Travel

Why you should see Thailand

Stone architecture at a Buddhist temple in Thailand

Among the most popular travel destinations in Asia, Thailand bowls the visitor over with its remarkable natural diversity, paradise-caliber scenery, archaeological and architectural treasures, and delicious flavors.

Stretching from the misty highlands of the north and the fertile rice country of the Central Plain to the lushly forested mountains, pinnacled islands, and aquamarine bays of the Malay Peninsula in the south, Thailand could rightly be considered the heart of Southeast Asia.

Our go-to guide to this astonishing country, award-winning AAA travel advisor Khaney Muyderman, is of Thai heritage and has visited her family’s homeland several times since coming to the United States in the early 1980s. “Best known as a Buddhist nation, Thailand comes sprinkled with 31,000 glittering temples or wats—the country radiates a golden hue throughout,” Khaney says. “If you have an appetite for adventure, stunning natural beauty, and great food, Thailand needs to be on your next destination list!”

Portrait photo of Khaney Muyderman

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Khaney Muyderman is here to share her tips and insights on Thailand. AAA can help you plan the perfect trip to Thailand, or wherever your dream vacation is. Contact a AAA travel advisor today, or visit a branch to meet with an advisor or take advantage of other travel services.

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Fast facts

Thai baht money, in paper bills

Currency

Thailand’s currency is the baht (฿). "Though Thailand’s cities are modern and accept cards at many tourist attractions, be sure to exchange some cash to baht," Khaney says. "ATMs can be found everywhere, with most accepting foreign cards, and some of the finest foods, crafts, and experiences are cash-only."

Climate

Thailand has a tropical climate with an annual temperature range in the 70s and 80s. There are three main seasons: a rainy season between mid-May and mid-October (or later), a cool season from mid-October to mid-February, and a hot season from mid-February to mid-May.

Budget

In terms of the relative expense of traveling here, Khaney advises: “How much money you spend in Thailand depends on what you do, your luxury demands, and which parts of the country you plan to visit. Chiang Mai and destinations in Northern Thailand like Pai are less expensive than Bangkok and the many islands.”

Fun fact

Thailand’s national animal is the Asian elephant, which for thousands of years was a major beast of burden here. While machinery has mostly replaced the elephant for logging and other work, many of the huge pachyderms remain in domestication for tourism purposes. Wild Asian elephants, meanwhile, are increasingly rare in Thailand: Some 3,000 or so remain, mostly along the mountainous border with Myanmar.

What to see

A view from below of the recling Buddha at Wat Pho

Bangkok

One of the most popular cities among international travelers in the world, Bangkok, Khaney says, is “a tourist paradise.” Its attractions are too many to list, but she suggests two absolute must-sees:

  • Wat Pho: Among the best-known of Bangkok’s many temples, Wat Pho includes the largest reclining Buddha in Thailand—a gilded, 150-foot-long statue—as well as the country’s most extensive collection of Buddha images. “Wat Pho was Thailand’s first center for public education,” Khaney explains. “People came to study its 1,360 marble inscriptions to learn about medicine, history, and liberal arts.”
The many towers of the Grand Palace complex in Bangkok
  • The Grand Palace: Bangkok’s Grand Palace has been the official home to Thailand’s royalty since 1782, when it first hosted the King of Siam. The sprawling palatial complex ranks among Thailand’s most-visited sites. “Tips before visiting the Grand Palace include dressing properly in black or white to show condolences to the late King Rama IX,” Khaney says. “The best time to visit is right before noon, when it’s less crowded and the temperature isn’t yet at its peak.”
An island in Phang Nga Bay in southern Thailand

Southern Thailand's islands

From sprawling Phuket to the fantastical karst towers of Phang Nga Bay, Thailand can legitimately lay claim to some of the most celebrated islands in the world. “If you get a chance to travel south, go island hopping on the Thai coast,” Khaney says. “You will never regret it!”

She explains that accommodations among the coastal islands range from inexpensive bungalows to 4- and 5-star luxury hotels. Among Khaney’s top islands are Koh Tao, which she recommends visiting on a daytrip from Koh Samui via wooden speedboat, and also Koh Phi Phi, which “has a postcard view of powdery white beaches and vast jungle landscapes.”

A rafflesia flower in Khao Sok National Park

Khao Sok National Park

For the nature lover, Khao Sok National Park should rank high among Thailand’s sights. Set in the south’s Surat Thani Province, the park protects one of the oldest tropical rainforests known on the planet: “one of the most intact, untouched parts of Thailand,” Khaney says. The park hosts such elusive mammals as elephants, tigers, and the enormous wild cattle known as gaur, but Khaney points out its charms aren’t restricted to megafauna: “You can hike in this ancient rainforest to see Rafflesia—a rare parasitic flowering plant—or multiple species of an amazing family of tropical birds, the hornbills.”

