Top 10 things to do in Thailand

Posted on 15 December 2014

Need an excuse to escape to Thailand? From the rolling tea plantations of Chiang Mai up north to the jutting limestone cliffs of Phang Nga Bay, Thailand is a treasure chest of culture, beauty and adventure for any avid traveller. Here are the things you just can’t miss out on:


It’s a good plan to spend at least two weeks in the country, because there’s so much to see and it’s a fair distance to travel from South African shores. We can recommend the 13-day four destinations Thailand package which gets you to Phuket, Phi Phi, Krabi and Bangkok. You may also want to tailor your trip to include more ‘off-the-beaten’ areas if you’re not keen on the commercialised areas. Here’s my favourite top ten things to do in Thailand (for now):

Read: what to pack for Thailand


1. Floating markets, Bangkok

Floating market

Visit a floating market where colourful fruit, local food and handmade crafts are sold. Photos by Claudia Hodkinson.

Experience a traditional Thai way of selling goods by visiting one of the local floating markets. I visited the Damnoen Saduak floating market (one of several) just outside of Bangkok: a hustle and bustle of Thai-style canoes manoeuvring through a network of canals. I recommend hiring one of the canoes for an hour and shopping along the way. Even though there are loads of stalls on dry land on either side of the canals, it’s somewhat of a novelty to be poled through the water by a local guide. Make sure to take extra local currency with you, preferably in smaller denominations. Dig your teeth into ripe pink dragon fruit, try on handmade straw hats, eat freshly braaied bananas or buy one of the local crafts. It’s a photographer’s paradise with colourful goods, new faces and different perspectives all vying for the camera’s attention.


2. Cooking classes, Chiang Mai

Cooking classes

Learn to make local Thai dishes with an experienced chef for a day. Photos by Claudia Hodkinson.

A fun way to immerse yourself in the local cuisine of Thailand is to do a half or full day cooking class with a local chef. It generally starts with a visit to the local market to buy ingredients for your dishes, with an introduction into the local fruits, herbs, vegetables and spices that are used in everyday Thai cooking. After picking out your ingredients, your chef will peel, chop, boil and fry you through your recipes. Prepare a traditional green curry, a yummy Tom Yum soup or even learn to make delicate Khanom Khrok (small coconut hotcakes) for pudding. Thai Farm Cooking School in Chiang Mai as well as Baipai Thai Cooking School in Bangkok come highly recommended.


3. Snorkelling, Phi Phi islands

Snorkeling Phi Phi

Snorkelling in the bays around Phi Phi Islands is a memorable experience. Photos by Claudia Hodkinson and Cosmorama.

Thailand has incredible snorkelling, as well as diving spots to choose from: the Similan Islands, the islands of Phang Nga Bay and Phi Phi Islands, to name a few. If you’re going to be in Thailand for a while, pick up a new snorkel and mask for next to nothing from one of the street vendors. It’s easy to hire one of the long-tail boats from the main beaches to get to the best spots where colourful butterfly fish, corals and interesting fish are waiting to be admired. Some of the best snorkelling I did was around Phi Phi Leh Island. Arrange going in a group or join other tourists heading out and share the cost of transport. For something a little different, head out at night to see the bio-luminescence – the glistening sparkle of plankton on the water was one of my top experiences.


4. Kayaking, Phang Nga Bay

Kayaking in Thailand

Kayaking is one of the best ways to see Thailands fauna and flora. Photos by Claudia Hodkinson and Panoramia.

Thailand is chock-full of little bays, remote caves and pristine hidden lagoons that one can explore by kayak. Go with a guide who will ensure you paddle there safely, not to mention offer fascinating insights into the geology, fauna and flora. The scattered islands in the Phang Nga Bay are a kayaker’s heaven as is the more remote Ang Thong Marine Park off the coast of Koh Samui. Kayaking through the dark limestone caves of karsts and hongs (chambers) of Phang Nga Bay is like discovering a hidden world away from the tourist buzz. Apart from seeing abundant fish life, there’s also a chance to see other wildlife unique to the areas such as crab-eating monkeys, dolphins, green turtles and bats. There are shorter kayak trips for those who don’t have strong sea legs, or more specialised trips that combine activities like rock climbing and jungle trekking.


5. Bargain shopping, Phuket

Phuket Shopping

Leave home with an empty suitcase because you’ll return with a year’s supply of clothing. Photos by Claudia Hodkinson.

When travelling to Thailand, pack light. Very light. Trust me, you’ll come back with a year’s worth of clothing. Phuket is not the only place to shop and depending on your itinerary you may want to keep some extra cash stashed for Bangkok – Thailand’s shopping mecca. The number of shops in Phuket is overwhelming at first, but moving into alleys situated back from the main roads paid off with cheaper goods. There’s always room for bargaining prices down, but just remember that the locals do need to make a living too. If you’re in Thailand for a bit, check-in to a reputable tailor for custom made outfits. It’s best to have an idea of what you want made, within your budget, to get the best outcome.


