Despite its key position on the backpacker route, Full Moon Parties de rigeur, the reasons why travelers have long sought Thailand out – crystalline waters, limestone karst bays and hidden beaches with a hut and a hammock – still have the capacity to amaze. Add to that the zingy cuisine and (perhaps surprisingly) ever-welcoming local people, and you can see why so many travelers keep coming back. Head north to explore the rich culture of the hill tribes and colourful festivals, and to national parks that protect some of the region’s largest stretches of monsoon forest. Learn more in our Thailand travel guide.
Our top Thailand vacations
From £134914 days ex flights
Elephant encounters, jungle treehouses and stunning Thai islands
From £1395 to £159511 days ex flights
A Tuk Tuk Adventure in the stunning mountains of Thailand
Small group2021: 7 Jun, 21 Jun, 5 Jul, 19 Jul, 2 Aug, 16 Aug, 30 Aug, 29 Sep, 25 Oct, 13 Dec, 2022: 10 Jan, 24 Jan, 7 Feb, 21 Feb, 14 Mar, 25 Mar, 6 Apr, 9 May, 23 May, 6 Jun, 20 Jun, 4 Jul, 18 Jul, 1 Aug, 15 Aug, 29 Aug, 12 Sep, 26 Sep, 10 Oct, 24 Oct, 7 Nov, 21 Nov, 5 Dec, 12 Dec
From US $1145 to US $12958 days ex flights
Temples, ancient ruins & exotic markets of Northern Thailand
Small group2021: 4 Jul, 18 Jul, 1 Aug, 22 Aug, 5 Sep, 19 Sep, 3 Oct, 10 Oct, 17 Oct, 24 Oct, 31 Oct, 7 Nov, 12 Nov, 21 Nov, 28 Nov, 3 Dec, 5 Dec, 10 Dec, 12 Dec, 17 Dec, 19 Dec, 24 Dec, 26 Dec, 31 Dec, 2022: 2 Jan, 9 Jan, 16 Jan, 23 Jan, 30 Jan, 13 Feb, 20 Feb, 3 Apr, 24 Apr, 15 May, 12 Jun, 19 Jun, 3 Jul, 17 Jul, 31 Jul, 21 Aug, 4 Sep, 18 Sep, 2 Oct, 9 Oct, 16 Oct, 23 Oct, 30 Oct, 6 Nov, 11 Nov, 20 Nov, 27 Nov, 2 Dec, 4 Dec, 9 Dec ...
Best time to go to Thailand
In general, the best time to go to Thailand is from November to February. During this period, it’s dry but not too hot and you’ll likely catch one of the country’s many festivals. You can still vacation here during the rainy season, but more remote areas may become inaccessible. Sun seekers should also be aware that Southern Thailand experiences monsoons – although the good news is that the seasons are staggered on the east and west coasts, so as long as you do your research you should always be able to find a sunny beach somewhere. Read more about when to visit Thailand.
Map & highlightsA few days in Bangkok is never enough – once you’ve had your immersion in tuk tuk rides and street food stalls, local guides can show you the key sights and stupas. Chiang Mai, gateway to the Golden Triangle, is a more sedate experience, great for cookery classes and night markets, while Pai, just to the north, is the hill tribe heartland. Between them is the Elephant Nature Park, a sanctuary for rescued elephants. Thailand cycling tours often feature Kanchanaburi, home of the infamous ‘Bridge over the River Kwai’. Intrepid explorers should head south to Khao Sok National Park for wilderness treks and river canoeing.
Thailand’s crazy capital is a bustling blend of ancient and modern, traditional and cosmopolitan. Take a tour on foot, tuk tuk, riverboat or Skytrain; discover the floating markets, temples, Buddhas and palaces, have dinner in a floating restaurant, or escape across the river to the lush jungle to the secret Bang Krao Jao gardens. Don’t forget your street food fix – and try recreating it yourself in a cooking class.
2. Chiang Mai
Founded 800 years ago at the foot of a mountain, Chiang Mai is a welcome retreat from the southern heat. The city itself has temples to explore and a wonderful elephant sanctuary, as well as Thai cookery classes and a fascinating night bazaar. It is also a convenient base for adventure sports including hiking, biking and rafting. Alternatively, head into the mountains to visit the region’s many hill tribes.
Elephant Nature Park
3. Elephant Nature Park
Elephant Nature Foundation campaigns for elephant rights; this is their key project. Here, elephants do not work for people – the people work for them, ensuring they are cared for full time. All are either retired working elephants, or rescued from abuse or neglect, and cannot be returned to the wild. See them interacting and grazing as they would in their natural homes - there are no shows or rides here.
