The Grand Palace is one of top things to do in Bangkok

Thailand Travel Guide

This travel guide for Thailand highlights the top places to visit and explore, how to get around, safety, scams, logistics and more to help you plan your visit.

Thailand is an ideal destination, full of outstanding food, friendly people, stunning beaches, impressive temples, and awe-inspiring festivals. There’s a lot to do ranging from family-oriented fun, all the way to the seedier side of life. On top of that, it’s very affordable and safe to travel solo, or in a group.

This travel guide and posts on Thailand are updated as of January 2022.

Top Attractions In Thailand

Bangkok

Bangkok, Thailand’s capital, is a must-visit with many options to explore. From the dazzling historical architecture at the Grand Palace, to the ritzy hotels and elegant temples on the Chao Phraya river, Bangkok’s heart, an incredible food scene, hip clubs, the world’s largest Chinatown, a variety marketplaces, floating markets, red light districts, and more, there is something for everyone here.

Many travelers skip Bangkok, thinking it’s just a big city, but if you dig a little deeper, it will be a memorable experience and you will likely want to come back for more.

Phra Mondop
Temple Detail
Bangkok at night in the Thailand Travel Guide
Chao Phraya at Night

Ayutthaya

The ruins of the ancient Kingdom of Ayutthaya are only about an hour north of Bangkok, making them easy to get to, and definitely worth a visit. This was the capital of what was called Siam, one of the largest city’s in the world until the mid-18th century, before it was destroyed, razed by the Burmese army.

Wat Chai Watthanaram

Today, its archeological ruins provide a glimpse of its former beauty. As you explore its remains, you can see how this cosmopolitan city once impressed visitors from around the world.

Wat Maha That
Wat Maha That Detail

Once home to 3 palaces and over 400 temples, there are many important ruins to see here.

Chiang Mai

The capital of the Kingdom of Lanna in the 13th century, this was the cultural and religious center of northern Thailand.

Also known as the “Rose of the North”, Chiang Mai is full of glorious Buddhist temples, several lively walking markets, a flourishing nightlife scene, outstanding food, opportunities to visit local hill tribes, and more.

Wat Pra That Doi Suthep
Doi Suthep Chedi

Plus, this laid-back city is relatively small, so you can also experience some genuine Thai culture here. An ideal time to visit is during one of its most popular festivals, Loy Krathong and Yi Peng, or Festival of Lights.

Yi Peng Festival | Wilfredor

These two events combine on the full moon of the 12th month of the Thai lunar calendar, usually falling in November. It’s a visually stunning celebration, and fun, as you can join in with your own lantern and wishes. Although celebrated all over Thailand, Chiang Mai hosts the largest event and shouldn’t be missed.

With stunning white sand, and iconic Thai longboats sitting in the crystal-clear water and surrounded by palm trees, Thailand has some of the world’s best beaches and dive spots.

Each provides a different glimpse on Thailand, and although it’s best to visit several, try to pick at least two. Some of the most popular include the following.

Phuket

Phuket is world renown and one of the most popular beach areas in Thailand. If partying is your goal, the beaches at Patong, also sometimes called the party capital of Asia, Karon, and Kata, are ideal. If you want something quieter, Kamala Bay, Mai Khao, Bangtao, and Surin and also in this area.

Patong Beach in the Thailand Travel Guide
Patong Beach

As many of the quieter beaches don’t offer lodging, Patong makes a good base in Pukhet, providing plenty of places to stay, restaurants, and a variety of nightlife options.

Krabi

Krabi is Pukhet’s neighbor to the east on Thailand’s stunning Andaman Coast, with a variety of beautiful beaches. Ao Nang is Krabi’s main beach, while Railay and Tonsai, a little further south, also provide opportunities for rock climbing.

Koh Phi Phi and Koh Lanta are picture-perfect and some of the most renown islands here. You can get to Krabi by ferry, car, or minibus in around 3 hours from Phuket.

Similan Islands

This archipelago is in the Andaman Sea, about a two hour boat ride west of Khao Lak (depending on the boat). The brilliant white sand, crystal-clear water, and abundant coral and marine life, all make this a snorkeling and diving destination. For protection, it was established as Mu Ko Similan National Park in the 1980’s.

A few bungalows and some camping is available is available on Ko Miang, one of the islands here, but many visit via day trips, or on liveaboard boats, spending several days here exploring.

Similan Islands | KOSIN SUKHUM

These islands get a lot of visitors, so they close, usually from May through October, for rehabilitation.

Gulf Of Thailand Islands

There are also several islands in the Gulf of Thailand, east of the Isthmus of Kra. Some of the top ones include Koh Tao, which is known for its tropical coral reefs so also ideal for snorkeling and diving, Koh Samui, which is known for its luxury resorts and palm-lined beaches, and Koh Pha Ngan, which is known for its full moon parties at Hat Rin Beach.

To get here, you can take ferries from Surat Thani or Don Sak on the mainland.

