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Things to Do & Must-See Attractions in Thailand

Long holding the title of Southeast Asia’s most popular vacation spot, Thailand is paradise-by-numbers with its tropical islands, lush jungle, and sun-bleached sands. But it’s not just the beaches that bring travelers back time and time again—Thailand’s most enduring asset is its people and their ever-present smiles and unabashed hospitality. The capital of Bangkok, with its bustling streets, colorful night market, beautiful Buddhist temples, and the Grand Palace complex (home to the sacred Temple of the Emerald Buddha), is the obvious starting point. Just outside of the city, the ancient Siamese capital of Ayutthaya is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, while the Damnoen Saduak floating market offers a fascinating glimpse into traditional Thai life. In southern Thailand, beach lovers can set sail for Koh Samui in the Gulf of Thailand, where the surrounding islands offer ample opportunities for snorkeling and scuba diving. Over on the Andaman Sea Coast, the sandy beaches and golden temples of Phuket are the precursor to the dramatic landscapes of Phang Nga Bay, James Bond Island, and the Phi Phi islands, where "The Beach" was filmed. Far from the beaches of the south, the sweeping highlands of northern Thailand mark out the borders with Laos and Myanmar. Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai are the main destinations, where adventurous travelers can try white-water rafting, observe elephants, or join a trekking tour to explore the remote hill tribe villages.
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Bangkok Chinatown (Yaowarat)
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239 Tours and Activities

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.

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Koh Tan (Koh Taen)
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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.

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Grand Palace
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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.

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Pak Klong Talad Flower Market (Pak Khlong Talat)
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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.

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Temple of the Golden Buddha (Wat Traimit)
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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.

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Patong Beach
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39 Tours and Activities

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.

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Wiang Kum Kam
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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.

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Chiang Mai City Arts & Cultural Centre
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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.

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More Things to Do in Thailand

Tup Island (Koh Tup)

Tup Island (Koh Tup)

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Phra Nang Beach (Phranang Beach)

Phra Nang Beach (Phranang Beach)

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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.

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Temple of the Dawn (Wat Arun)

Temple of the Dawn (Wat Arun)

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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.

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Golden Mount (Wat Saket)

Golden Mount (Wat Saket)

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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.

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Giant Swing (Sao Ching Cha)

Giant Swing (Sao Ching Cha)

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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.

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Temple of the Reclining Buddha (Wat Pho)

Temple of the Reclining Buddha (Wat Pho)

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Next door to the Grand Palace you’ll find the Temple of the Reclining Buddha (Wat Pho). It’s the largest and oldest wat (temple) in Bangkok and, as the name suggests, is home to the enormous reclining Buddha. You’ll also find many more Buddha images at Wat Pho, which is said to have more statues of the Buddha than any other Bangkok temple. The Reclining Buddha was crafted to celebrate King Rama III’s restoration (1824 - 51). At 150 ft (46 m) long and 49 ft (15 m) high it is the largest Buddha image in Thailand. The reclining Buddha is decorated with gold leaf and his eyes and foot soles are inlaid with mother-of-pearl. Wat Pho is the birthplace of traditional Thai massage and in 1962 a traditional medicine and massage school was established here. The school is still going strong and you can book massage appointments or apply to study at the school. Its reputation precedes it, so you'll need to book well ahead to get a massage.
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Chao Phraya River (Mae Nam Chao Phraya)

Chao Phraya River (Mae Nam Chao Phraya)

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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.

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Temple of the Emerald Buddha (Wat Phra Kaew)

Temple of the Emerald Buddha (Wat Phra Kaew)

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Deep within the Grand Palace grounds you’ll find Thailand’s most sacred sight - the Emerald Buddha (Phra Kaew Morakot) contained within the Temple of the Emerald Buddha (Wat Phra Kaew or Wat Phra Keow). This temple is regarded as the most sacred Buddhist temple in the country and is an essential palladium of Thai society.

Within its walls is the highly revered Buddha sculpture, carved from a single block of jade and dates from the 14th century AD. Believed to have been crafted in Sri Lanka, the Emerald Buddha was transported and revered throughout Southeast Asia before being brought back to Thailand from Laos in 1552. It has sat in its present shrine within the Grand Palace walls since 1784 and remains an important symbol of the Thai nation.

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White Temple (Wat Rong Khun)

White Temple (Wat Rong Khun)

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Marble Temple (Wat Benchamabophit)

Marble Temple (Wat Benchamabophit)

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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.

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Kanchanaburi War Cemetery

Kanchanaburi War Cemetery

75 Tours and Activities

Also known as the Don-Rak War Cemetery, the Kanchanaburi War Cemetery commemorates victims of the building of the Burma Railway during World War II.

Located on Saeng Chuto Road, the main road of the city of Kanchanaburi, the cemetery is maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and contains the graves of Australian, British and Dutch POWs who were forced into labor by the Japanese, who controlled the area at the time of the Burma Railway construction. A nearby privately funded museum, the Thailand-Burma Railway Museum, contains interactive displays describing the history of the railway and the prisoners who died building it. The city of Kanchanaburi is easily accessed by rail and bus from Bangkok, and the war cemetery is located about a 5 minutes walk from the city's main station. The central Bangkok railway station has trips to the Burma Railway and stops to let visitors view the cemetery.

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Wat Chedi Luang

Wat Chedi Luang

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If you’ve ever wanted to chat to a Buddhist monk, pull up a chair at Wat Chedi Luang. As you enter the wat from Th Phra Pokkao, turn right and you’ll see some tables under a sign reading ‘Monk Chat.’

The partially ruined wat dates back to the year 1441, and is most famous as the former home of the incredible Emerald Buddha. Nowadays, a jade replica fills the eastern niche of Wat Chedi Luang, and you can see the original in Bangkok at the Wat Phra Kaew.

Wat Chedi Luang has undergone a restoration program, which has added several Buddha images, porticoes and statues.

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Wat Phra Singh Waramahawihan

Wat Phra Singh Waramahawihan

60 Tours and Activities

If you only see one temple during your time in Chiang Mai, Wat Phra Singh (also known as Wat Phra Sing Waramahawihan) should be it. Set in the heart of the old city, the temple was founded in 1345 and is home to Chiang Mai’s most sacred relic – the Phra Singh (Lion Buddha image).

The temple consists of many buildings, but the most spectacular is the golden wihan that houses the Phra Singh. Look for classic Lanna architectural features like the three-tiered roof, white chedi with an octagonal base, and lion statues guarding the entrance. It is possible to go inside to see the Buddha statue, just remember to remove your shoes first. Wat Phra Singh is an active temple and lucky visitors may see chanting monks or a blessing ceremony. Many novice monks study here and are happy to practice their English by sitting and chatting with tourists in the temple gardens.

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Phahurat Market (Little India)

Phahurat Market (Little India)

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Phahurat Market is located in the Little India area of Bangkok in the Phra Nakhon district of the city, which has a large Sikh community. Just a stone’s throw from Chinatown, visiting the market and its surrounding areas means a discovery of smells, sights, sounds, and tastes—a true feast for the senses.

The market is so named due to the main road that connects it, where stall and shop owners sell all manner of Indian-style clothing, jewelry, and food amid a labyrinth of narrow alleyways. These crowded lanes are mainly filled with swaths of fabrics, as well as ready-to-wear items of clothing. The area also extends along Chakrawat Road and further along Sampeng Lane, where neighboring restaurants offer a range of Indian cuisine to choose from.

The Phahurat Market is a popular and often crowded place, where visitors can wander around and soak up the atmosphere, stopping to haggle for some fine silks or to nibble on a delicious Indian snack from a street cart.

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