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Where to go in Thailand

Written by
Keith Jarman, Rachel O'Leary, Kate Herz & Sarah Kounnou

There are plenty of things to do in Thailand, from mouthwatering food to cultural landmarks to pristine beaches.

With so much on offer, it is often hard to decide which parts of Thailand are actually worth visiting.

From what to see to what to do, here’s our experts’ comprehensive guide on where to go in Thailand.

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What to see in Thailand

Temples and elephants in Chiang Mai

Despite its being the capital of Northern Thailand, Chiang Mai is Bangkok’s laidback counterpart, so it’s easy to spend days exploring here. You can spend your days wandering around the ancient temples or perusing the night markets in the Old Town. If you’re an adventurer, Chiang Mai is also perfectly placed for exploring the surrounding national parks, where you can dive into more adventurous activities.

 

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Chiang Mai is home to over 300 Buddhist temples, so there’s plenty of opportunity to get in touch with your spiritual side. Some of the city’s stand-out temples include Chiang Mun, Chedi Luang and Phrasingh. One that really shouldn’t be missed, though, is Wat Phra That Doi Sutep. Located atop Doi Sutherp Mountain at the end of a 290 step climb, this temple is the most sacred in Northern Thailand. If you’re after a more relaxing visit, take the popular cable car journey up to the top of the mountain.

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On a Chiang Mai spiritual temple tour, you’ll be able to visit this majestic temple accompanied by an experienced guide. While you’re there, your guide will explain the story of the temple and lead you around the impressive stupa and murals. In the late afternoon – when the masses of tourists have disappeared and dusk has set in – you’ll have a magical private blessing ceremony. Then, you’ll get to witness the ethereal evening chanting of the monks and look out over the panorama of Chiang Mai’s city lights.

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Unsurprisingly, a visit to an elephant sanctuary is seen as a ‘must do’ on any trip to Thailand. It’s often hard, though, to choose where to go in Thailand for an ethical elephant experience. Close to Chiang Mai, the Elephant Nature Park provides a remarkable – and ethical – experience. Established more than 20 years ago, this incredible place is a sanctuary for Thailand’s mistreated elephants. On a tour, you’ll meet with a volunteer to learn about the park’s work and the history of some of the elephant inhabitants. Then, join in at feeding time as you wander throughout the park to see the elephants. They roam free here, so there’s no guarantee you’ll see them. They have, however, become accustomed to daily feeding routines, so there’s still every possibility of getting up close to elephants in a respectful and responsible way. 

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Koh Kood's beaches

Koh Kood is Thailand’s fourth largest island but still remains wonderfully underdeveloped. The island only has 2,000 inhabitants, most of whom are fishermen, so it’s the perfect island hideaway. Unspoiled jungle, coconut trees and rubber plantations all make Koh Kood feel as if it’s Thailand from a bygone era. Exploring the island on foot is delightful, while boat trips through fishing villages provide an insight into traditional life. Roads through the island run through plush forest and the view from the Ao Yai viewpoint is jaw-dropping.

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For a truly exclusive retreat, stay at the sophisticated Soneva Kiri. The luxurious 29 private villas come with extensive modern amenities, including WiFi and a personal swimming pool. Distinctive services on offer here include The Den, a fun and safe children’s club. There’s also the Cinema Paradiso, where you can eat American popcorn and hamburgers while watching  classic and contemporary films. There are also some incredible dining experiences, such as privately dining in a serene treetop.

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Soneva Kiri’s real gems, though, are the excursions it offers around Koh Kood. On a half-day tour of a local fishing village, you’ll head north of the resort to the fishing village of Ao Salad. Once there, you’ll have the opportunity to explore the village, observe the local lifestyle and buy fresh seafood from the fishermen. This is a great opportunity to interact with a local Thai community. If you’re itching to get in the water, you’ll be able to hope on a snorkelling excursion from Soneva Kiri; look out for Parrot Fish and Lionfish swimming in the emerald blue waters.

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Koh Yah Noi

Unspoiled Thailand continues on the island of Koh Yao Noi, which is only an hour away from bustling Phuket. Sitting in the middle of Phang Nga Bay, this laid-back haven is surrounded by secluded beaches. Rice paddies, rubber plantations and mangroves across the island give it an authentic Thai feel. The roaring nightlife and notable shopping scenes of other Thai islands are replaced here by buffaloes taking mud baths and a serene atmosphere.  

