Thailand Multi Centre holidays
Thailand is one of Asia’s most popular holiday destinations. Not only does it have beautiful beaches and great food, it also has a long and interesting history and a mountainous north perfect for trekking. Thailand is popular with backpackers for its cheap accommodation and lively nightlife, but there are parts of the country that remain less touched by tourism and offer quieter and more luxurious holidays.
Thailand Beach Holidays
The south of Thailand has hundreds of kilometres of coastline and islands that make it a great destination for beach holidays. In addition to beautiful beaches there is some of the best diving in the world. Whilst some areas have a reputation as party destinations, you can also find quiet beaches and isolated paradise islands.
The Gulf of Thailand sits south of Bangkok and to the east of the peninsula that is the focus for Thai Beach Holidays. At the north of the Gulf is Bangkok with Malaysia to the south. In the middle is the Central Gulf Coast – home to some of the most popular islands including Ko Samui, Ko Tao and Ko Pha Ngan (famous for its full moon party).
Ko Samui is a large island that has lots of beaches and luxury resorts. The island has become very popular for beach holidays and consequently has lively nightlife. However, as it is a large island there are still some less-developed beaches and secluded resorts that mean you can have the best of both worlds.
To the north of Ko Samui is Ko Tao. Ko Tao is much smaller than Ko Samui but has some of the best diving in the Gulf of Thailand. The island has a mixture of backpackers hubs and luxury resorts.
The Andaman Coast is on the other side of the peninsula overlooking the Andaman Sea. This coast has a mixture of relatively undiscovered areas to the north and south, with the popular areas of Phuket and Krabi in the middle.
North Andaman Coast
The main area on the North Andaman coast is Khao Lak. Khao Lak consists of 20km of jungle-backed beaches with lots of luxury resorts along the coast. Khao Lak is much quieter than Phuket and Krabi to the south, and does not have as much nightlife. Villages in the area still follow a traditional Thai way of life.
The sea off the North Andaman Coast has some of the best dive sites in Thailand if you want to do a liveaboard trip. The Suring and Similan islands are both national parks made up lots of small islands to the west of Khao Lak. Whilst there is some basic accommodation on the islands, most people go on a diving trip and sleep on the boats.
In the middle of the Andaman Coast is Phuket – the largest Thai island and the original Thai paradise. The island is now the busiest beach destination in Thailand. The main area on the island is Patong, which is famous (or infamous) for its nightlife. The beaches to the south of Patong also tend to be busy and heavily developed.
Surin – an area to the north of Patong is becoming more popular as a luxury destination for those who want to be relatively close to the nightlife but would prefer a quieter beach.
If you go further to the north there are some quiet beaches on Phuket. Mai Khao in the North West of the island has luxury resorts and is very quiet compared to the busier southern resorts.
Krabi is just to the south of Phuket, although the two are very closely linked. Krabi is a popular area for beach holidays and has many resorts both on the mainland and on nearby islands.
Ao Nang is the most popular area in Krabi. It is on the mainland and close to Krabi airport, making it very easy to get to. There are lots of hotels along the coast including some luxury options. The area also has a large range of bars, restaurants and nightclubs. Due to its popularity the beach can be busy.
Rai Leh is another area on the mainland. It is very popular with rock climbers due to the number of sheer rock faces, which provide great scenery even if you have no desire to climb them.
Ko Phi Phi is a group of six islands that form a national park, although only one of the islands is inhabited and has hotels on. The area is very popular with backpackers (The Beach was filmed here). The area is good for diving, but the one inhabited island gets very busy and there is not a lot in the way of luxury accommodation.
Ko Lanta is a large island but receives far fewer visitors than Ko Phi Phi and the mainland areas. It still has a good range of resorts and is a good option if you want a quieter beach holiday.
Ko Jum is a very small and peaceful island that still has some traditional villages. There are a number of luxury resorts on the island if you are looking for a very quiet holiday.
Cities and Cultural Sites
Thailand has a lot more to offer than its beaches. It has thousands of years of history, lively cities with great bars and restaurants, and the mountains in the north provide stunning scenery and are home to traditional hill tribes.
Whilst there are some sites in southern Thailand, the majority of cities and cultural sites visited by tourists are in central and northern Thailand.
Bangkok and Central Thailand
Central Thailand is home to Bangkok and a number of historic cities and archaeological sites.
Bangkok is the capital city of Thailand and is home to over 11 million people. The city is famous for its lively streets and nightlife, as well as its abundance of culture, which makes it a very intense place to visit.
The city is set on the Chao Phraya River and is crossed by lots canals – earning it the nickname ‘Venice of the East’ (along with at least 50 other cities). One of the best ways to see the city is by boat along these canals – avoiding the chaotic roads.
The most popular tourist site is the Grand Palace where the Royal Family lived until the early 20th Century. The Palace’s huge grounds include Wat Phra Kaew – Thailand’s most sacred Buddhist Temple.
