Are you planning your first trip to Thailand? This article outlines my top picks for the best places to visit.
As someone who has lived in Thailand for several years, I have crafted this article with first-time visitors in mind, aiming to guide you on an unforgettable journey through the country’s most remarkable destinations.
Map of best places in Thailand for first-timers:
Let’s dive into the best places for first-timers to visit in Thailand.
Bangkok, the vibrant capital of Thailand, is a bustling metropolis that offers a unique blend of tradition and modernity.
Bangkok is ideal for first-time visitors to Thailand because it’s home to magnificent temples such as Wat Arun and Wat Phra Kaew (Temple of the Emerald Buddha), where visitors can experience the country’s rich spiritual and cultural heritage. The intricate architecture and ornate designs are awe-inspiring.
Or why not explore the lively street markets of Bangkok, from the bustling Chatuchak Weekend Market to the vibrant street food scene of Chinatown, you’ll find a myriad of local delicacies, handicrafts, and clothing at affordable prices.
Another top attraction is The Grand Palace, a must-visit landmark. Its opulent design, and beautiful gardens make it a visual feast. Within the palace complex, you’ll also find the revered Emerald Buddha, a highly sacred and iconic statue. Check my guide on how to get to the palace.
Bangkok is also famous for its Chao Phraya River, which flows through the heart of Bangkok. River cruises offer breathtaking views of the city’s skyline and opportunities to explore riverside attractions like the Temple of Dawn (Wat Arun) and the floating markets.
If you’re also looking for the best nightlife in Thailand, Bangkok is renowned for it. The city comes alive after dark, from rooftop bars offering stunning city views to world-class nightclubs and cultural performances like traditional Thai dance and muay Thai boxing.
How to get to Bangkok?
To reach Bangkok, you can book a flight to Suvarnabhumi Airport, the city’s main international gateway, and then take a taxi or public transportation to your desired destination within the bustling Thai capital.
2. Chiang Mai
Chiang Mai, located in northern Thailand, is a culturally rich and picturesque city known for its temples and natural beauty.
Chiang Mai is perfect for first-timers in Thailand wanted to experience a laid-back style of life, with the city being home to some of the most impressive temples in Thailand. Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, perched on a mountain, offers stunning city views. The intricate woodwork and golden stupas of Wat Chedi Luang and Wat Phra Singh are also worth exploring.
Elephants are a beloved attraction in Thailand, but regrettably, some attractions lack proper animal welfare practices. However, Chiang Mai stands out as a renowned destination for ethical elephant sanctuaries that prioritize the well-being of these magnificent creatures.
Visitors have the opportunity to engage with these gentle giants responsibly and sustainably while also gaining insights into their conservation and welfare efforts.
Want to unwind a relax while in Thailand? Chiang Mai is renowned for its traditional Thai massage and wellness retreats. Relax and rejuvenate with various spa treatments and holistic therapies that draw upon ancient Thai healing practices.
If nightlife is your thing, then try the city’s night bazaars, such as the famous Sunday Walking Street, offers a treasure trove of local handicrafts, artwork, and delicious street food. It’s a great place to shop for unique souvenirs and immerse yourself in the local culture.
How to get to Chiang Mai?
To reach Chiang Mai, you can either take a direct flight to Chiang Mai International Airport from major cities or catch a train or bus from Bangkok.
Phuket, Thailand’s largest island, is a tropical paradise known for its stunning beaches, crystal-clear waters, and vibrant nightlife.
Phuket is a perfect stop for first-timers to Thailand, boasting some of the most beautiful beaches in the kingdom. From the bustling Patong Beach to the quieter Kata and Karon Beaches, there’s a stretch of sand to suit every preference.
Relax on the golden shores, swim in the turquoise waters, or try exciting water sports like snorkeling and surfing.
The island is also an excellent starting point for exploring the surrounding islands. Take a boat tour to the iconic Phi Phi Islands, famous for their dramatic limestone cliffs and crystal-clear bays. You can also visit the stunning Phang Nga Bay, known for its unique limestone karsts and the famous James Bond Island.
Phuket Town, another popular tourist attraction, is the island’s historic district, which is a charming area filled with colorful Sino-Portuguese architecture, vibrant street art, and a lively local food scene. Stroll through the quaint streets, visit the vibrant markets, and enjoy the fusion of Thai and international cuisines.
Phuket’s nightlife is legendary. Patong Beach is the center of the action, with numerous bars, nightclubs, and cabaret shows. Whether you’re looking for a relaxed beachside cocktail or a lively dance party, Phuket has it all.
How to get to Phuket?
To get to Phuket, you can fly directly to Phuket International Airport from Bangkok or abroad, the main gateway to the island, and then take a taxi or shuttle to your preferred destination within Phuket’s vibrant beachside communities.
