The best places to visit in Thailand will show you an ancient Southeast Asian culture, with incredible food and art, filled with warm and friendly people.
Thailand is a kingdom with a storied history. Among Thailand’s thriving economies is tourism.
Visitors come from around the world to immerse themselves in important art, famous spicy cuisine and tropical beaches with soft sands and turquoise seas.
But what are the top places to visit in Thailand and what should you see? In such a vibrant country, it’s easy to get overwhelmed.
That’s why we’ve put together a guide of all the best cities in Thailand and places not to be missed when you visit the Land of Smiles.
Using real travelers’ reviews and editor experiences, we’ve gathered the best cities to visit in Thailand based on attractions, food, hotel options and ease of travel.
Except for Chiang Mai which is easily and cheaply accessible by air, the best way to travel through Thailand is by train.
It may be a little slower to travel by train, but you can see more of the countryside. Train travel is also quite convenient and easily booked through your hotel or hostel.
Table of Contents
Map of Thailand
Thailand is a sprawling country with a mix of islands, rural land and jungle. Check out our map of Thailand to help you get a better understanding of the various regions and cities to visit.
As you can see Thailand is pretty spread out.
Best Places for An Ancient Thailand Experience
Include these top places to visit in Thailand on your itinerary. Almost every square mile of this age-old world will surprise and delight you.
1. Chiang Mai
Undoubtedly one of the best cities in Thailand, Chiang Mai is located in the mountains of northern Thailand.
It’s an old city founded in 1296 when it was the capital of the bygone Lanna Kingdom.
You can still see the moats and walls in the Old City district. There are also tons of Buddhist temples.
You could spend hours exploring the narrow lanes, old buildings, temples and musueums of Chiang Mai’s Old City.
It’s easy to find your way around and a relaxing way to spend a morning or afternoon.
Include a visit to the famous temples of Wat Phra Singh, Wat Chedi Luang and Wat Phan Tao.
Then go to Bo Sang Village, famous in Thailand for colorful, hand-painted umbrellas of all sizes. Buy one or a few for souvenirs.
Two different tribes live in the surrounding mountains. Tourists love the opportunity of a close look into their culture.
On the way to visit them, look through the beautiful, lush forestland for picturesque waterfalls.
An excellent hotel in Chiang Mai is the Phor Liang Meun Terracotta Arts Hotel. Close to the city gates, this four-star hotel has a restaurant and swimming pool.
One of the best cities to visit in Thailand is known for playing an important part in World War II history.
Kanchanaburi was the site of the Death Railway which crosses the River Khwae Yai at the Death Railway Bridge.
It’s commonly known as the Bridge over the River Kwai.
The original bridge was destroyed by bombs in 1945, but a replica stands in its place and attracts visitors from all over the world.
The JEATH War Museum remembers the prisoners of war who died as they were forced to build the bridge.
Hellfire Pass Memorial caused the deaths of 700 British and Australian soldiers during construction. An adjacent museum details the tragedy.
Tourists can learn about Thailand’s fascinating rail history at the Thailand-Burma Railway Centre.
And also visit the graves of Allied soldiers at the Kanchanaburi War Cemetery. Kanchanaburi does have a sobering war history.
But there is more to this West Thailand town. Erawan Waterfall is perhaps the most beautiful in the whole country.
You can find it in Erawan National Park along with limestone caves in an expansive rainforest.
Natee The Riverfront Hotel Kanchanaburi, with a restaurant and pool, is a superb rated hotel not far from the bridge and museum.
See Related: Best Thai Street Food Dishes to Try
This adorable mountain town is one of the most popular cities in Thailand and has a few incredible temples.
Pai is in the Mae Hong Soon Province in northern Thailand. On the banks of the Pai River, it’s surrounded by hot springs, forested mountains and waterfalls.
Visitors can explore the stalls and shops of Pai Walking Street or find a cafe or bar and simply relax.
There are also many things to do outside of town, like river rafting, hiking and mountain climbing.
