Tips for the first time traveler to Thailand
Thailand is Asia’s most popular tourist destination, and has an incredibly wide appeal. Everyone from honeymooners to frazzled families to teenage backpackers heads here in search of relaxation, partying or adventure. Its enduring popularity means that overcrowded beaches and sprawling mega-resorts are all too common. So, if you’re searching for wildlife encounters, cultural connections or just some peace and quiet, you’ll need to do your research.
We were constantly impressed by our gorgeous surroundings… literally everything was worth stopping and having a look at!
– Lisa DeGiorgio after returning from our Thailand family vacation
With a luxuriously long coastline and over 1,000 islands, you can still enjoy the powder-soft sand of hidden beaches. And outside the hectic cities you’ll find pristine national forests protecting an array of Southeast Asian wildlife, including elephants, tigers and colourful tropical birds. To explore the rich culture of the hill tribes, you’ll need to head north, where rural villages are set against a fantasy backdrop of mountains, waterfalls and riverine valleys.
If it’s your first visit to Thailand, read our guide for travel tips.
If it’s your first visit to Thailand, read our guide for travel tips.
What to expect
Nature and wildlife
Language & culture
Staying with the Karen village people was an amazing experience and definitely brings income into this region with the least impact on their natural surroundings and way of life.
– Hayley Tait on our tailor made Thailand vacation
Traveling to Thailand & getting around
Our Thailand Vacations
Thailand tailor made vacation, elephants, jungle & beach
Elephant encounters, jungle treehouses and stunning Thai islands
From US $1699 14 days ex flights
Thailand adventure vacation, self drive Tuk Tuk
A Tuk Tuk Adventure in the stunning mountains of Thailand
From £1395 to £1595 11 days ex flights
Northern Thailand and Laos cultural vacation
Overland tour from Chiang Mai to Luang Prabang
From US $2390 to US $2459 14 days ex flights
Thailand culture and beach vacation
Explore Bangkok, Kanchanaburi, Chiang Mai & Koh Samui
From £3400 14 days ex flights
Thailand trekking & rafting vacation, tailor made
Trek through some of the last true remote jungles in Thailand
From US $2595 14 days ex flights
Thailand beach & rainforest vacation
Thailand city, beach, and rainforest soft adventure vacation
From US $3490 10 days ex flights
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There’s a huge amount to see and do in Thailand, so it’s unlikely you’ll pack it all in a single visit. Instead, take a look through our highlights and choose a tour that takes you to a few favourites.
Our vacation allowed us to interact with local people, shop at local markets, and try foods... We were excited to be riding around in tuk tuks and on long tail boats up the River Kwai. We saw the world in a whole new light.
– Federico Mingozzi on our Thailand island hopping vacation
Thailand’s hectic capital gets you right in the gut with its intoxicating blend of traditional and cosmopolitan. Discover the city’s temples, palaces and floating markets on foot, by tuk tuk or riverboat, and escape across the river to the jungly Bang Kra Jao gardens. Food here is the best in the country with everything from high-end dining to sumptuous street food. You could even try recreating it yourself in a cooking class.
Chiang Mai’s mountain air is a welcome respite from the heat of Southern Thailand. Days can be spent exploring temples and night markets and the city is well known for its fabulous cooking schools. It’s also a great base for further exploration, including hiking, biking and rafting in the surrounding mountains and rivers.
At the meeting of the Ruak and Mekong Rivers, where the borders of Thailand, Myanmar and Laos collide, the Golden Triangle is a pristine mountain region that’s blissfully free of tourist crowds. Go trekking and mountain biking through the hills, meet isolated tribes in colourful traditional dress and visit the Hall of Opium Museum in Chiang Rai to learn more about the region’s damaging and illicit former trade.
Khao Sok National Park
Pull on your hiking boots to tackle the forest trails of Khao Sok National park – a wilderness of limestone hills, lakes, waterfalls and rainforests. This is a place for active adventurers who’d love nothing more than to spend their days hiking, canoeing and tubing along rivers. Sleeping arrangements will be out of the ordinary, too, with nights spent in a raft house surrounded by jungle.
