Thailand is home to numerous stunning islands, granting it the status of one of the most popular destinations in the world. From sandy beaches to incredible temples, there is something for everybody visiting Thailand.
However, first-time visitors may find it challenging to navigate the vast cityscapes without a proper guide. To ensure that your travels are holistic and memorable, it would be wise to have an itinerary beforehand.
Don’t worry; I’ve combined my first-hand experience with extensive research to give you this guide on some of the best places to visit in Thailand for first timers.
Of course, “best” is subjective, so take a look and see what stands out to you and be sure to add it into that trip of a lifetime.
What is the best place to visit in Thailand for first timers?
It depends. Want beaches and the ocean, go to the islands to the south. Fancy culture and nightlife, base yourself in Bangkok. Or, if you want peace and serenity in mountainous jungle, head North to Chaing Mai and the surrounding villages.
As you can see, when planning a visit to Thailand, you can get overwhelmed by the many choices of places to visit. To avoid this anxiety about what should be a relaxing holiday, first try to categorize the kind of tourist you want to be.
Do you want to sunbathe on an idyllic beach overlooking the coral reefs, or do you want to get sporty and do some snorkeling or scuba diving instead?
Other activities, such as rock climbing or hitting the night markets, could also be on your agenda. If any of these activities are on your bucket list for Thailand, you’re in the right place.
So let’s break it down and give you some top recommendations for every category.
Islands & Beaches
1. Koh Lanta
Located just off the coast of Krabi, Koh Lanta is one of Thailand’s most beautiful islands. A day trip to Koh Lanta island would be a great starting point for your vacation. The island itself is attractive because it is predominantly untouched.
The white sand beaches on this island are also far less crowded than those in Phuket town and Koh Samui.
2. Koh Pha Ngan
Koh Pha Ngan is known for its parties to celebrate the full moon every month of the year!
Every year, over 20,000 people venture to the island to celebrate the full moon on the beach.
Many first-timers keep this party on their bucket list as tourists from all over the world convene for a night of fun under the moonlight.
So, if you happen to be in Koh Pha Ngan during a full moon cycle, drop by the beach to party!
3. James Bond Island
If you want to relax on a beach for a few hours, island hopping is a great way to do that. Other islands that are worth visiting include Elephant Island and James Bond island.
James Bond Island is a famous attraction in Phang Nga Bay. It got its name when it was used as a location for the 1974 James Bond movie, ‘A Man with a Golden Gun.’
This island is replete with limestone cliffs and is a great location for adventure activities like kayaking and sailing.
4. Andaman Sea Islands
Other islands worth exploring are the Andaman Sea Islands along Thailand’s Andaman Coast, including Koh Hong, Phuket, and Koh Mai Phai.
Phuket is one of the world’s largest beach destinations replete with white beaches and lush palm trees.
This island is more suited to enjoying scenic views rather than engaging in vigorous adventure activities. It is much more laid back than any other beach in Thailand.
Phuket is also the largest island in Thailand, teeming with tropical beaches, local markets, and hidden temples.
This island is also home to the Big Buddha, made of white marble, attracting many tourists who visit for the first time.
It is also the island that contains the largest number of luxury resorts on the Thai islands. If you want a relaxing vacation, this is definitely the destination for you.
You may also enjoy: Phuket vs Bangkok
6. Koh Mai Phai
Koh Mai Phai is in the north of Ko Phi Phi Don, a destination with beautiful coral reefs and stunning marine life. It is one of the six islands called the Phi Phi Islands on the west coast of Thailand in the Andaman Sea.
This is an excellent location for divers, backpackers, families, and couples.
The Phi Phi Islands are easily accessible from Phuket or Krabi since both of them have international airports. Alternatively, Toansai Bay is the main arrival and departure spot for most boats and ferries coming in from Phuket.
7. Koh Samui
Koh Samui, locally known as Samui, is Thailand’s second-largest island. Known for its coconut groves, rain forests, palm beaches, and tropical jungles.