4. Khao Lak
Khao Lak, situated along Thailand’s stunning Andaman Sea coastline, offers a tranquil and nature-filled escape.
Khao Lak is renowned for its pristine, uncrowded beaches with soft golden sand and turquoise waters, making it a great beach getaway location for first-timers to Thailand. Relax on the secluded shores, take leisurely walks along the coast, and soak up the tranquility of the surroundings.
Khao Lak is the gateway to the world-famous Similan Islands, a group of stunning islands renowned for their underwater biodiversity. Snorkel or dive in the clear waters to discover vibrant coral reefs, colorful marine life, and breathtaking rock formations.
Khao Sok National Park, located near Khao Lak, is a nature lover’s paradise. Explore lush rainforests, hike through verdant trails, and discover the stunning Cheow Lan Lake with its towering limestone karsts. Take the chance to spot wildlife like elephants, gibbons, and hornbills.
If you’re a nature lover, then Khao Lak is surrounded by cascading waterfalls waiting to be explored. Visit Ton Chong Fa Waterfall, where you can swim in the refreshing pools and admire the cascades. The peaceful atmosphere and natural beauty make it a perfect spot for relaxation.
How to get to Khao Lak?
To reach Khao Lak, you can take a taxi or arrange for a private transfer from Phuket International Airport, which is approximately a 1.5 to 2-hour drive away.
5. Koh Samui
Koh Samui, one of Thailand’s most popular islands, is known for its palm-fringed beaches, luxury resorts, and vibrant nightlife.
Koh Samui boasts stunning beaches with powdery white sand and crystal-clear waters, so a perfect island for first-timers visiting Thailand. From the lively Chaweng Beach to the tranquil Bophut Beach, you’ll find a beach that suits your preferences. Relax under swaying palm trees, swim in the warm sea, and enjoy breathtaking sunsets.
Koh Samui also offers a wide range of luxury resorts and spa retreats, making it an ideal destination for relaxation and pampering. Indulge in world-class spa treatments, unwind by infinity pools overlooking the ocean, and enjoy exceptional hospitality.
One major attraction on the island is the iconic Big Buddha Temple, one of Koh Samui’s most recognizable landmarks. This impressive 12-meter-tall golden Buddha statue is located on a hill, offering panoramic views of the island.
When the sun goes down, then experience the charming atmosphere of Bophut’s Fisherman’s Village. Explore the quaint streets lined with boutique shops, art galleries, and excellent seafood restaurants. On Fridays, the village comes alive with the popular walking street market, where you can indulge in delicious local street food and shop for unique handicrafts.
How to get to Koh Samui?
Either fly directly to Samui Airport from major cities or take a ferry from Surat Thani, which offers multiple daily departures.
Ayutthaya, a UNESCO World Heritage site, was once the capital of the Kingdom of Siam.
The city is ideal for first-timers interested in the history of Thailand because it’s home to impressive historical ruins, showcasing the grandeur of the ancient city. Explore the Ayutthaya Historical Park, where you can marvel at the iconic Buddha head entwined in tree roots at Wat Mahathat and the imposing Wat Chaiwatthanaram.
Ayutthaya offers a glimpse into Thailand’s rich cultural heritage. Visit the Ayutthaya Historical Study Centre to learn about the city’s history and significance. Take part in traditional Thai activities such as pottery-making and traditional dance performances.
Tourists can experience Ayutthaya from a different perspective by taking a scenic boat cruise along the Chao Phraya River. Admire the ancient temples and ruins that line the riverbanks, and enjoy the serene atmosphere as you float along the water.
Just outside Ayutthaya, you’ll find the magnificent Bang Pa-In Summer Palace. Explore the beautifully landscaped gardens, ornate pavilions, and stunning architecture that blend Thai, Chinese, and European styles.
Ayutthaya’s vibrant local markets offer a chance to taste authentic Thai flavors. Indulge in local delicacies such as boat noodles, grilled river prawns, and traditional Thai desserts. Don’t forget to visit the Ayutthaya Floating Market, where you can sample fresh fruits, snacks, and souvenirs while enjoying the picturesque canal views.
How to get to Ayutthaya?
To reach Ayutthaya, you can take a train from Bangkok’s Hua Lamphong station or book a day tour or taxi from the capital.
Krabi, located on Thailand’s Andaman Sea coast, is renowned for its dramatic limestone cliffs, pristine beaches, and vibrant marine life.
Krabi is a perfect beach location for first-timers to Thailand, blessed with breathtaking beaches. Railay Beach, accessible only by boat, is a paradise for rock climbers and offers spectacular scenery. Phra Nang Cave Beach is known for its crystal-clear waters and stunning limestone formations.
