Thailand is an amazing kaleidoscope of modern, bustling cities, quaint hillside tribe villages, pristine white beaches, fiery street food, and friendly, fun-loving people. From the ancient walled city of Chiang Mai, to the chaotic streets of Bangkok, to the deserted tropical islands in the South, Thailand has something for just about everyone.
Bangkok is the first place most travelers to Thailand touch down. And it seems to be one of those places you either hate or love. The traffic is atrocious, the heat and pollution can be stifling, and the sheer crush of people is enough to make your head spin. But peel back the layers, and you’ll find a myriad of sights, sounds, flavors, and yes – even a bit of peace and quiet. Orange clad monks walk serenely through the grounds of elaborate temples, tantalizing aromas emanate from sizzling street side woks and glitzy shopping malls share space with open-air markets straight out of a bargain hunter’s dream. I have to admit, I hated Bangkok the first few times I went there, but over time I have grown to love this lively and scenic city in the heart of Southeast Asia.
The islands of the East and West coasts of Thailand are the epitome of tropical island paradises. Soft white sand beaches beckon, sunlight glints off the aquamarine waters and palm trees sway lazily in the breeze. Life doesn’t get much better than this.
On the eastern coastline, which makes its way down to Cambodia, there are two islands that draw local and foreign travelers alike for their lovely palm fringed beaches, great range of accommodation, and close proximity to Bangkok. Koh Chang is lovely for its soft, white sand beaches, hiking trails and abundance of wildlife, and Koh Samet is popular for its small bays, good restaurants and lively gay scene.
On the southeast coast, Koh Samui offers boutique hotels, family friendly activities and long stretches of sand and ocean. Koh Pha Ngan is infamous for its debaucherous, monthly full moon parties were people from all over the world gather on Haad Rin beach and dance until the sun comes up to thumping electronic beats. Lovely, little Koh Tao is diving central, and one of the cheapest places in the world to become PADI certified.
On the Andaman Sea coast, Phuket is world renowned for its beautiful beaches and party vibe, although this island can get super crowded with tourists, especially during high season. Koh Phi Phi is where the movie The Beach was filmed, and is pretty for its tranquil bays, limestone cliffs, and sandy shores, but the small island can also get quite claustrophobic during busy season. A more laid-back option is Koh Lanta, which has a thriving Chao-Le (sea gypsy) population, miles of golden coastlines and a lush protected marine park. For a rustic, deserted island feel, Koh Jam and Koh Lipe are small islands with less tourists and scads of isolated coves and bays.
Chiang Mai is a growing city, but still maintains historic and cultural charm. The laid back city is surrounded by rugged mountains, some of which contain ancient temples and hilltop monasteries. The city itself rests on the banks of the lazy Ping River, and the crumbling walls of the old city fortification surround the old part of town. Pai is another popular backpacker destination for its hippie vibes and misty mountain scenery.