Thailand has so much to offer. It is rich in culture and traditions. It has the most beautiful scenery, delicious food, and amazing people. I have no doubt that if you’re visiting, you will have some of the most amazing experiences of your life, just as I have.
Many people don’t realize how big Thailand is. The islands in the far south are quite far from Chiang Mai in the north. Each region and area of Thailand has something very unique to offer, with different experiences to be had! When visiting Thailand, I recommend visiting both the south and the north if you can.
After spending a cumulative 1.5 years of my life there, I have seen most of the country and done a lot in each place. As with any place, you could spend a lifetime exploring and never run out of things to do, but, if a trip to Thailand is in your future, these are the things you absolutely must have on your bucket list!
1. Visit the elephants
Elephants are incredible animals. It’s hard to describe how it feels to stand next to something so big, yet so gentle. In Thailand, it’s very easy to spend a day with the elephants! I recommend doing this near Chiang Mai because there are many more options for good elephant sanctuaries that don’t ride the elephants and take good care of them.
2. Go to a full moon party
The full moon party happens for every full moon at Haad Rin beach on the Thai island of Koh Phangan. Think of it as Thailand’s version of spring break only WAY bigger (there are usually up to 30,000 people in attendance), it’s only one night, but it happens for EVERY full moon. It’s wild and so much fun. Definitely a must-see/do if you’re in Thailand for a full moon, even if you’re not a huge partier, and just go to people watch!
3. Go island hopping
The Thai islands are incredible, and it’s really easy to take a boat or ferry between them all. It’s fun to see the difference from island to island, each has something unique to offer! My favorites are Koh Phi Phi, Koh Lanta, and Koh Tao!
4. Climb to the top of Tiger Temple Cave
Tiger temple cave is located in Krabi Town, in the south of Thailand. Krabi is one of my favorite places, and Tiger Temple is my top thing to do there. To get to the temple at the top, you have to make the climb up the 1,200 steps! It’s killer, but the view at the top is SO worth it. I recommend going to watch the sunset!
5. Visit Cheow Lan Lake in Khao Sok National Park
There are tons of things to do in Khao Sok National Park, but my favorite was spending a day on Cheow Lan Lake. The water is the bluest water I have ever seen in my life. Out of the crystal clear water, there are huge limestone rocks jutting straight up. It’s absolutely incredible and so beautiful.
6. Go to Pai
I have never heard of anyone who didn’t love Pai. Pai is a little town in the north of Thailand, about 3 hours from Chiang Mai. It’s a hilly, beautiful, and overall charming place. People here tend to be super chilled out and there are loads of artists of all kinds. Fair warning: Pai is a place that once you get there, you never want to leave!
7. Visit the white temple in Chiang Rai
The famous white temple in Chiang Rai is as beautiful (if not, MORE beautiful) in person as it is in pictures. It’s definitely worth the trip up to Chiang Rai to take in its beauty in real life! You can easily do a day tour that goes to this temple (and more) from Chiang Mai.
8. Do a Buddhist meditation course or retreat
There are tons of meditation courses that range from 1 day to a month long. Thailand is the perfect place to learn about meditation. You can even do a program called monk chat, where you learn directly from a Buddhist monk and get the opportunity to ask anything! There are programs all over the country, but monk chat takes place at a temple in Chiang Mai.
9. Eat your weight in Thai food (and don’t leave out the street food)
Thai food is AH-MAZE-ING. The flavors, spices, and technique that’s used to make Thai food make it some of the best food in the world. I could (and will) make an entirely separate list of Thai foods that you must try. I have yet to eat Thai food that I didn’t like, honestly. TRY IT ALL! But, do yourself a favor and don’t skip the street food stalls! They offer not only the cheapest options, but in my opinion, the tastiest options as well.
10. Go to the floating markets in Bangkok
I am a sucker for any type of market and Thailand has some really unique ones to check out! One of those is the floating market, just outside of Bangkok. It’s so fun to ride around and barter, get a bite to eat, and just take in the beauty of a market that is fully run from these small waterways!
Be sure to check out our First-Timer’s Guide to Bangkok!
11. Shop and eat at the walking streets/night markets
Another type of market that is huge in Thailand, is their night markets. They are also referred to as walking streets because they shut down the street for driving and set up the market for people to walk through. Pretty much every town in Thailand has at least 1-night market on a specific night of the week. Some bigger cities have night markets on multiple, or every, night of the week!
12. Make a Thai friend
Thai people are some of the sweetest, friendliest, and happy people you will ever meet. They love to share their culture with foreigners and they love to get to know about you and your life! Just start talking to them and you’ll make a friend in no time. I always recommend meeting locals because you will no doubt have experiences that you wouldn’t have otherwise!
13. Visit Ayutthaya (ancient capital city)
Ayutthaya is a city north of Bangkok that used to be the ancient capital of the Kingdom of Siam. Here, you will find the historical park which is an archaeological site of palaces, ancient temples, and statues. It’s also considered a UNESCO World Heritage Centre. This is a do-not-miss if you’re into history, or just really amazing ancient temples and ruins.