Travel Guide: Best Time To Visit Thailand

Although Thailand is a year round destination, it’s best to visit between late November and early April, which is the dry season.

The climate does vary between the east and west coast, with the east coast getting the most rain in November and the west coast in a September. Therefore, it’s best to research the weather for your specific destination.

For swimming or beach vacations, January to April is best.

Travel Guide: Languages of Thailand

Although there are 62 official languages in Thailand, Thai is the national language. English is also common, especially in the larger, or tourist cities.

Travel Guide: Thailand Money Matters

Currency: The Thai Bhat (THB) is the currency of Thailand. Conversion rates as of January 1, 2024 were as follows.

  • USD (1) = 34.33 THB
  • Euro (1) = 37.83 THB
  • CNY (1) = 4.96 THB

Credit Cards & ATMs: Most hotels, restaurants, and large businesses readily accept credit cards. Some add a 3-5% surcharge on top of what your bank may charge, so make sure to ask about fees before use. ATMs are widely available. Note that you will need a 4-digit pin, so if yours is 6-digits, make sure to change it in advance.

Tipping: Tipping is not required or expected, but appreciated. If you do tip, give it directly to the recipient, and give it in cash.

Travel Guide: Safety in Thailand

Thailand is generally safe with very friendly people. That said, pickpocketing happens and there are always those trying to scam tourists, especially in larger cities and touristy areas. Take normal precautions, but always be vigilant.

Read up on local scams before traveling (see below) and trust your instincts. If things don’t feel right, look for alternatives.

Always check the latest situation on your government website. It’s also a good idea to sign up for STEP (Smart Traveler Enrollment Program), or similar with your country to be updated if an issue does arise.

Common Scams In Thailand

Although Thailand is relatively safe, there are always a few people trying to take advantage of tourists. Here are a few scams in Thailand to watch out for.

  • Tuk-tuk drivers will often tell you that the temple, or location you want to visit, is closed, so they can divert you to a destination where they receive a kick back. Verify closures before visiting and just walk away if the driver insists you’re wrong. This is very common at the Grand Palace in Bangkok, but can happen anywhere.
  • If someone, and even worse, several people, suggest there is a great deal on gems, it is likely a scam to get you to pay a lot for beautifully colored glass.
  • Flag taxis from the street, rather than selecting ones sitting idly in tourist spots, and always make sure the meter is functional. Ideally, download the Grab App, as Grab, who merged with Uber is Asia, is the booking ride service here.
  • Beware of buying a ‘lady drink’ if you want to talk to a female in some of the seedier areas for a prolonged conversation. They are usually extremely overpriced.
  • In addition, if you’ve been promised some interesting acrobatic show by local woman in these areas, beware going into a private room, or ‘upstairs’, where you will be charged extravagant prices. This is very common in the Patpong region of Bangkok, but other areas as well.
  • If strangers approach you and offer you something for free, or a great deal on a tour, walk away. It’s probably a scam. It’s best to book tours through legitimate channels, question anything too good to be true, and never accept anything for free.

What Not To Do In Thailand

Thailand is safe, but they also have very strict rules that can result in heavy fines, jail time, and even the death penalty, so make sure to know what you shouldn’t do in Thailand.

  • Don’t do or carry drugs. The rules here are very strict, resulting in the possibility of the death penalty.
  • It’s illegal to defame, insult, or threaten the King or royalty in Thailand. This is very serious, resulting in jail time. – Gambling is illegal in Thailand, so even though you see gambling locations, don’t be tempted. It can result in fines and/or jail time.
  • Don’t litter. It can result in serious fines, and/or jail time.
  • Smoking has been banned at many beaches, to reduce the environmental damage that occurs as a result. Even vaping is illegal in many places, also resulting in fines and/or jail time.
  • Ask before taking photos of monks or locals. Also, make sure to understand where photos are not allowed, like at, or in, some temples, and never inside bars in red light districts.
  • Don’t leave your room without your passport, and only leave photocopies of it when renting scooters or sports equipment, as it’s the law to have identification with you at all times.
  • It’s illegal to drive without a shirt on. Unusual, but true, and one of the lesser known offenses.
Chiang Mai

Getting Around Bangkok Thailand

BKK Airport: Suvarnabhumi Airport (BKK) is the main airport and where you will likely arrive. To get to Bangkok, take the Airport Rail Link City Train to Payathia station to connect to the BTS Skytrain, or Makkasan station for the MRT subway. The ride is about 30 minutes and costs $1-2 USD.

Getting Around Bangkok

BTS Skytrain: The BTS Skytrain is the elevated mass transit system in Bangkok and usually the best way to get around the city. As it’s popular, it gets extremely crowded during rush hour, so time your trips around it.

MRT Subway: The MRT is the underground mass transit system in Bangkok and some locations are easier to get to this way. It also gets quite busy during rush hour.

