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Travel tips

20 quintessential things to do in Thailand that deserve all the hype

Feb 15, 2023 by Emily Houston

Temples or tea plantations? White-sand beaches or elephant sanctuaries? When you travel on our Thailand tours, there’s no need to pick between the top things to do in Thailand. Your trip gives you the chance to try all those can’t-miss activities and more.

If you’re looking for another reason to go, take a tip from traveler Douglas. “Ever go from the ocean to inside a lagoon at low tide?” he asked. “Ever shopped from a boat in a canal? Ever seen a huge golden Buddha? Like to try new food and learn to cook it? If you answered yes or just felt your interest pique, this Thailand trip is for you!” Book your trip today to experience these 20 things to do in Thailand.

1. Meander through Bangkok’s Grand Palace complex

Take it from our Bangkok Travel Guide—if you only see one main attraction when you visit Bangkok, Thailand, let it be the gilded, opulent Grand Palace. With over 100 buildings, both religious and administrative, it’s one of the best places to visit in Thailand. Wondering where to start? Head to Wat Phra Kaew, home to a sacred jade Buddha cloaked in a gold robe.

2. Sip steamy oolong at the sprawling Choui Fong tea plantation

Visiting the Choui Fong tea plantation in Chiang Rai is one of the top things to do in Thailand thanks to the flavorful tea and matcha pastries served here. Enter the gift shop first for a tea tasting. (It’s included on our Grand Tour of Thailand: Bangkok, Chiang Mai & Phuket!) Then, pop over to the cafe to pick up your pastry or drink of choice. You can sip and savor them while sitting on the open-air terrace, admiring the rolling hills lined with lush tea bushes.

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3. Explore every dazzlingly intricate inch of the White Temple

Some hidden gems in Thailand are so special that we want to shout about them from the rooftops. Wat Rong Khun, or the White Temple, is one of those spots. Filled with symbolism and unrestrained beauty, this temple is a visual feast. The bridge at the entry features many upward-reaching hands, which symbolize overcoming evil on Earth. Inside the temple you’ll see a wall with painted depictions of Superman, Neo from The Matrix, nuclear warfare, and more, all of which represent the battle between good and evil.

4. Fill up on sweet, sour, and sometimes spicy Thai food during a cooking class

Calling all foodies looking for tours of the world’s top culinary destinations! Our Grand Tour of Thailand: Bangkok, Chiang Mai & Phuket is for you. When you’re in Chiang Mai, one of the best cities to visit in Thailand, you’ll head to an open-air cooking school surrounded by rice fields to prepare Thai dishes alongside experienced chefs. These dishes include tom yum soup, khao soi curry, and mango sticky rice, which just so happened to make our list of can’t-miss Thai dishes to eat on tour.

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5. Spot gentle giants at ChangChill elephant sanctuary

In our guide to the world’s top destinations for responsible wildlife experiences, we go in-depth on why we love this ethical elephant sanctuary in the Chiang Mai countryside. So, we’ll let traveler Erica take the mic to share why it’s one of the best places to visit in Thailand. “The ChangChill elephant sanctuary was the highlight of the trip,” she said. “It is a hands-off experience, so no riding, bathing, or feeding the elephants. What made it amazing is you hike in BY FOOT with a guide to view the animals. I appreciated that the elephants roamed free and could choose to walk away.”

6. Kayak through sea caves in Ao Phang Nga National Park

Grab your sun hat and sunscreen! We’re off to explore Phuket via kayak. The best part? You don’t need the muscles or the know-how to operate your inflatable sea kayak. A skilled rower will man it as you sit back and relax, entering unique sea caves in Ao Phang Nga National Park along the way. If this sounds like one of the most fun things to do in Thailand, that’s because it is.

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7. Visit Phi Phi Islands to see some of the world’s bluest water

The Phi Phi Islands are one of the world’s top national parks and we’ll let you in on why. They’re home to world-class snorkeling spots, white-sand shores, and iconic Maya Beach—where the film The Beach, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, was filmed. Don’t miss beach hopping to Phi Phi Don, where crystal-clear water gently laps the sand. Can you see why it’s one of the best places to visit in Thailand?

Add the Phi Phi Islands excursion when you book our Grand Tour of Thailand: Bangkok, Chiang Mai & Phuket

8. Relax from a day of sightseeing by getting a Thai massage

Our Grand Tour of Thailand lives up to its name, so when you have a minute to unwind, take this tip from traveler Erica: “Be sure you get a Thai massage.” This is one of the best things to do in Thailand during your free time. A full body massage will only run you around 500 baht (about $15–20 with tip). Oil isn’t used during an authentic Thai massage and you stay fully clothed. That’s because the masseuse focuses more on pulling and stretching the muscles in your body, as opposed to the kneading motion you may be more familiar with in North America.

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9. Make the most of a night out by supporting vendors at local markets

Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai are two of the best cities to visit in Thailand when you’re ready to dig out your wallet and dig into local cuisine. “There are lots of great gifts to buy, you’ll need extra luggage,” said traveler Nancy. Seek out shops selling locally sourced and carved teak wares at the Chiang Rai Night Bazaar. If you’re more of a foodie, Chiang Mai is home to one of the country’s premier food markets, so come on an empty stomach and chow down on everything from dumplings to pad thai.