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To explore the immaculate forest, you can take a traditional longtail boat to the mangroves. On this beautiful 40-minute crossing, discover the local wildlife, fauna and flora from a kayak with an experienced guide. Whenever you’re ready for a spot of relaxation, stop for lunch – a picnic basket can be arranged for you to enjoy along the sandbanks. Boarding a longtail castaway boat to watch the sun go down over the Pa Koh archipelago, complete with champagne and snacks, is a formidable way to end your time on this island.  

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The luxury Six Senses is the ideal base from which to explore this island and it has something for everyone. You have a choice of room locale: perched on cliffs with sweeping panoramas, steps away from white-sand beaches or secluded in lush tropical rainforest. Relaxation is key here – each traditional style villa comes complete with its own personal infinity pool, terrace and butler. If you’re up for getting active, there are plenty of options. Thai kickboxing, rock climbing, water sports and a variety of cycling trails all cater well for active families and travellers.  

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Khao Sok National Park, Phuket

The ‘Pearl of the Andaman,’ Phuket is blessed with castaway white sand beaches, aquamarine water and sublime marine peaks. Filling your time here is effortless – you can kayak in turquoise waters, offshore caves and hidden lagoons or lounge on beautiful beaches. One don’t-miss place in Phuket is Khao Sok National Park. Explore the stunning forests, mountains, rivers and waterfalls on a jungle safari trek organised by the Sarojin Hotel. Then, enjoy freshly made cocktails and a selection of signature canapés on a sunset cocktail cruise aboard the Lady Sarojin.

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What to do in Thailand

Go trekking in Chiang Rai

Chiang Rai is located in Southeast Asia’s picturesque Golden Triangle region. With Laos to the East and Myanmar to the West, this region is one of Indo-China’s most culturally diverse areas. Chiang Rai is a great spot for adventure travellers, offering outstanding trekking, rafting and cycling. Whether you stay at the Anantara or the Four Seasons, there are plenty of trekking excursions available. The Anantara has its very own elephant camp, so guests can experience trekking with these mighty animals. Authentic Thai elephant treks are also possible at the Four Seasons, alongside various other excursions

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Whilst Chiang Rai is Thailand’s trekking hotspot, there are many other gems to discover here. A Golden Triangle longtail boat excursion along the serene river where Thailand, Laos and Myanmar meet is a great way to get a glimpse of the three countries that make up this area. To fully immerse yourself in the Chiang Rai province, you can also do a day tour of the area, starting at  the traditional King Mengrai Monument, that pays tribute to the ruler who founded Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai.

 

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From here, hop in a samlor – or three-wheeled rickshaw – to explore Chiang Rai’s quiet streets at a leisurely pace. Then, you should visit a local market, Wat Phra Kaew Temple and the Hilltribe Museum. Here, you’ll be able to explore the impressive displays and gain a wonderful insight into the colourful ethnic communities of the hills of Chiang Rai. To finish the day, visit the spectacular Wat Rong Khun. Also known as the White Temple, the consecrated assembly hall is finished completely in white, including white glass. This white finish represents Lord Buddha’s purity, while the white glass is a symbol of Lord Buddha’s wisdom.

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Relax on Koh Phangan's beaches

Koh Phangan is a well-known haven for backpackers, but one side of the island is still worth visiting. The North end of the island is home to numerous pretty coves and secluded white sand beaches that are only accessible by boat. It’s ideal for those looking for an intimate island retreat. Blanketed in jungle, the bits of Koh Phangan that are away from the beach parties of Haad Rin are surprisingly sleepy. Elephant trekking, zip lining and wellness retreats are just some of the things Koh Phangan has to offer. Although nearby Koh Tao has some of the world’s best diving, there are still a number of dive spots around Koh Phangan, as well.

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On Koh Phangan, you can stay at eco-chic Santhiya Resort and Spa to explore the island in style. Huddled between tropical forest and azure water, the Santhiya is an all-inclusive hideaway dedicated to your wellbeing. It’s a romantic escape, with the Hideaway Pool villa suite offering an indulgent private pool set amongst a rock garden. While you’re there, you can scuba dive or snorkel in Thailand’s crystal clear waters, head inland for some cultural encounters or take a cooking class to better acquaint yourself with Thai cuisine.  

