Thailand is one of the destinations we always recommend to student travelers -- it's beautiful, cheap, and sunny, with mountains to climb, beaches to sunbathe on, jungle to trek, and world-class cities to explore.
Things to Know Before You Go
- Language spoken: Thai. Don't worry about not being able to communicate with locals! You'll always be able to find someone who speaks English in any destination that has tourists. Even if you find yourself in the countryside where nobody speaks English, you'll be able to mime in order to find food, accommodation, and transport.
- Currency used: Thai Baht
- Capital city: Bangkok
- Religion: Mostly Buddhism, with some worshipping Islam and Christianity
Here are our recommendations for where to visit in Thailand.
The capital, Bangkok, is probably where you'll start and end your Thailand adventure. It's also somewhere where you'll end up spending quite a bit of time, even if you don't plan on doing so. It's the main transport hub for Thailand and much of Southeast Asia, so most flights, buses, and trains pass through here.
While in Bangkok, aim to spend at least a few nights partying on Khao San Road, a true haven for backpackers. You won't experience anything like authentic Thai culture on this infamous street, but it's a rite of passage for any new backpacker and worth checking out for the people watching opportunities alone.
Bangkok isn't just about partying, however. While you're there, be sure to check out some of the floating markets -- the most popular one is Amphawa and for good reason -- it's a fascinating insight into Thai culture. You'll also want to check out the Grand Palace, Wat Pho, and Wat Arun to get an introduction to Thailand's beautiful temples.
Chiang Mai is a must-see city in Thailand. Our number one tip is the Elephant Nature Park -- a wonderful sanctuary dedicated to rescuing tortured elephants from across Southeast Asia and beyond. You'll be able to spend a day learning about elephants, bathing, and feeding them. You'll also learn why you should never ride elephants, so please don't take one of the elephant treks that are advertised in the city, as these are extremely cruel.
Chiang Mai is full of temples and you won't be able to walk for more than 50 meters without coming across a gleaming wat. While temple fatigue will inevitably soon set in, be sure to explore a few of the temples while you're there -- our favorite is Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, located on the mountain overlooking the city.
Visit Chiang Mai gate (the south gate of the moat) on any evening and search for Mrs. Pa's food cart -- it's the one with the enormous queue. There, you'll be able to buy the best smoothie of your life! Definitely a Chiang Mai highlight.
Chiang Rai makes for a fun weekend getaway from Chiang Mai and hosts two of Thailand's oddest temples.
The White Temple glistens and dazzles from a distance but as you get closer you'll see that the white and silver statues are actually odd depictions of hell. Hands reach up towards you from below as you cross a bridge, demons glare down at you from above. Step inside the temple and you'll find an unconventional mix of traditional Buddhist artwork combined with depictions of 9-11, Neo from the Matrix, and various different Star Wars scenes. The Black Temple is even stranger than the White, with animals skins and skeletons hanging from every wall.
If you like to get your hippie on when you travel, look no further than Pai, just a few hours away from Chiang Mai. It's a beautiful spot, full of laidback backpackers and relaxing guesthouses, all surrounded by some of the prettiest scenery in all of Southeast Asia. Come here if you're looking to get away from the Thai cities and spend your time relaxing in a hammock.
Chiang Dao is another destination that makes for a great weekend away from Chiang Mai. It's a quiet, secluded mountain town with only a few accommodation options. While you're there you can simply relax in a hammock, hike the nearby mountains or explore some of the nearby caves. Chiang Dao is where to head when you're looking to disconnect from the outside world for a few days.
Koh Chang is an island paradise for backpackers. It has an extremely relaxed vibe and is the type of place where you can live in a shack by the ocean for around $3. If you decide to visit Koh Chang, then we can recommend staying on Lonely Beach, where most of the backpackers stay. There, you can sunbathe among palm trees and turquoise waters during the day and dance the night away to Bob Marley tunes at night.
Koh Phi Phi
Koh Phi Phi has a reputation as a party island but it's also one of the most beautiful. Here, you can visit Maya Bay, the stunning island where the movie The Beach was filmed, take boat trips to nearby islands where you'll find far fewer people, and hike to the lookout for a stunning view across the entire island.
Koh Lanta is where you should head to when you need a break from all that partying. It's a chilled out island that's perfectly set up for a week of doing nothing but sunbathing on a beach and swimming in the ocean. While you're there, be sure to check out Koh Lanta National Park.
Koh Yao Noi
Want to see what the Thai islands were like before the backpackers turned up? Head to Koh Yao Noi, which is quiet, secluded, and void of tourists. While you're there, you can take a trip to Phang Nga National Park to check out beautiful Koh Hong, take a kayak out for a paddle to Koh Nok, eat spicy local food, or simply hire a scooter and ride around the island.