Everyone should go to Thailand at least once in their life. It’s an amazing country chock-full of rich heritage, lush landscapes, and some of the best food in the world. It’s also developed enough to provide luxurious comfort but still wild enough to go on off-the-beaten path adventures. Known as the “Land of Smiles,” a two-week trip here will never disappoint; in fact, you’ll probably have a smile on your face the entire time.
You’ve never seen a city quite like Bangkok. As the main port of entry for travelers to Thailand, most people walk around wide-eyed, trying to take it all in. There are canals with floating markets, local musicians playing music on the streets, nightlife that ranges from seedy to ritzy, and street food that sizzles and leaves a mouth-watering aroma in the air. Giant buddhas and ornate, golden temples abound. The traffic zips around carrying passengers on motorbikes, ancient buses, and tuk-tuks, which are three-wheeled open vehicles that operate like a taxi.
Shopping in Bangkok is also incredible, with modern malls full of the latest fashions and high-tech gadgets, bustling markets selling everything from local fruits and veggies to harem pants, and street vendors offering kitsch souvenirs, such as the wooden frog that makes a croaking sound when you stroke its back with a stick (it’s believed to bring money and good fortune!).
While each neighborhood offers a unique vibe, you shouldn’t miss out on Chinatown, where you can get a taste of Cantonese life from days gone by. Make sure to go with an appetite, so you can dig into all their mouthwatering treats! There’s so much delicious food to try that you’ll leave stuffed as if it were Thanksgiving Dinner.
Ayutthaya, located just outside of Bangkok, is a modern city also known as Krung Kao, or “ancient capital.” Founded by the Siamese in 1351, it was once a major trading city and home to over a million people until it was destroyed by a Burmese raid in 1767.
The Ayutthaya Kingdom was one of the largest empires of its time and its ruins give us a glimpse into past wealth. During its existence, there were a large number of temples built in various styles. A few have been restored, but most remain in crumbling ruins.
The Historical Park is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site with a well-marked bicycle lane that can take you through all the major sites. First you should visit Wat Mahathat, where you’ll find the famous Buddha head intertwined with the roots of a banyan tree.
Across the street, you can check out Wat Ratchaburana, a favorite stop because you can go down into the tomb where a king was once buried, which despite all the looting, still contains beautiful wall art. Be sure to also visit Wat Chaiwatthanaram, which is the most intact temple, and gives you a glimpse of how grand Ayutthaya once was.
Even though Chiang Mai is Thailand’s second major city, it has a noticeably calmer and more relaxed vibe compared to Bangkok. Known as the “Rose of the North,” Chiang Mai is a visually striking city, with its historical center surrounded by an ancient wall. Inside, the perfect activity is to simply walk around, exploring its many bookshops, cute cafes, and numerous temples.
In fact, Chiang Mai and its surrounding areas have over 300 temples – more than any other part of Thailand. The most famous, Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, is located in the lush surrounding hills overlooking Chiang Mai. You have to ascend over 300 steps to reach it, but it’s no doubt worth the climb!
The city of Chiang Mai is a great place to enjoy night markets, luxurious spa treatments, Muay Thai lessons and boutique restaurants. It’s also the launching place to adventurous excursions to nearby mountains, rivers, hill tribes, and elephant parks.
Who doesn’t love elephants? With their huge size, floppy ears, and elongated trunks they somehow come off as both majestic and cute. For centuries, they have been a cultural icon of Thailand - they were considered a sacred animal by the Buddhists, used as a symbol for the revered royal family, and were an instrument of war. Throughout Thailand, you will see countless artworks depicting elephants.
Nowadays, you should be careful when interacting with elephants. In the 1800s, they had to perform heavy labor for the logging industry. Then, when the Thai government outlawed logging, many of the elephants went homeless, begging on the streets.
Afterwards, many of these homeless elephants were rounded up while others were poached from the wild and used as a source of entertainment for people. They were forced to do circus-like tricks, carry loads of people for rides, and weren’t always well cared for.
If you want to hang out with elephants, it’s important that you go through a reputable organization, such as the Elephant Rescue Park which is a sanctuary for rescued elephants.
There, you can take care of the elephants by washing them, grooming them, swimming with them, feeding them bananas, and watching them interact from afar.
Feeling inspired to include Thailand in your next expedition? Check out our 13-Day Thailand Jungle Family Adventure, or another favorite, the 13-Day Best of Thailand and Cambodia. Want to go beyond Thailand? Explore all our Southeast Asia itineraries here.
About the author: Julia Guerra Slater is the Social Media Marketing Manager at SA Expeditions. She has traveled extensively throughout the world, including a 6-month backpacking trip in Southeast Asia.