A popular tourist destination since The Beach brought to light the bounty of untouched strips of white sands and private islands seemingly a world away, Thailand is no stranger to tourism. Though withstanding the influx of westerners, the Southeast Asia’s soul of spirituality remains.
An appealing refuge from daily stressors, visitors chase the unknown answers the motherland offers as well as the cultural inspiration from the land’s natural and manmade wonders–from spiralled temples to tide-dependent beaches.
With so much land to cover, it’s difficult to experience Thailand in one trip, so why rush through it? Settle on the itinerary that suits you for the perfect first-trip to Thailand and you’ll be hooked to return time and time again.
If you’re seeking culture and history… Immerse in Bangkok
Stay: 137 Pillars Suites Bangkok
This luxury high-rise bodes permanent residents and welcomes short-term guests with equal Thai hospitality. At the heart of the fashion district, the hotel’s suite-style rooms provide guests with a sense of space in a city where boundaries appear non-existent. Revive from a long-haul flight, or exhaustingly exhilarating first day exploring Bangkok’s beguiling history, bustling markets and ancient temples with one of the hotels’ signature spa treatments using Glyph headsets to reset beta brainwaves to alpha; allowing the body to adjust to a relaxed state before an entire trip of adventure. As an idyllic starting point to Bangkok’s old and new world charm, 137 Pillars offers a gateway to the city of smiles, even offering a more lackadaisical way to get acquainted with the city; three pools—infinity pools at that—soar above Bangkok’s chaos, allowing you to take in the unparalleled views of the city of 10 million at your own pace.
The Grand Palace – Gilded in gold, the walled palace at the heart of Bangkok is a symbol of royal perfection and, thus, unavoidably a tourist hotspot, yet, one that can’t be missed. Try visiting right as it opens for less crowds and more opportunity to observe the spiralled spears, pristine gardens, and protected areas of worship at your own pace.
Reclining Buddha (Wat Pho) – The enormity of this Buddha ensures visitors grasp the significance of the figure in Thai culture. The experience of removing your shoes upon entrance, and adopting patience as you follow the crowd around the 46-meter-long golden Buddha, is one of those memories you’ll carry with you for life.
River cruise – Hop on a river cruise (private or public) for the chance to leave the crowds of Bangkok sideways, and experience a contrastingly tranquil alternative to the commotion of the city. Observe the lifeline of the city, as large tugs carrying rice, fishermen canoes returning their catch and, of course, boats ferrying tourists pass you by in a less hectic mess than what you find onshore.
Open-Air Markets – Whether you’re a day explorer or a night owl, Bangkok offers some of the most enthralling spaces to spend your baht. You could technically spend an entire day wandering the buzzing aisles of souvenirs at Chatuchak Weekend Market, selling everything from jeans and bikinis to leather accessories, cheap souvenirs and local pottery. Latebirds may want to explore Ratchada Rot Fai night market for a different kind of adventure, indulging in street-food, cheap drinks and open-air vendors selling souvenirs that become more appealing as the night unfolds.
Ride in a Tuk tuk – You simply have to! It’s somewhat of a cliche but it’s integrated into the Thai city’s culture. Put your bargaining skills to the test and workout a fair price for a short-ride (10-15 minutes) to dart traffic and arrive at your destination with perfectly windblown hair on a perfect adrenaline high.
For the nature-loving adventurer… explore Koh Yao Noi
Stay: Cape Kudu
Check-in to beachside luxury at this modern spin on your favorite sea cabin escape. Rooms showcase cute plunge pools or jacuzzis, a restaurant with all the Thai favorites—including crab curry and pad thai, as well as the option to takeover their private villa, a two-bedroom, two-pool suite for a private dining experience curated by the chef’s daily forage. Set just off a remote strip of beach, it’s your ideal spot for sunrise and access point to hop on a traditional style longtail boat to transport you for a day of snorkeling around the islands or tour of the local floating fishermen huts. Ask and you shall receive—the property is ready to ensure you experience Phuket’s little sister at the reverence of nature’s poise and perfection.
