Article Contributer Lena Blos
With its dazzling white beaches, its lush, tropical jungles and fascinating cultural sights, Thailand remains one of the most intriguing countries. We have explored its regions and compiled a list of the most beautiful places in the country.
Located about 100 kilometers from Thailand’s biggest northern city, Chiang Mai, Pai is arguably one of the most magical villages in the country and is especially popular with backpackers. With its relaxed atmosphere, cheap accommodation and numerous spas, there’s hardly a better refuge than the mountainous area of Pai. A range of waterfalls and hot springs in the surrounding area are just waiting to be discovered. What better way to do so than going on a trekking tour or bike trip along the curvy roads? The culture retains strong Burmese influences and many hill tribe people continue to live in small mountain villages close to Pai. Apart from offering some of the best vegetarian and traditional food around, Pai is also a popular destination for fans of yoga and meditation, with numerous retreats and schools. Albeit increasingly popular with tourists, Pai retains its magical essence and offers secluded spots in which visitor can experience their journey to its fullest.
While ranking among the more touristy islands, Koh Tao still offers one of the most relaxed and dazzling settings in the country. While many travelers make their way to the bigger neighboring islands of Koh Samui and Koh Phangan, Koh Tao attracts numerous divers and visitors looking for a more tranquil ambiance. You can hardly find a more beautiful scenery than the spotless white shores and magnificent, turquoise waters around the island. If that weren’t enough, the color palette of the island’s sunsets can’t be described in words. Due to the easy accessibility of diving sites and the marvelous, diverse underwater world, Koh Tao is one of the best places to plunge yourself into the warm waters for snorkeling or to acquire your diving license. Hikers can explore the coastal jungles and marvel at the beauty of Koh Tao. End your evening here by enjoying the catch of the day alongside a fruity cocktail.
Koh Jum is one of the last secluded islands in the country and is conveniently situated between Krabi and Ko Lanta Yai. The laid-back atmosphere of this place, which is home to no more than 3000 people, will make it hard for anyone to leave its shores. Surrounded by the dazzling blue waters of the ocean, the island’s shores are mostly rocky but a handful of beaches offer spots for sunbathing and a splash. Koh Jum only houses a handful of bars and restaurants and the ambiance generally tends to be more low-key. For those looking to get off the touristy, beaten track, this place provides a welcome respite and immediately enchants any visitors that touchdown on its shores with its tranquil atmosphere and friendly population. The starlight nights and nothing but the sound of the waves will fulfill all nature lovers.
Located about 50 kilometers from Thailand’s bustling capital, Bangkok, lies Ayutthaya, once considered the world’s most impressive city. The ruins of the ancient site have been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site and can be marveled at in their full glory. Ayutthaya itself was erected upon an island between the Chao Phraya, Pa Sak And Lopburi Rivers. The kingdom of Ayutthaya retained importance throughout the region for 417 years and reached its military, cultural and financial height in the course of the 16th century. Once serving as the capital of the Thai empire, the city was home to more than 400 temples and other architectural masterpieces. It was finally conquered and destroyed by Burmese invaders in 1767. Due to relentless efforts, the remnants have been largely restored and give visitors an insight into its former grandeur and beauty.
Chiang Mai is one of Thailand’s most significant cultural hubs, housing hundreds of ancient temples and sights. The capital of the former Lanna Kingdom has its own charm and is particularly popular for outdoor activities such as trekking, rafting or elephant camps. In recent years it has become the home for a large yoga and health community and delights its visitors with a multitude of vegetarian places to eat. If that wasn’t enough, the range of national and international restaurants here provides some of the best food in the country, from the traditional Khao Soi to quality French cuisine. Numerous daily and weekend markets sell handmade artifacts and touristy trinkets and street stalls around every corner will allow you to get a taste of authentic Thai food. Make your way up the mountain, home to the city’s most dazzling temple, Doi Suthep, and marvel at the panorama or stroll around the old city and the Ping River. It is impossible not to fall for Chiang Mai’s magical charm.
The Railay peninsula not only offers marvelous beaches but is also a true paradise for rock climbers, providing opportunities for different levels of experience. Located close to Krabi, in the Andaman Sea, Railay or Rai Leh has a more laid-back atmosphere to it than most places in the region. Numerous reggae bars and cozy beach huts are increasingly attracting a mixed crowd of backpackers and other tourists, all looking to while away the days on the lush beaches or to explore the tropical jungles. The dazzling mountain panorama of Railay makes it one of the most special islands in the country and it can be accessed only via boat or ferry. Additionally, the island is home to a number of lagoons and caves which are waiting to be explored.
Phanom Rung is probably the most impressive and significant of the Khmer temples that can be found in Thailand. It was restored to its original splendor over the course of 17 years and has recently been under consideration by the UNESCO World Heritage Site organization. Made from sandstone and laterite, it was constructed in the Angkor style from the 10th to the 13th century as a Hindu temple dedicated to Shiva. Built on top of a spent volcano during the reign of King Suriyavarman II, it stands as a dazzling symbol of the peak of Angkor architecture. Due to its precise solar alignment, the sun bathes all 15 sanctuary doorways around four times a year. During the April alignment, the complex sets the scene for the impressive Phanom Rung Festival, including traditional Brahmin ceremonies and scenic light shows.
Chiang Rai is widely considered one of the most fascinating northern cities in Thailand and is home to a variety of cultural monuments and natural sights. The city was founded as far back as the seventh century and served as the first capital of the Lanna Kingdom. It is closely located to the Golden Triangle, a border area on the Mekong River where Thailand, Laos, and Burma meet and which was once an important site for the opium trade. Visitors can explore numerous ruins and shrines or embark on a hike through the mountains in search of the remote hill tribe villages. Perhaps the most widely known attraction is Wat Rong Khun, also called the White Temple. Constructed in unconventional and modern designs by the architect Chalermchai Kositpipat, the temple is one of the most dazzling in the country. For those looking to learn more about the heritage of the Lanna Kingdom and the lifestyle of northen Thailand, Chiang Rai is well worth the trip.
While welcoming an increasing number of tourists, Koh Mak has managed to retain its cultural values and Buddhist essence. It remains one of the last authentic spots in the country. Home to 10,000 palm trees, a tree fishing village and charming temples, Koh Mak is located about 40 kilometers from the mainland, resulting in a secluded atmosphere. Apart from a few resorts and restaurants, the place is largely untouched, making it one of the best-kept secrets of the country. A nearby Marine Park offers visitors the opportunity to explore its surrounding sea life and additionally there are watersport activities on offer such as windsurfing or padding. If you have had enough of relaxing on the beach, go on a hike through the tropical jungle or jump on a bike and explore the island. Koh Mak is one of Thailand’s most relaxed spots.
Phetchaburi can easily be accessed from Bangkok and is considered one of the oldest settlements in the country. Dating back as far as the eighth century, the city is one of the cultural highlights of any trip to Thailand, but it rarely sees large crowds passing by. The city is home to numerous historic buildings from the 12th century, from magnificent temples to Khao Wang, the Royal Palace. Phetchaburi thrives on agriculture which is reflected in its extensive traditional markets, selling local goods and spices. Few tourists make it to the sleepy city, allowing it to provide an authentic insight into Thai culture and lifestyle. For nature enthusiasts, the province provides lush, tropical jungle areas and magical cave shrines. Unlike other areas, Phetchaburi survived the downfall of the great Asian empire remaining largely untouched. This is why it is often referred to as the ‘Living Ayutthaya’, enabling visitors to inspect century-old preserved relics.