Thailand has so many unique destinations that it could take you years to see them all. From its hundreds of islands, to its metropolitan capital city, Thailand caters to all types of travelers and budgets. On our recent trip to Thailand we spent four weeks exploring national parks, ancient ruins, pristine islands, and modern cities. Here is our list of the top 15 places we think you should not skip out on your next Thai adventure.
Ayutthaya Historical Park
Ayutthaya is a fascinating historical park and UNESCO World Heritage Site. At just a one-hour drive from Bangkok, it makes for an easy and refreshing day trip out of the city. Ayutthaya was the second capital of Siam (Thailand) for 417 years from 1350 to 1767 until its destruction by the Burmese. In their attack, Burmese forces burned the city to the ground and destroyed sacred shrines, chedis, and Buddha statues. The structures that managed to survive the fire were buried beneath the ground for hundreds of years.
Nowadays, much of Ayutthaya has been unearthed and its ruins form an archaeological park. Visitors can walk around the ruins with relative freedom to see magnificent temples, palaces, and Buddha statues. The park is home to several striking buildings. Among them are Wat Phra Ram Temple, Wat Chaiwatthanaram monastery, and Wat Phra Si Sanphet. Once you’ve finished touring the grounds, don’t miss the overgrown Buddha head behind Mahathat Temple. This unique relic has become a major tourist attraction and the iconic image of Ayutthaya.
Bangkok’s Grand Palace
After the destruction of Ayutthaya, the capital of Siam was established along the Chao Praya River in Bangkok. The Grand Palace complex was built for the new capital; a 218,000-square-meter walled city comprised of royal residences, throne halls, government offices, Buddhist temples, and priceless works of art. Visitors should reserve a minimum of three hours to explore the site. Several striking buildings emerge as one walks around the vast complex. The upper terrace (pictured above) features a large golden chedi, a miniature version of Ankor Wat, and the Royal Pantheon that contains statues of past rulers of the Chakri dynasty.
Among the Grand Palace’s other buildings is the exquisite Royal Monastery of the Emerald Buddha. As with all Buddhist places of worship, proper dress is required and the Grand Palace is the most strictly enforced site in the country. Ladies should cover their shoulders, men must also wear shirts with sleeves, and no short skirts, shorts, or tight pants are permitted. Admission is 400 THB per person. The Grand Palace in Bangkok is one of the must-do things to do in Thailand.
Damnoen Saduak Floating Market
Thailand’s markets are exciting, lively and a significant part of the local culture. Experiencing the flurry and sensations of a floating market from a long-tail boat is a memorable way to spend a morning. The Damnoen Saduak Floating Market is about an hour and a half drive from Bangkok. Although it has become quite the tourist attraction, it is a completely functional marketplace with food, souvenirs, clothing, and fresh produce. If you don’t want to visit with a group, your hotel can help hire you a private driver/ taxi to take you both ways (approximately $60 USD but prices can vary). Plan to depart at 6 or 6:30 a.m. and eat breakfast at the market. Vendors sell noodle bowls, coconut pancakes, spring rolls, fresh fruit, and stir fried dishes, which you can eat on the boat as you see the market.
This particular market fills up quickly with tourists by mid-morning, so it is important to arrive early to avoid the boat traffic. The price for a one-hour long boat tour will run you another $60 USD. The tour usually includes several stops at souvenir stalls and a coconut processing plant. If you are not interested in any of these (truthfully, I did not enjoy them) and wish to just go to the market, tell the agent at the dock and work out an arrangement. The boat captains generally don’t speak English. Don’t forget your camera and bring cash for your purchases.
Chiang Mai Sunday Night Walking Street
Chiang Mai is known as the “Rose of the North.” Expats from all over the world are seduced by Chiang Mai’s laid back culture, beautiful Buddhist temples, plentiful restaurants, and spirited nightlife. Even if you don’t plan on moving here, you should definitely check out Chiang Mai’s bustling shopping culture. Every evening, the city hosts its night bazaar – a favorite among bargain shoppers. You can browse the clothing, street food stalls, DVDs, jewelry, Thai silk, accessories, and shoes along Chang Khlan Road, east of the old side of the walled city. The scene is pretty much the same every night, with locals and tourists turning up for some delicious street food and people watching. But the best night of shopping in Chiang Mai is the Sunday Night Market, or “Walking Street.”
This market is the largest one of the week, and stretches one kilometer down Ratchadamnoen Road. Unlike the regular nightly bazaar, the Sunday market has more arts and crafts for sale. Thais from neighboring villages come to sell their handmade items. Lanterns, wooden boxes, masks, paintings, and string lights are just some of the things you will see. The Sunday Market also brings local musicians and street performers. Chiang Mai’s Sunday Night Walking Street last from 4 p.m. to midnight. Remember to bring cash and don’t be afraid to negotiate with the vendors.