The island is also home to several ornate temples, including the Big Buddha temple, which contains a 12-meters tall golden Buddha statue.
Many boat rental services tours these islands, which can elevate the travel experience.
Parks & Historical Sites
8. Khao Sok National Park
If you enjoy the island experience in Thailand, you will also enjoy other natural landscapes. The Khao Sok national park is teeming with wildlife, unique flora, and fauna.
The oldest evergreen forest, Khao Sok, has much to offer regarding elephant encounters, canoeing, and jungle trekking.
Incorporating this national park into your itinerary will help you get in touch with nature.
9. Elephant Nature Park
Some other national parks worth visiting include Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai and Erawan National Park.
Elephant Nature Park is an elephant rehabilitation and rescue center. This nature park has created an entire herd of rescued elephants in Northern Thailand.
It also provides the perfect conditions for other wildlife. This national park should definitely be on your agenda if you are an animal lover.
10. Erawan National Park
Located in the Tenasserim Hills, Erawan National Park is home to one of the most popular waterfalls in Thailand.
Besides waterfalls, the park is predominantly covered in deciduous forests with junctions of limestone hills and running streams.
Bird-watching is the major activity in this park, which is home to over 120 bird species.
11. The Grand Palace
If you are more inclined towards historical locations ridden with complex art and architecture, Bangkok has all the best places to visit on your first trip as you’ll see in my 5 day Bangkok itinerary.
It would also be a fantastic avenue to explore Thai culture in its vibrancy.
The Grand Palace is a great stop comprised of government buildings, temples, and royal residences. Many artifacts here are made of gold, and the site is an excellent place to learn about the Thai royal family. The Royal Palace also offers an extraordinary window into Central Thailand society.
12. Wat Phra Kaew
Following this regal experience, you should visit the Royal Monastery of the Emerald Buddha to get a more spiritual feel of Thailand. Ensuring you are attired respectfully and appropriately when visiting temples would be good.
Officially known as Wat Phra Kaew, it is one of the most sacred temples in Thailand. It is located in Chiang Rai, a royal temple enriched with ancient art and artifacts.
The 26-inch Emerald Buddha is made of green jade but was mistaken for an emerald when it was first discovered in the 15th century.
13. Jim Thompson House
While you’re still in Bangkok, exploring the shopping options here would be a good idea. Bangkok is where you will find the Jim Thompson House, a museum dedicated to a world-famous designer.
The Jim Thompson museum was built in honor of the late Jim Thompson, affectionately known as the Thai Silk King. The museum contains an amazing collection of Asian art and is a must-see for art enthusiasts.
14. Doi Suthep Temple
The Doi Suthep temple is named after the mountain on which it is located. It is considered to be a very sacred temple among the Thai people.
The Doi Suthep temple was built in the 19th century in the Chiang Mai province. In this temple, meditation centers also offer several programs to visitors.
Many tourists opt for mountain biking tours to the temple, but it is also possible to walk to it instead.
15. Wat Pho Temple
Wat Pho is a Buddhist temple complex located in Bangkok.
It is located south of the Grand Palace and is also known as the Reclining Buddha temple. This temple is one of the most visited ones in all of Thailand.
16. The City of Doi Suthep Temple
Thailand is home to a Unesco world heritage site called the City of Ayutthaya.
The city was founded in the early 14th century and was the second capital of the Siamese Kingdom.
The main attractions in this historic city are the giant monasteries and the prang towers that remain.
This is one of six Unesco world heritage sites in Thailand alone.
Bangkok is also home to floating markets where you can get all kinds of spicy food in true Thai fashion.
A floating market is a market where goods are sold from boats. The concept of the floating market is quite ancient and depends on transport and trade in daily life. Now, these floating markets serve primarily as tourist attractions all over Thailand.
17. Damnoen Saduak Floating Market
The most famous spot in the floating markets is the Damnoen Saduak floating market. These markets offer the best of Thai food, especially street food including pad thai and sticky rice.