6. Get a massage, Krabi

Massage Parlour

Dr Fish foot spas and massage parlours are everywhere in Thailand and cheap. Photos by Claudia Hodkinson.

You’ll probably find yourself getting sucked into massage parlours on a daily basis. For me this became somewhat of a ritual during my stay in Thailand. It’s so outrageously cheap (about R120 for an hour massage) and there are massage parlours every 20 metres in almost all major towns in Thailand. I generally opted for an hour-long foot massage (after walking the streets shopping) or a back and neck massage. All parlours have free Wi-Fi and cold water to drink. You can opt for a beach massage although these are often a little more rudimentary than the shops. Another fad is trying out the Dr Fish foot spas. The Garra Rufa Fish, native to the Middle East, will eat the dead skin off your feet and ankles during your 20-minute treatment.


7. Take a hike, Khao Yai National Park

The best way to see some of Thailand’s wildlife is to walk in the Khao Yai National Park. It’s an easy day trip from Bangkok or for those that want to stay longer, one can stay in or around the park. Short day hikes as well as longer trails (up to three days) take hikers on various routes through the park. One of the largest populations of hornbills exists here, as well as other unique species for the keen birder. It’s a wild open park with a population of Indian elephants, bears and gibbon monkeys. It’s also recommended to hike to one of the waterfalls in the park. A local guide would be a good idea if you are interested in a particular species or topic.


8. Take a tuk-tuk


Tuk Tuks and Songthaews are an easy way to get around Thailand and fun. Photos by Claudia Hodkinson.

One of the easiest ways to get around Thailand is by tuk-tuk – the local taxi. If you’re heading out for the night and prefer not to walk, then a tuk-tuk is the answer. It’s fun and should be tried at least once. Most are trustworthy, but be sure to negotiate and agree on a price right up front before you get in. Some drivers will take detours to shops where they can earn commission. Insist on no detours unless you are willing to pay extra. Avoid the ones parked directly outside your hotel as they will charge you higher prices – rather take a short walk down the street and hail one from there. Songthaews, or Baht buses, are also great. They take longer routes between towns and villages and the smaller one will even take you on short day trips to beaches, tourist attractions or local markets.


9. Eat local (and try street food)

Thailand food vendors

Local vendors sell braaied fish, ripe fruit and local dishes on the street corners. Photos by Claudia Hodkinson.

Food in Thailand is cheap and yummy with a huge variety to choose from. There’s everything from street food to internationally inspired cuisine. For local authentic food try one of the street vendors. Their stalls showcase interesting dishes from dried local fish, sticky rice in banana leaves to freshly braaied and buttered mielies. The local restaurants are also rather intriguing: from Italian pizzarias to American diners. Themes are strictly adhered to and it’s fun to see the décor and menus on offer. It’s best to go to recommended restaurants, and pick your food carefully. Eat only cooked or heated food as vegetables and fruit are often not washed in purified water.


10. Temples and palaces, Bangkok

Bangkok Temple Tours

Ornate temples and palaces cloaked in history fill the depth and breadth of Thailand. Photos by Claudia Hodkinson.

You’ll hear it all the time when you’re in Thailand: Wat. It’s the local Thai name for temple and with over 25 000 of them in Thailand, there’s no shortage of ornate temples to visit. I took a tour to visit the most popular temples: Wat Po (Temple of the Reclining Buddha), Wat Trimitr (Temple of the Golden Buddha) and Wat Benchamabopit (The Marble Temple). A local guide will give you deeper insight into the religious rituals and history of burning incense, offering lotus flowers and letting off firecrackers. There are also centuries-old palaces (like the Grand Palace) dotted around the country where you can take a trip back in time and see how the royals used to live. A worthwhile visit is to the historic city of Ayutthaya. The ruins of this ancient city, with its monasteries and temples, give a glimpse into life that dates back hundreds of years.


Extra travel tips


Free wi-Fi is everywhere – in the massage parlours, in restaurants, at your hotel, by the pool. Just ask for the code.


Although it looks fun, taking a scooter in Thailand can be dangerous. I saw two accidents when I was there and insurance will not cover your full medical or hospital bills. As you are the foreigner, it will always be your fault.


If you get sick, you can easily walk into a clinic or pharmacy and get over the counter medications and prescriptions and its fairly cheap.

Local currency

Forget traveller’s cheques and take your credit card – and perhaps some foreign currency if you’d like to be safe. ATMs are everywhere and the bank charges are surprisingly low.

Ready to visit Thailand? Find out how with our 13-day Thailand holiday package.

And for some inspiration, watch this gorgeous video: backpacking Thailand.

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