Places to visit in Thailand
Thailand is huge and there is a vast amount to see here, with 127 different national parks, five different UNESCO World Heritage Sites and temples and beaches galore. You can’t possibly fit everything into a single trip but we have tried to summarise the highlights to introduce some of our favourite spots. However there are plenty more so if you don’t know where to start or would like help putting an itinerary together please call us.
Bangkok doesn’t need much in the way of introduction; this is where almost any trip to Thailand will start. It may be a cliché to describe an Asian city as a bustling mixture of ancient and modern, but this is just so apt in Bangkok. There are sleek commercial districts with gleaming sky scrapers and vast shopping malls. However, just next to these are the narrow residential sois (alleyways) dotted with tiny Buddhist temples where locals come to make offerings and light incense. There may be a Starbucks on the corner but down in the alleyway there will be a woman with a primus stove and a large wok. Stop for a moment and she will fry up a delicious plate of noodles which you can enjoy on miniature stools right on the street.
The Grand Palace is one of Bangkok’s finest buildings. It’s a treasure trove of palaces and temples beautifully painted in red and gilt with large golden Buddhas. This is a must on any visit to Thailand. The children will also enjoy a long-tail boat ride on the Chao Phraya river, leaving the hustle and bustle behind. In a ‘longtail boat’ you will navigate down the quiet narrow residential waterways where people live right on the river. These areas are also perfect to explore on two wheels as once you get off the main roads there is very little traffic. In each case you will see a side of Bangkok that very few visitors manage to uncover.
About three hours west of Bangkok is Kanchanaburi, a great stop on any family itinerary. The area is famous for its historical WW2 significance as the site of the Death Railway. This was built by allied POWs to link Bangkok to Burma. However the area it is also home to some of central Thailand’s most picturesque scenery. Here you can enjoy meandering rivers, fields of sugar cane, jungle-clad mountains and cascading waterfalls.
Children will love staying a night or two in floating rafthouses right on the river (see our accommodation section for details), allowing ample time to explore the area. History buffs will love taking the train over the Bridge over the River Kwai and visiting the WW2 cemetaries. Here many children are absorbed by the individual epitaphs carved on each gravestone. There is also an excellent (child friendly) museum where you can learn more about the experience of the POWs during the war.
Adventure enthusiasts will love a canoe trip down the River Kwai or a visit to the Erawan Waterfalls. Here you can climb up to a series of turquoise pools and swim… if you don’t mind the tiny fish nibbling at your feet! You can also spend a day at Elephant’s World, one of the few very responsibly run elephant centres in Thailand. Spend the day helping to look after the animals and bathe them in the river. Or perhaps take a cookery class and learn to recreate some of the mouth-watering dishes that you will have been tasting during your trip.
Chiang Mai is Thailand’s northern capital and an essential stop on many itineraries to Thailand. The frenetic pace of Bangkok is a distant memory as life in Chiang Mai proceeds at a much more sedate pace. Rise early to see monks in orange robes parade through the streets to collect alms. Find a quiet Buddhist temple where you can light a stick of incense or feed the carp in the fish pond. The thick city walls encircle a maze of old streets that beg to be explored and you can grab a cycle rickshaw or a bike and follow your nose into the labyrinth.
Just outside the centre of the city is the exquisite hill-top temple of Doi Suthep. This offers sublime views over the city and the mountains beyond. From here there are wonderful quiet wooded trails that you can explore on foot. Another option is to take a bike ride to a series of remote ancient ruins where there are very few other visitors.
There is also a wonderfully run elephant centre just outside the city. This is one of the few well-run establishments in Thailand. You can spend a day (or longer) helping to look after the elephants, feeding them and helping to bathe them in the river.
Another fabulous family option is to go zip-lining. You first head deep into the mountains outside Chiang Mai where you will climb up into the jungle canopy. Then strap yourselves in and soar between the trees on zip-lines!
