Thailand is famous for its beaches, offering one stop destinations for resort seekers as well as the less polished locations more popular with young travellers. In addition to this their are plenty of cultural hotspots and natural wonders as well as a buzzling metropolis in the form of the capital, Bangkok. See below for some of the top destinations.
The capital city of Thailand, Bangkok, will likely be your first point of entry into the country. The old town is a cheap area to stay in and is often where the backpackers are. From here you access many of the tourist attractions easily either by walking or Tuk Tuk and it is also where the notorious Khao San Road is situated. If you want somewhere a bit more cosmopolitan, Sukhumvit has lots of smart hotels, restaurants, bars and shopping centres. It is more expensive through of course and you are further away from a lot of tourist attractions, however you are close to the skytrain and MRT. Popular things to do include the Grand Palace, Temples including Wat Pho and Wat Arun and from here you can take tours to go and see the old city of Ayutthaya and the floating markets. You can also visit the big Chatuchak Weekend Market or take a boat ride along the Chao Phraya River.
Thailand's second city Chiang Mai lies in the north of the country and is littered with temples and history. The best place to stay is in the Old Town which is situated inside the ancient walls and moat that used to protect it. You could spend forever strolling around all the temples here but venture out of the city too to see the temple on a mountain - Wat Phra That Doi Suthep. This temple is lovely and provides great views of the city below. The night market here is fantastic selling all you could ask for and the food bit is insane. Skip dinner and come down here and sample all they have to offer. Chiang Mai is also the base for going trekking in the mountains and going to visit hill tribes.
Koh Samui has been a popular island to visit for a while now and is frequently by a lot of resort searching holiday makers. It has beach resorts all around the Island and lots of touristy things to do. Chawing Beach is probably the liveliest and most popular with Lamai Beach coming in a solid second but it is not quite as busy and has a large selection of watersports on offer. Koh Samui is a great place to just relax and enjoy the night life - there is a really cool ice bar that sends a truck round to pick people up playing 'Ice Ice Baby' on the speakers. But there is also lots to see elsewhere on the island. There are lots of different tours if you want something guided. However, please avoid the ones with any animal 'entertainment' on them, they are not treated very well and I red flag should go up when someone asks if you want to stroke a tiger and guarantees it wont bite you. They only way this kind of tourism will stop is if we stop paying for it. Aside from this there are many delightful things to see including a secret garden of ancient statues and a rock shaped like a penis. Is there anything better?
Koh Phangan became a popular tourist destination thanks to the notorious Full Moon Parties. Once a month Haad Rin Nok (Sunrise Beach) fills up with neon and buckets galore for a massive beach party. There's skipping ropes on fire and water slides and more fire and it is pretty extraordinary and even if not your thing I think you should try it just once. Grab a bucket on you're way down and let the night carry you. Whatever you do, do not go into the sea the next day - there will be all manner of things in there I don't think you'll want to take a bath with. Other moon celebratory related parties also happen in Half Moon form, just to fill in the gaps between the Full Moon and on New Years Eve, because what else would they do on New Year. Haad Rin Nai (Sunset Beach) is a nice beach to relax on and watch the sunset and it is safer to swim in these waters although I'd still be cautious. Koh Phangan is still less commercial and polished than the likes Koh Samui and Phuket and has nice windy dirt track street with lots of restaurants bars and shops. This is only one part of the island however and there are lots of other places to visit that won't be filled with drunk 20 somethings although there is the possibility of there being a couple who've got lost.
Another little island in the Koh Samui, Koh Phangan bundle sat in the Gulf of Thailand, is the smallest of the three is also known for hosting a good party and also for its diving. Unlike its neighbours though it has a more laid back atmosphere and is less developed clinging on to its authenticity.
Phuket is Thailand's largest island based to the west of the country in the Andaman sea. Like Samui it has its own airport and so has lots of visitors directly to the island making it feel more resort like and many other places in Thailand. A popular area is Patong Beach which is known for its vibrant nightlife particularly on the Bangla Road. It is super busy and similarly to Khao San Road in Bangkok, they'll be many an offer of ping pong shows, cheap tailor made suits and the addition of ladyboys handing out flyers for shows. There are some great bars all around this area but it is quite seedy and intense on the main strip and so you might not want to spend all your time here. Being such a big tourist destination there are loads of beach resorts to choose from depending on what you're after. Have a look here to help you choose www.phuket.com/hotels/where-to-stay.htm. In addition to lazing around go to Phuket Town for some traditional Thailand and take a boat trip to see Phang Nga Bay which is home to 42 islands, the most famous of which featured in the James Bond film The Man with the Golden Gun and so is aptly names James Bond Island. It's not hard to find trips to James Bond Island, it is advertised absolutely everywhere.
