Thailand’s world-famous attractions have been well documented on television, are used as backdrops in several Hollywood movies and crop up again and again in modern fiction. Still, to witness the Grand Palace in person or to watch a Railey Beach sunset or even to approach Phi Phi Don for the first time is guaranteed to send a shiver up the spine of even a hardened traveller and the frisson of passing by a limestone monolith in Phang Nga Bay is unforgettable.
From the north of Thailand in Chiang Mai to the lush southern province of Krabi you’ll be charmed and even shocked by the raw beauty of Thailand.
The Grand Palace & Wat Prakeaw
If there is one must-see sight in Bangkok, it’s the dazzling, spectacular Grand Palace, undoubtedly the city’s most famous landmark. Built in 1782 – and for 150 years the home of the Thai King, the Royal court and the administrative seat of government – the Grand Palace continues to awe visitors with its beautiful architecture and intricate detail – a proud salute to the creativity and craftsmanship of Thai people. Within its walls were also the Thai war ministry, state departments, and even the mint. Today, the complex remains the spiritual heart of the Thai Kingdom. It is highly suggested that visitors dress politely when visiting the Grand Palace; entry can be refused to those dressed incorrectly.
2. Phang Nga Bay
Phang Nga Province – North of Phuket
Located north east of Phuket, Phang Nga Bay is an almost unique site in the world (only Ha Long Bay in Vietnam presents some similarity). A distinctive feature of Phang Nga Bay is the sheer limestone cliffs that jut vertically out of the emerald green water. James Bond Island and Koh Pannyi are just two of the more famous spots in this bay. By far the best means of enjoying the spectacular scenery, with only brief encounters with the tourist crowds as James Bond and Koh Pannyi, is to take one of the boat trips from the northern end of Phuket. A leisurely day trip cruising through the dramatic limestone islands, occasionally stopping to enjoy quiet beaches, is far more rewarding than the standard bus-boat tour.
3. Similan Islands
Phang Nga Province – West of Khao Lak
This group of rocks and islands lies 90 minutes by speedboat off the coast of Phang-Nga, or eight or more hours by slow boat from Phuket. The area was declared a Marine National Park in 1982 and consequently remains largely undeveloped. Derived from the Malay term ‘sembilan’, meaning ‘nine’, Similan refers to the nine main islands in the group. The waters surrounding the Similans are teeming with tropical fish, colourful coral, and offer exceptional underwater visibility. As a result, the diving is generally considered to be the best in the region, and compares favourably with some of the best in the world.
4. Floating Markets
Bangkok’s colorful floating markets are familiar to many through the ubiquitous photos in tourist guides and travel books. Even though transactions are more concerned with tourists rather than locals these days, the floating market boats are still piled high with tropical fruit and vegetables, fresh, ready-to-drink coconut juice and local food cooked from floating kitchens located right on the boat.
To enjoy the atmosphere without haggling over prices, try relaxing on a guided boat tour of Damnoen Saduak market. Other floating markets to visit are Taling Chan Market, Bang Ku Wiang Market, Tha Kha, and Damnoen Saduak.
5. Phi Phi Islands
The Phi Phi Islands are some of the loveliest in Southeast Asia. Just a 45-minute speedboat jaunt and a 90-minute ferryboat ride from Phuket, these picture-postcard islands offer the ultimate tropical getaway. Classic beaches, stunning rock formations, and vivid turquoise waters teeming with colourful marine life – it’s paradise perfected. There are two islands, Phi Phi Don and Phi Phi Leh. The larger and inhabited, Phi Phi Don attracts hundreds of visitors to stay on its lovely shores. For many, Phi Phi Don is the last word in hedonistic nightlife. Starting when the sun sets and lasting throughout the night, the whole village is party central, with its bars, pubs and clubs filled with young and carefree partygoers.