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Essential Thailand

Visit the Must-See Spots

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If this is your first Thailand travel experience, there are some iconic cities, sites and destinations located throughout the country that are simply a must-see for first-time travel to Thailand, which include Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Chiang Saen, Chiang Rai and the incredible beaches of the south. If this is your second trip to Thailand or you prefer to get off the beaten path, explore our Extended Thailand page.

BANGKOK

Temples & Canals

The Grand Palace and its glittering Temple of the Emerald Buddha is the heart of the modern-day Thai kingdom and an overwhelming experience for visitors.

Travel Bangkok by river, visiting the Temple of Dawn and the enormous reclining Buddha at Wat Po, past the modern metropolis and into small canals that reveal another age and way of life. Stop at a small wooden school and a rural monastery.

City Markets & Chinatown

Bangkok houses the ultimate oriental bazaar, offering delicate orchids, seasonings, and spices; rare Buddhist amulets and pigeon's-blood rubies; mangoes and durians piled high in baskets; chicken feet and flopping fish. Chinatown's narrow alleys are lined with a mind-boggling array of wares and interesting temples, including one with a solid gold Buddha weighing in at 5.5 tons.

Cooking Class

For a unique Thailand travel experience, learn the secrets of great Thai cooking from a professional chef at one of our two favorite places: the Blue Elephant Cooking School or the Thai House Cooking School. Try tom yam kung and gaeng kiow wan, pad thai and som tam. Lessons include visits to local markets to buy the freshest ingredients. Half-day or full-day classes are available.

Teakwood Mansions

Not only stylish, teak is one of the most sought after types of wood for withstanding extreme heat related elements and is resistant to termites. Teak homes and mansions are a sought after commodity in Thailand. Here are several of our favorite Teakwood Mansions in the greater Bangkok area:

Vimarnmek Palace

Explore the world's largest teakwood structure. There is an excellent exhibit on the monarchy and more specifically the King inside the complex as well.

Prasart Museum

This private museum has an exceptional array of antiques and crafts from across Asia. It is set in lovely grounds dotted with rare trees and shrubs, several crumbling shrines and lotus ponds, making for a tranquil, reflective stop on your tour of Thailand. (Visits by appointment only. Please allow one-hour transfer to/from museum.)

Jim Thompson House

Visit the former residence of the American silk entrepreneur, Jim Thompson, who deserves most of the credit for the current popularity of Thai silk. As a tireless promoter of traditional Thai arts and culture, Jim Thompson collected teak homes from central Thailand and had them reassembled on a small lot on the backwaters of Bangkok.

Suan Pakkard Palace

For the art aficionado on vacation in Thailand, explore this former royal palace that now houses a wonderful collection of Thai and Khmer art. Of special interest is the Ban Chiang pottery, from a Bronze Age civilization discovered 20 years ago in northeastern Thailand.

Bangkok Day Tours

Tour Bangkok and see what else this bustling city has to offer. For example visit a tailor and have custom clothes made at a fraction of the cost at home. Or travel to the floating market of Damneon Saduak. Take a bicycle tour out into the countryside to see a peaceful side of Bangkok far from the frenetic pace of the main city. Try a traditional massage.

Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai, a 700-year-old city and Northern Thailand's cultural capital, offers a delightful contrast to bustling, sweltering, manic Bangkok. The climate is cooler than Bangkok's, the pace is gentle, and the people are gracious and hospitable.

There are numerous stately temples, finely-wrought handicrafts and silks, and a night bazaar full of delights. Opportunities to explore the area by bicycle are available no matter the ability level of the biker.

Chiang Rai / Chiang Saen

Visit Chiang Rai, home to the notorious Golden Triangle, a spectacular area near the borders of Thailand, Laos and Burma. Experience beautiful botanical gardens, lush green surroundings, and a simpler and slower way of life. Nearby is the historic old city of Chiang Saen, with its ancient walls, interesting museum and a number of temples. View the mighty Mekong River from Wat Chom Kitti and peer far into bucolic Laos.

Beaches

A trip to Thailand is not complete without a stay at one of Southern Thailand's famed beaches.

Phuket

The largest island in Thailand, Phuket is a place only nature could create, with forests of towering coconut palms, miles of pure white beach, and a sparkling sea rich with underwater activity.

Called "The Pearl of the Andaman Sea," travel Phuket and you'll discover that this extraordinarily beautiful island is indeed a precious gem. Optimum time to visit Phuket is November - May, as it is slightly rainier during the monsoon months between June - October.

Krabi

A gentle sea and sky, glistening white-sand beaches, and quiet bays surrounded by towering, jungle-covered karst formations with simple or luxurious accommodations. From here enjoy Thailand activities such as sea canoeing, rainforest walks, snorkeling, hikes, tours to rubber plantations and cave monasteries-and when you've worked up and appetite, treat yourself to some of the abundant, mouthwatering seafood the area is known for. The rain patterns in Krabi are similar to those in Phuket.

Ko Phi Phi

A slice of heaven, the smaller of the two Phi Phi Islands was the setting for the film The Beach.