The Thai experience is not complete without street food; if you are traveling on a tight budget, it might just be your holy grail.
18. Chiang Mai Night Bazaar
The Chiang Mai Night Bazaar, also called the Sunday Walking Street, is a popular addition for shopaholic travelers.
Over here, you will be able to find rows upon rows of Thai jewelry, handicrafts, and home decor. You can also get portrait paintings and all types of high-tech products here. Tourists often frequent the bazaar to purchase souvenirs for back home.
19. Khao San Road Nightlife and Market
If you’re in Bangkok for the first time and looking for a wild, unforgettable night out, look no further than Khao San Road. Famous among young backpackers, this bustling area of town is an epicentre of night life and market shopping. You’ll find everything from exotic cuisine to street performers entertaining onlookers with their talents.
Kith banghra music blasting in the streets and an incredible energy all around, it’s the perfect place to sample delicious local Thai food and drinks while mingling with adventurous travelers from around the world. However, if you’re looking for a family-friendly evening outing, then it may not be your scene – trust me, it’s best suited to those who love to party!
20. Chatuchak Weekend Market
Chatuchak Weekend Market has grown from humble beginnings in the late 1970s to become a must-visit international destination. With over 8,000 vendors on offer, it’s no wonder that this iconic location draws in hundreds of thousands of tourists and locals each year.
Its maze-like layout gives it an adventurous feel, allowing shoppers to explore its many treasures, such as traditional Thai crafts, vintage clothing, and handmade jewelry. The atmosphere around the market is always upbeat and full of life thanks to the range of food items offered by its many street food stalls. Surely nobody can resist trying some of Thailand’s famous street fare!
All in all, Chatuchak Market is truly one of South East Asia’s most exciting shopping experiences offering something for every shopper.
21. The Golden Triangle
Located in Northern Thailand, along the Mekong Riverside Road, it is an incredibly popular attraction in Southeast Asia, particularly in the high tourist season.
This area has a history of being a dealing spot for opium and heroin in the 1920s, and understandably so.
The area provides easy access across three countries, making it easy for dealers to make a quick getaway. Now it is a tourist spot, free of criminal activity.
At the Golden Triangle, you can also get in touch with a boat rental service to travel up to Chiang Kong, a great spot to take photographs.
Taking a road trip from Chaing Mai to Pai is an absolute must-do if you’re visiting Thailand for the first time. With its perfectly winding roads, picturesque views you are sure to get your money’s worth on this scenic highway.
Once you reach Pai, it will feel like you stepped into an alternate universe!
Its laid-back atmosphere and small-town charm adds to its unique character. You can look forward to exploring the vibrant art galleries, trendy cafes, peaceful temples, and vintage local markets that make Pai such a captivating destination. I’d also highly recommend a lazy tubing trip down the river!
What should I avoid in Thailand?
While Thailand is a relatively safe country, there are some places you can avoid to ensure your vacation runs smoothly.
Owing to the political and religious conflicts in Southern Thailand, it would be best to avoid that area altogether during your time in Thailand.
Besides this, it is essential to respect the culture of the country you visit. Some travelers might experience a bit of a culture shock, but a slight adjustment goes a long way.
What month should you avoid Thailand?
Thailand experiences an extended monsoon season starting from July to October. These are the wettest months in Thailand, making it less appealing to tourists.
April through May is expected to be the hottest of the year. The best time to visit Thailand is the dry season when the monsoon season passes. This time of year is the best for visiting beaches and playing sports like golf.
Many tourists cannot handle the extreme heat from April to May and typically choose the months of November to March for a beach vacation.
After reading this article, you should be ready to embark on a voyage and explore all of Thailand’s scenic and cool places. Make sure to visit as many places as possible and avoid the ones mentioned above. The groundwork has been laid for you; all you’ve got to do is get on the next flight to your dream vacation in Thailand!