10. Quench your thirst by drinking water from a fresh-picked coconut

Food and drinks are freshest when they’re enjoyed right at the source. At a family-owned coconut farm outside of Bangkok, you’ll get to drink water from a coconut that was just chopped off the trees growing on the grounds. It doesn’t get much fresher (or refreshing) than that.

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11. Stop and smell the roses at Mae Fah Luang Garden

If you’re wondering, “What are the best things to do in Thailand?” look no further than Mae Fah Luang Garden. As peaceful as it is colorful, this lush botanical garden sits atop Doi Tung mountain and offers stunning views of the Chiang Rai countryside. The mother of the former king of Thailand commissioned the garden and lived in the neighboring Doi Tung Royal Villa. Don’t miss the chance to step into her former home, which has Swiss chalet-inspired architecture.

12. Rejuvenate with a rustic spa treatment at Mae Kampong village

One of the most unique things to do in Thailand is sweating it out during a rustic spa treatment. First, you’ll sit in a wooden steam room for about 10 minutes. Then, you’ll lay on a bamboo table and be covered with a large banana leaf for your “body grill.” “This was the fun phrase our Tour Director used to talk about the experience, but it was a very comfortable, warming heat,” said staffer Emily. “A hot pot sat underneath the table and the dry heat it gave off evaporated all the sweat from the sauna.” Talk about pure relaxation.

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13. Stand in awe at the Temple of the Reclining Buddha

Housed inside Wat Pho lies a 150-foot-long statue of Buddha. Gleaming and golden, this image of the Buddha was built before it had a permanent home. Because of its size, the building it’s housed in was built specifically to fit the large statue. Its sheer size makes capturing its beauty nearly impossible, but the best photo spots are at the two ends of the temple.

14. See a different side of Bangkok during a klong tour

Did you know Bangkok is called the Venice of the East thanks to its vast canal network? Hop aboard a high-speed converted rice barge to zip through the klongs, or the canals, and admire the tropical foliage dotting the waterways. While locals have depended on the canals for centuries, there’s been a recent grassroots movement to show more visitors this uniquely beautiful side of Bangkok. Coming here is one of the best things to do in Thailand if you’re looking to support local tourism efforts.

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15. Explore ancient temple ruins in Ayutthaya

An hour outside of Bangkok is Ayutthaya, the second royal capital of the Kingdom of Siam. This city was the heartbeat of the kingdom before the Burmese army attacked and destroyed it in 1767. The capital later moved to present-day Bangkok, but the sprawling ruins of the old capital remain. Come here to see a more rustic side of Thai temples.

16. Pay your respects to the Buddha from hilltop Doi Suthep

“I really valued the visit to Doi Suthep, where we were able to get a blessing from a Buddhist monk,” said traveler Erica. The golden pagoda in the center of this temple houses relics of the Buddha. Join the monks who you’ll see silently walking around the pagoda three times with a lotus flower in their hands. This ritual pays tribute to the Buddha, his teachings, and the monks who carry forth his practice.

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17. Shop for wares at Damnoen Saduak Floating Market

Visiting this market is one reason why every solo traveler should visit Thailand, but traveling duos and friend groups alike will surely find something to love here, too. You’ll ride in a long-tail boat to the varied stalls that line the winding waterway. You can purchase small souvenirs or food (don’t miss the coconut pancakes) from any of the hundreds of vendors.

18. Break bread with a Lanna family at their home

Meeting local people is one of the best things to do in Thailand, and the Lanna Family Home-Hosted Dinner excursion on our Grand Tour of Thailand gives you the perfect opportunity to do just that. You’ll learn about the culture of the Lanna people as you prepare Thai food, explore their garden, and take part in ancient rituals—like creating a floral offering, which you’ll burn to welcome your spirit to their home.

Add the Lanna Family Home-Hosted Dinner excursion when you book our Grand Tour of Thailand

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19. Ask a monk all your questions about Buddhism

“I enjoyed visiting the temples, but having an actual monk come to lecture and answer questions was the best part,” said traveler Erica. Sitting down at an active temple with a resident monk to discuss Buddhism is one of those things to do in Thailand that you can easily experience when going guided. You’ll learn about the roots of Buddhism and take part in a guided meditation led by the monk.

20. Strike your best 007 pose at Khao Ta Poo

This spot is better known to most as James Bond Island. That’s because parts of the film The Man with the Golden Gun were filmed here in 1974. While you can’t climb up the island like James Bond does in the film, you can admire views of the sea stack from the shore of the neighboring island, Khao Phing Kan.

Excited to discover all that Thailand has to offer? Book your spot on one of our Thailand tours today!

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About the author | Emily Houston
Emily loves the simple travel moments—like watching hours pass by in minutes while sharing a meal and a laugh (or many) with her friends and family. Outside the office, you'll find Emily listening to anything and everything John Mayer, attempting to cook a New York Times recipe, or dreaming up her next trip.

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