First Time in Thailand: Best Places to Visit of All Time
When visiting Thailand for the first time, it can be difficult to choose just a few destinations that should stand out as a must-see. The people are friendly, the food is delicious, the jungles are accessible and the beaches are world-class. If you're having trouble deciding where to go on holiday in Thailand, consider some of the cities, islands, and attractions listed here.
Known to the Thais as 'The Rose of the North' and recently voted number 1 city in Asia, Chiang Mai combines the splendour of nature, culture, history, and cuisine. The city is also well known among digital nomads and expats including foreigners who want to become TEFL teachers in Thailand. As a first time traveller, you should gain the summit of Doi Suthep by red-truck taxi and look down at the city from Wat Phra That, one of the largest temples in the area (and the one offering the best views).
Wildlife buffs should head over to the Tiger Kingdom just outside the city or visit the zoo to spot giant pandas. The best time to visit is during Songkran, or Thai new year when the city turns into a 4-day water fight. Be prepared, because you will get wet! Fly in or take a bus from Bangkok – the train ride from that city is long and the train tends to break down.
The administrative and economic heart of Thailand, Bangkok is a thriving mega-city catering to every taste. Visit Siam Paragon mall to stock up on luxury goods, and make sure to check out the parking garage – Paragon has one of the largest concentrations of super-car parking outside Dubai. Bangkok is also world-renowned for its nightlife – Khao San road is one of the popular hangout places among foreigners. Rooftop dining in Bangkok is also another thing you should not miss. There are many rooftop bars in Bangkok that offer fantastic food and unbeatable views.
Bangkok is reached most easily by plane, though fast trains run from the south and buses are cheap from anywhere else in the country. October is the best time to go, thanks to mild weather.
Sightseeing in Koh Samui is designed for all travelers, from families to backpackers. Unlike its hard-partying cousin Koh Phangan, Samui caters to a diverse audience interested in luxury, food, or quiet strolls on the beach. Finding places to eat on Koh Samui is a treat unto itself since the island features dozens of resorts and restaurants with world-renowned chefs. For something a little different, check out the Roman Restaurant and Bar for Mediterranean cuisine whipped up with local seafood. Vegans and sweet-lovers should get a taste of Hemingway's and Ninja Crepes respectively, both which offer excellent sea-side views.
Once you're full, head out to Ang Thong marine park and summit one of the karsts for a breathtaking view of the pristine archipelago. Snorkelling, beach-laying and wildlife viewing make this protected area a must on the Koh Samui agenda. To get to Samui, either take a plane to its airport (expensive and not recommended) or make the boat ride from the neighbouring city of Surat Thani, a city which can be gained by bus, train, or plane from Bangkok. Samui is mild year-round, but November and December offer the best weather.
As the largest of the islands in the Andaman archipelago, Phuket draws visitors in with an impressive array of activities. Unlike smaller islands, the allure of city life is juxtaposed here by primeval jungle excursions and dazzling marine ecosystems. Tourists should first get acquainted with Phang Nga bay to see why it was featured in the James Bond franchise. After boating between the bay's dramatic karsts, visitors can head back to Phuket's old town to catch a glimpse of the unique Sino-Portuguese architecture that adorns the area. For those who prefer Thai-style sightseeing, a visit to Phuket's big Buddha in the South is sure to satisfy.
For many, however, Phuket's strength lies in its proximity to the other islands in the area. The dramatic Phi-Phi islands ('the Jewel of the Andaman'), Koh Yao Noi, and the Similan islands (diver's paradise) are just a speedboat-ride away from its shores. Boats leave from a variety of ports, which can all be gained by taxi or motorbike. Boats can range from very cheap to expensive depending on speed and size, and make the journeys every day. Phuket features its own airport, but a flight to Krabi and subsequent boat-ride may be cheaper. Visitors can also take the bus to Krabi from anywhere on the mainland.
Koh Yao Noi
With all the moonlit parties found on many of Thailand's beaches, it can be a blessing to discover that Koh Yao Noi is one of the quiet islands. It isn't nearly as developed as its Western cousin Phuket, and is, therefore, a haven for quiet-seekers and nature lovers alike. Stroll the coast to discover limestone caves that display cave paintings dating back two millennia, or hook-up with a diving operator to see some of the impressive marine life in the area close-up. To get around, consider renting a scooter for cheap, or a bicycle if you prefer using your own power.
As for places to stay, there are many resorts in Koh Yao Noi that offer travelers air-conditioned bungalows, traditional Thai massages and private gardens along the beach. Getting there requires a boat from Phuket or Krabi. Take a bus to those destinations from Surat Thani or Bangkok, or fly to Krabi from anywhere else in the country. As with Samui, November and December are Koh Yao Noi's best months.
About the Author
Monica is a passionate writer and content creator. Her interests include outdoor activities, fitness, technology, entrepreneurship and everything in between. Say hi to Monica on Twitter @monical_lee.