Thailand is called the Land of Smiles: for visitors, the effect is just this, an infectious well-being that comes from several factors. A generous nature that have preserved the attraction of a legendary Eden, where unspoilt  rain forests and reefs still rich in life can both be found. A record number of national parks: among other things, Thailand is known for being one of the most spectacular places in the world for diving. The most beautiful islands in Thailand can boast a legendary attraction, the setting for unforgettable experiences: from tours in the jungle to trips in long tail boats, the characteristic Thai fishing boats, in primordial settings. Thailand's beaches are the very symbol of relaxation, with their backdrop of palm trees and white, soft sand: an irresistible temptation for those who dream of escaping the city. The golden temples of Bangkok, the wonderful Thai food and the warm welcome do the rest. 

Ready to leave? Here are the 20 best things to see in Thailand, to discover its history and natural beauties.

Bangkok

Built on the banks of the River Chao Praya, Bangkok is one of the most visited destinations on the planet. The “city of angels” has two faces: the crowded modern metropolis with skyscrapers and shopping malls, and the old part full of Buddhist temples and characteristic wooden houses looking out onto canals. Each year, millions of visitors visit the Grand Royal Palace and the Emerald Buddha Temple, the Wat Phra Kaew site that is home to the statue that symbolises the monarchy. One of the best known monuments is also Wat Arun, the Temple of Dawn that is lit with a thousand lights at night.

A trip along the rural canals, known as klongs, so full of life, is not to be missed: the floating markets, such as the one at Damnoen Saduak, are extremely characteristics and you can experience the tradition on board the typical long-tail boats. Bangkok is full of stalls and markets where you can buy anything: the most popular place for shopping is the huge Chatuchak market, also known as the Weekend market. Famous for its crazy night life, the city has thousands of restaurants where you can try the special spicy Thai dishes and any kind of delicacy, whether oriental or not. Bangkok is a city that is full of contrasts. It is chaotic yet spiritual:  you should get lost in its labyrinth, in close contact with the Thai monks wearing their saffron coloured garments. 

Phuket

The island of Phuket is the largest in Thailand and a real paradise on earth. The “pearl of the Andaman” has dozens of white-sand beaches and calm bays on offer, where you can have your fill of sun or snorkelling. Two of the most popular are Karon Beach and Kata Beach, the latter known for its waves and as an excellent spot for surfing. Crossed by a mountain range and covered in forests, the island enjoys several micro-climates, each with its own typical flora and fauna. In turn, Phuket is surrounded by wonderful islands, the Pee Pee Leh islands with its magnificent rocky cliffs overhanging the sea, and Pee Pee Don. Phuket is home to some of the most spectacular events at the Songkran Festival, the traditional Thai New Year, also known as Water Festival: a large group event that symbolises rebirth and renewal. 

Patong

Patong Beach is one of the liveliest beaches in Phuket: a crescent of sand several kilometres long, equipped with every kind of services. Starting with water sports: here you can try any kind of activity, from water-skiing to diving, bearing in mind that Patong is greatest reference point in Phuket for diving. Surrounded by several clubs, restaurants and shops, Patong also has a great choice in restaurants and night-life. To get away from the crowd, you can escape to Freedom Beach on board a long-tail, on a tuk-tuk or, for the more courageous, on foot: the wonder of the tropical landscape is worth all the effort.  

Koh Samui

The island of Koh Samui is the third largest in Thailand and is famous for its coconut palm trees: as well as being a part of the beautiful landscape, they also represent the maximum height to which it is possible to construct buildings. An incentive to preserve the island's unspoilt beauty, initially “colonised” by hippies, who were overcome by its wild appearance. The mountain range that crosses the island is covered in thick jungle, that you can enter with the aid of local guides. Elephant safaris are also very popular an ecological alternative to the classic jeep that allows you to admire the best views, such as the Na Muang waterfalls The list of the most attractive beaches has Chaweng Beach at the top, with its iconic beauty and wide range of facilities including luxury spa resorts. Lamai Beach, is also fantastic, less crowded and also with facilities, bungalows, restaurants and massage centres.

Ayutthaya

The ancient capital of Thailand, Ayutthaya, saw 33 kings in power during a 400 year period, up to the sacking by the Burmese: the latter caused the destruction of houses and temples, which were then rebuilt in Bangkok which took over the role of capital.  Ayutthaya is a place rich in history: during its golden period, it was home to hundreds of temples and three royal palaces, surrounded by huge walls. A UNESCO world heritage site, it is an immense historical park with hundreds of sites to visit.

To do so, you can procure a map and a bicycle, the ideal transport for easily travelling the distance that separates the most important attractions, all immersed in a verdant park with tall trees. One of the best preserved temples is Wat Ratchaburana, where you can admire one of the most beautiful prang – the towers decorated with historical figures that contain the statues of the gods - in the park, due to its frescoes. The Wat Mahathat, the centre of worship of Ayutthaya is so beautiful: here you admire the famous Buddha head trapped in the roots of a tree. Do not miss the Wat Chai Watthanaram, one of the most amazing temples in all Thailand and symbol of the ancient splendour of Ayutthaya. If you have time, the journey can continue to the Wat Phanam Choeng, with its huge statue of Buddha, one of the oldest and most venerated in Thailand. 

