Thailand, famously known as the “land of smiles” is one of the most visited countries in Southeast Asia, drawing in an impressive 25 to 30 million travellers each year. With tourism contributing over a trillion baht to Thailand’s economy, it’s safe to say that tourism holds a special place in the country’s heart.
This country knows how to make travellers feel at home. From hassle-free transportation options to an abundance of accommodations that cater to all tastes and budgets.
But really, Thailand entices tourists without even having to try. Their turquoise waters and white-sand beaches tempt people from thousands of miles away. Or is it bustling Bangkok that has you bursting with excitement? Maybe it’s the tranquillity and rich culture that you’ll find in Northern Thailand.
We’ve created this ultimate guide to Thailand to share with you everything that this unique country has to offer. Decided that Thailand is a place you want to visit?
Delve into our sixteen detailed guides that offer insights into the best activities and must-see attractions that Thailand has to offer.
Is Thailand worth visiting?
Being able to experience idyllic islands and taste out-of-this-world cuisine at an affordable price is one of Thailand’s biggest draws. Who doesn’t want to eat Pad Thai for $1 every single night?
Thailand offers extraordinary diving and snorkelling on islands like Koh Tao — one of the cheapest places in the world to get your Padi Openwater qualification.
It’s a country that is bursting with rich culture and history, with so many temples that you might even get ‘templed out’ like countless travellers before you.
Whoever you are, Thailand has something to offer every visitor. It’s an ideal destination for first-time solo travellers who can follow in the footsteps of many who have gone before, but also a haven for couples seeking romance and families in search of unforgettable moments.
Is Thailand safe?
Thailand is generally considered a safe country for travellers. It welcomes millions of visitors each year who enjoy their trips without encountering any safety issues. That being said, like with every other country around the world, petty theft and pickpocketing can occur.
It’s important to keep an eye on your belongings, especially in busy places like Kuala Lumpur, practise common sense and be aware of scams.
Best destinations in Northern Thailand
Best destinations in Southern Thailand
Top 3 places to visit in Thailand
With so many incredible places to choose from, it can be a bit overwhelming when trying to plan a trip. To help you out, here are our top 3 favourite destinations in Thailand:
Koh Tao — Thailand’s underwater paradise
Koh Tao completes the trio of islands located in the Gulf of Thailand sitting alongside the famous islands of Koh Samui and Koh Phangan. For years, Koh Tao has been overlooked in favour of these other two islands, but as word spreads of this incredible diving, snorkelling and all-around chill spot, it’s quickly growing in popularity.
Plus, it’s one of the cheapest places in the world to get your PADI Openwater qualification. In between spending hours in its turquoise waters, there are plenty of other things to keep you entertained on the island.
Chiang Mai — history, culture and delicious local food
Chiang Mai is an intriguing fusion of new and old, making it an incredible place to explore.
It’s a city that is flooded with culture and history, told through its countless temples, striking Old City and delicious local dishes. Alongside this, the city has become the creative hotspot of Northern Thailand, attracting digital nomads with its eclectic cafe culture, friendly coworking spaces and fun nightlife.
You’ll also find night markets galore and the home of several famous festivals including the Lantern Festival and Songkran (Water Festival).
Find out how to get from Bangkok to Chiang Mai.
Krabi — escape to one of Thailand’s best beaches
Not too far from the craziness of Phuket, is the paradise of Krabi. Situated in the south of Thailand, Krabi boasts a striking landscape that’s rich with beautiful beaches and limestone cliffs.
Railay Beach is one of the highlights of Krabi. Only accessible by boat, this beach feels like a hidden cove with the most spectacular turquoise waters.
Check out how to get from Phuket to Krabi.
When is the best time to visit Thailand?
Generally, the best time to visit Thailand is between November and April. This is the period when the majority of the country is experiencing sunny days and not-too-high temperatures.
The rainy season in Thailand is commonly between May and October. Between March and May, temperatures really start to climb, reaching 40°C in some regions and continuing throughout the rainy season, but with high humidity too. This can make travelling pretty uncomfortable.
The heaviest rainfall occurs between August and September, which can make getting to more rural destinations difficult.
Each region’s weather varies slightly
Thailand is a big country and its regions experience slightly different weather patterns and monsoons to the next. This can result in the rainy season coming later in some areas, or the months with heaviest rainfall being different.
In general, you can split it into three regions: north and central, the Gulf of Thailand and the Andaman Sea. We recommend researching the specific region you’d like to visit to check the weather.
How to get around in Thailand
Thailand has a great transportation network, taking you to pretty much everywhere you could need to go. And they’ve made it pretty comfortable and efficient.
Here are the best ways to get around in Thailand:
Buses are the most popular way of getting around Thailand as they are often inexpensive and the most convenient way. Buses cover pretty much every popular route in Thailand.
Before hopping on a bus, you’ll need to decide which class of bus you want to ride. Here’s a quick rundown of what’s available:
- Local/ordinary — these can normally be distinguished by their orange colour. They don’t have air conditioning, can get very busy and stop a lot.
