If thoughts of burying your feet in virgin-white sands while basking in the sun and going for late-afternoon swims in turquoise-colored lagoons make your heart beat faster, you've probably been toying with the idea of going to Thailand.
The Southeast Asian country is one of the top sunny destinations in the world, and it's soaring in popularity this winter.
This winter, Thailand is super trendy to visit, as the rainy season will have ended and humidity levels will be lower, but where exactly should you head to experience not only the tropical beaches but also immerse yourself in the local culture?
Here are our top 7 picks for the winter season:
No comprehensive itinerary for Thailand would be complete without Bangkok.
A bustling capital home to over 10 million people, it may feel overwhelming at first, what with its endless sea of skyscrapers and complex and crazy traffic, but as soon as you learn how to navigate the metro system, and find your way around the vibrant street markets, you will realize it is one of the most exciting city breaks in Asia.
Other than being a financial center, it is where some of Thailand's most historically significant temples can be found, including Wat Arun, easily recognized for its pyramidal stupa, and Wat Pho, home of the golden reclining Buddha.
If it's a taste of Bangkok's riotous nightlife you're after, the city truly comes alive when night falls, as bar districts like Khaosan Road, Sukhumvit Soi 11, and Silom Road get jam-packed with locals and tourists alike, looking to socialize and have a good time.
Located in central Thailand, only an hour and a half from Bangkok, Ayutthaya is one of your best bets for experiencing Thai culture in a small, traditional province.
@proudlynomadic Make a day trip out of this ancient city #bangkok #thailand #thailand🇹🇭 #ayutthaya #ruins #foryou #ruins #fyp #bangkokstory #youtube #gay #temple ♬ Home – Edith Whiskers
The main attraction in the area is the Ayutthaya Historical Park, a conglomerate of historical ruins dating back to the 12th century that once comprised the powerful Kingdom of Ayutthaya, a major polity in medieval Southeast Asia.
Walking around the park, tourists will find well-preserved medieval stupas, richly decorated with headless sculptures and animal forms, and the mystical head of Buddha resting between the curling roots of a Bodhi tree.
The province is also known for its stately monuments, regal palaces, and delightful cuisine: Ayutthaya is the best place in Thailand for trying giant river prawns and Indian-influenced Roti sai mai, a round flatbread native wrapped in cotton candy.
Pattaya is a coastal gem straddling the Eastern Seabord of Thailand, with a population of over 100,000 residents – a sizable percentage of those being expats – that serves both as a cultural center and a rapidly-developing tourism hub.
During the day, it is a destination for exploring pagodas and traditional food markets; it also lays claim to the landmark, the unfinished Sanctuary of Truth.
After sundown, however, it converts into one of Thailand's wildest nightlife scenes.
With a plethora of host and gogo bars, saunas, and entertainment venues to choose from, more adventurous, sociable tourists will likely feel inclined to extend their stay in Pattaya for longer than a weekend.
Phuket's reputation as a party island precedes it: a tropical paradise bounded by crystal-clear waters, where the long stretch of coast is lined with youth hostels and their adjacent beach clubs, it is the country's nightlife hotspot.
Though it mainly attracts young backpackers and partygoers, Phuket has been rising in popularity among culture seekers, as it has the distinction of being one of the very few islands in the Southeast Asian subcontinent to never have been colonized by the Europeans.
The Big Buddha, perched on a hilltop overlooking the expanse of green, is a testament to Phuket's prevalence over foreign powers, though it is juxtaposed with the European-inspired Phuket Town, which owes its architecture to the island's former status as a trading hub.
Phuket can get incredibly busy in the winter months, the equivalent to Thailand's high season, so if you want to beat the crowds while still enjoying the warm, bright-blue seas, perhaps you can add a little side trip to Ko Kut, a lesser-known island in Eastern Thailand, near Cambodia.
@thailandstreettraveler Koh Kood island is perfect for relax! very quiet and calm! Beautiful and natural! #bangkok #thailand #kohkood #kohkut #kohkoodthailand #paradise #island #bangkokthailand #thailandisland #beach #crystalclearwater #paradiseisland #tropical #bluewater #thailandtravel ♬ Paradise – Bazzi
It is mostly mountainous, and its lush vegetation is dotted with majestic waterfalls and natural pools. As it is remote and harder to get to, with tourists often finding themselves undertaking long bus and ferry journeys to reach Ko Kut, it is virtually unspoiled, and one of the most scenic islands in the country.
If going on jungle walks, chilling in a hammock as you gaze at the ocean beyond the trees, going kayaking, and visiting undisturbed fishing villages sound appealing to you, then the arduous journey will be worth it.
A mysterious fishing port only 90 miles from Bangkok, Lopburi initially achieved fame when it was mentioned by Italian explorer Marco Polo in his Travels journals, yet it's been mostly ignored by visitors to Southeast Asia until, well, recently.
With natural world experiences and off-path sites rising in popularity this year, more tourists have now been adding Lopburi and its macaque-run temples to their itinerary, as there is no shortage of ancient sites and wildlife reserves in the ‘Monkey City' to explore.
Piece of advice? Keep a watchful eye on your own belongings, and make sure you hold your phone tightly at all times when walking the temples, as the local simian pickpockets have been known to develop blackmailing skills in their attempt to snatch some food.
The second-largest city in Thailand and the cultural capital of the Northern region of the country, Chiang Mai has a whopping 300 wats (or temples), each unique in their own way and richly decorated, and it's part of a UNESCO-protected zone.
The historical core of Chiang Mai, or its ‘Old Town', is a centuries-old moated citadel boasting a high concentration of quirky cafes and historical landmarks, such as the golden-tinged Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, and the Silver Temple, one of the most beautiful in Thailand.
If you're visiting Chiang Mai between April 13 and 15 next year, you are best advised to pack a raincoat as are likely to get chased down the street by children – and adults – brandishing water guns, as part of the yearly Songkran Water Festival.
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This article originally appeared on TravelOffPath.com
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