Pattaya

Pattaya has the most famous beach in the whole of Thailand. The long sun-kissed coastline is surrounded by wonderful islands and several attractions, including theme parks and the Nong Nooch Tropical Garden. The large beach is a paradise for water sports, an excellent alternative to sunbathing for those who prefer active holidays: the best spots are Pattaya Bay - 3 kilometres long - and Jomtien.

The night life is just as dynamic: this lively seaside resort, once a fishing village, is now the capital of fun, with a multitude of restaurants, bars and discotheques. Pattaya is also home to one of the most famous greens in Thailand, a true magnet for golf lovers. Those wanting a quieter beach where you can swim and relax can choose Wong Phra Chan, located a little further north: a real pearl.

Koh Phi Phi

If you get the chance to go on a boat trip to the Koh Phi Phi islands, our advice is to grasp the opportunity: the archipelago is one of the most spectacular places in Thailand with its uncontaminated nature. To convince you, just remember that scenes from the famous film The Beach with Leonardo di Caprio were set here. Located about one hour’s sail from Phuket, the Phi Phi Islands include Koh Phi Phi Don and Koh Phi Phi Leh, famous for its Maya Bay. This is a place to see at least once in your life: the whiteness of the sand is unreal, the rocks are breath-taking and the coral reef is teeming with life. Going snorkelling in the Koh Phi Phi islands marine park is an incredible experience. 

Krabi

Mangrove forests, verdant mountain ranges and limestone cliffs that plunge into the sea: all this is Krabi, a natural paradise formed by white beaches and islands dotted around the blue sea. To admire its fantastic grottoes and the amazing reef,  you can take a boat trip or spend some time diving, thanks to one of the many diving centres. Alternatively, you can hire a kayak and slowly paddle through the atolls, admiring the rocky sculptures, the canyons and lagoons around you. The unspoilt nature here reigns supreme in the parks of Krabi, where you can wander amongst waterfalls, lakes and rare animals. If you love climbing, you can go to Railay Beach, a peninsula only accessible via boat, which climbers from all over the world love: those wanting to relax are at home here too, on the fantastic beaches. 

Koh Phangan

Koh Panghan Island is famous for the Full Moon parties: a fantastic hippie party, held once a month when there is a full moon shining in the sky. One of the best places to experience its is Sunrise Beach, a stunning white beach where the sea is just as beautiful. Unlike its heavenly appearance, this beach goes crazy during the Full Moon Parties: the fun lasts all night. If you prefer peace and quiet, you can dedicate time to yoga or meditation, with several schools on the island. Koh Panghan offers a never-ending choice of places to admire its beauty: you can go trekking in the forest or relax on one of its many beaches. One of its highly recommended is Bottle Beach, a dream for snorkelling lovers.

Khao Sok National Park

Any itinerary in Thailand cannot leave out a trip to Khao Sok National Park, a treasure trove of biodiversity, considered to be one of the oldest virgin rain forests in the world. Its position is strategic: it lies a short distance from the most popular destinations in southern Thailand, or rather Phuket, Krabi and Khao Lak. The backdrop is just perfect: majestic limestone cliffs that look like they have been sculpted, covered in lush forest that is reflected in the emerald water. As well as venturing into the jungle, you can perhaps try a fantastic kayak trip on the river or glide along on a long tail boat on Lake Cheow Lan: given the amazing views, you will hope the experience is never going to end.

Sra Morakot

Known as the “emerald pool”, Sra Morakot is one of the most desired places for taking a dip, especially for families who love to come and spend their free time here.o Floating on crystal-clear waters, admiring the fantastic colours, is a restorative experience: ideal for anyone wanting a relaxing place to cool down. To reach this beautiful site, you only need to travel a few kilometres from Krabi, a contributing factor to its popularity. There are plenty of things to see nearby, including the Tiger Cave Temple, famous for the long staircase to the top of it. To reach your destination, you must take thousands of steps, and perhaps argue with a few monkeys: those wanting to reach the golden Buddha, are rewarded with an incredible view. 

Chiang Mai

Once the capital of the kingdom of Lanna, Chian Mai è considered to be the northern capital of Thailand. Its historical centre preserves the testimonies of the ancient kingdom: a huge series of temples both inside and outside the walls. This site is so full of sights to see that choosing the itinerary can be complicated: if in doubt, go for the best-known monument, the Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep. Standing atop the hill of the same name, not far from the centre, the temple has an amazing stupa – a monument containing the remains of Buddha – covered in gold leaf: this is a sumptuous vision, with an interesting legend attached to it: that of the miraculous duplication of the relics, brought here by a white elephant. 

