Thailand sits in Southeast Asia surrounded by Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar and is one of the top ten most popular destinations for international tourists worldwide. In fact, the capital Bangkok has recently crowned the most-visited city on the planet for the fourth consecutive year. So, what makes Thailand so special exactly?
From sprawling metropolis cities with a mix of modern skyscrapers and ancient temples to old-world communities in the rural countryside and tropical beaches with luxurious hotels – Thailand’s starkly contrasting settings make it a magical and mesmerizing place to visit. It’s an eye-opening destination that satisfies every sort of traveler. The best bit? You can enjoy the Far East experience while feeling totally at home, thanks to some of the friendliest locals in the world.
With so much to see, do and explore, it’s no wonder Thailand has proven such a popular place for travellers over the past 20 years. Here, we’ll give you not one, but nine reasons as to why Thailand is called The Land of Smiles. So, jump in the tuk-tuk, and let’s get going.
1. A low cost of living
First thing’s first, if you’ve ever fancied a trip to Thailand but looked up the price of flights and found them too pricey, then listen up. Your flight will be by far the most expensive thing you buy. Once you touch down, you’re going to find that it’s cheaper than 60% of countries in the world, and 50% of places in Asia. Thai people really love their royalty (yet another thing we love about this place!) – and you’ll be able to live like a King or Queen throughout your stay, without breaking the bank.
Pulling together handy information from Price of Travel, here you can see what to expect cost-wise from three of the most popular places to visit in Thailand. With these in mind, we’re predicting that you can get a night’s stay in a mid-range hotel, enjoy breakfast, lunch and dinner, with a beer before bed at any of these places – for as cheap as $20-30. Now that’s what we call a score.
2. Stunning temples
The stunning temples of Thailand are a must see on your travels, and you won’t be short of opportunities. With most Thais practicing Buddhism, there are over 40,000 temples (called ‘Wats’) in the country, with the Office for National Buddhism suggesting more than 30,000 are in active use.
From grand rooftops, to soaring spires and ornate decorations featuring statues, murals and gold, the architectural significance of each temple is truly a sight to behold, and serves as a true and authentic way to gain an understanding of Thai culture. There are a few rules to remember in order to be respectful as you walk around these spiritual settings. You’ll have to cover your shoulders, knees and ankles for starters, but it may be worth reading up on all the do’s and don’ts before you go.
If you’re in Bangkok, you’ll want to go and see one of the most famous temples of all. Set in the grounds of the Grand Palace, the Wat Phra Kaew temple is seen as the most sacred of all. Its complex has more than 100 different buildings and holds the hypnotic Emerald buddha sat in the lotus position. Other temples in Bangkok include Wat Pho (covering a staggering 80,000 square meters and the famous gold-plated Buddha), as well as Wat Arun, featuring an architectural depiction of Mount Meru (the center of the world in Buddhist cosmology).
One other temple that demands a mention is Wat Rung Khun in Chiang Rai. Okay, we confess, it’s not strictly a temple – it’s a pristine white, privately owned art exhibition in the style of a Buddhist temple, but it’ll take your breath away regardless. It features many murals with fascinating contrasts between traditional Buddhist imagery and pop culture.
3. The Thai food
You might think you’ve tried Thai food before, but it takes on a whole new meaning in Thailand. A culmination of the country’s culture and location, Thai food takes influences from the likes of China, Japan and neighboring Laos for a fusion of Asian flavors. It is however those fresh, fragrant ingredients infused with aromatic blends that form the backbone of Thai cuisine and make it so memorable, including citrus, fish sauce, peanuts, chilies and herbs. From rice and noodle dishes to soups and meat skewers – it’s likely you’ll never run out of dishes to try. Some of the most popular dishes in Thai food culture include tom yam soup, stir-fried pad Thai paired with chicken, prawns and pork, as well as delicious massaman curries complete with creamy coconut sauce.
