Top 5 bucket-list spots in Thailand

Thailand’s best weather is between November and February, making these months a good time to travel. The Christmas holidays are a very popular time for package tourists, so be wary of this if you want to avoid crowds. March to May brings hot and dry weather, whereas the monsoon season from June to July sees the country drenched in rain, dyeing the landscapes an alluring green. The rainy season is an enjoyable time to travel if you want to avoid tourists.

  1. The Grand Palace, Bangkok

The Grand Palace and the breathtaking series of buildings surrounding it is now over 200 years old, and remains perhaps the most famous, recognisable destination in Bangkok. 

Yes, it can feel like a tourist trap at times, but the complex’s vast history and gold-dripping grandeur is palpable: since 1782, it has been the official residence of the Kings of Siam (and later Thailand).

While you’re exploring the Grand Palace, don’t miss the Emerald Buddha and nearby Wat Pho, which is home to the largest reclining Buddha in Thailand. Another must see is Wat Arun, the Temple of Dawn, which is stunning from a distance and intriguing close up, with its mosaic detailing, as you climb to the top.

Sunset is a particularly attractive, if busy, time to admire the palace. As the sky darkens, the Grand Palace is illuminated, and although you’ll likely still encounter the crowds even into the night, it’s a very romantic experience.

2. Erawen Falls

Splashing in emerald-green pools under Erawan Falls is the highlight of Erawen National park. Seven tiers of waterfall tumble through the forest, and bathing beneath these crystalline cascades is equally popular with locals and visitors. Reaching the first three tiers is easy; beyond here, walking shoes and some endurance are needed to complete the steep 2km hike but it’s undoubtedly worth it.

Bring a swimming costume (and a cover-up T-shirt if you don’t want to be gawked at by more modest Thai visitors), but be aware you’re sharing the bathing area with large, nibbling fish, and monkeys have been known to snatch swimmers’ belongings. Level four has a natural rock slide and level six usually has the fewest swimmers. If you hit the trail early you can briefly have the place mostly to yourself. You can’t take food beyond level two and though bottles of water are permitted, to prevent littering, you have to register them and leave a 20B returnable deposit. Buggies (adult/child 30/15B) can transport people to the first level.

The park was named for Erawan, the three-headed elephant of Hindu mythology, whom the top tier is thought to resemble. Mixed deciduous forest covers over 80% of the park, but there’s also dry evergreen and dry dipterocarp forest and big swathes of bamboo. Tigers, elephants, sambar deer, gibbons, red giant flying squirrels, king cobras and hornbills call the park home, but they don’t frequent the waterfall area and the only large animal you might spot other than monkeys is wild boar.

Erawan is 65km north of Kanchanaburi. Buses (50B, 1½ hours) run hourly from 8am to 5.50pm and go right to the visitor centre, which is staffed 24 hours. The last bus back to town is at 5pm, and on weekends it will be packed. Touts at the bus station will try to talk you into hiring a private driver instead of taking the bus, but this isn’t necessary.

3. Doi Suthep Temple

Wat Phra That Doi Suthep is a major tourist destination of Chiang Mai, Thailand.

More than 300 steps — lined with mythical serpents known as naga — lead up to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep from the car park. However, if you don’t feel like tackling the climb, there’s also a funicular cable car to take you up.

Once you’ve entered the temple complex, you’ll come to a terrace. Wat Phra That Doi Suthep is about 1000 metres above sea level, and you can take in sweeping views out over the forested hills, and down to Chiang Mai and the surrounding plain. 

Wat Phra That Doi Suthep is one of Thailand’s most sacred pilgrimage sites, and you’ll probably see pilgrims making offerings of lotus petals at the temple’s many shrines, which contain statues of the Buddha in a variety of poses. Look out too for murals depicting scenes from the Buddha’s life and travels, as well as intricate wood carvings, a model of the Emerald Buddha, the wihan (an assembly hall for monks), plus a few Hindu symbols, including a statue of the god Ganesh. There are also prayer bells you can ring for good luck.

Within the grounds you’ll also find the Doi Suthep Vipassana Meditation Center. If you’re interested in learning meditation practices, this retreat offers a range of courses, lasting from a few days to a few weeks.

If you need refreshments or souvenirs, there are many shops, stalls, and cafés around the car park area.

4. Ang Thong National Marine Park

The Ang Thong National Marine Park is a pristine archipelago of 42 islands in the Gulf of Thailand. It features towering limestone mountains, thick jungle, white-sand beaches, waterfalls and hidden coves and lakes to explore. The protected area of more than 100 sq km of land and sea has a rich biodiversity. Snorkelling, hiking, sea kayaking, diving, and simply relaxing are the main activities to enjoy at Ang Thong.

Most visitors arrive on a join-in day trip and by boat charter from Koh Samui or Koh Phangan. Simple bungalows and camping tents are available on Koh Wua Ta Lap for those who wish to stay overnight. The park headquarters hosts a simple restaurant. Even with its increasing popularity, the islands have maintained their picture-postcard appeal.

5. White Temple in Chiang Rai

This temple is one of the most recognisable in Thailand (especially on Instagram!) and has contributed to increased visitor numbers to the Chiang Rai region in recent years.

The original Wat Rong Khun had fallen into disrepair and the newer incarnation is the vision of renowned, local artist Chalermchai Kositpipat who funded the initial work himself. There is a fantastic museum of his work next to the temple, which includes one of his first illustrations completed when he was just fourteen years of age (free entry).

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