There is the idyllic image of Thailand people have. Perhaps you know the one I am talking about? The long tail boats seemingly levitating above crystal clear water and a bed of white sand, surrounded by lush, tree-covered islands jutting, stabbing out of the water and reaching up towards the blue sky above.
But, that is just one image of Thailand. One idea that travelers visiting the Land of Smiles can expect. So, gorgeous landscapes and dreamy vistas aside, there is still so much more to this Southeast Asian country.
For many, a trip to Thailand isn’t just dropping the bags at one spot, it is a journey from the beaches of the south to the bustling metropolis of Bangkok and up, through the rugged jungle landscape to the north where retreats and a chill vibe await.
So, aside from the beaches, where should you head on your Thailand vacation?
1. Diving in the Similan Islands National Park
While most crowds opt for the well-known Phuket, this cluster of islands on the Andaman Sea is the perfect spot for exploring the untouched nature. This archipelago, made up of a handful of islands, is known for its many dive sites. Here, divers can explore coral reefs, underwater granite boulders, and vast marine life, including whale sharks.
2. Rock climbing in Railay
Located near Krabi and Ao Nang on the Andaman Sea, Railay has become the spot for rock climbing, thanks to its enormous limestone cliffs. Climbing options here range from beginner to advanced and there are plenty of outfitters to help navigate those magnificent cliffs.
3. Khao Yai National Park
From waterfalls to wild elephants and everything in between, this national park is one of the country’s most famous with good reason. Located in the western portion of the Sankamphaeng Mountain Range, is spans around 300 km and packs in evergreen forests and grasslands, as well as more than 3,000 types of plans, 300-plus species of birds, 66 species of animals (including elephants, Asian black bears, gibbons and more) and even offers truck safaris to explore when dusk falls.
A couple of hours away from Bangkok via train lays the province of Khanchanaburi and its capitol of the same name. The historic city is home to the Bridge over the River Kwai, which was the start of the WWII Death Railway to Myanmar (formerly Burma). There are some significant museums here as well, plus gorgeous scenery and a chill vibe for those looking to hang for a bit, complete with waterfalls and parks.
5. Sukhumvit Soi 11, Bangkok
Bangkok isn’t one of the world’s hottest destinations for no reason. This hot city offers easy transit, fabulous neighborhoods without losing its Thai culture. A favorite spot is the trendy Sukhumvit Soi 11. One of the darling sois of the area, Soi 11 has everything from the happening clubs to the posh dinner options, plus cocktail vans offering cheap buckets of booze and street food.
6. Sky Bar, Bangkok
“Hangover 2” made it famous, but Sky Bar at Lebula wowed visitors before the film ever existed. The highest bar in the city, perched at 63 floors, features a sweeping staircase topped with a gold dome and a hip and classy selection of cocktails … all with one killer view.
The historic Sukothai is a UNESCO site and one of those places that easily whisks people back in time, to the Kingdom of Siam when it was the first capital in the 13th and 14th centuries. Marvel at the remnants of the country’s past and take the time to learn more about Thailand’s history.
8. Doi Suthep
The mountain to the west of town in Chiang Mai is perhaps one of the most well known, thanks in large part to the Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, a magnificent temple which sits a top on of the mountain’s peaks. This Buddhist place of worship’s history traces back to the late 1300s. Visitors can trek from the base of the mountain up to the top, or hire a car or bike. The temple is open to visitors and even offers meditation retreats. Bonus points: the spectacular views of Chiang Mai below.
9. Elephant Nature Park
Aside from the beaches, elephants are perhaps the second most synonymous word to relate to the country. Unfortunately, not all elephant attractions are created equally, and the entire SE Asia region has a lot to improve on in regards to the treatment of these revered animals. However, Elephant Nature Park, located 60 km outside of Chiang Mai, is not like the others. Run by a renowned elephant rights activist, Sangduen “Lek” Chailert, ENP offers visitors and volunteers a chance to get up-close to the elephants without exploiting them. Unlike other elephant attractions, there are no rides or shows here, and the elephant caretakers, mahouts, are not permitted to use bull hooks or any other instruments of pain to control the animals. The park is home to around 40 elephants rescued from trekking, street begging, illegal logging and more. Visitors can feed and bathe the elephants and observe them roam free on the park’s 250 acres.
The gem of the mountains, this village has become a getaway for the backpackers where reggae and chilling out in the jungle mountains is the perfect unwind. A small town with an international vibe, people come here to relax, hike and rent motorbikes to explore the beauty of the region. A few hours drive from Chiang Mai, the journey weaves through more than 700 turns, so those prone to car sickness (and even those who aren’t) should be sure to bring medication.