From the hill tribes of the North, to the full moon parties on the Southern islands, there are a myriad of reasons to lure travellers to the beautiful country of Thailand. Always popular with British tourists, every year travellers flock from Thailand flights at Bangkok's airport eager to laze on the beaches and discover the infamous nightlife.
The beaches are as stunning as promised: predominantly white sand, an abundance of palm trees, coral reefs, fish and sparklingly clear turquoise waters. There are villages, resorts and accommodation to suit every type of traveller, be it with a laid-back backpacker-vibe and plenty of cheap diving to high-end, pristine spa resorts set on private coves. The towns are similarly diverse.
All flights to Thailand arrive in Bangkok and most travellers spend at least a few days in this bustling metropolis. Along with the notorious red light district, other famous attractions include a number of beautiful Wats (temples), the amazing street markets, where everything under the sun can be purchased at reduced prices, trips by boat along the Chao Praya River and gigantic city parks, such as Lumpini.
Chiang Mai epitomises the appeal of Northern Thailand. Set among lush rainforest and mountains, the city dates from the 13th century. Shopping and sightseeing are popular activities (there are more than 300 churches) but the town is also the perfect base from which to explore the mountainous Northern region.
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The climate differs between the north and the south of the country. In northern and central Thailand, it’s hot between March to May, rainy between June and October and cool between November and February. In the south it rains intermittently year round with temperatures around 27 degrees. It rains every day in the rainy season. The monsoon season lasts from July to November.
When to fly to Thailand
Northern Thailand’s peak tourist season is the cool season (November–February). The south’s peak season is typically March to May.
Bangkok’s peak season is November to March; prices can be twice as high as in the off season, and hotels are often fully booked.
International visitors come to Chiang Mai December through May, and Thais vacation here March through May.
November to April is Phuket’s peak season, and January to April is the best weather on Ko Samui. The island is particularly busy around Christmas and has another surge of visitors in July and August.
The rainy and monsoon seasons are the off seasons. If you don’t mind the humid and wet weather there are deals on cheap flights to Thailand to be found.
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Getting around Thailand
Thailand’s trains are comfortable, frequent, and on time; although a bit slow, it’s a great way to see the country. Thailand’s buses are very fast (don’t watch the road...), well serviced, and air conditioned. If you’re pressed for time, catch a flight. Thailand has several regional airports, and convenient domestic flights are easy to find.
Transport in a city or resort is typically a taxi, tuk-tuk, rickshaw, pickup, or hired car and driver. Taxis are usually metered in a city; make sure the meter is turned on. Always negotiate the fare for a tuk-tuk or rickshaw before you set out.
Bangkok’s public transport can get you around town. Chiang Mai doesn’t have buses or taxis, but has lots of covered pickups (songtaos) and tuk-tuks. You can hail a songtao and their fares are reasonable. Many travellers rent motorcycles and bikes in Chiang Mai, but make sure to drive defensively.
Avoid driving in Thailand, both cars and motobikes. Thais drive on the left side of the road, usually at breakneck speeds even around blind corners, and aren’t fussy about driving laws.
Thailand insider information
- Thailand's capital mixes the old with the new while maintaining its position as a modern, international city. Bangkok is perfectly attuned with its modern skyscrapers, ancient palaces and temples, and infamous nightlife. A shopper’s paradise, there’s the famed Chatuchak Weekend Market and shops with everything from handcrafts to luxury items. And the excellent cuisine is a result of Bangkok’s rich ethnic history.
- The cultures and ethnic groups in Chiang Mai reflect Thailand’s diversity: skyscrapers surrounding the Old City, monks chanting, hill tribes selling their wares, carved teak houses, modern markets, and condominiums. This is the place to shop for high-quality handcrafts, fine antiques, huge Buddhas, and even furniture. The nightlife is equally diverse, offering the Night Bazaar, discos, lounges, and small bars.
- Phuket (pronounced "Poo-ket") is Thailand's largest and most popular island. The topology alone is fascinating: rocky peninsulas, limestone cliffs, tropical forests, tranquil bays, and white-sand beaches. There’s a beach for every budget, from luxury resorts to bungalows, and Phuket is well-known for its fine seafood. The Patong nightlife is wild and has something for all tastes and inclinations.
- Ko Samui is an international resort with the attendant comforts, nightlife, and crowds. Most visitors come to have fun and the island offers plenty of it: basking on the beaches, trekking in the hills and forests, scuba diving, parasailing, Thai boxing, sightseeing, or watching working monkeys on coconut plantations. The nightlife reverberates with discos, open-air bars, and dance parties.
- Near Samui, Ko Pha-ngan is famous for its monthly full-moon beach party—a free party hosted by DJs. The morning after you can recuperate in a herbal sauna and relax on the beach. Popular with international travelers, Pha-ngan offers a full complement of activities from sightseeing to jungle trekking. For a more peaceful vacation, the island also has laid-back resorts.
- Trivago is a handy resource for user reviews of accommodation in Thailand. The site includes information on all the main cities and resorts, including hotels in Bangkok, hotels in Chiang Mai and hotels in Phuket.