4. Kanchanaburi Town
Home of the famous Bridge on the River Kwai, this little town is surrounded by waterfall-filled jungle, with pools and rivers to bathe in. Take a cycle tour of the town, visit the War Museum and spend the night bobbing in a floating rafthouse on the river. You can also hike the scenic tracks of the so-called “Death Railway” – named after the number of workers and POWs who were killed during its wartime construction.
Khao Sok National Park
5. Khao Sok National Park
Wilderness lovers should pack their walking shoes and bug spray and head to one of Thailand’s most stunning national parks – a wonderland of limestone karsts, lakes, waterfalls, rainforests and treehouses. Kaho Sok is for the intrepid explorer, you can sleep in a rafthouse, surrounded by jungle, travel by longtail boat, hike in the forests and canoe or tube along the river.
Thailand’s hill tribe heartland, the region of Pai is home to several colourfully dressed tribes, with even more colourful cultures – including the Lahu; former crossbow hunters with their respected shamans, as well as Karen and Shan communities. Trek the hills, stay in communal village houses sleeping on rattan mats and learn how to cultivate rice. You can also explore the vast Tham Lod cave network.
Abandon preconceptions of Full Moon Parties and grim ‘girly bars’ – Thailand’s culture runs far deeper and the tourism industry does seem to be moving away from the unbridled hedonism of the past. Many of the country’s finest wats can be found gleaming in the Bangkok sunshine, while for a taste of hill tribe culture, head north to Pai or Chiang Mai, where you can trek to villages and often stay overnight. Avoid the horrendous and unethical ‘long neck’ tourist traps though. You can dig in to Thai street food anywhere, but Chiang Mai’s famous night markets are a great place to start.
Setting foot in Bangkok for the first time can be overwhelming – the bright lights, the constant offers of rides from tuk tuk drivers, the frantic haggling in the markets, the golden spires of historic temples glittering in the sky – which makes guided tours, led by locals, the smartest way to explore the best things to see and do in Bangkok. Guides will help you negotiate fair prices for the essential tuk tuk rides, advise you on what to order at street food stands, and if you’re still stiff from the flight, show you the best place for a traditional Thai massage.
The highlands and tropical forests of Northern Thailand are home to thousands of indigenous Thai people and ethnic minority groups, all of whom have their own distinct cultural identities but are collectively known as hill tribes. Tourism, particularly through trekking trips, has become a vital source of income for many of these communities, but unfortunately in many cases it has also been exploitative. Responsible hill tribe trekking puts the welfare of the people first and foremost, allows for meaningful cultural exchanges, and ensures that the money you pay for your traditional handicrafts actually reaches these communities.
More vacation ideas
From £240014 days ex flights
Explore Bangkok, Kanchanaburi, Chiang Mai & Koh Samui
From US $3050 to US $311513 days ex flights
A 2-week, fully guided photography tour of Thailand
Small group2021: 20 May, 13 Jul, 16 Aug, 6 Oct, 9 Nov, 28 Nov, 2022: 2 Jan, 7 Feb
From US $268510 days ex flights
Thailand city, beach, and rainforest soft adventure vacation
More about Thailand
Thailand is one of the easiest, most exciting countries in Southeast Asia to travel with kids, with affordable flights, great weather and welcoming people, not to mention a mix of accommodations to suit every budget. Thailand family vacations typically stick to the less sweltering highlands of the north or the beach resorts of the beautiful islands in the south. You’ll probably want to skip the more riotous festivals, but kids will love wandering (and tasting) their way around night markets, exploring easy-going cycling routes, and visiting elephant sanctuaries. Chiang Mai is a fantastic base for families with older kids wanting to get active.
When it comes to wildlife in Thailand, one animal above all comes to mind – the elephant. Tragically, elephant cruelty is practically a business in Thailand, and if you’re riding one on a trekking tour then in all likelihood the animal has been mistreated to ensure obedience. If you would like to see elephants in Thailand, then sanctuaries are always best – there are thousands of rescued elephants saved from the tourism or logging industries. But sadly, even then what counts as a sanctuary varies widely. Do your research beforehand and don’t be afraid to pester your tour operator with questions.
Types of vacations
Escape the well-worn backpacker trail with genuine Thailand adventure vacations ranging from wilderness hikes and overnighting with hill tribes to river rafting and epic overland trips. For those who prefer to leave behind the logistics and language barriers, small group vacations let you enjoy the ride with a ready-made friendship group. They’re definitely a good option for cross-border trips. If you’d like to mix up your itinerary, perhaps adding a cookery class in Chiang Mai or a few days on the beach after spending a week trekking between hill tribes in the north, then tailor made vacations give you that flexibility.