It’s easy to see why Thailand has become one of the world’s most popular backpacking destinations. Whether you prefer the lively city of Bangkok, hiking mountains in Chiang Mai, or soaking up the sun in the Andaman Sea, there is something for every type of traveler. There are endless things to do in Thailand, and before visiting I found myself overwhelmed with potential things to see and do while I was there. This is my list of a few things that made my trip memorable!
1. Doi Suthep
I’d be thoroughly shocked if you visited Thailand and didn’t set foot inside at least one temple. Many travelers that I talked to would often say that they were “templed out”. I think that all of the temples are beautiful and unique in their own way but I narrowed my visit down to two in particular. The first was Wat Phra That located on top of Doi Suthep mountain. The second was Wat Rong Kuhn located in Chiang Rai (more on that later in this post!). If you are in Chiang Mai you must make the journey to the top of Doi Suthep and see the sunlight bounce off of the golden rooftops.
How to Get There: If you love hiking and are feeling ambitious you can hike up! Otherwise, flag down a red Songthaew taxi to take you up the winding road to the top of the mountain. This will cost you upwards of 200 baht, and is roughly 45 minutes each way from inside the city of Chiang Mai.
What to Keep in Mind: Because this is a temple you must respectfully keep your shoulders and knees covered. You will remove your shoes upon entering. Visit early in the morning before the crowds arrive. That early morning sun is so worth it!
2. Volunteer with Elephants
Visiting with the elephants in Thailand is a huge bucket list item for a lot of people, but it can also be a controversial one. All over Thailand you will see advertisements to ride elephants. First of all – do not do this. These elephants suffer a lot of abuse for the sake of being trained for tourists to ride them. The animals are mistreated for the sake of tourism, and they are not meant to carry humans on their back.
That being said, you can still interact with these majestic creatures in other ways. Elephant Nature Park (https://www.elephantnaturepark.org/) located in the lush jungles of northern Thailand near Chiang Mai, is a refuge for mistreated elephants. Their mission is to protect and care for mistreated elephants rescued from the tourism and logging industries. You can volunteer your time here bathing, feeding, and cleaning up after these animals. This is one of the most popular and reputable elephant parks in Thailand and is an excellent option if you wish to interact with the elephants in a more sustainable way.
Elephant Jungle Sanctuary (http://www.elephantjunglesanctuary.com/) is another park that boasts ethical and sustainable eco-tourism with locations in both Chiang Mai and Phuket.
How to Get There: You must book visits on the sanctuary website
What to Keep in Mind: Bring clothes and shoes that you don’t mind getting dirty or wet. A change of clothes isn’t a bad idea! The drive to the sanctuary can be very rough and bumpy at times so if you get motion sickness make sure to pop that Dramamine ahead of time.
3. Sunset Cruise
Okay, so I say sunset cruise but what I really mean is GET OUT ON A BOAT. If you are in the Thai Gulf or the Andaman Sea you must get out on the open water. You can island hop, snorkel, and see the famously beautifully Thai sunsets (or sunrise, if you’re a morning person) from the water. I specifically booked with Krabi Sunset Cruises (http://www.krabisunsetcruises.com/) and it was one of the highlights of my trip. We sailed around on a Siamese Junk to five different islands. They provided food, we snorkeled, and after watching the sun go down we jumped back in the water to swim with the bio-luminescent plankton. Such an unreal experience.
How to Get There: Book on the website! They have pickup locations in Ao Nang and Railay.
What to Keep in Mind: Just bring sunscreen, swimming attire, and your camera.
4. Street Markets
Famous for its street food and busy labyrinth of both local and tourist-centered goods, the street markets in Thailand are can’t-miss. Bangkok has the famous floating market, but if you are in Chiang Mai check out the Saturday and Sunday walking streets, as well as the night markets.
How to get there: The Night Bazaar is located at the intersection of Tha Pae and Chang Klang Roads. The Saturday Night Market is located near Chiang Mai gate, and the Sunday Night Market is located near Tha Pae gate. There are a few different markets, so feel free to ask fellow travelers or locals for their locations and times!