The town has a laid-back, natural vibe. The Pai Island Resort is an ideal hotel choice to take advantage of the sheer environmental beauty.
4. Chiang Saen
What is the oldest city in Thailand? With a culture as ancient as Thailand’s, it’s only natural visitors want to see its roots.
Found in the Chiang Rai Province, Chiang Saen is a sleepy river town on Thailand’s border with Myanmar and Laos.
It’s easily accessible by bus from Chiang Rai.
Besides remnants of history that started in the seventh century, there are also temples to explore, such as Wat Pa Sak and Wat Phra That Pha Ngao.
Take a walk along the Mekong River. Be sure to try some delicious Thai food from one of the street vendors.
Then grab a table or mat and enjoy the slow pace of Chiang Saen.
One of the best places to visit in Thailand is considered the perfect coastal base for exploring the islands and mountains of Trang Province.
It’s called Trang and it’s surrounded by wild beauty, filled with friendly faces and known for amazing food.
During the day visitors can easily hop to and from the surrounding islands in the adjacent Indian Ocean by hiring a boat.
There are many islands too, all with white sandy beaches and warm waters. Back in Trang, lots of festivals are held throughout the year.
The Hop Inn Trang is a solidly good hotel conveniently located in town with air-conditioning and balconies.
Ratchaburi is a province and one of the top places to visit in Thailand due to its natural beauty and famous Damneon Saduak floating market.
From boats made out of wood, vendors hawk food and souvenirs in the khlongs or canals. The market is a fun touristy thing to do.
Other big draws are the hot springs of Bo Khlong and Khao Chon terraced waterfall.
Visitors from around the world love the caves and mountains of this scenic province.
7. Koh Phangan
This island is one of the best places to visit in Thailand especially if you like a good party,
The all night Full Moon Party is held every month and draws fun-seekers and backpackers to the peninsula of Haad Rin.
The white sandy beaches on the other end of the island, Hat Khuat and Hat Thian are more quiet and secluded for when you need some peace.
Other than the monthly lunar festivities, this tropical paradise has perfect weather and endless natural beauty.
The beauty doesn’t end on the turquoise water’s surface. World-class diving is easy to book here. You can even get certified if you need to.
Bright, beautiful fish and coral are on vivid display under the gentle waves for both divers and snorkelers.
Koh Phangan has an excellent marketplace in the Thong Sala night market. Find excellent seafood and other local cuisine here.
For a few baht, rent a motorbike or scooter for independent exploring. Or, head to the hills for a gorgeous hike.
We suggest going full-on resort here. Treat yourself to the extra amenities and privacy at any of the beautiful retreats like Baan Manali Resort.
8. Mae Hong Son
The province of Mae Hong Son is another of the top places to visit in Thailand because of its scenic mountain ranges and slower pace.
The province sits in northwestern Thailand on the border with Burma. Mostly shrouded in mist, it has an ethereal vibe.
Few tourists make it here, but the ones that do come seeking peace, quiet and wild natural beauty.
The best way to get to this remote paradise is by flying from Chiang Mai. You can also take a mini-bus but any routes through the mountains are arduous.
You should prepare for a little queasiness because of the switchbacks. But once you’ve reached Mae Hong Son, you’ll be enchanted.
The Fern Resort Mae Hong Son is close to the airport with a free shuttle service. This retreat features charming bungalows with air-conditioning and balconies.
9. Koh Chang
One of the best places to visit in Thailand for hiking in unspoiled, rugged beauty is the island of Koh Chang.
Mu Ko Chang National Park has challenging trails with incredible tiered waterfalls. On Koh Chang’s coast, beaches and little towns beckon backpackers.
Lots of wildlife abound and diving and snorkeling the crystal clear waters are popular activities.
Unfortunately, elephant rides are offered, but we don’t recommend them. The animals aren’t usually treated well and you can’t see anything from them anyway.
The only way onto the island is by ferry. Many visitors take the bus, typically from Bangkok or Pattaya, to one of the ferry piers.
