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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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Nang Yuan Island (Koh Nang Yuan)
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37 Tours and Activities

In many ways, Koh Nang Yuan is the paradisiacal location most people imagine when they think of Thailand. Consisting of three tree-topped islands adjoined by a tan-colored sandbar beach, Koh Nang Yuan is one of the most sought after destinations in all of Thailand. The best part? Unlike nearby Koh Samui or Koh Tao, accommodation options are extremely limited on the island, meaning the crowds remain relatively sparse as well.

Most people come to Koh Nang Yuan on day trips from other nearby islands and snorkeling excursions as well as scuba dives are extremely popular. And although the quick day visits are available, you'd be doing yourself a great favor by coming to the island and spending a night or two. In the evenings and early mornings, you can almost have the entire beach to yourself. During the heart of the day, activities such as snorkeling, zip-lining, and hiking are available.

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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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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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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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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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National Museum of Royal Barges
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Thailand is full of royal palaces and striking religious temples. But one of Bangkok’s most memorable highlights is the Royal Barges National Museum. This popular destination houses a fleet of ornately decorated, sleek and slender ships that were once the main mode of transportation for the royal family.

Travelers can examine the religious symbols that decorate the king’s personal barge and get up close with to the hand-carved Buddhas and pristine dugouts of these unique vessels. The largest ship stretches from 45 meters in length and takes 50 men to propel it through the city’s winding water channels. Travelers who visit in October and November may even get to see the boats set sail during the famous cloth-giving ceremony.

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Wat Suan Dok
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Wat Suan Dok’s brilliant golden spire stretches high into the skyline of the northern Thailand city of Chiang Mai and has done so just west of the old city walls since the 14th century. The name roughly translates to "field of flowers," as the temple stands on a site that was once the garden of a ruling monarch. Today, the ashes of some of the royal family are tucked into the wat’s spires, as homage to leaders past.

Wat Suan Dok is a favorite among travelers, particularly photographers, who gather amid the temple’s ornate structures during sunrise and sunset to capture impressive photos filled with rose-colored light. A 500-year-old bronze buddha—one of the largest in the region—also makes this a popular stop. Aside from the structure itself, there is a Buddhist university at the site as well. Monks in training are often eager to share conversation and practice their English with visitors in informal "monk chats."

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Patong Beach
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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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Grandmother and Grandfather Rocks (Hin Yai/Hin Ta)
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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.

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More Things to Do in Thailand

Wat Khunaram (Mummified Monk)

Wat Khunaram (Mummified Monk)

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Na Muang Waterfall

Na Muang Waterfall

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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.

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Bangla Road (Patong)

Bangla Road (Patong)

17 Tours and Activities
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Asiatique The Riverfront

Asiatique The Riverfront

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Asiatique The Riverfront is a large open-air mall situated in the once bustling international trade docks of the East Asiatic Company. It faces the Chao Phraya River and Charoen Krung Road and was opened in 2012 after an extensive renovation of the site.

Asiatique blends the traditional side of Bangkok with its rapidly growing modern side by combining a night bazaar and a swish, contemporary shopping mall. It features more than 1500 shops, stores, and boutiques and around 40 restaurants all within the same complex. It offers a good variety of shops, with a range of brands and independent outlets drawing a mixed crowd of locals and tourists.

Opening only in the evenings from 5pm, Asiatique also has a strong focus on entertainment in addition to retail therapy, with nightly shows including cabaret acts, Thai boxing, and screenings at its on-site 4D movie theater.

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Phra Sumen Fort

Phra Sumen Fort

17 Tours and Activities
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Pak Klong Talad Flower Market (Pak Khlong Talat)

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 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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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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Bangkok Chinatown (Yaowarat)

Bangkok Chinatown (Yaowarat)

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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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Temple of the Golden Buddha (Wat Traimit)

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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White Temple (Wat Rong Khun)

White Temple (Wat Rong Khun)

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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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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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