like it, at InThailand Travel we organize a half-day excursion that combines Damnoen Saduak floating market with the Railway Market.
The ancient Thai capital of Ayutthaya (14th-18th centuries) is, together with Sukhothai, the site with the most spectacular historical ruins in all of Thailand, and has the advantage of being only about 2 hours north of Bangkok.
Ayutthaya ruins are scattered throughout the urban area of the city, and are truly photogenic and varied: huge Khmer-style towers, Buddha statues of all sizes and postures, bas-reliefs, elegant bell-shaped stupas topped by a spire, or the famous head of Buddha fused between the roots of a tree, at Wat Mahathat.
If you want to visit this ancient Thai capital, you can consider joining our InThailand Travel day trip to Ayutthaya from Bangkok.
🛕 What to see in North Thailand
Continuing with our list of must-see places and attractions in Thailand, these are our recommendations for the northern region of the country.
Sukhothai Archaeological Park (13th-16th centuries) is for many the most beautiful in Thailand, both for the remains of temples and statues themselves and for the fact that the ruins are surrounded by trees and grass, in a charming green area.
Sukhothai Historical Park has incredibly photogenic spots, and its ancient Buddha statues, eroded by the passage of time, flanked by columns that once supported the roofs of temples, and all surrounded by ponds with lotus flowers and centuries old trees, never disappoint the traveler.
White Temple (Chiang Rai)
The spectacular Wat Rong Khun Monastery, also known as the White Temple of Chiang Rai, is a visit that won’t leave you indifferent.
Despite being a modern temple, its striking appearance has made it, in just over two decades, one of the most famous and visited temples in the entire country.
The pure white color of the whole complex, its surrealist architecture, its numerous statues and the surprising frescoes in the main chapel, make it a unique specimen of its kind.
If you want to visit in the same day both the White Temple and two other of the most spectacular temples in northern Thailand, the Blue Temple of Chiang Rai and Wat Phra That Doi Suthep of Chiang Mai, you can join the excursion that we organize at InThailand Travel.
Blue Temple (Chiang Rai)
And closely following the White Temple in the fight for the top prize as “Northern Thailand’s most extravagant temple,” we have Wat Rong Seua Ten, Chiang Rai’s Blue Temple.
It’s even more modern than the White Temple –it was only finished in 2016!– and it’s almost asinnovative. A very intense blue color –combined with yellow details– predominates in all the buildings and statues of the Blue Temple. The main Buddha image inside the temple is 6.5 meters high, totally white, and it is surrounded by blue murals which are very different from the ones you’ll see decorating the interiors of other Thai temples.
A spectacular place, still relatively little visited if compared to the neighboring White Temple.
Doi Suthep (Chiang Mai)
Mount Doi Suthep rises immediately west of Chiang Mai, and at its top sits Wat Prathat Doi Suthep monastery,built in the 14th century, the most revered in the city and its surroundings.
It can be accessed by climbing a long 306 steps staircase, flanked by railings in the shape of naga snakes. At the top there are two concentric terraces.
The central terrace is a true beauty in a dazzling gold color: an open courtyard around a huge golden stupa that is believed to keep a relic of the Buddha, completely surrounded by chapels, shrines and Buddha statues.
At the eastern end of the monastery there is a viewpoint that, on clear days, offers formidable views over the city of Chiang Mai and its surroundings.
Chiang Mai’s Old Town
Chiang Mai, the capital of the ancient Lanna kingdom, has an old town that is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful urban areas in Thailand. It has many alleys lined with temples and small shops, which invite you to spend the day wandering around.
It occupies a square area, delimited by a moat that runs along its entire outer perimeter, and part of its old walls and access gates have been rebuilt and preserved.
Among the many temples in Chiang Mai, don’t miss Wat Phra Singh, the most active monastery in the city, and the spectacular Wat Chedi Luang, with its huge central stupa.
If you want to visit the main highlights of the city in a single day, you can sign up for our InThailand Travel tour to the Temples of Chiang Mai.
Doi Inthanon National Park
Doi Inthanon is the most popular National Park in northern Thailand, and is located just 80 km from Chiang Mai. Inside the Park we find the highest peak in all of Thailand –with an altitude of 2,565 meters–, crowned by two large stupas that form a splendid viewpoint from which to contemplate the mountainous surroundings. In the Park there are numerous trails that cut through the forest alongside streams, small waterfalls and plantations, as well as the huge and spectacular Wachirathan waterfall.