One of the best things about Thailand is that some of the most local and authentic-tasting dishes can be bought for a few Baht wherever you go. Street stalls are a huge part of Thai culture, and you can get anything you fancy from regional delicacies like scorpion in Bangkok, to those staple dishes of meat, rice and veggies. As well as this, markets are a must. From day markets to floating markets (where goods are sold from boats) as well as the renowned night markets that bring the streets to life – you’ll find plenty of flavorful food here from small towns to large cities. However, major hubs like Bangkok and Chiang Mai are seen as the epicenter of Thai cuisine, even when it comes to fine dining. In fact, the capital has four restaurants ranked in the top 50 in the world.
4. Warm and welcoming locals
One thing that you’ll notice the second you touchdown in Thailand is that the local people never stop smiling – hence its nickname ‘The Land of Smiles’. While smiling doesn’t always equate to happiness for Thais (in fact, they have 13 ‘types’ of smiles ranging from sadness to happiness!), that doesn’t mean they aren’t some of the friendliest people in the world.
Whether the Thailand locals are serving you at a stall, driving you in a taxi, or drinking with you at a bar, you’ll find that they are a very warm, welcoming and hospitable bunch. They’re known for taking the time to help you when you need it; whether you’re asking how to translate from Thai, or trying to find your way somewhere on your travels. In fact, their motto is something that Westerners will often pick up on: ‘mai pen rai’, which loosely translates to ‘do not worry’. This cheerful attitude among Thailand’s people is something that many consider a memorable part of their trip. It’s not just in the tourist destinations either. Across the whole of the country, this love-to-all attitude shines through and really helps you to feel at home.
5. The Full Moon Party
There are some names that will come up time and time again when discussing where to party in Thailand including Bangkok, Pattaya, Phuket, Chiang Mai and Koh Samui. It’s true, there are lots of places to knock back buckets, but today we’re focusing on the biggest attraction: the famous Full Moon Party, of course.
There is plenty to do in Koh Pha-ngan (one of the most iconic islands in the Gulf of Thailand), but The Full Moon is one of the biggest blowouts for any party animal’s bucket list. What starts off every month as Chang beers by the beach at the side bars of Hat Rin, soon turns into a raucous affair with up to 30,000 other people head-to-toe in neon-paint and tribal getups. Every bar has its own style of music, so there will be something for every type of reveler – from reggae vibes, to EDM and house. Get ready for an all-night party full of dancing, boozing and… do we really need to go on?
Ultimately, this guide is all about the great things that Thailand has to offer, but we’d urge you to read up on staying safe in Koh Pha-ngan at the Full Moon party for advice on the drink, drugs and theft culture.
6. Wild landscapes
We may have touched on this earlier, but one of the things that makes Thailand so truly special is that it has some of the most diverse scenery in all of Southeast Asia, and the world for that matter. Most tourists will start their trip in the bustling streets of the ultra-modern capital, before making their way towards the more natural landscapes that Thailand has to offer. Whether you want to climb towering mountains, trek through the jungle, bask under breath-taking waterfalls, walk around the remote villages and their luscious rice paddies, or lounge on the golden sands of some of the most glorious beaches, the choice is yours.
For those that want to be in the action, Bangkok is said to be the busiest, most populous city in the entire world. Its tall, sleek buildings make for a striking skyline, and the Khao San Road is buzzing with atmosphere. Chiang Mai on the other hand, is often considered ‘the northern capital’, but close by you’ll find the likes of Pai – a small town set with rice paddy fields, a rambling river, as well as hot springs, waterfalls and tribe-type villages on the outskirts. Finally, you’ll want to visit the palm tree-lined beaches of islands like Koh Tao, Koh Samui, Koh Pha-ngan and Phuket (more on them, coming right up!).