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Cities to visit in Thailand

Thailand’s capital is bustling and energetic, and there is a wealth of places to visit in Bangkok. A haven for shoppers, historians, foodies and culture seekers alike, this city takes pride of place on any Thailand itinerary. There’s an array of private tours you’ll be able to get stuck into on any Jacada trip to Bangkok, from exploring Chinatown to chanting with the monks at Wat Pho. Bangkok is a great place to visit all year round but if you avoid the monsoon season, which runs from May to October, visiting outdoor attractions will be far more pleasant.  

 

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Bangkok is a must-visit for any foodie – nobody leaves the city without learning why Thai food is so popular across the world. On a foodie walk and culture tour through Chinatown, you’ll discover the sophisticated flavours of this 200-year old district. You’ll visit seven famous eateries, ranging from street food vendors to fine dining restaurants. On this tour, you’ll get an insider’s perspective to Bangkok’s food scene by meeting the food bazaar’s lively characters, hearing its memorable stories and visiting religious and cultural landmarks.

 

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No visit to Thailand is complete without a spot of temple touring, and Bangkok has many to see. Wat Pho is perhaps the most revered temple in the capital, and monks chant here every morning. With Jacada, you’ll be able to witness this morning chanting ritual – an uplifting and private experience that is ideal for reflection. After the ritual, you’ll get a tour of the temple grounds, where the impressive 45m reclining buddha is astounding. Bangkok’s former royal residence, the Grand Palace, is also impressive. Home to the King of Siam and King of Thailand from 1782 to 1825, it is one of Bangkok’s most spectacular attractions. Here, numerous traditional structures and pavilions are surrounded by immaculate gardens and courtyards. Iconic Wat Arun is also worth a visit.

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Bangkok’s canals are renowned for longtail boat cruises, giving the Thai capital it’s pseudonym ‘Venice of the East.’ Cruising down the Chao Phraya River and admiring Bangkok’s skyline is one of the most iconic things to do in Thailand. Zigzag through the Thonburi khlong (canal) to witness how Bangkok’s waterside communities have evolved throughout the years. Glimmering modern skyscrapers alongside traditional wooden houses and fading colonial buildings combine to make you feel as though you’re deep in the heart of Thailand. 

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Many locals still live traditional lifestyles in Thailand.

If you’re after a more romantic way to see the canals of Bangkok, take a champagne dinner cruise alongside the Chao Phraya River. You’ll be welcomed with a glass of champagne before sitting down to an exquisite six-course dinner. As you cruise along the river, enjoy captivating night-time views of the city from the comfort of the boat’s cosy lounge sofas.

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If you’re wondering where to go in Thailand to get in touch with your spiritual side, then there’s no better way to do so than by spending a morning with Chiang Mai’s monks. Depart your hotel at 6am to arrive at the foothill of Doi Suthep Mountain, in time to buy offerings and join locals during the daily alms giving ceremony. During the ceremony, dozens of Buddhist monks walk through the streets barefoot, collecting food and everyday items. Climbing the 309 steps up to the mountain top’s golden pagodas before the crowds descend is a magical experience. Wat Umong – built in the 14th century – is a heavily forested temple – completely covered in moss and small plants – that offers a unique yet charming sense of old world decay.

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After a walk through entwined tunnels, you reach the heart of the temple, where you’ll experience your own private blessing ceremony. Once you’re suitably spiritual, discover the rest of what Chiang Mai has to offer, by getting off the beaten track on a Chiang Mai city safari, involving bicycle, boat and tuk tuk tours. Thrillseekers can round off their day with the exhilarating Flight of the Gibbon ziplining amongst 1,500 year old treetops in a pristine national park.

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Where not to go in Thailand

Pattaya

Although parts of Pattaya have some great places to stay and eat, there are areas of the town that it is best to avoid – the city itself is no tropical paradise. Hundreds of beer bars, strip clubs and massage parlours give this seaside town a rather touristy feel, so it is far from family-friendly. Mass market tourism and a huge expat population also take away from feeling as though you’re in authentic Thailand. If you’re looking for a bustling city that isn’t overrun with tourists, then Chiang Mai or Chiang Rai are great alternatives.

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Patong, Phuket

Located on the west coast of Phuket, Patong is a beachside resort that has much the same reputation as Pattaya. An overly touristy vibe in this city means your stay can easily be transformed from pleasant to uncomfortable. For a hassle-free alternative, explore pretty Phuket Old Town or take a boat trip to the Andaman Islands for exceptional snorkelling.

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