Khao Yai National Park
Khao Yai is the oldest national park in Thailand and a UNESCO World Heritage Site to boot. Vast swathes of rainforest and savannah are home to tigers, elephants, gibbons and over 320 species of birds, including hornbills and lapwings. Guided walks take you to see wildlife, waterfalls and bat caves, while thrilling night-time jeep safaris provide a glimpse of the park’s nocturnal world.
Forget the overcrowded beaches and rowdy bars of Koh Samui and Phuket. Koh Chang’s national marine park feels like the Thailand of decades ago, with lots of quiet islands to explore, including tiny, tranquil Koh Maak, the powdery beaches of Rayang, Koh Rang – the best place for snorkelling and diving, and Koh Chang itself. Days can be spent canoeing through mangroves, swimming beneath waterfalls and discovering local fishing villages.
Thailand’s hill tribe heartland, the region of Pai is home to several colourfully dressed tribes, with even more colourful cultures – including Karen and Shan communities. Trek the hills, stay in communal village houses sleeping on rattan mats, and learn how to cultivate rice. It’s best to avoid the main town, which is crammed with bars and travelers’ guesthouses.
Phang Nga province
Phang Nga province is full of incredible beaches, both on the coastline and on the offshore Surin Islands and Similan Islands. Reached by boat from Phuket, they provide a spectacular underwater experience as well as opportunities to kick back on white sands fringed by tropical rainforests. You can also find out more about the seafaring Moken people in the company of a local guide.
...and what not to do
Best time to go
How long is needed to see Thailand?
In a weekIdeally, you’d spend at least two weeks in Thailand, but if you are constrained by time, money or school vacations, there are shorter tours that you can do inside seven days. It’s probably best to concentrate on one area of the country, for example island hopping around the islands of Koh Chang National Marine Park or exploring the heritage sites of northeast Thailand. This is also a good length of time for a volunteering vacation, with time in an elephant refuge and marine conservation both popular options.
In two weeks
Two weeks is a good amount of time to start to get to know Thailand, although there’s still a chance you’ll wish you’d stayed longer. Most tours offer an overview of the main highlights: beaches and islands, national parks, elephant sanctuaries and some culture. On lots of tours, you’ll travel in a small group of likeminded travelers, a fantastic way to travel for both singles and families. Many trips combine the highlights of Thailand with those of neighbouring countries such as Cambodia and Vietnam.
If you want an active break, then cycling vacations or a self-drive tuk tuk adventure will keep things out of the ordinary.
Three weeks or more
Most longer vacations combine the highlights of Thailand with that of at least two other countries such as Vietnam and Laos, allowing you to take in heritage sites and hill tribe villages as well as beaches.
More about Thailand
The best time to visit Thailand is between November and February but this is a year-round destination.
Our Thailand travel guide reveals the lesser visited aspects of this hugely popular destination.
Whether you want activity or relaxation, culture or nature, sightseeing or adventure, this page is indispensable.
Things to do in Thailand stretch far beyond sipping cocktails on beaches and hanging out at all night raves.
Our hill tribe trekking tours encourage travelers to interact with villagers, on their level.
Self-drive tuk tuk tours in Thailand are safe, comfortable and culturally enlightening too!
If you’re a first-time visitor, get to know some Thai cultural customs to help you travel with more confidence.
From island-hopping cruises to family tours and idyllic yoga retreats, Thailand’s best beaches are ready and waiting.
Here's our low-down on the best Thailand food experiences to satisfy taste buds and travel bugs alike.
Bangkok can be a magical place as well as absolutely mind-blowing if you’re not prepared for the whirlwind that awaits.
Asian elephants and national parks make Thailand a great wildlife vacation destination.
Across Southeast Asia, Thailand has to be the best country for families - expect to catch that infectious smile.
Tips on getting away from it all to choosing a guided tour, visiting ancient cities and how to travel safely in Thailand.
We take a deeper look at subjects from islands to elephants and orphanages to help you travel better.