If you visit Chiang Mai, you can consider joining our InThailand Travel tour to the Doi Inthanon National Park.
🏝️ What to see in South Thailand
And here we enter the last part of this small guide to must-see places for a first trip to Thailand. So far you already have some ideas of great places to visit for an unforgettable trip, right?
Please note that the following destinations are all on the west coast of Thailand (Andaman Sea), except the penultimate, the islet of Koh Nang Yuan, which is in the Gulf of Thailand (east coast). That means if you really want to add that islet, the trip will take a few more days.
Koh Hong Island is one of the most beautiful in Phang Nga Bay, and is part of the Krabi National Marine Park.
On the outer perimeter of the island you will find beautiful beaches with crystal clear water, cliffs next to the sea and limestone rock formations jutting out of the water.
But Hong Island is popular especially for the large natural lagoon that is hidden within the island, also known as the Blue Lagoon, completely surrounded by cliffs and small forested mountains.
A few trails allow visitors to explore the jungle interior, and if you are lucky you will come across long-tailed gibbons, huge lizards and a wide variety of birds.
If you want to combine the visit of Koh Hong with other islands in the area, you can join our InThailand Travel island-hopping boat tour to James Bond Island, Koh Yao Noi and Koh Hong.
Koh Phi Phi Islands
Koh Phi Phi, in the Andaman Sea, has perhaps the most famous islands in all of Thailand.
It is a small archipelago with two main islands: Koh Phi Phi Don, the largest, where all accommodation and tourist services are located, and Koh Phi Phi Le, a smaller island, home to the famous horseshoe-shaped beach Maya Bay, which appears in the movie ‘The Beach’, starring Leonardo DiCaprio.
The great popularity of the Phi Phi islands makes some parts of Koh Phi Phi Don –especially the Tonsai area– overcrowded, with an excess of accommodation, restaurants, bars and other tourist services. But there are other areas of the island that are very quiet, and with proper planning, you can avoid the crowds and enjoy the beautiful Phi Phi islands.
If you want to visit the Phi Phi islands on a day trip from Krabi, you can join our InThailand Travel Phi Phi islands boat tour.
Railay is a small seaside area completely sandwiched between spectacular limestone cliffs and the Andaman Sea, home to one of the most beautiful beaches in Thailand –if not in the entire world!–: Hat Phra Nang Beach.
The beach is surrounded by cliffs, and right in front of it there is an impressive vertical limestone formation jutting out of the water, as well as others that can be seen in the distance.
At one end of the beach is Tham Phra Nang, a cave full of large wooden phalluses that local fishermen plant there as an offering for an abundant catch.
Railay is one of the most famous places in the world to practice rock climbing, with more than 500 routes enabled. If you want to visit Railay combined with the so-called 4 islands of Krabi, you can join our InThailand Travel boat trip to Railay and the 4 islands.
Koh Nang Yuan Islands
Koh Yang Nuan is a grouping of three small islands, located just off the island of Koh Tao, Thailand’s main diving center. It is very common for backpackers to take a diving course in Koh Tao.
What makes Koh Nang Yuan islands such a special place to see is their peculiar configuration: three tiny islands lined up at a very short distance from each other: those at the ends are small jungle-covered mountains jutting out of the water, while the one in the middle is just tiny. All of them are joined by a strip of sand that disappears under the water at high tide.
All this surrounded by a splendid sea of crystalline water with plenty of marine life. Sounds good, right?
Cheow Lan Lake (Khao Sok National Park)
Cheow Lan Lake is undoubtedly the most spectacular area of Khao Sok National Park: it is a huge dam that was created in 1982 in an area of large limestone formations.
Not only are the jungle mountains surrounding the lake, but many of the towering rock formations, with a height of up to 960 meters, protrude from it, creating a breathtaking landscape.
The best way to visit the lake is by taking a boat ride, during which you can stop to visit a cave or explore the jungle that surrounds the lake a bit.
To have a complete experience of Cheow Lan, it is highly recommended to sleep in one of the floating cabins on the lake itself.
And we’ve reached the end of our little guide of what to see in Thailand for first-timers.
Do you know any other destination that deserves to be on this list? Please tell us in the comments, we want to know all your experiences!
If you want more info for your trip to Thailand, have a look at this 15 days recommended itinerary.