7. The Islands
When most people think of Thailand, they tend to think of its white sand covered beaches, with palm trees swaying in the breeze and the crystal blue sea lapping at its shores. From reveler-packed islands that put a whole new perspective on partying to remote getaways for romance, there is something for all sun searchers and beach seekers. Some of the most popular choices for action-filled days are Phuket, the Phi Phi Islands and Koh Samui (complete with celebrity chefs and six-star resorts, no less). For those looking for that traditional experience however, something like Koh Yao and Koh Lanta are legit for those truly laidback vibes.
Yet another treasure of Thailand is its marine life. There is a spectrum of rainbow colors dancing beneath the waters and waiting to be discovered, and the islands are where it’s at. In fact, if you want to take a deep dive, the island of Koh Tao’s scuba diving experiences are second to none. Also known as ‘Turtle Island’, this place is dotted with sandy coves, dainty restaurants, dive shops and endless charm. It offers discovery dives for newbies, four-day courses for those looking for certifications, and many daring dives for experts. For a water-surrounded paradise with all the snorkeling and scuba fun, you’ll find all you need for contentment here.
8. The shopping experiences
Many may not know that Thailand is somewhere you can shop till you drop. Whether you want to browse the day markets, floating markets, night markets or treat yourself at its high-quality shopping malls and departments, there are plenty of places to get some bang for your Baht. Markets, however, are what Thailand does best. Even if spending isn’t on the agenda, simply walk through them for a frenzied, but exhilarating Thai experience. From cheap clothing to Thai silk, jewelry, carvings, ceramics and even Thai spa products such as essential oils, soaps and body scrubs, you’ll find all sorts at many of the best markets throughout Thailand.
If you’re in the capital, Chatuchak is one of the biggest and best weekend markets. As one of the most extensive in the whole of Asia covering around 35-acres, get ready to barter. Others in Bangkok include Rot Fai Market and Neon Night Market. Alternatively, head to the northern capital, where you’ll never be short of night bazaars scattered throughout Chiang Mai. Other places with lively markets to make your way through are Hua Hin District (including Cicada Market and the Hua Hin Night Market), Krabi Town, Phuket and Koh Samui.
9. The wildlife
Thanks to Thailand’s vast and vibrant array of ecological zones, it’s a haven for every type of wildlife you could hope for. In fact, it’s said to be home to more than 10% of the world’s wildlife, with more than 285 mammal species – from elephants to tigers, bears, binturong, pangolin and more – as well as 1,076 bird species (100 of which are extremely rare!). Of course, for those that like the creepier creatures, you can find more about Thailand’s spiders and snakes, too.
By now you know that Thailand is the ideal place to see exotic species, but we must ask: please be careful. The temptations for tourist trips to elephant sanctuaries, tiger kingdoms and the likes are sadly all around, but many are a masquerade for animals that are being abused. Much of this tourism has thankfully been exposed over the years, but we’d urge you to always look beyond the promotional materials and make sure you’ve done your research beforehand. If it doesn’t feel natural (get the ins and outs on the ethics of elephant riding here, which certainly isn’t), then you should steer well clear.
Instead, you can make use of many of Thailand’s staggering 127 national parks, which are a wonderful way to see these phenomenal creatures in their natural habitats without causing any distress. One of the most popular places to do this is Khao Yai National Park, which is just a three-hour trip from the capital of Bangkok. Here you’ll find 2,169 square kilometers of lush landscape including rainforests, grasslands and mountains, as well as many animals to set your sights on from sambar deer to southern pig-tailed macaque. Another choice is Khao Sok National Park in Southern Thailand, which is one of the oldest evergreen rainforests in the world, and where you can spot the likes of Asian black bears, leopards and monkeys.
Basically, Thailand is a truly captivating place full of fascinating people. It offers buzzing cities that collide with exotic nature, as well as some of the most enthralling temples you could ever wish to see. There are endless reasons why a trip to The Land of Smiles is worth it, but if you’re in need of the slightest bit more swaying, we have plenty more tales to tell about Thailand to help you make up your mind!