Must See

Ayutthaya

The old Thai capital of Ayutthaya (Phra Nakhon Si Ayutthaya) stands on the wide and fertile plain of the Menam Chao Phraya at a point where the river forms a natural loop. It is one of the most impressive ruined cities in Asia, and those interested in Thai history should allow at least two days for sightseeing. Visitors can ramble through the ruined wats and palaces on foot, by bicycle or even on the back of an elephant. It's worth noting that organised tours usually only allow visitors an hour or so in the ancient ruined city, and arrive in the heat of the day, which means missing out on seeing it at dawn or dusk when it is at its most magical.

Bangkok

Love it or hate it, Bangkok is Thailand's hot, humid and energetic, capital that will hit you from all sides the moment you arrive - from the bustling street stalls catering to backpackers on the Koh San road to the alluring smells of tasty Thai snacks. If the beautiful wats (temples) don't leave you amazed, then Bangkok's lively night-time activities of go-go bars and hustling pool halls most probably will. Skirt around the bumper-to-bumper traffic by jumping in a tuk-tuk for a street-level tour of this 24-hour city. Some of the attractions not to be missed include:

  • The 81-room Vimanmek Palace, which was once a royal summer retreat, and was rebuilt in 1900.
  • The glittering Grand Palace.
  • The Royal Barges - richly ornamented barges used only for special processions on the Chao Phraya River.
  • Wat Pho, the largest and oldest temple in Bangkok and home to the enormous Reclining Buddha, which is an amazing 15 m (49 ft) high and 46 m (150 ft) long.
  • Siam Ocean World, where you can dive with the sharks.
  • Wat Phra Kaeo, a temple complex housing the Emerald Buddha.
  • The Floating Market.
  • The Oriental Hotel, one of the most famous hotels in the world and once the haunt of the likes of Joseph Conrad and Somerset Maughan, and now frequented by celebrities and royalty.

Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai, Thailand's second largest city, is also its most beautiful, earning it the name of "Pearl (or Rose) of the North". It is located at the foot of Doi Pui, one of the highest mountains in the Indo-Chinese range (1,685 m), in Thailand's hilly and forested northern tip. Set around a large moat, the town itself is a laid-back place, perfect for a few days of relaxation. The city is the centre of the Thai craft industry, with elaborate wood carvings, brightly painted sunshades, batiks, silk fabrics and fine silverware. You can climb the 300 or so steps to Doi Suthep temple for sweeping views of the city.

Chiang Mai is also the gateway to the Golden Triangle, a notorious region tied in with the history of opium. The area offers some great trekking, between the villages of hill tribes such as the Lahu and Karen, as well as elephant safaris and rafting trips.

Kanchanaburi

Kanchanaburi, is the west of the country, is inextricably linked with World War II and the allied prisoners who were forced to build the Death Railway and the Bridge over the River Kwai. A memorial and two museums are located in the town: the Thailand-Burma Railway Museum and the JEATH War Museum about the bridge and the Death Railway. Kanchanaburi is also home to the Kanchanaburi War Cemetery. The town can be used as a base to explore the area's jungles and waterfalls, where visitors can spend the night on a floating raft house.

Ko Pha Ngan

Ko Pha Ngan (or Koh Phangan) is an island in the Gulf of Thailand off South East Thailand. It is famous for its full moon party at Haad Rin Beach and as a backpacker's destination. It also serves as the perfect getaway retreat, where visitors may relax on quiet deserted beaches, go snorkelling, trek in the footsteps of Thai Royalty at Than Sadet National Park, or seek adventure in the nearby Ang Thong archipelago, which are composed of over 40 islands endowed with pristine beaches and natural caves. Ko Pha Ngan has over 250 resorts to choose from, ranging from budget beach huts to luxury air-conditioned accommodation with private swimming pools.

Ko Phi Phi

These divine islands off the west coast are so beautiful that they became the location for the Hollywood film 'The Beach'. Grab a snorkel and fins and while away the hours swimming with tropical fish in a magical setting below limestone peaks.

Khao Sok National Park

Khao Sok National Park comprises the largest area of virgin forest in Southern Thailand. Here dripping rainforest covers majestic limestone formations with sparkling streams and waterfalls. It is perhaps most famous for the Bua Phut (Rafflesia kerrii) flower which grows within the park. In addition to its exotic flora, Khao Sok is inhabited by a wide variety of animals, including gibbons and barking deer. Visitors may stay in tree houses or on bamboo rafthouses.

Phang Nga Bay

This 400 sq km bay in the Andaman Sea is located between the island of Phuket and mainland of the Malay peninsula of southern Thailand. It is world-famous for its stunning seascape, with its hundreds of spectacular limestone islets emerging from a crystal-clear sea. Visitors can try their hand at sea canoeing and kayaking through the limestone islands and explore the half-submerged grottoes and caves. The most famous of these islands is James Bond Island, a needle formed limestone rock in the sea, which featured in the film The Man with the Golden Gun.

Phimai

The town of Phimai is located 270 km (168 mi) north-east of Bangkok on the almost bare Khorat Plateau. It is one of the most important Khmer historical sites in Thailand, dating from the 11th century. It is home to the largest and best preserved shrines in Thailand, built only a few years after the important temple sites of Angkor Wat in Cambodia. The intricate structure bears some resemblance to Angkor Wat and many lintels depict scenes from the epic Ramayana.

Surin

The provincial town of Surin, situated in a broad plain of the Khorat Plateau in eastern Thailand, is built partly on the foundations of an old Khmer settlement and is the centre of the Thai silk and weaving industry. However, it is most famous for its annual Elephant Festival held every November, which attracts thousands of visitors. This huge national folk festival lasts several days, and travellers are advised to book accommodation well in advance. Around 200 elephants are brought in and judged in front of stands for their skill, strength and obedience to their mahout (elephant trainer and guide). This is interspersed with dances performed by members of the many Thai tribes in original costumes.