An Asian elephant in front of a waterfall

Chiang Mai's Save Elephant Foundation

The northern city of Chiang Mai is another celebrated tourist destination in Thailand, boasting a scenic mountain backdrop and a profusion of temples. Khaney also recommends taking advantage of a unique sanctuary dedicated to Thailand’s national animal called Save Elephant Foundation while there.

“Elephants have greatly influenced Thai culture, myth, and religion,” she says. “Sadly, abuse, poaching, deforestation, and a vast reduction in habitat have all contributed to a rapid decline in elephant numbers, and Asian elephants are now officially an endangered species. I highly recommend visiting the ethical, cruelty-free, and eco-friendly elephant sanctuary.”

Ready to explore Thailand?

Khaney Muyderman and AAA's other travel advisors can help you plan a trip that's the right fit for where you want to go, what you want to see, and what you can spend. See how to get in touch with Khaney and AAA's other travel advisors.

What to eat

A dish of pad thai noodles

Authentic Thai dishes

Among the authentic Thai dishes Khaney recommends sampling are:

  • Hot & sour fish
  • Pad thai (Thai-style fried noodles)
  • Som tum (spicy green papaya salad)
  • Gaeng daeng (red curry)
     

“Sugar-cane juice and local rice whisky are among the best local drinks,” she adds.

Thai street food on skewers

Street food

Sampling street-food snacks is one of Khaney’s “must-dos” in Thailand. “There are some amazing local recipes that would wow any foodie,” she says. “A good choice could be a piece of grilled pork or a chicken wing with sticky rice while touring through the robust night markets of Bangkok, or a cut of fresh fruit from a vendor at an open-air mall.”

Khaney suggests checking out one of the most famous night markets in Bangkok, the Rot Fai Market in the Ratchada area, which is easily and inexpensively reached via the nearby Cultural Centre MRT Underground Station.

A person makes Thai dumplings in a cooking class

Cooking classes

Another standout experience for any gastronomically inclined visitor to Thailand is to take a Thai cooking class. “Try Blue Elephant Cooking School in Bangkok," Khaney offers, where classes start with a trip to the local market and finish off with mastering one of the flavorful Thai dishes from scratch.”

Where to stay & how to get around

Beach bungalows in Thailand

“There are many different levels of accommodations in Thailand,” Khaney notes, “from sleeping in modern hotels with Western amenities to sleeping under the stars in a bungalow near the beach, and even renting a tent for an authentic Thailand camping experience. You will never be lost for accommodation options!”

“During the slow season," Khaney says, "accommodation prices tend to be lower than those during high season or the weekends, as in many places. Be flexible if you need to be!”

Aerial view of the Bangkok skyline at sunset

Stay in Bangkok

If, like many, you’re using Bangkok as your primary base of operations on a Thai getaway, Khaney especially recommends these hotels in the heart of the capital city:

  • Anantara Siam Bangkok Hotel: This former Four Seasons hotel “has breathtaking views of the city and is centrally located,” Khaney says, “just steps from the BTS Skytrain and Sukhumvit shopping and dining neighborhoods as well as the Chao Phraya River.”
  • Bangkok Marriott Hotel Sukhumvit: Close to the Thonglor BTS station and some of Bangkok’s premier shopping, dining, and entertainment districts, this hotel, Khaney says, is also notable for its rooftop lounge and bar.
A tuk-tuk parked outside the Grand Palace in Bangkok

Getting around Thailand

  • Tuk-tuk: Pronounced “took-took,” these motorized rickshaws—sporting a motorcycle-style front and bench seating in the back—serve as convenient (and memorable) modes of transportation in Thailand. “These are the famous three-wheeled vehicles you’ll see in postcards or travel videos of Thailand,” Khaney says.
  • Taxis: Taxis are among the best ways to get around in Thailand. “FYI: The red light means a taxi’s empty,” Khaney points out. “$1 is about 31 baht. Taxis start at 35 baht and thereafter charge 2 baht for the first 2 kilometers and then 2 baht per kilometer after that.”
  • Motorcycle taxis: “Motorcycle taxis are your best bet if you are looking for cheap and immediate transport for short distances,” Khaney says.
Wooden boats in one of Thailand's bays
  • BTS Skytrain: Visitors to Bangkok can use this elevated light rail system to get around the city.
  • Thai Airways: Hop a Thai Airways flight out of Bangkok to quickly reach the major tourist islands and other popular destinations.
  • Wooden longboats: These are the premier way to sightsee around the Gulf of Thailand and other coastal areas of the country.
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