Chiang Mai is also the ideal base for a visit to Thailand’s northern hill-tribes. You can head up into the mountains on tortuous winding roads before trekking on foot to traditional hill-tribe villages. Here you can spend the night in a wooden stilt house and help cook dinner over an open fire. Piglets run around underneath the house, chased by squawking chickens, and the children will be mesmerised by it all. The next day you can float down the river on a bamboo raft and the children can see if they can manage to ‘pole’ you all along.
Ayuthaya was Thailand’s capital more than 700 years ago. It was famous throughout the world for its ornate golden palaces and gleaming temples. Although it was comprehensively sacked by marauding Burmese in the 1700s many tantalising glimpses of its ancient wonders remain. This is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Younger children will enjoy taking a long-tail boat to the temples and then playing a game of hide and seek in the huge temple park. Clamber over the ruins and seek out the carved stone faces hidden in the tree roots. Older children will enjoy exploring by bike as the ruins are quite spread out but connected by quiet roads with little traffic and no hills.
If you spend an evening here, make sure that you head to the lively night market. Here you can fill yourselves up on delicious plates of fried calamari, spicy noodles, freshly barbequed kebabs and steaming corn on the cob.
Khao Sok National Park
If you are in the south of Thailand, the beautiful national park of Khao Sok is well worth visiting. Much of this area was flooded with the building of the Ratchaprapha Dam, creating a spectacular landscape. Sheer limestone karst cliffs soar out of the deep blue water of the lake and jungle clad hills are home to a great variety of wildlife.
There are some wonderful accommodation options here, either staying in lovely jungle lodges, on bamboo rafts on the lake or in treehouses. The children will love exploring by canoe, hiking to vast caves or trekking into the jungle to remote rivers.
There are so many different beach resorts in Thailand that it can be difficult to know which to choose. The main thing to consider is the time of year that you are travelling. From May to October the east coast beaches are more likely to have good weather. These include Koh Samui, Koh Pha Ngan and Koh Tao, three islands off the south east coast.
From November to April it is probably sensible to head for the west coast. This is home to well known resorts like Krabi and Phuket as well as quieter islands such as Koh Lanta. This area is also home to Koh Jum, a love it / hate it island that is extremely quiet. This offers the closest you will find to a Robinson Crusoe style experience in Thailand.
Koh Samet is another good choice, as it offers fairly good weather all year round and is not too far from Bangkok.
Generally it is easiest for us to chat with you to find out exactly what it is that you are looking for (luxury, water sports, solitude, basic beach shack). We can then suggest a beach and hotel accordingly.
Chiang Rai and the Tribal North
In the far north of Thailand is the attractive city of Chiang Rai, gateway to the tribal areas and Golden Triangle. The city itself is a very pleasant place to explore but the real lure here is the gorgeous mountain scenery that can be found all around this region.
There are wonderful options here for trekking for more active families. There are also opportunities to visit tribal markets, stay in local villages, visit the Golden Triangle border area with Burma, ride elephants or take boat rides down small rivers.
Sukhothai and Central Thailand
The region around Sukhothai is home to some of Thailand’s richest historical sites. Sukhothai is one of the area’s ancient capitals and the ruins here are fantastic. They are also quite extensive and perfect for exploring by bike if your children are the right age.
Kamphaeng Phet is another ancient capital that is probably equally impressive but far less visited. Exploring these ruins you will scarcely see another tourist, let alone the huge tour groups that plague more popular sites. Again it is wonderful to explore by bike and many of the ruins are set in attractive wooded parkland that offer some shade from the midday sun.
Another of our favourite experiences in this area are the ‘hot pot restaurants’ where you are given a large pot shaped a bit like a rubber ring. The outside is filled with hot water for boiling meat and vegetables, and the inside is covered in oil for frying… you then cook your own dinner. These are always a hit with children.
Call us and we will be happy to provide you with a free-of-charge no obligation itinerary and quotation designed for you.
Thailand in pictures
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