Wat Pho is another of Bangkok’s must-see sights and is home to the world’s largest reclining Buddha, whilst Wat Arun is one of the most beautiful temples in Thailand and is a national symbol.
Bangkok is a great place for shopping, eating and drinking. There are many good bars and restaurants in Bangkok but most visitors want at least a glimpse of the more notorious side of nightlife in the city. Patpong Market is one of these areas – with its night market, bars and restaurants. Khao San Road is famous as the backpacker hub of Bangkok and is an interesting scene for an hour or two.
Around 100km to the North of Bangkok is the ancient capital of Ayutthaya. The city was founded in the 14th Century and it was the capital for around 400 years.
The ancient city is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is covered in beautiful red brick temples and palaces. Whilst popular, it is not on most visitors’ list of sites so can be explored relatively peacefully. You can get to Ayutthaya by boat, train or road from Bangkok.
Nakhon Pathom is another ancient city around 50km from Bangkok. The city is home to the Phra Pathom Chedi – the largest Stupa in the world. Parts of the Stupa date back to the 6th Century. There is also an old Royal Palace in the town.
Kanchanaburi – to the north-west of Bangkok – is most famous as the location of the Bridge over the River Kwai that was part of the infamous Death Railway built by Japanese POWs during WWII. The town has other WWII sites including cemeteries and museums where you can learn more about the railway.
Northeast of Bangkok, towards the Laos border, is Udon Thani – the fourth largest city in Thailand. The main reason people visit is for the Bronze Age relics at Ban Chiang, around 35km from the city.
Phnom Rung and Phimai
To the east of Bangkok, Phnom Rung and Phimai Historical Park are excellent examples of ancient Khmer architecture.
Phnom Rung has lots of architectural similarities to Angkor Wat in Cambodia and is over a thousand years old. However, compared to Angkor Wat very few people make it here.
The North of Thailand has a very different feel to Bangkok and the South. The climate is much cooler owing to the mountains and everything feels much more relaxed.
Chiang Mai is the northern capital. The city dates back to the 13th Century and most of the tourist sites are within its walls and moat. This central area contains lots of old temples and monasteries.
The city centre is lively, with lots of good bars, restaurants and markets. However, most people visit Chiang Mai as a way to explore the surrounding countryside. From the city you can go hiking or mountain biking in the forested mountains and discover hidden waterfalls. Cooking lessons are also very popular.
Chiang Rai is the main city for the Golden Triangle where the borders of Thailand, Laos and Burma meet. There are some old temples and monasteries in the city itself, but the main reason for visiting is access to the mountains around it. Trekking and cycling are popular from here and lots of hill tribes live in villages around the city.
The Hill Tribe Museum and Education Centre in the centre of town is a museum worth visiting. In addition to explaining about the hill tribes in the area it gives an honest view of how irresponsible tourism is impacting them. The museum also has an exhibition on the opium and heroin trade in the Golden Triangle.
Pai is a laid back hill town in the north of Thailand. The area is very popular with backpackers for its bars, restaurants and easily accessible countryside.
There are lots of waterfalls within easy hiking distance of the town, and the trekking routes are less busy than those near Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai.
South of Chiang Mai is the small city of Sukhothai. The ancient city of Sukhothai (12km from the modern day city) was the first capital of the Kingdom of Siam – founded in the 13th Century. It is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site and covers 70 square kilometres.
A great way to discover the ancient sites is by bike, or you can hire a tuk-tuk for the day.
Nan is a quiet, ancient city in northeast Thailand, near the Laos border. It was a powerful city from the 14th to the 16th Centuries. The centre of the city has ancient temples.
Nan is one of the less visited sites in northern Thailand, so if you want to see undisturbed hill tribes, Nan is one of the best places to trek from.
Below are some suggested itineraries. These are simply examples of popular trips –
Bangkok and Beach
Most beach holidays in Thailand require a flight change at Bangkok, so it is very easy to add on a few days in the city on your way to or from the beaches.
The Best of Thailand
Start off with a few days in Bangkok, with a possible day trip to Ayutthaya before heading north to Chiang Mai. Spend a few days in Chiang Mai visiting temples and monasteries, seeing waterfalls and taking cooking lessons before heading further north to Chiang Rai where you can go trekking or cycling in the mountains. From Chiang Rai you can fly down to the south of the country for some time on the beach.
Where to Stay
Thailand has a good tourist infrastructure with a lot of accommodation options. These tend to represent excellent money for value.
When to Go
The best time to visit Thailand is from December to June. From July to November it is colder and tends to rain more.
For longer distances (Bangkok to Chiang Mai/Chiang Rai) flying is a cheap and easy option, or if you want to see more of the countryside en route the overnight train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai is very scenic and you can book first class cabins to yourself. Hiring a car and driver is also easy and inexpensive.
Getting to Thailand
There are lots of direct daily flights to Bangkok from London. From other UK cities you will need to change either in London or in the Middle East.