For lovely air-conditioned guest accommodations with free wifi and a swimming pool, try Koh Chang Paradise Resort & Spa.
Best Cities in Thailand
The provinces and mountain towns have some of the best places to visit in Thailand, but the cities pack a powerful punch.
Dining, entertainment and culture, these are the best cities in Thailand and you can’t miss them.
Ayutthaya is one of the most popular cities in Thailand because of its history when it served as the capital of the Kingdom of Siam.
The ruins are now a part of the Ayutthaya Historical Park. This archaeological site holds palaces, temples and many statues.
The park sits on an island between three rivers of the Menam, Lopburi and Pasak. You could spend days here learning about the area’s significant history.
The Buddhist temple called Wat Chaiwatthanaram is one of the most visited sites in the park. It’s impressive, beautiful and tells of the Buddhist influence on Thais.
Wat Phra Si Sanphet is the most important temple on the site. It was thoroughly plundered by the Burmese but hundreds of little Buddha statues were spared.
They’re now on display in Bangkok at the National Museum. Many of Ayutthaya’s Buddhas, though, have been scattered around the world.
Visitors can see another famous Buddha at Ayutthaya–a stone head in a tree. After its temple was abandoned, the head ended up in a growing tree.
It’s iconic Thailand but still considered sacred.
The best way to see all of Ayutthaya’s treasures is by renting a bike to travel between the ruins.
It’s recommended to spend at least one night here since there’s so much to see. Baan Luang Harn has a superb rating and offers a swimming pool and garden.
11. Hua Hin
The delightful seaside city of Hua Hin is one of the best places to visit in Thailand and was once a summer residence for the Thai royal family.
Hua Hin is a cosmopolitan resort town with upscale shopping, dining and championship golf. You will find traditional markets too.
This is the ideal retreat for families as it’s laid back with friendly people and easy to get to.
The area was developed largely in the early 1920s when the royal family took an interest in it and had a palace built.
Maruekhathaiyawan Palace is now open to visitors who love to see its Victorian design.
The Hua Hin Train Station is wonderfully Instagrammable because of its unusual Victorian-Thai style. You don’t have to have a ticket to take a souvenir pic.
There are a couple of worthwhile markets too. The Cicada Market is where you can find handmade art.
The Hua Hin Night Market is vibrant and amazing with fresh and cheap seafood for sale alongside other wares.
Visitors also like the Plearn Wan Shopping Village done in a vintage 1960s style. There are shops, cafes and even open-air movies.
For big family fun, plan a day at Black Mountain Water Park. Cool off with water slides, a wave pool, a kids’ pool and a lazy river.
For accommodations, the five-star Hua Hin Marriott Resort and Spa is a full-service hotel with all the modern comforts.
Hua Hin is a cinch to get to. Buses, trains and mini-vans make frequent trips to and from Bangkok.
12. Krabi Town
Krabi Town’s laidback vibe makes it one of the top places to visit in Thailand and a wonderful chance to experience typical Thai life.
Many visitors pass through Krabi Town on their way to other better-known tourist spots.
But for those that stick around, the friends they make and the treasures they see are worth making Krabi Town a true destination.
Breathtaking scenery aside, Krabi Town is home to both natural attractions and city sights.
Tiger Cave Temple is an iconic wonder and made of caves nestled in the jungle. Monks still live and worship in this beautiful area.
If you can handle the climb, there is a hike up to a limestone tower. At the top are incredible views of the Andaman Sea as well as “the Buddha’s footprint.”
Another totally Instagrammable attraction are the peaks of the Khao Khanab Nam Mountains.
Inside them are caves where many human skeletons have been found–likely ancient people who were trapped there by floodwaters.
The Emerald Pond is a popular swimming hole. Found in the Thung Teao Forest Natural Park, the crystal lagoon is perfect for a post-forest trek dip.
The Krabi Hot Springs is another fantastic place for a dip. Natural bathtubs seemed carved out of rock and are filled with thermal spring water.