A day on the water – The best way to connect with this part of Thailand is by zipping through the karst limestone formations on the bow of a longtail boat. Start early to beat the crowds from Phuket and enjoy your morning coffee in one of the secluded coves. From there, putt around monkey island to capture how the animals have adapted to their new home; swimming around the boat hoping for some leftover fruit from breakfast. The plethora of alcoves, caves, and untouched beaches offer an hour-by-hour change in activity, like snorkeling, kayaking, sunbathing, exploring some of the remote islands, and even picnicking on your own private beach.
Visit the fish sanctuary – Local fisherman Nheed walks visitors through his rehabilitation facility for injured sea animals, from fish to sharks and starfish. It all started as a sanctuary for a few injured fish, but has since turned into a multipurpose educational facility for local students and visitors, alike, to learn more about some of the species in the waters surrounding Koh Yao Noi while he nurses them back to good health.
Bike around the island – A ring-road encircles Koh Yao Noi, therefore, you won’t get lost when you hop on a bike to discover the villages, beaches and more remote areas of the island for yourself. With few cars, the road is easy to navigate for any biker and an idyllic way to start your morning, or end your day.
Catch sunset on one of the disappearing beaches – Appearing with the ebb and flow of the tide, these are the stretches of sand you dream about. Though timing varies, if you’re settled in Koh Yao Noi for a few days, you’re sure to sync up with the tide schedule to catch a blush and mandarin sky on a thin stretch of palm-strewn sand.
If you’re seeking an intimate escape… unwind off Koh Samui
Stay: Cape Fahn
Grab your sweetheart and retreat to the remote private island off the mainland of Koh Samui. With your own villa and infinity pool overlooking the Gulf of Thailand, reflecting otherworldly sunsets, you don’t have to leave the property to absorb Thailand’s natural bounty. Curl up with a book on the beach hammocks, stimulate your senses with an exotic fruit tasting, showcasing local, seasonal flavors, or ravish in unapologetic laziness; rolling out of bed to spend the day poolside—you can even order a floating breakfast for uninterrupted intimacy and relaxation.
For when you’re feeling up to adventure, it’s worth exploring the mainland. Unique activities may bring you back to the days of first dates, as you wander the fishing villages, climb to the top of Big Buddha or indulge in an intimate lesson in traditional thai cooking, with a modern flare.
Samui Elephant Sanctuary – Another popular symbol of Thai culture, the elephant is respected throughout the country, yet some “sanctuaries” aren’t as humane as they come across. The Samui Elephant Sanctuary rescues elephants from labor and provides a retirement home for them. As visitors, you get to feed them bags full of bananas and observe them in nature, while listening to the elephant’s stories and symbolism in Thailand; a rewarding, yet bittersweet experience.
Fisherman’s Village – Lively by both day and night, it may be best to wander this area of Bophut close to sunset to ensure you experience both the daily stores and markets, as well as the night stands and after-dark atmosphere, perfect for fresh coconut cocktails or local brews.
Big Buddha – Regardless of where you visit in Thailand, the Buddha is a main attraction. In Koh Samui, there are a few Buddha attractions, including the Secret Buddha Garden and Wat Plai Laem, but ascending the grand staircase to the Big Buddha at Buddha Beach offers an intersection of spirituality and nature–with views of the island accenting the central, golden figure.
Dine with The Thai Experience – An immersive, interactive culinary course, this Argentina-founded chain brought its mission to Koh Samui; bring travelers together by introducing local cuisines in an approachable way. Prepare to explore a proper Thai palate by booking a private table or add to the fun by reserving a spot at a group table; the cocktail demo breaks any ice and gets the party started.
Stay and spa – Cape Fahn’s spa menu is punctuated by its alluring scrubs and wraps to rehydrate sun-drenched skin, so take an afternoon to yourself–treatments range from 30 minutes to four hours. Why not go all out?