Asia’s most popular tourist destination, Thailand offers an eclectic blend of modern cities, ancient shrines, national parks brimming with wildlife, and gorgeous tropical beaches. Here are the top five destinations on the country’s mainland that you won’t want to miss.
Note, when visiting religious sites you should dress accordingly (covered shoulders and knees) and you’ll usually need to remove your shoes when entering temples.
Thailand’s capital is a sprawling cacophony of bustling street markets and gridlocked traffic, where ancient Buddhist temples rub shoulders with sleek high rise and contemporary shopping malls. Discover beautiful intricate mosaics at majestic Wat Arun temple on the banks of the Chao Phraya River. At Wat Pho encounter the mammoth 150 foot statue of the reclining Buddha, one of 395 icons of Buddha onsite. The complex houses the national headquarters and school for Thai medicine and massage, where you can enjoy a Thai massage in one of its pavilions – you’ll need to book in advance.
Don’t miss the gilded statues and ornate pagodas of the stunning 18th century Grand Palace (join a guided tour and visit first thing to avoid the busiest times). For a bird’s eye view of Bangkok head for the Skywalk, a glass floored viewing platform located on the 78th floor of the King Power Mahanakhon skyscraper. Enjoy panoramic vistas a giddying 1030 feet above the metropolis.
Located in northern hill country and fringed by jungle, Thailand’s second largest city is an attractive cultural hub, renowned for its religious shrines. Smaller, cleaner and less frenetic than bustling Bangkok, Chiang Mai is a joy to explore. Hop on a songthaew (rustic jump-on/jump-off trucks with benches for seating), or tuk-tuk, or wander around the old town on foot.
You’ll find over 300 temples or ‘wats’ in the old city and outskirts. Don’t miss the magnificent Doi Suthep temple complex, set on a mountain top on the city’s outskirts. A visit to Chiang Mai’s renowned night bazaar is an absolute must. You’ll find acres of stalls selling inexpensive street fashion, jewellery and handcrafts, plus a medley of food traders. The city is also a key base for trekking excursions into the surrounding hills.
Khao Sok National Park
A dramatic, untouched landscape of bamboo groves and ancient rainforest, this remote terrain in southern Thailand hosts a wonderful diversity of plant and animal life. Take a canoe excursion through mangrove swamps, past towering limestone cliffs, waterfalls and dense jungle. Keep an eye out for gibbons, bears, tapirs, elephants and the rare tigers that still populate this part of the country. Elephant Hills is an eco-friendly jungle camp which provides sanctuary for elephants previously exploited in the logging industry.
Thailand’s historic former capital, the ruined city of Ayutthaya lies two hours from Bangkok by train or car, and makes a fascinating excursion from the capital. Encircled by three rivers, the historic site features acres of atmospheric ruins which date back to the 14th century. Hire a cycle or jump in a tuk-tuk to explore the impressive temples and statues of this once thriving city, now a UNESCO world heritage site. Don’t miss the iconic Buddha head enveloped in tree roots at Wat Mahathat, and the beautiful stupas of Wat Phra Si Sanphet.
On Thailand’s south west coastline you’ll discover stunning Krabi province, an idyllic 75 mile stretch of white sands edged by jutting limestone cliffs, known as karsts. Climbing enthusiasts make a beeline for Railay Beach, a craggy peninsula accessed by boat and Thailand’s number one rock climbing destination. A series of rugged cliff walls offer a vertical playground and a range of climbs suitable for novices to advanced. The surrounding views are absolutely glorious, and you can take your pick of four enchanting beaches to chill out on.
Krabi Town is a popular traveller hub, offering abundant restaurants and gift shops. Just outside town lies Wat Tham Suea, a Buddhist temple complex set on a clifftop. A steep ascend of 1260 steps up the hillside brings you to the dramatic site of gilded Buddhist statues and temples, with wonderful views across the Andaman Sea.
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This article originally appeared on TravelOffPath.com