In stark contrast to its famed northerly neighbor, tiny and sleepy Koh Tan tempts visitors with empty beaches and vehicle-less roads just three miles and a 15-minute boat ride south of Koh Samui’s southern tip. Koh Tan (also spelled Koh Taen) is sometimes also called Coral Island for its diversity of colorful hard and soft corals, and it often serves as a popular day-long escape for snorkel or kayak excursions through its clear inshore waters. Though the island doesn’t have quite the aquatic diversity of other more remote locations, it still affords excellent snorkeling, relatively empty beaches and navigable mangrove swamps all very close to a major tourist hub. Longboats make the crossing daily and usually stop at several unique coral spots around the island.
On land, Koh Tan spans only three square miles, and its population barely tops 30 people; their rustic lifestyle with limited electricity affords a glimpse of what much of Thai Island-living was like decades ago.
Chiang Saen is a town in northern Thailand on the bank of the Mekong River that is known for its historic ruins. Though Chiang Saen is a small, sleepy town by modern standards, until the 14th century it was home to a powerful independent kingdom. Ruins of the ancient kingdom of Chiang Saen can still be seen, including temples, Buddha images, and the old city walls, and there is an excellent history museum.
Chiang Saen is also near the "Golden Triangle" where Thailand, Laos, and Myanmar meet. The town offers hotels and guesthouses as well as restaurants, banks, and an immigration office.
Grandmother and Grandfather Rocks - or Hin Yai/Hin Ta - are rocky outcrops on Lamai Beach. Often photographed and commented on, the rocks bear an uncanny resemblance to male and female genitalia.
The rocks are set on a lovely stretch of beach, and create tranquil rock pools when the tide is in.
The cool sound of water tumbling down a rocky cliff face and into a pool greets you at Na Muang Falls.
Nestled amongst the island's central mountains, the falls have two tiers: a lower stretch easily reached by foot and a higher tier that’s best reached by hiking or riding on elephant back. The lower tier of falls is suitable for swimming.
The road to the lower falls is lined with food stalls and souvenir vendors, and elephant handlers offer their animals for rides to the top tier.
The Chao Phraya River (or Mae Nam Chao Phraya) runs north to south through Thailand, whose most notable and densely populated cities lie along the river's main tributary.
In Bangkok, the Chao Phraya is a major transportation artery. A vast network of ferries and water taxis, known as long tails, ferry locals and tourists up and down the river, connecting with the city's main sights. For many, these boats are the preferred way of getting around Bangkok, whose streets are often choked with traffic.
Several boat lines compete for business on the river and its canals and you’ll find variations in price and distance traveled. If you start at Tha Sathon (accessible via sky train at Saphan Taksi), you'll chug sedately past (or be able to disembark at) Chinatown, Wat Arun, Wichai Prasit Fort and the Grand Palace. There’s no denying it - the Chao Phraya is a murky and sometimes smelly river, but even a short boat trip along it gives you a fresh perspective on the city.
A visit to Bangkok's Grand Palace is at the top of every visitors 'must-see' list. Built in 1782 by King Rama I who established Bangkok as Thailand's new capital, the Grand Palace became the Royal seat for 150 years.
The striking buildings within the palace complex reflect the spirit of each successive monarch and the era in which they ruled. While Thailand's current (and longest-reigning) monarch, King Bhumibol Adulyadej has never lived in the Grand Palace, the complex is still used to mark ceremonial and auspicious happenings. Deep within the Palace grounds you'll find Thailand's most sacred sight - Phra Kaew Morakot (the Emerald Buddha) contained within a beautiful temple (Wat Phra Kaeo). This highly revered Buddha sculpture is carved from a single block of jade and dates from the 15th century AD.
To make the most of your visit it is worthwhile hiring a guide who will help broaden your understanding of the Grand Palace and its colorful history.
In a city and country known for its colorful markets, none stands quite so vivid as Bangkok’s Pak Khlong Talat Flower Market. The largest floral market in the Thai capital -- both retail and wholesale -- sits on the banks of the river just south of Wat Pho.