Sukhothai

Translated as “the dawn of happiness”, Sukhothai was the heart of the ancient Thai kingdom: the archaeological site, which is a UNESCO world heritage sight, is one of the most important in Thailand. Inside, you can see the legacy of the temples, the royal palaces and the remains of the walls that defended the kingdom of Ramkhamhaeng the Great. The famous Festival of Lights (Loi Kratong Festival) takes place in Sukhothai, an event in honour of the goddess of the waters: decorated floats glide over the waters and after sunset, the sky fills with khom loi, the traditional illuminated lanterns.

Udon Thani

Located in the north-east area of Thailand, Udon Thani is a region full of surprises. One of the most important is a monastery in the middle of the forest, called Wat Pa Phu Khon: its is surrounded by thick green vegetation, beyond which there are endless paddy fields. As well as its position, the temple also stands out for its blue roof. Anyone coming this far, however, does so to look at the view, which is incredible. 

Red Lotus Sea

A short distance from Udon Thani, there is a swamp that is famous for being the home of a unique phenomenon: the winter flowering of the red lotus. Millions of crimson flowers bloom on the water at different times of the day, creating a giant colourful sea. The Red Lotus Sea is something you cannot miss: it will be hard to forget the emotion of a boat trip here. The view is made even more spectacular by the flight of herons and other wild birds that fly over the Red Lotus Sea. The smell of fish, coming from the restaurants in the area, invite you to take a break and eat something before boarding the boat. 

Wat Pha Sorn Kaew

In Thailand there are lesser known attractions, not a part of classic itineraries, but not because they lack attraction. To the contrary. One of these is the Buddhist monastery Wat Pha Sorn Kaew, built at 800 metres on top of a mountain peak. Around, we can see the mountains of the Thai “Little Switzerland”, as the surrounding region is called due to the particular nature of its landscape. The temple is spectacular: the large pagoda and surrounding buildings are covered in millions of mosaic tiles, in a jubilation of colours and reflections that contrast with the verdant setting. 

Erawan Waterfalls

Thailand has hundreds of natural parks, but the Erawan Park is unique: the extraordinary beauty of its waterfalls. The Erawan Falls plunge into the tropical jungle, with 7 falls connected by a path that is easy to walk along, bearing in mind the fact that the last stretch is a little steeper. The path takes you to the top level, where it is possible to see the heads of an elegant mythological creature. Between one stop and another, it is impossible to resist the call to go swimming: the falls form blue pools and natural slides, perfect for basking in full relaxation or a quick dip. A natural water park in the middle of such majestic nature.

Chiang Rai

The gateway to the Golden TriangleChiang Rai lies at the far north of Thailand, on the border with Myanmar and Laos. The landscape is filled with mountains and valleys cut through by the River Kil that runs right through the city. Chiang Rai acts as the base for trips to explore northern Thailand for trips into the jungle on the back of an elephant. The city was the capital of the kingdom of Lanna before Chiang Mai: it was here that the famous Emerald Buddha was found, which is now kept in Bangkok.

To be precise, the statue was discovered in the Wat Phra Kaew, where there is a copy made from jade: the main hall in finely decorate inlaid wood is beautiful, as are the surrounding gardens, that are cared for by the local community of monks. One of the best-known attractions in Chiang Rai is the Wat Rong Khung, or White Temple, which is unmistakeable thanks to its white plaster construction that contrasts with the gaudy colours of traditional temples. The walls are inlaid with glass that create a charming play of reflections, making it one of the most recognisable architectures of all. If adventure calls, you can leave on a fantastic cruise along the River Mekong and explore the far border of Thailand amidst thermal springs, tea plantations and mysterious tribes.

Khao Lak

Located north of Krabi and Phuket, Khao Lak has dozens of kilometres of beaches: a long collection of wonders overlooking the Andaman Sea. Don’t miss a trip to the Similan islands, that can be reached by boat from Khao Lak: it is an amazing sight, even more so for the scuba divers who can look at the coral and colourful sea fans from close up. The archipelago, known worldwide for the beauty of its coral reef, is famous for being one of the most beautiful locations in the world for diving lovers. The Similan comprise about ten islands, including Ko Miang, with several snorkelling centres and from which there are several trekking tracks into the forest. Khao Lak stretches into the region of Phang Nga, famous for its bay of the same name, a part of the national park and characterised by giant limestone crags that emerge from the turquoise water. 

Bua Tong Waterfalls

If you still have a desire for freedom, you can treat yourself to an adventure at the Bua Tong Waterfalls. Known as the “sticky waterfalls”, they are extremely pleasant to “climb”, as they offer a safe grip and can easily be explored, with due attention. Located about an hour’s drive from Chiang Mai, the Bua Tong waterfalls will let you have fun like a child at the fun fair: with the difference that the setting is real and extremely beautiful.

Set sail for Thailand with Costa Cruises

In Thailand, there are endless things to admire: starting with the temples, treasure troves of history that capture you with the elaborate details and the picture perfect landscape that surrounds them. Passing through the beautiful beaches and underwater spectacles to discover with diving equipment; without forgetting the street food, with a boundless choice of spicy delicacies. There are several reasons for setting sail, even more so for those choosing the emotion and comfort of a Costa Cruise, with so many trips on offer. 

Set Sail with Costa Cruises