The Best Thailand Bucket List for First-Time Visitors

Here’s some good news for your travel plans: Thailand is reopening to U.S. citizens! If you’ve been dying to visit The Land of Smiles, it’s finally an option again with just a few restrictions.

Wiang Kum Kam, Thailand by Mathew Schwartz
Wiang Kum Kam, Thailand by Mathew Schwartz

While you’ll have to start your adventure in Phuket for now, you’ll be free to venture freely into this beautiful country from there and see all of its wonders.

There is so much to do in Thailand that it can be overwhelming. But if this is your first time exploring this lovely and diverse land, here are the best things to add to your bucket list!

1. The White Temple

The White Temple, Wat Rong Kuhn

Located in Chiang Ri, the White Temple is one of the most unique and intricate temples in the entire world! Formally known as Wat Rong Kuhn, this is a private temple/art installation that won’t be finished until 2070! But even unfinished, the White Temple is a breathtaking place to explore, with incredible sculptures everywhere you turn and even a gold bathroom.

2. The Grand Palace

Get a glimpse of royal life at the Grand Palace in Bangkok. This complex of buildings is where the Siam and Thai royalty have lived since the 1700s. There are more than 30 buildings and highlights to see here, including the Grand Palace, the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, and The Royal Pantheon, to name a few.

3. Damnoen Saduak Floating Market

Thailand has several floating markets, but the Damnoen Saduak is the largest and most popular. It is located in Ratchaburi, just a few hours from Bangkok. It’s an incredibly unique experience to shop from vendors in boats rather than traditional stalls.

4. Flight of the Gibbon

See Thailand from a totally unique perspective with a zipline rainforest tour! Flight of the Gibbon in Mae Kampong Village takes you on a 7-hour ziplining adventure to learn about the ancient rainforest and even see endangered gibbons in their natural habitat. The tour includes a delicious and locally sourced lunch and optional hikes to Mae Kampong Waterfall or Mae Kampong wooden temple.

5. Elephant Nature Park

Thailand is well known for its elephants and the chance to get right up close to the majestic creatures. However, many of these experiences are not very ethical, which is why Elephant Nature Park should be the place you see them. This dedicated elephant rescue and rehabilitation center allows you to observe and walk with (but not ride!) members of their herd. You can even volunteer to help care for them for a day or week and be a part of something extraordinary.

6. Ayutthaya

Step back into Thailand’s ancient past with a visit to the archaeological city of Ayutthaya. Dating back to 1350, this stunning city is home to many temples, palaces, and statues. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and well worth at least one entire day of exploring.

While there is plenty to see, don’t miss the beautiful temples of Wat Phra Ram, Wat Phu Khao Thong, Wat Yai Chaimongkol, and Wat Chaiwatthanaram!

7. Mae Hong Son

Right along the edge of Myanmar, the stunning Mae Hong Son mountain region provides some of the most jaw-dropping natural views in all of Thailand. While you’ll find little for modern conveniences aside from the town of Pai, the area abounds in waterfalls, caves, hot springs, and mountain trails. It’s the perfect destination for travelers in the mood for backpacking, rafting, and camping.

8. Koh Chang

While most visitors head to the Phi Phi islands, which suffer from overtourism, Koh Chang offers a more peaceful and authentic taste of Thai island life. Besides having plenty of beautiful beaches to enjoy, Koh Chang also offers stunning waterfalls and prime snorkeling, plus the opportunity to canoe through mangroves and take in the island from the top of Mount Salakphet. It’s a perfect mix of relaxation and adventure.

9. Khao Yai National Park

Khao Yai National Park, Thailand

Thailand’s first national park, Khao Yai, is one of the best places in the entire country to see some of its incredible wildlife. The park has elephants, sambar deer, gibbons, macaques, bears, and even jackals, plus more than 440 bird and 85 reptile species. To make the most of your experience, book a 1- to 3-day wildlife tour to go deep into the park and see even the most elusive creatures!

10. Wat Arun

Located beside the Chao Phraya River in Bangkok, Wat Arun is one of Thailand’s most beautiful and unique temples. Also known as the temple of the dawn, Wat Arun was built for Aruna, God of the Dawn. Naturally, the temple looks its best in the early morning and sunset light. However, you’ll want to leave plenty of daylight to explore its unique architecture and colorful spires. And don’t skip the chance to climb up the central spire, one of Bangkok’s most iconic landmarks!

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