Open 24 hours a day, the market starts each day primarily as a vegetable and fruit market before giving way to the flowers. As you wander through, you’ll see flowers from around the world, piled high in stall after stall -- delicate orchids, bunches of colorful carnations, fragrant roses, lilies and forget-me-nots.
Chinatown - or Yaowarat - is a vibrant area, packed with shops, markets, restaurants and hotels, mostly concentrated along Thanon Yaowarat (Yaowarat Street). Markedly different from the rest of Bangkok, Chinatown is relatively untouched by modern development and has the highest concentration of gold shops in the city. There is also a smaller network of roads and alleys, which reveal markets crammed with anything from hair slides to cutlery.
Having been settled in the area since the 1700s, Bangkok's large Chinese community has a unique and fascinating history. You can now get a sense of that at the relatively new Yaowarat Chinatown Heritage Centre in Wat Trai Mit Witthayaram. The center details the evolution of Chinatown and its people, from their earliest migration from China to the present day.
Located at the end of Chinatown's Yaowarat Road, near Hua Lampong Station, Wat Traimit is home to the world's largest gold-seated Buddha. Measuring in at three meters tall and weighing over five tons, the Golden Buddha makes Wat Traimit a prominent stop on Bangkok’s temple trail.
This impressive statue attracts floods of visitors who come to marvel at its impressive size and gleaming golden surface, but was once hidden from invading armies by a covering of plaster. Pieces of the plaster that once formed its disguise can now be found on display in a case within the temple.
Patong Beach may not offer travelers a true taste of Southeast Asia, but the kinetic energy of this popular destination has made it a favorite among westerners looking to party. Like the rest of Phuket, Patong is home to white sandy beaches, clear blue water and plenty of sun, making it an ideal spot to catch some rays. But bustling neon streets lined with crowded open-air discos and dozens of bars serving strong island drinks have made this a destination for the younger set looking to party long into the night.
Wiang Kum Kam is an ancient “lost city” located on the banks of the Mae Ping River. It was founded in the 13th century by King Mangrai and was the royal capital prior to Chiang Mai. Wiang Kum Kam was abandoned in the 16th century due to flooding, and was only rediscovered in 1984.
Wiang Kum Kam has been partly restored to its former glory and visitors can tour the ruins of ancient temples and see the carved stone tablets unearthed by archaeologists. Some of the sites have plaques with information in English and guides are available for hire.
For a crash course in the history of Chiang Mai, pay a visit to the Arts & Cultural Centre in the heart of the old city. Using a mixture of labeled artifacts, audio recordings, photographs, and life-size dioramas, the centre’s multimedia exhibits take you on a journey from Chiang Mai’s ancient past as the Lanna Kingdom to its present as a modern, cosmopolitan city. Topics include royalty, religion, agriculture, and hill tribe people. There are also subtitled videos about the history of Chiang Mai that you can watch in air-conditioned comfort.
In addition, the Chiang Mai City Arts & Cultural Centre serves as a venue for special exhibits and cultural events. Enquire with the staff about upcoming events like dance or music performances.
Part of a small peninsula located between Krabi Town and Ao Nang, Phra Nang Beach is one of the most scenic and picturesque beaches in the country. This short but broad strip of sand boasts that classic jawdropping beach scenery only found in Thailand, with pure white sand framed by limestone cliffs and lapped by calm waters that are ideal for swimming and snorkeling. This whole area is particularly popular with rock climbers, and even if you don’t join in, it’s fascinating to watch those who do climb up right from the beach. At the southern end of the beach is a giant limestone cliff that contains the famous PrincessCave, said to be the home of a mythical sea princess. Other activities to keep you amused while you admire the scenery include having a massage, enjoying a barbecue, hiking, sunbathing and, of course, going for a swim.
The Golden Mount - or Wat Saket - was constructed by King Rama I shortly after the founding of Bangkok. Built just outside the original city walls and intended as a burial site, the mount has many thousands of bodies interned here - most of them dating from Rama II's rule when plague swept through the city.
