Everyone who visits Thailand seems to have a strong opinion about it. It’s either highly regarded as “the best place I’ve ever been”, or it seems that some people find the country to be overrated. I see Thailand as a beautiful and unique country that is best explored off the beaten path, by staying away from tourist traps and finding the beauty in the mundane things. An incredible plate of street food, successfully crossing the street without being hit by a motorbike, a nice Thai massage, and the sheer beauty of the white sand beaches and crystal clear waters. With the country being so diverse there’s so much to see and do in Thailand. I’ve broken it down for you so that when you visit you don’t miss these epic adventures on your Thailand bucket list.
My time spent in Thailand was one for the books. It was my first time in Asia and my first time learning the culture of the Southeast Asian countries. It was an eye-opening experience, and completely different than anything I had previously been exposed to. The smog, motorbikes, and trash. The overcrowded streets and roads. The incredibly cheap street food and bartering to get around. All of these resulting in one heck of a trip. And what makes Thailand so uniquely… Thailand.
I would classify Thailand as an uncommon beauty. Sure, if you head south to the beaches you get the white sand beaches with clear, turquoise water. But the rest of the country? The interior? Smog fills the air, trash litters the street, and sometimes it is so crowded you can’t see what is 10 feet in front of you.
I spent close to two weeks in Thailand and while I didn’t even scratch the surface, I learned enough to know that there are many things you must see and do to experience the culture and make your trip one for the books. I journeyed through Bangkok, where I ate street food for the first time and felt claustrophobic by the crowds. I took the night train north to Chiang Mai to experience a quiet, and peaceful Thailand; a zen city with fewer crowds and significantly more charm. And I finished my Thai vacation by relaxing on the beach in Phuket; white sand underneath me, clear blue waters in front of me.
What resulted in those two weeks was an ever-growing list of what you must do in Thailand… and what you can skip. From there I have narrowed it down to 12 must-see and do items to make your visit to Thailand one for the books; the ultimate Thailand bucket list.
The Ultimate Thailand Bucket List – 12 Things You Need to Do in Thailand
1. Island Hop
No trip to Thailand would be complete without island hopping. Thailand is home to the most beautifully pristine beaches I’ve ever seen. Clear turquoise water, white-sand beaches, and rock formations jutting up from the ocean.
If you’re in Thailand I would highly recommend heading south to explore the different beaches. I visited Phuket and while the island has a reputation of being “touristy”, my experience still led me to an authentic Thailand. I stayed in the northwest corner of the island at a hotel called Pullman Phuket Arcadia Naithon Beach and explored the island from there.
Read more about my experience in Phuket: The Best Finds in Northwest Phuket, Thailand
2. Eat the Street Food
Before visiting Thailand I had heard a few things on repeat… and “try the street food” was one of them. The street food in Thailand, Bangkok particularly, is out of this world. I urge you to get out of your comfort zone and try whatever you find on the street that the locals are lining up for – even if you don’t know what it is.
Some of the best street food I had in Thailand was in Bangkok from the Rod Fai Train Market. If you visit Thailand and you manage to make it to the sprawling city of Bangkok, definitely add this place to your Bangkok bucket list.
3. Climb the Bua Tong Waterfall in Chiang Mai
Thailand is a land of hidden (yet accessible) waterfalls right outside your door. I highly encourage you to rent a scooter for the day and discover the off-the-beaten-path waterfalls.
One of the most unique places in Thailand is the Bua Tong Waterfall outside of Chiang Mai. It was one of my favorite places to visit in the country not only because of its beauty but thanks to limestone deposits, you’re actually able to climb the waterfall which is super fun and unique.
The best way to access Bua Tong is on your own by renting a scooter from Chiang Mai and driving one hour north to the waterfall. Or you can hire a guide to drive you and bring you home (which is what I would recommend). I used Take Me Tour and wasn’t disappointed. There is a maximum of four people allowed on the tour, plus lunch is and transportation is included.
For more about visiting Chaing Mai: 3 Ways to Have the Ultimate Chiang Mai Experience
4. Visit a Market With a Local Tour Guide
One of the best ways to be immersed into a country’s culture, and a way to support the locals, is to book a local guide to show you around. When I was in Bangkok I booked a food tasting tour at the Khlong Lad Mayom Floating Market market outside of Bangkok with Pook. It was hands down my favorite foodie experience I’ve had in all of my travels.
5. Explore the Temples
There are so many gorgeous temples through Thailand. Visit Wat Rong Khun in Chiang Rai, Wat Pho in Bangkok, Wat Doi Suthep in Chian Mai, or a multitude of others scattered across the country. My suggestion is to arrive at opening time to avoid the inevitable crowds.
6. Ride on the Back of a Motorbike
While it can be a frightening experience, it’s sure to be exhilarating. Weaving through crazy Thai streets, clutching onto a stranger for dear life. You’ll be amazed out how the locals maneuver their motorbikes through traffic, missing food carts, pedestrians, cars, and more. The great thing about taking a motorbike is that you’ll usually get to your destination much cheaper and quicker than you would in a car.
Before arriving in Thailand make sure to download the app, Grab. It operates how Uber/Lyft would and you can reserve both cars and motorbikes to transport you.
7. Eat Pad Thai on Repeat
Pad thai is one of my all-time favorite dishes, so I was beyond thrilled to step onto Thai soil and experience this dish in a more local sense. The best thing about this dish is that you truly can’t go wrong when eating it in Thailand. I ate pad thai at fancy restaurants, on the street, and in little hole-in-the-wall restaurants. It was amazing no matter where I went. However, I highly recommend heading to Thipsamai in Bangkok to try this dish of perfection.
8. Spend a Day With the Elephants
Thailand is a country that is known for its elephant reserves. While I don’t recommend riding elephants or supporting any company that treats elephants unjustly, you can find a number of local elephant reserves that are doing a fantastic job of taking care of these animals. I chose to spend my money and time at Elephant Nature Park in Kuet Chang – a company that rescues elephants. You can get close up with the elephants while still respecting their space – and there is no riding allowed here.
9. Ride in a Tuk Tuk
While more expensive than a motorbike or a car, a Tuk Tuk is one of a kind experience in Thailand. A mix between a bicycle and a car, a Tuk Tuk is a fun way to get around and see the city. Make sure to ask for the price ahead of time, and barter before leaving.
10. Feed the Monkeys
Although most places warn against feeding monkeys, there is one place where it’s common practice to feed these little animals. Monkey Temple is located outside of Phuket and encourages the feeding of the monkeys. Here you can buy peanuts and bananas and watch the monkeys come down from the trees. But beware! They love to steal your things… this includes any jewelry you may be wearing.
11. Barter With the Locals
The Thai love to barter – and they are good at it! It’s common practice to barter pretty much anywhere, at malls, food stalls, on the street. Even if something has a price tag, chances are you can still barter. I like to have fun with bartering, but keep in mind that I’m still there to support the locals and help them make a living. Keep this in mind when negotiating for cheaper prices.
12. Rent a Longboat
If you find yourself in the south of Thailand, I would highly recommend renting a private longboat for the day. Quintessentially Thai, the longboat is one of the staples that drew me to the south of Thailand. I would recommend asking around and making sure the longboat can take you to a good snorkeling spot or to a hidden beach.
And there you have it – the ultimate Thailand bucket list. 12 things to see and do when visiting this incredibly beautiful and fun country.
Before heading to Thailand, make sure to check out What I Wish I Knew Before I Arrived