14. Experience Songkran
Songkran is Thailand’s New Year and takes place every April 13th-15th. It is hands down one of the most fun experiences I’ve ever had. Basically, the entire country shuts down to have a 3-day water fight. There are parties, concerts, parades, and celebrations of all kinds. It’s the biggest holiday of the year in Thailand. If you can be there for Songkran, you should!
15. Visit alllllll the temples
If I tried to list out every temple you should visit in Thailand, we would be here for a while. Thailand has countless temples, and each one is unique and beautiful in its own way. I recommend checking out different temples in every city you go to! They are not just incredible, but a huge part of the culture as well.
16. Drive (or ride) on a motorbike
There are so many ways to get around in any city in Thailand, but the preferred method of Thai people tends to be a motorbike or scooter. I learned how to drive one while living in Thailand, and if I can do it so can you! It’s a really fun (not to mention, easy and cheap) way to get around and take in any Thai city. If you aren’t up for driving one, you can always hop on the back of one instead!
17. Take a long tail boat ride
Is there a bigger icon of a cliche Thai beach picture than a long tail boat? I think not. But, when you see these massive wooden boats in person, you will see why. They are truly beautiful and have such a traditional look and feel to them. Definitely one of the MUST do things in Thailand.
18. Ride in a tuk tuk and a songtao
While we are on this streak of modes of transportation to take in Thailand, we might as well mention a tuk-tuk and songtao. Tuk-tuks, much like the long tail boats, are an icon of Thailand. Though they tend to be a bit more expensive than some other transportations options, it’s just something you have to do in Thailand. Songtaos are basically pickup truck taxis. They have benches in the back and you just flag down the driver, tell him where you want to go, get in the back of the truck, and get off at your stop! Riding in the back of trucks is actually a very common way to get around in Thailand.
19. Get a Thai massage
Maybe I should have started with this because this is one of the most important things you need to do during your time in Thailand. Thai massage is a traditional, full-body massage that uses stretching and yoga practices. The best part is that you can get a Thai massage for as little as 200 baht (6 USD!!) for an hour. You can go into any shop (no need to make an appointment) and you will not have trouble finding them! You may want to get more than one during your time there…
20. Go to a Ladyboy show
As you walk around in Thailand you’ll see many ladyboys. This community is very alive and strong in Thai culture. One of the best shows happens in Chiang Mai, they have a ladyboy cabaret near the Night Bazaar – the night market that happens every night. They put on an amazingly entertaining performance (not a ping pong show) and for just 290 baht you get a free drink and a really fun evening!
21. Visit the Red Lotus Sea in Udon Thani
This is one of the best-kept secrets in Thailand. Udon Thani is about a 9-hour drive from Chiang Mai, but it’s a fun city and worth the trip if you can see the lotus flowers. The flowers are in bloom from December until the end of February. You have to go early in the morning because the lotus flowers open in the morning and close back up in the early afternoon. When you get there you will see that the lake is absolutely covered in beautiful pink lotus flowers! It’s something that pictures really can’t do justice for, you’ve got to see it in person!
22. Try Muay Thai boxing or go to a show
Muay Thai boxing, or rather Thai boxing, is a traditional sport of Thailand. There are boxing matches that take place nightly in just about every city. You can also try it for yourself and take lessons from professionals… Just be ready to SWEAT!
23. Visit the Grand Palace in Bangkok
I’m not the biggest fan of Bangkok, but it’s worth going JUST to see the Grand Palace. This is the previous residence of the King of Siam, and with its intricately decorated buildings and temples, you’ll quickly see it’s fit for a king. Now, it’s only used for special events, and it’s open for tourists to visit. Lucky for us. The beauty of the Grand Palace is something you have to see in person!
24. Let a lantern go at Loy Krathong
Loy Krathong is a Thai holiday that takes place on the full moon of the 12th month of the traditional Thai calendar. Usually, it happens sometimes at the end of November. It’s a picturesque celebration that has beautiful traditions and rich history. It’s a celebration of light and water. You will see people sending off ornate krathongs in the waterways and lighting up lanterns to let go in the sky. The best place to experience the festivities would have to be in Chiang Mai, as they have one of the biggest celebrations of all.
Check out our guide for Exploring Chiang Mai.
25. Take a Thai cooking or massage class
Want to take two of the best parts of Thailand home with you? No problem. You can take a class to learn just about any Thai skill. Two courses I highly recommend are Thai cooking and Thai massage. The best place to take courses is in Chiang Mai. There are tons of options for GREAT classes here.
As I said above, you could spend your entire life exploring this amazing country and never run out of things to do. Thailand has something for everyone! These are my recommendations for 25 things that you must do in Thailand, and many of them are things you can only do there! At any rate, Thailand is simply a very special place that I know you will love… regardless of if you take my advice or not. 😉