- Second class — isn’t too different to the local bus. They might have air conditioning, but they’re still often overcrowded and stop a lot which increases journey time.
- First-class — air conditioning, you normally get an allotted seat and there should be a toilet on board. On longer journeys, you might get a blanket and snacks.
- VIP — similar to first class, but slightly fancier. There are fewer seats so there is more legroom and the ability to recline.
How to buy bus tickets in Thailand
Tickets can be bought from the departure terminal. For popular routes, we recommend booking at least a day in advance in case it sells out.
You can either visit the bus station the day before or book online. 12Go.Asia is the best website to do this on and has the most popular bus routes in Thailand.
Trains are also a great way to get around Thailand and are considered safer than taking a bus and sometimes quicker. Plus they offer spectacular views along the way. The downside is that train tickets are more expensive than the bus.
Thailand’s train line is managed by the State Railway of Thailand (SRT) and consists of four main lines which branch off into smaller lines:
- Northern line — connects Bangkok to Chiang Mai.
- Northeastern line — splits into two. The lower branch runs eastwards to Ubon Ratchathani, while the more northerly branch links Bangkok to Nong Khai
- Eastern line —splits into two. One runs to Aranyaprathet on the Cambodian border while the other connects Bangkok with Si Racha and Pattaya.
- Southern line — connects Bangkok with Hua Hin, Chumphon and Surat Thani.
Similar to the bus, there are a number of different classes to choose from. Third class is the cheapest, but also the most uncomfortable with hard seats. Anything above third class is reasonably comfortable.
On longer-distance trains, you have the option of berths that turn into beds at night. If you opt for first class on one of these trains then you’ll typically get a two-person air-con sleeping compartment, complete with washbasin.
Buying a train ticket in Thailand
Train tickets can be bought at the departure station or online via Baolau.
Most tickets can be bought the day before, but if you want a first-class overnight cabin, I suggest booking as far in advance as possible as these are limited and can get booked up.
Some journeys in Thailand can be pretty long. It’s 10+ hours on a bus or a train from Bangkok to Chaing Mai for example. For this reason, taking a flight can be pretty tempting if you’re short on time or can’t sit on transportation for that long.
Thailand’s main domestic airlines are Thai Airways and Bangkok Airways. If you book enough in advance or get lucky, flights can be pretty cheap.
It’s important to keep in mind that taking a short-haul flight can be up to 10 times more polluting than taking a more environmentally-friendly option like a bus.
If you’re planning on visiting some of Thailand’s paradise islands, then there’s a very high chance you’ll need to hop on a boat to do that.
Buying a boat ticket in Thailand
When we refer to taxis, they come in all forms and sizes in Thailand. It can be a classic car taxi, a tuk-tuk, a moto-taxi or even a longtail boat. All of these forms of transport can be a great way for covering short distances in Thailand.
Grab is a popular ride-hailing app that operates in fifteen locations throughout Thailand. It can be easier than hailing a taxi on the street as you don’t need to negotiate a price or worry about getting scammed.
If you are hailing a taxi or tuk-tuk from the street, make sure to always agree on a price before getting it.
Entry requirements and visa for Thailand
For many people, entry to Thailand is simple. Citizens from around 60 countries can enter Thailand visa-free. These countries include all EU countries, the UK, the USA, Australia and Canada. People from these countries will be able to stay in Thailand for up to 30 days without obtaining a visa.
You can check whether you can visit Thailand visa-free using our visa guide.
Citizens from around 20 nationalities will need to apply for an eVisa, a simple process that can be done online. If your application is accepted, the visa will then be sent to your email.
Must-try Thai food
Thai food is one of the most popular cuisines found all across the world. You’ve probably visited your local Thai restaurant, but wait until you try the real thing. The food in Thailand will make you never want to leave!
Here are our favourite Thai dishes:
- Pad Thai — had to be first on the list, being one of Thailand’s most famous dishes. Pad Thai is made with thin rice noodles that are stir-fried with shrimp, tofu, egg, bean sprouts, and peanuts, all flavoured with a tangy and savoury tamarind-based sauce.
- Tom Yum Goong — is Thailand’s favourite soup. It combines fragrant herbs, lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, galangal, chilli, and shrimp, creating a harmonious explosion of flavours.
- Som Tam (Papaya Salad) — Papaya seems to be a ‘love it or hate it’ fruit, but still give this one a go. This refreshing and tangy salad is made with shredded green papaya, tomatoes, carrots, green beans and peanuts, served with a dressing of lime juice, fish sauce, palm sugar, and chilli.
- Mango Sticky Rice — a classic Thai dessert that combines the sweetness of ripe mangoes with sticky glutinous rice, drizzled with coconut milk.
- Satay — grilled skewers of marinated meat (usually chicken or pork) served with peanut sauce. Satay is a very popular street food in Thailand that you can find in almost every night market.