Natural mineral salts soothe muscles and are said to cure other ailments. At any rate, taking a soak in the rainforest is as relaxing as any bath can get.
Take an evening stroll along the Krabi Riverside to Thara Park to catch cool sea breezes and watch the boat traffic.
Compared to the hustle and bustle of Thailand’s big cities, this small metro area with so much to do and see feels like an oasis.
The Ingnam Pool Villa is a 4-bedroom house with a pool and free parking. It’s centrally located in Krabi Town and great for groups.
13. Koh Tao
The island of Koh Tao is on our best cities in Thailand list because of its exciting restaurants and nightclubs and it offers some of the best diving around.
This is a popular place to visit for international tourists as well as Thais. So, it can become crowded on long weekends.
The main attractions are by far the beaches and diving. The only way to reach the island is by boat.
There are many guesthouses and inns available. Cape Shark Villas, however, is a full-service resort with a private beach and is rated highly.
One of the best cities to visit in Thailand is another quiet, thoughtful place full of history and culture.
Sukothai is a UNESCO World Heritage City with countless important sites and ruins.
From 1238 until 1438, it was the capital of Siam–the very first–and considered the birthplace of Thai culture.
The name means the dawn of happiness and during its kingdom’s reign, it was a place of great prosperity.
Wat Mahathat is the spiritual center and was once considered the center of the universe.
It’s one of the most photographed temples in the city, especially with its sitting Buddha behind collapsed columns.
Consider renting a motorbike if you want to see all the temples and statues in this fascinating historical site.
The park is not far from the city, but hiring a tuk-tuk is the best way to get there.
Sriwilai Sukhothai is a hotel focused on giving guests a local experience. They offer a spa with a pool and all guestrooms have a private balcony.
Lopburi is one of the most popular cities in Thailand due to its famous Macaque monkey population which is thought to bring good luck.
Yes, the wild monkeys are mischievous, but they’re also kind of cute. Bring a sense of humor and don’t look as if you have anything good to eat with you.
Lopburi is also an ancient city with incredible ruins, a palace and Khmer-era temples.
Vendors sell local delicacies like coconut jelly mushrooms alongside souvenirs. The area is quite fascinating and charming.
The best way to get to Lopburi is to take a van, bus or train from Bangkok. The train is slower but way more scenic.
You can easily explore the old city zone where the Khmer temples and ruins (and monkeys!) are on foot.
Phetchaburi should be on any culture seeker’s best places to visit in Thailand list as it’s rich in art and lore.
It offers amazing temples and shrines, interesting markets and classic wooden shopping centers.
One of the city’s highlights is Phra Nakhon Khiri Historical Park, which was once a royal summer residence.
This coastal city is also an ancient one adjacent to Thailand’s largest national park. Kaeng Krachan National Park features a large lake, waterfalls and tons of wildlife.
Surrounding the city, high in the hills, are many caves with fascinating shrines and statues–including seated and reclining Buddha figures–deep inside them.
Nearby, a few uncrowded beaches, each with its own vibe, offer a fun way to spend an afternoon sunbathing or swimming.
One of them, Had Puek Tian beach, does not have swimming, but it does have intriguing statues emerging from the water.
Phetchaburi is an art and culture lovers paradise.
The capital city of Bangkok does make it on our top places to visit in Thailand list. It’s a large modern city but also filled with ancient shrines and temples.
It’s also famous for teeming with Thai life and hospitality. Bustling with tourists and residents, Bangkok offers a feast for the senses.
Tour the golden temples, float through the markets on the canals or shop for anything and everything.
The food in Bangkok is divine as well. Whether from a street stall or a world-class restaurant, you’ll discover flavors found nowhere else on the planet.
The city is also known for its nightlife and anything-goes districts. Everywhere you turn in Bangkok, there’s something new to see.
Make the highly rated Chatrium Hotel Riverside Bangkok your home base in the city. It’s a modern highrise with a pool, spa and several restaurants.