Built on swampy ground, the hill was rebuilt by Rama III who added a chedi (stupa) which promptly collapsed due to the shifting foundations. Rama V built the golden chedi we see today on the rubble of the previous chedi. The golden chedi is rumored to contain some of Buddha's remains – including his teeth. Concrete walls were constructed during World War II to ensure the structure remains stable. The Golden Mount looks its best at night when it glows gold against the dark sky. It is worth visiting in the daytime too for fantastic views across the city.
Arching in front of the sacred Wat Suthat in Bangkok, what is left of the Giant Swing (Sao Ching Cha) is a tall teak structure that once supported a giant seat used during Brahman festivals to honor the god Shiva. The landmark is often spotted on walking and biking tours through Bangkok. During the festivities, participants would swing in arcs in an effort to reach a bag of gold suspended from a bamboo pole, which was believed to encourage a good harvest. A black-and-white photograph illustrating the ceremony can be found at Wat Suthat's ticket counter nearby.
Constructed toward the end of the 18th century by King Rama I, the swing was later damaged by lightning during the reign of Rama II. In 1920, it was renovated and moved to its current location in front of Wat Suthat. However, there were so many injuries and even accidental deaths that the ceremonies were discontinued for good by the end of the 1930s. In 2007, the Giant Swing was replaced with the current model.
The Temple of the Dawn - or Wat Arun - towers 260 ft (79 m) above the Chao Phraya river. With fabulous views of the rising and setting sun and of the city's main attractions, the temple is one of Bangkok's most visited sights after the Grand Palace.
Named by Bangkok's founder King Thaksin to signify the rise of the new kingdom (after Ayutthaya was destroyed), the Temple of the Dawn was originally much shorter until its expansion during King Rama III's rule (1824 - 1851). Local people donated the ceramic pieces that make up the temple's unique exterior decoration.
It is possible to climb the temple for views across the river to the Grand Palace and beyond but its narrow steps are not for the faint hearted.
A major destination among travelers in Bangkok, The Marble Palace is aptly named for its design, which is entirely made from Italian marble. Completed in 1911, the temple is the home of the golden Buddhist statue called Phra Buddhajinaraja and is still a live shrine, often filled with patrons who make offerings or light candles inside.
Buried beneath the statue is said to be the ashes of King Chulalongkorn and outside the main shrine in the gallery are more than 50 statues of Buddha depicted by several different cultures and variations of Buddhism in the region.
Located near to the Dusit Palace, the spacious complex on Si Ayudhya Road is built on the site of an older temple and was once used as the headquarters of Thai troops fighting against the Laotian army.
Budget travelers the world over go to Khao San Road to eat delicious, cheap street food, stay in budget digs, shop at the souvenir stalls and hang out in its open-air bars. So legendary is this Thai street, it even has its own website!
Only 20 minutes walk to the Grand Palace, Khao San Road started on its current incarnation in the early 80s, when Thailand fully embraced tourism. What began as a few budget travelers renting rooms in local houses, bloomed into a fully fledged backpacker mecca. As well as being an attraction in itself these days, Khan San Road is a good place to arrange ongoing travel within Thailand or its neighboring countries. Khao San Road is still as popular as ever and, love it or hate it, its irrepressible energy is infectious and hard to deny.
The main branch of the National Museums in Thailand, Bangkok's main public museum is also the largest museum in all of South East Asia. Spread out over acres of green grounds and multiple buildings, the museum is a showcase for Thai art and history. Although it used to be considered unorganized, dusty and forgotten, it's recently been renovated and updated and now features a vibrant collection of artifacts with clear English-language descriptions.
Inside you will find a truly enormous collection of treasures including paintings, sculptures, bronzes and prehistoric art from Thailand and other Asian countries. You will want to give yourself plenty of time to thoroughly cover the exhibits and may want to consider hiring a guide for a more targeted tour. Highlights include a replica funeral chariot hall, the Buddhaisawan chapel and the weapon galleries.