This is the most popular spot in Thailand for gappers. The majority of travellers head there when they arrive in Bangkok as it has the cheapest accommodation and lots of services and help for tourists. It’s a good base for seeing the Grand Palace as it is very close and is pretty much party central. Street stalls sell cheap buckets (see Drinking in Thailand) – they’re guaranteed to get you in the party mood.
The city owes much of its fascinating history to the communities that still exist along the Chao Phraya riverbanks. The areas from Wat Arun to Phra Sumeru Fortress are home to some of the oldest settlements in Bangkok, like Bangkok Noi, where you can still enjoy the charm of stilt houses and markets lining the complex waterways.
This is the biggest and most famous shopping centre in Bangkok. It has anything you could possibly want to buy, and you can get some great deals if you get your bartering hat on. For me, the electronics section is a particular highlight.
Now this is a place you willnot find in most tourist guides. The Siriraj Medical Museum is six museums joined together, all of them covering in some way all types of illness and death that human beings have experienced and continue to experience. Just to give you an example of the kind of thing you might see here, there is the fully-embalmed and preserved body of a famous Thai cannibal on display. You can see the hole they made in his head to examine his brain after he died. Another highlight includes a massively enlarged scrotum that was removed from a patient suffering from elephantiasis. All 75cm of it... in a glass case. Disgusting eh? Damn right it is, but it's also one of the most fascinating places I have ever been. Recommended for those with a strong stomach.
Chiang Mai is often called 'the Rose of the North'. It’s a big city, with around one million people in its metropolitan area, but it still manages to be green and peaceful in a lot of areas. Lots of visitors seem to fall in love with it (hence the large expat population), and it's easy to see why. The entire city is bursting with culture, and it has some amazing ruins, temples and old buildings. The best way to 'do' Chiang Mai is walk around and discover these places yourself. The best temples are within the city walls, so you may want to bear that in mind if you have limited time.
This has become synonymous with a trip to Chiang Mai, and once you’ve done it you can see why. The hills and countryside in the area are stunningly beautiful, and trekking through it all really is an amazing experience. You can trek through the hills and ride elephants along riverbanks, bamboo rafting is also an awesome activity to try as is visiting the traditional village of the Karen people up in the mountains. These tours are bookable through most hostels and hotels.
This is a huge outdoor market stretching along both sides of the road with the Night Bazaar Building at the centre of everything. There’s a great atmosphere here, and it's a good place to buy little trinkets and presents for people back home. Be prepared to bargain hard.
This is a vast indoor market that you will not see many tourists shopping in. There are crazy spices, fabrics and teas: the whole place is an assault on the senses, just like Bangkok.
The southern part of Thailand, especially Krabi, is one of the most beautiful parts of the country. There’s beautiful weather, fantastic rock formations in the sea and relaxing, sandy beaches. You will also find a slightly different culture here, as Krabi is predominantly Muslim unlike the rest of the country. One of the first things you will notice is that most of the Thai women here wear Muslim-style head dresses in all kinds of bright colours and styles, and some men will wear Islamic robes and hats. You’ll also notice that there are a lot more mosques around. The food also has a distinct style – try the massaman curry!
Ao Nang is right by the beaches and has lovely views of the sea. It is very touristy, but it’s a fair trade-off for the amazing scenery which surrounds the place. If you head up and around the beaches, past McDonald's and up the road you can find cheaper lodgings if you are there in high season. If you’re visiting Ao Nang on your gap year go down to the beach, marvel at the scenery, enjoy a beer and feed the monkeys. Life around there is so relaxed, you'll find yourself wanting to stay a long time! If you’re visiting with a few friends one of the coolest things you can do is hire a longtail boat with friends and go snorkelling and fishing for a day round the big rock formations. Make sure to bargain with the boat guys to get a decent price for a whole day.
Thisis most famous for being the place where 'The Beach' was filmed, and you can see why it was chosen. It is absolutely stunning and definitely worth a visit. Bear in mind though it is the most expensive place to stay in the Krabi area due to its fame, so it can sap your budget if you're not careful. If you are on a budget check out The Rock Backpackers – the staff are so friendly. Phi Phi is really good for partying too. If that's your thing then try out Reggae Bar for cheapish buckets and fake, but entertaining, Thai boxing.
Ko Lanta is quiet, but not too quiet and it has really nice places to stay for very reasonable prices. There are plenty of beautiful, long white sandy beaches with nobody else on them. Note that the further you head south on the island, the more likely this is, as the tarmac roads have not yet been extended all the way to the South. If you get a motorbike you can get there though. Just follow the road all the way south till you reach the dirt roads, follow the dirt roads for a while till you come to Sun Moon Bungalows. Behind this resort you will find a beach that in low season is often deserted, and in high season maybe has only a handful of people on it – very relaxing after the mad beaches of Ao Nang. As for places to stay, Sun Moon is a great spot in high season (it's closed in low season) and Lanta Marine View resort year round.
The Tiger Temple sits on top of a pretty high mountain, and to get up to it you have to climb 1,237 steps right to the top! Take the steps slowly and make sure you have plenty of water if you plan on getting to the top without fainting. Once you get to the top though, what a reward! The scenery from the top is gorgeous and there's even a water machine that you'll probably need to camp in front of for 5 minutes once you get up there. It's a temple at the top, so there is a massive golden buddha too which is awesome. Don't forget to ring the bell seven times for good luck then have your picture taken in front of the sign in Thai which acknowledges you have managed to get up the stairs.