Krabi is the gateway to some of Thailand’s most picturesque islands. Embark on an island-hopping tour to explore gems like the Phi Phi Islands, famous for their turquoise waters and stunning cliffs, or the lesser-known but equally beautiful Koh Hong.
Tourists can visit the natural wonders of Krabi, such as the Emerald Pool and Hot Springs in the Khao Phra Bang Khram Nature Reserve. Take a dip in the warm mineral-rich waters or enjoy a leisurely walk through the lush jungle surroundings.
There are boat tour to the Four Islands, which include Phra Nang Cave Beach, Chicken Island, Tup Island, and Poda Island. Snorkel in vibrant coral reefs, relax on pristine beaches, and witness breathtaking sunsets. The tour offers a diverse range of natural beauty in one day.
How to get to Krabi?
To get to Krabi, you can fly directly to Krabi International Airport from major cities or take a bus or taxi from Phuket.
Pattaya, located in the Gulf of Thailand, is known for its vibrant nightlife, entertainment options, and beautiful beaches, making it a perfect location for first-timers to Thailand.
Pattaya Beach is the city’s main beach and offers a range of activities and water sports. Relax on the sandy shores, go for a swim, or try thrilling water activities like jet skiing and parasailing.
Tourists can experience the energetic nightlife of Pattaya on Walking Street. This famous street comes alive after dark with a plethora of bars, nightclubs, restaurants, and live entertainment. It’s a must-visit for those seeking a lively and vibrant atmosphere.
A popular attraction is the awe-inspiring Sanctuary of Truth, a unique wooden temple carved entirely by hand. This architectural marvel showcases intricate carvings and sculptures that reflect the philosophy of ancient Thai, Indian, and Khmer civilizations.
If you’re a nature lover, then Nong Nooch Tropical Garden, a vast botanical garden with meticulously landscaped grounds, orchid displays, and traditional Thai cultural shows, is a must-visit. Enjoy a tranquil stroll through the gardens and witness the elegance of Thai classical dance and martial arts performances.
Pattaya is also home to the world’s first Cartoon Network-themed water park. It’s a fantastic attraction for families and cartoon lovers, featuring exhilarating water slides, wave pools, and interactive entertainment based on beloved Cartoon Network characters.
How to get to Pattaya?
To get to Pattaya, you can take a bus or taxi from Bangkok, which is approximately a 2-hour drive away.
Kanchanaburi, located in western Thailand, is known for its historical landmarks, picturesque landscapes, and the infamous Death Railway, making it a get spot for first-timers to visit.
A popular attraction to visit is the Bridge over the River Kwai, a significant historical landmark associated with the construction of the Death Railway during World War II.
Tourists can explore the stunning Erawan National Park, home to the iconic Erawan Waterfall. This seven-tiered waterfall is renowned for its emerald-green pools and is perfect for swimming and picnicking. The park also offers opportunities for hiking, wildlife spotting, and camping.
Another attraction is the Hellfire Pass Memorial Museum, which provides insight into the grueling conditions endured by the prisoners of war during the construction of the Death Railway. The museum features exhibits, videos, and a walking trail that takes you through the historic site.
If you love to be out in nature, experience the beauty of Sai Yok Noi Waterfall and enjoy a thrilling bamboo rafting adventure along the River Kwai. The scenic surroundings and the refreshing waterfall make for a memorable outdoor experience.
How to get to Kanchanaburi?
To get to you Kanchanaburi, you can take a train or bus from central Bangkok.
10. Hua Hin
Hua Hin, a coastal town located on the Gulf of Thailand, offers a mix of natural beauty, cultural attractions, and a relaxed atmosphere.
Hua Hin is a perfect coastal getaway for first-timers to Thailand, boasting beautiful sandy beaches that stretch for miles. Whether you prefer the lively atmosphere of Hua Hin Beach or the tranquility of Khao Takiab Beach, you can relax, swim, or engage in various water sports such as kiteboarding and jet skiing.
Tourists can experience the vibrant atmosphere of the Hua Hin Night Market. It’s a bustling hub of food stalls, shops, and entertainment. Sample delicious street food, shop for local handicrafts, and enjoy live music performances.
Hua Hin also has historical landmarks, such as the beautiful Maruekhathaiyawan Palace, also known as the “Palace of Love and Hope.” This teakwood palace offers a glimpse into the town’s royal heritage. You can also visit the iconic Hua Hin Railway Station, one of the oldest in Thailand.
Venture out to Sam Roi Yot National Park, known as the “Mountain with Three Hundred Peaks.” The park features stunning limestone mountains, hiking trails, and the famous Phraya Nakhon Cave, which houses a picturesque royal pavilion.
How to get to Hua Hin?
To reach Hua Hin, you can take a train from Bangkok’s Hua Lamphong station or book a taxi or private transfer.