Koh Phi Phi
Another film location - Koh Phi Phi was featured in the Danny Boyle film starring Leonardo DiCaprio, The Beach. In fact there are two main islands, Koh Phi Phi Leh and Koh Phi Phi Don. The former is where the film was shot on a beach called Maya Bay, which is absolutely beautiful. The latter is the bigger island where everyone stays as you can't stay on Koh Phi Phi Leh as it is a National Park. You can take day trips though to go and see The Beach and Monkey Beach (no explanation needed) as well as do some snorkelling in the crystal clear waters. On Koh Phi Phi Don there are no roads and no vehicles which is great and everyone has to walk everywhere meaning it has a really nice relaxed feel. It used to be credited as being a lot more untouched than a lot of places in Thailand but every year more and more building work is taking place and so it wont stay like this for long. For such a small island it also has a very heavy night life with a lot of drunk tourists in a confined space. Despite this it is definitely worth a visit because it pretty much is paradise.
Koh Lanta is also based in the Andaman Sea along with Koh Phi Phi and Phuket and is a less visited but still offers just as brilliant beaches and everything else you could need. Rent a bike and drive around the island (there are only two main roads) and you can journey to the southern tip to visit the National Park there and the old town of Baan Saladan. Koh Lanta is not quite untouched but it feels so much more peaceful and less cluttered than a lot of Thai islands. It is the simple life at its best. Khlong Nin Beach is a stretch of golden sand not disrupted by lots of tourist activity, just a few bars and restaurants sit on the front and you're in prime position to watch the amazing sunset. Nearby is also the Koh Lanta Caves and Asalanta - a little self sustainable village where the houses are made from mud bricks. Stop by for some herbal tea or sweat out problems in the homemade sauna.
Khao Sok National Park
In land between the Andaman Sea and the Gulf of Thailand sits Khao Sok National Park. The park has a tiny little village to the side of it that feels like the middle of nowhere where you can base yourself. You can self guide through the park or you can go with a guide who will point out plants and possible animals if you're lucky enough. Phuket Trekking Club are great and reasonably priced. They also arrange for other excursions like kayaking and elephant trekking although I generally think that elephant riding should be avoided. From here you can also visit Cheow Lan Lake which is a man made reservoir and looks like a smaller scale Ha Long Bay. There are lots of options of accommodation to stay in floating raft houses actually on the lake surrounded my the leafy cliffs. It is a unique experience definitely not to be missed.
Pai is a little town north of Chiang Mai close to the border with Myanmar. It takes a very twisty, turny bus journey though the mountains to get there which offers great views in itself. From here you can go on trekking trip further into the mountains and go to see the hill tribes, there are also lots of waterfalls to go see and jump into. If you can't be bother with all that, for such a small places there are loads of restaurants and bars where you can just enjoy this lively village atmosphere.
Krabi is on the main land near to the Andaman Sea cluster of islands. The main places to stay are Ao Nang and Railey. Ao Nang is bigger and has more accommodation options and it is a really nice easy walk to get to Railey and enjoy the beautiful beach there and watch people taking to the rocks for a bit of freestyle climbing. Ao Nang beach is more cluttered and not quite a picturesque but it is near to everything else you'd need. There are a lot of free roaming monkeys around this are and so it wont take much to spot them just don't have food near them because they will gang up on you and take it. On the walk to Railey there is a view point that you have to access by climbing up a near vertical muddy mound clinging to a bit of rope in order to get to the top. If you don't wish to do it yourself, it's quite entertaining watching others to do it. Along the waterfront road is a little hidden square full of bars that provides good nightlife in Ao Nang, there is also like Phuket lots of ladyboy cabaret shows on offer too. If you want a photo with them, just let it be known that they do expect payment.