Taxi: When using a Taxi in Thailand, make sure that the meter is functioning before hiring one. In 2018 Uber sold its Asian operations to Grab, so download the Grab App to get a quote and hire a ride. Note that when Grab first started operating, it was cheaper than a traditional taxi, but in recent years, there have been rumors that Grab is now more expensive. If you really want the best price, check both.

Tuk-Tuk: Tuk-Tuks can be fun to ride, but make sure you understand what they should cost, as they usually charge tourists exorbitant prices. If you want to hire one, check the cost of a taxi to your destination first and use that as a negotiation point.

Grand Palace, Bangkok in the Thailand Travel Guide
Grand Palace,Bangkok

Ayutthaya

Getting Around Ayutthaya

Although some of the temples on Ayutthaya island are within walking distance, it will be easier and faster to hire a tuk-tuk for the day or rent a bicycle. If renting a bike, rent one on the island, rather than the complication of bringing one across the river via ferry, although both can be done.

Bangkok To Ayutthaya

Train: The train to Ayutthaya leaves from Bangkok’s Hualamphong Station and takes about 2 hours, although delays are common. A new railway station, Bang Sue Central Station, will open late 2021, replacing Hualamphong. If traveling close to this time, double check the details. The temples on Ayutthaya island are about a 30-40 minute walk from the train station, so if heading directly to the temples, be prepared to negotiate a tuk-tuk. If you’re just stopping for the day on your way to Chiang Mai, there is a place at the station to conveniently store your luggage.

Minibus: Air-conditioned minibuses leave from Victory Monument (right below Victory Monument BTS Station) for Ayutthaya. They don’t operated on a set schedule, only leaving when full (12 people). If you have a lot of luggage, you may be asked to buy a second seat, and if you don’t want to wait, you can buy multiple seats. Wat Maha That is a short walk from the bus stop in Ayutthaya.

Taxi: The fastest way to travel to Ayutthaya from Bangkok is via taxi. Make sure to bring a map with you in case the driver is not familiar with Ayutthaya or the sites there. Seriously. Download the Grab app to get the cost in advance and book a ride.

Chiang Mai

Getting Around Chiang Mai

The Old City of Chiang Mai is relatively small, making it easy to explore by foot. If heading outside the Old City, songthaews are popular with both locals and tourists.

These little red trucks pick up multiple riders, acting similar to shared taxis. Wave them down when you see them and tell them where you’re going. If it’s along their way, they’ll offer you a ride, so be ready to negotiate. Also make sure to stand on the side of the road in the direction you want to go in.

Bangkok To Chiang Mai

Flights: Flights take a little over an hour and low cost airlines can be reasonable.

Train: There are several trains a day between Bangkok and Chiang Mai, taking 11 to 14 hours. Although long, and delays are common, it’s a great way to see some additional landscape. There’s also an overnight train option, although some say it’s difficult to actually get any sleep on it. Air conditioned carriages will cost more. Upon arrival in Chiang Mai, the train station is about a 10 minute taxi ride away. Songthaews are also a great option.

Bus: There are also several buses a day between the two cities, taking 10-11 hours. They leave Bangkok from Mo Chit Bus Station in the north and arrive in at the Arcade Bus Station. Although often advertised as air conditioned, it does not always work. It’s wise to keep valuables with you, rather than in your luggage, which may end up on a lower level.

Ayutthaya To Chiang Mai

Train: There are several trains daily from Ayutthaya to Chiang Mai, taking 10-12 hours. There is also an overnight train. Although the ride is longer and more expensive than the bus, most tourists prefer traveling by train, mostly for the better scenery or the convenience of the night train.

Bus: A bus will be the cheapest option between Ayutthaya and a Chiang Mai. The ride will take 8-9 hours with buses departing from the Northern Bus Terminal in Ayutthaya.

Visa Information For Thailand

for Thailand Citizens from the USA and most of the EU can arrive visa free for up to 30 days. Chinese citizens must apply for a visa on arrival. See the Visa Policy of Thailand for more details or information on other countires.

Thailand Travel Guide: Top Destination Blogs & Stories

Click the icons below for more detailed information on the key sites in Thailand.

Summary

If this travel guide has been useful in planning, or you’re just dreaming about visiting Thailand, please add a comment below.

Safe Travels!

Julie

Note: All efforts have been made to provide complete and accurate information in this travel guide for Thailand. If you see any issues, please contact me below.

To learn more about me and my philosophy on travel, see my about me page.

Hello! I resigned from a corporate career in product development to explore the world. Although my goal was to travel for a year, 8 years later, I’ve been honored to have explored more than 60 gorgeous countries and met some unbelievably amazing people. Our world truly is a beautiful place! Follow me into the gorgeous unknown by subscribing below. You’ll receive details on fabulous destinations, comprehensive travel guides, travel tips and tidbits, and information on travel trends, like experiential, sustainable, and transformational travel. Where is your next gorgeous unknown? Julie

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