The "Land of Smiles" is one of the most frequently visited countries in Asia, receiving nearly 20 million foreign visitors every year -- and for good reason. Travelers can dive, climb, swim, beach, eat, trek, party, and shop their way through Thailand. Its pristine beaches, unforgettable natural landscapes, exquisite temples, fascinating indigenous communities, and bang-for-your-buck affordability keep people coming back time and again.
The most popular activities in Thailand can be often accessed individually, with a lot of research. With such affordability however, it is no surprise that people choose to instead book tours to get a taste of some of the best cuisine, thrilling outdoor adventures, and exciting experiences all in one.
Here are some of the most popular activities to try during your time in Thailand:
Outdoor Adventure Tours
Thailand is the perfect place for outdoor adventurists to visit. Tours range from jungle treks and zip line courses, caving in the Pang Mapha District, rock climbing surrounded by limestone peaks and turquoise waters, zip lining, and more.
In addition to ancient temples and floating bungalows, Thailand’s lush jungles offer a fantastic opportunity to learn about the northern region’s inhabitants: the hill tribes. The only way to reach some of these villages is to trek several days with a tour guide and stay with a local family. Treks can last from one afternoon to one week, and often include visiting local villages, waterfalls, hot springs, and of course eating delicious local food.
Water Sport Tours
Since Thailand’s three coasts have different seasons, you can enjoy most water sports year-round. From diving to sailing, kite boarding, and sea kayaking, any traveler who loves water sports will love Thailand. If you seek water adventure away from the sea, try whitewater rafting or waterfall abseiling.
Anyone with an interest in physical fitness and mindfulness can try yoga, meditation, or Muay Thai classes while visiting Thailand. You can book a wellness experience through a tour operator or show up to a local class. Note: you will be working out in Thailand heat and humidity with no air conditioning, so stay hydrated!
Thailand offers plenty of opportunity to join conservation efforts and support elephant, turtle, and wildlife protection and preservation. There are reputable tours that are well reviewed and respected, known for their commitment to eradicating wildlife abuse. You can visit these refuges for a day or few weeks, or even become a volunteer.
Best Time to Visit Thailand
Thailand has a dry and wet season, so the best time to visit is during the cool, dry season, which runs from November to April. Take note, however, that the climate will also vary between the eastern and western coasts in the south, so check the weather for the exact island you'll be visiting if you're spending time in that region.
What to Look For in a Tour to Thailand
For any escorted tour, make sure you choose your guide and provider carefully. Chat with other foreigners partaking in similar activities or itineraries and find out who they went with and what their experience was. Ask your guesthouse, hotel, or TripAdvisor when in doubt; Go Overseas reviews are another great resource. Always make sure these outfitters are licensed, ask for the specific itinerary before departing, and follow the packing lists carefully.
Typical Tour Costs
Thailand is one of the cheapest countries in the world for travel. A typical budget traveler will spend approximately $25/day in the north and $40/day in the islands and Bangkok. Tours, on the other hand will be a bit more expensive but offer great value and piece of mind for the price. You can expect to pay $100 - $4,000 for a tour depending on the duration and type of activities.
Packing Tips & Gear Rental
Most gear can be rented through agencies and tour companies. While many photos of Thailand travel display travelers showing skin, note that modesty in some locations may be expected when visiting temples. Shorts/skirts, shoes, and bare shoulders are often prohibited. Packing travel shorts that zip into pants and a light scarf would be a simple solution.
Other Tips for Travel in Thailand
- Accommodations: Thailand offers an array of high value lodging. While chain hostels are associated with partying, you can easily find boutique hostels, luxe hotels, homestays, Airbnbs, and smaller guesthouses for a different experience at a great price.
- Transportation: Travel by train, bus, boat, and taxi / tuk-tuk is easily accessible in most cities. Many travelers also rent a motorbike in each destination, but avoid driving in large cities or the most populated islands. Scams and accidents are prolific when riding motorbikes; sleeper trains and buses are a safer, cost-effective alternative.
- Visas: Most travelers can acquire tourist visas upon flight arrival without prior preparations.
Make sure your vaccinations are up-to-date before traveling to Thailand or any other country in Southeast Asia. Please consult your international health doctor, but the usual recommendations include Tetanus and Diphtheria, Measles, Mumps and Rubella, as well as Typhoid and Hepatitis A. Hepatitis B and Rabies should also be considered.
Make sure you have travel health insurance that covers the activities you plan on doing, whether it be trekking, riding a motorcycle, or skydiving. Healthcare in Thailand is very cheap but may not be adequate outside of larger cities like Bangkok.
In general, staying hydrated, especially while trekking and doing other physically demanding activities is important. Always carry bottled water and drink at least 2-3 liters per day. Don't forget to wear sunscreen -- the Thai sun is strong.
Although Thailand is one of the safer destinations in the world, it does pose more risks than other countries in Asia, especially with a raging party scene and many outdoor adventures that can lead to accidents. The highly publicized recent murders and deaths of tourists don't indicate an overall trend towards violence, but rather emphasize the importance of traveling smart in Thailand.
- General safety tips: Muggings in Thailand are uncommon, but use precautions like keeping your valuables in the safe at your hotel or guesthouse and keeping your day-pack in front of you in crowded places. Only take your ATM card out with you when you absolutely need to and don’t keep large amounts of cash on your person.
- Travel tips for females: Women traveling solo in Thailand should encounter few problems, but modest dress is advised, especially in more rural areas. Although you may see tourist sporting short shorts and bra tops, conservative options will better convey respect to the local culture and minimize the chance of unwanted attention.
- Party drugs and drinking: Drinking, drugs, and partying is prevalent among young travelers in Thailand. Consider the severe penalties when in such environments: often times drug transactions are police set-ups. Foreigners caught can be extorted by local police for large amounts of money or taken to jail. In addition, never leave your drink unattended and don’t accept drinks from strangers.
- Motorbiking: Be careful if you hire a motorbike in Thailand. Make sure you have a valid international driver’s license and ask your hotel or guesthouse for their recommendation. Remember to inspect the bike carefully with the rental agency, take photos of existing damage, and read the fine print. Last but not least, busy Thai roads are VERY dangerous: limit driving to the quieter countryside areas, always wear a helmet, and don’t speed.
Thailand is a lot of fun and the majority of tourists come and have an amazing time. Stay aware of your surroundings, just like you would anywhere else, make sure you choose your activity providers and guides carefully and have a great adventure!