What to keep in mind: Bring cash, and your best haggling skills
5. Railay Beach
This beach is touristy for a reason. It’s one of the best beaches in Krabi. If you like rock climbing, you can’t beat the views here. Railay fills the purpose of a beautiful place to float in the water and lay in the sand also. Krabi is a great place to get your salt and sand fix in Thailand, so if you find yourself wondering which of the many beaches to flock to check out Railay. Side note: If you do a little walking you can explore the penis cave. No that’s not a typo.
How to get there: I stayed in Ao Nang and took a long boat around the bay into the area were Railay Beach is located. The journey was as much fun as the destination in this case.
What to keep in mind: Bring a towel and normal beach items. I actually didn’t bring a towel to this beach but I recommend it. However, there is a resort and couple shops where you can buy any items you may forget.
5. Wat Rong Khun
While staying in Chiang Mai I strongly debated making the three hour journey to Chiang Rai to check out Wat Rong Khun, also known as the White Temple. I finally decided it was something I had to see and I’m so glad that I did. This temple is just as unique as it is beautiful. At every corner there is a new strange feature. Predator? Check. Superhero figure heads hanging from a tree? Check. I won’t give away everything, walking around thinking “wtf” is half the fun of this place!
How to get there: I took the green bus from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai. It was about a three hour travel time. Most people would probably recommend spending the night in Chiang Rai, but if you’re ambitious enough it can work as a long day trip.
What to keep in mind: Feel free to capture the unique beauty on the outside, but there are no photos allowed inside the temple.
7. Koh Phi Phi / Maya Bay
Made famous by the 2000 film The Beach, I realize that this is most likely the most popular tourist destination in maybe all of Thailand. It will be crowded. You probably won’t like it for that reason. But when I travel to the other side of the world, I like to see all of the things worth seeing whether everyone else has the same idea or not. Koh Phi Phi is a beautiful island in the Andaman Sea with all the photo worthy landscapes and seascapes you associate with visiting the Thai Islands. If you plan an off-hours or off-season visit you might be lucky enough to avoid some of the mid-day crowds.
How to get there: I took a speed boat from Ao Nang.
What to keep in mind: Crowds! There will inevitably be a lot of people.
8. Cooking Lessons
Cooking lessons are a unique option while traveling abroad. The experience starts with buying fresh ingredients at a local market and follows with a thorough lesson in cooking local dishes. You will be able to find a few different school options if you do a quick search, but check out Thai Farm Cooking School if you’re in the area of Chiang Mai and want to get out of the city for a bit.
How to get there: Most cooking schools or places that offer lessons also offer a pickup at your hostel or hotel.
What to keep in mind: Arrive hungry! And don’t make any dinner plans directly after. This may go without saying but you will leave feeling full. I also recommend leaving a full day open for this activity.
9. Diving Certification
I am adding this to the list because it is the one thing I didn’t do in Thailand that I regret. If you want your diving certification, then this is one of the most cost effective and scenic destinations to get it. The island of Koh Tao, located in the Thai gulf, is one of the most popular in the world for diving. There are several choices on the island for PADI and SSI courses.
How to get there: You can take a ferry from Koh Samui for the quickest route.
What to keep in mind: You can decide to do this last minute. There are several schools on the island and there are almost always open spots. Most courses are 4 days long.
10. Local Festivals and Events
Sometimes it just so happens that when you arrive in a new city you happen to arrive during a certain festival or celebration that you had no idea was going on. I always do a trusty google search to look for a calendar of local events! When in Chiang Mai I was fortunate enough to have my visit overlap with the Flower Festival. They had plenty of events, concerts, and a parade. It was a great taste of local culture.
How to get there: Depends on the event!
What to keep in mind: As you always should while traveling, keep local culture and customs in mind while visiting and participating in events. Be mindful, respectful, and as educated as possible. Have fun!