- Khao Soi — is the beloved created originating from Northern Thailand. This curry noodle soup is made with egg noodles in a rich and creamy curry broth, topped with crispy noodles, pickled cabbage, shallots, and lime.
Essential travel tips for Thailand
Here is a selection of the best tips and pieces of information to make your trip to Thailand that little bit easier:
Paying with Thai Baht in Thailand
Thailand uses the Thai Baht (THB).
While card payments are becoming more popular in big cities, upscale restaurants and hotels, it’s good to always have some cash on you just in case. You’ll need cash for things like taking the bus, markets and local restaurants.
Unfortunately, there are no fee-free ATMs in Thailand. Most of the ATMs will charge you a fee of around 220 TBH apart from AEON.
AEON is the best ATM in Thailand with the lowest fees of 150 TBH. The withdrawal limit for this ATM is 20,000 TBH, which is the same for most other banks.
You won’t struggle to find an ATM in Thailand. They can be found in airports, shopping centres, 7-11s, other convenience stores and directly at bank branches.
When using an ATM, it might ask you which conversion rate you would like to accept. Always decline the ATM conversion rate. Your bank will always give you a much better exchange rate than the ATM.
Buying a sim card in Thailand
While a lot of cafes, restaurants and hotels offer free Wi-Fi, it’s likely that you’re going to want internet whilst out and about. We recommend getting a local sim card.
The four main mobile providers in Thailand are AIS, Truemove, Dtac, and Airalo. You’ll be able to buy a sim card from one of these providers at most international airports in Thailand, at a mobile provider’s store or in a convenience store
We recommend getting your sim card from AIS. They offer great coverage and 50GB for 30 days for 899 Baht. If you go through data like it’s nothing, Truemove offers a 30-day sim card with unlimited internet for 1199 TBH.
You’ll need to make sure that your phone is ‘unlocked’ which means that you can put any sim card in your phone, rather than being locked to a specific provider.
Thai language cheat sheet
The language spoken in Thailand is Thai.
It’s always good to know a few essential words before travelling to a place, so here are a few to get you started:
- Hello — Sawasdee
- Thank you (female speaker) — khoob-khun ka
- Thank you (male speaker) — khoob-khun krab
- Sorry — kŏr tôht
The perfect packing list for Thailand
Thailand is a warm country all year round and can get pretty humid as rainy season approaches.
It’s best to bring loose-fitting, cool clothes and of course, your swimsuit if you’re heading to one of Thailand’s tropical islands or beaches.
Of course, if you’re heading to Thailand during rainy season, a rain jacket is a must.
Aside from the essential travel gear, here are some that have become permanent fixtures on our packing list:
- Reusable water bottle – they’re better for the environment and can save you money on water.
- A portable charger – there’s probably going to be a time when your phone’s battery is on red, at a time that you desperately need it.
- An adaptor – Thailand uses plugs A, B and C, which is different from European plugs. A universal travel adaptor is a great buy so that you’re compatible with all of these plug sockets or heading to other countries after Thailand.
Check out our full packing list for Southeast Asia.
Tawan Bed Club – Chiang Mai
If you’re looking for a little more comfort and an ideal location, the Tawan Bed Club is a great option. They offer single rooms, bunk bedrooms, and family rooms to suit all your needs. The staff is more than happy to go out of their way to assist you with all your special requests. Located just outside of Chiang Mai Old City, just 500 m from the Chiang Mai Night Bazaar, this hotel is in a great location. The rooms are extremely clean, the beds are comfortable and there are flat-screen TVs in all rooms.
- Ideal location
- Extremely clean
- Comfortable beds
- Friendly staff
Rooms start at $42 per night
Palm Kaew Resort Krabi – Krabi
Enjoy the views and beautiful greenery surrounding this resort. Located in Krabi town just a few km from most sights, this is an excellent place to stay if you want to take advantage of the free bikes and cycle around town. There is a restaurant on-site to enjoy a meal and TVs in your room for quiet nights. Staff are extremely friendly and can help with tours and travel arrangements.
- Surrounded by nature
- Free bicycle rentals
- Restaurant onsite
- Friendly staff
Private rooms start at $18 per night
Budchui Village – Koh Tao
This lovely hotel is located just 500m from Sairee Beach and offers an onsite swimming pool. The stunning mountain views, lush greenery surrounding the hotel and tranquillity will make for a perfect escape from the busy streets of Koh Tao. An affordable breakfast can be added to your stay for just $3 per day. Staff are helpful and will assist in booking tours, onward travel plans and renting motorcycles or bicycles.
- Swimming pool
- Close to the beach
- Stunning mountain views
- Friendly and helpful staff
Private room starts at $25 per night
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Kate is a writer, (ex)Management Consultant and avid traveller. She recently returned from a 2-year career break exploring the world and decided corporate life wasn’t for her. She’ll soon be testing life as a digital nomad. She’s visited over 40 countries and fell in love with Latin America in particular. Her travelling has inspired a passion for yoga, salsa, hiking and Spanish.