Top Activities and best things to do in Thailand

Thailand has something for everyone. While this can be said for other countries as well, Thailand is special because of its vibrant cities, stunning coastline, picturesque mountains, breathtakingly lovely islands, and a relaxed way of life – all easily accessible at a very low cost. And, if this is not enough, Thailand also has elegant monuments and temples, the likes of which are hard to find elsewhere.

Our list of best things to do in Thailand will help you pursue the activity of your choice in the best way. 

11 Best Things to do in Thailand

1 – Island Hopping

  • Best location: Phuket, Krabi
  • Full day trip cost: ฿1500 ($45) by speedboat, ฿500 ($15) by normal boat.
  • Best Time: All year round

Picture a country with a 2000-mile coastline dotted with over 200 islands. Add to that, white sand beaches, crystal clear water, the perfect tropical climate and a range of sea related activities, and you’ll see why island hopping is one of the most exciting and fun-filled things to do in Thailand.

Island hopping is one of the best things to do in Thailand
Long-tail boats can get you to the secluded islands of Thailand

Although it is possible to get to and explore some islands by yourself, things are much more convenient and organised when you take a tour.

A minibus picks you up at around 7:00 a.m. from your hotel and drops you to the starting point. You are then given instructions – many, many instructions. (This is the boring bit, as your guide tries to sell you stuff, which you don’t require). The fun begins as soon as you get into your boat.

You get to visit 3 – 5 picturesque islands where you can swim, snorkel, take photographs or simply sit back and watch the world go by. On the way, you get to dive into the sea from your boat for snorkelling (snorkels and life jackets are provided). Fruits and water are provided on the boat, and a delicious lunch is served on one of the islands.

Once the trip is over, you are dropped back to your hotel around 7:00 p.m. All this is included in the cost, making island hopping not only the most fun-filled, but also one of the most cost effective ways to have a lovely time in Thailand.

Tips:

  • Consider the normal or a long-tail boat option if available. Not only are they cheaper, but they are more relaxed and fun.
  • If you decide to take the motorboat, take the anti-nausea pills you will be offered by your tour operators. The sea can get real choppy.
  • Negotiate on the price. Even the price on brochures is inflated.
  • Sit on the deck and carry sunscreen.

2 – Trekking 

  • Best location: Chiang Mai (popular, therefore crowded), Chiang Rai, Mae Hong Son, Pai and Nan
  • Prices: ฿1000 – ฿2500 ($30 – $75) depending on the duration of the trek
  • Best Time: Oct to Feb

The first few times we visited Thailand, we assumed, like many others, that outdoor activities in Thailand were mainly sea or city related. This is not the case at all. Thailand is a very attractive destination for trekkers and trekking opportunities abound in the Northern and Western parts of the country.

Top things to do in Thailand: Trekking
Sunrise at Doi Hua Mae Kham in Chiang Rai

Trekking trails lead you through exotic jungles and lush green mountains. Apart from the usual walking treks, getting to see the ‘Hill Tribe’ people, excursions on elephants and rafting are the occasional add-ons. Watching the sunset from a summit and camping at stunning spots make trekking a must do from the list of things to do in Thailand.

Keep in mind, however, that because trekking has become so popular in Thailand, finding obscure trails is difficult. Do your research. Consider a less touristy place like Mae Sariang if you prefer a quiet trek.

Tips:

  • Only go with a reputed company. Trekking is very popular in Thailand and predictably there are many trekking companies with varying levels of reliability and competence. Before deciding on a trekking company, ask around for feedback from people who have done the treks.
  • Get inoculations against Hepatitis and have anti Malaria medicine.
  • Do not forget to carry a first aid kit, bug spray, sunscreen, water purification tablets and other hiking essentials.
  • If you decide to go by yourself: remember that your mobile phone will only be good for photos, not to call for help. Ensure that someone knows where you are going and when you are expected to return.

3 – Rock-Climbing

  • Best location: Railay in Krabi & Chang Mai
  • Prices: ฿1000 – ฿1500 ($30 – $45) (half day)
  • Best Time: Nov to March (the dry season)

If you are passionate about rock-climbing, you must visit Railay in Krabi. The vertical limestone cliffs offer a number of bolted routes of varying difficulty, making it one of the world’s most famous climbing locations. It is as if the cliffs were specially built for climbing. From the top, you are rewarded with spectacular views of the beautiful beach and azure waters.

Rock-climbing: Best things to do in Thailand
Railay is the best destination in Thailand for rock-climbing

If you prefer to climb alone, you can hire full climbing gear from shops in Ao Nang, Railay and Ton Sai in Krabi. The equipment can be rented for ฿1000 – ฿1500 ($30 – $45) a day.

Those looking to be away from the crowds can go to Koh Yao Noi, which is reachable from Railay by an hour’s boat trip.

Crazy Horse in Chiang Mai is a good option for rock-climbing if you are in North Thailand.

All in all Railay is an absolutely amazing place, with lots to explore,  accommodation options (mainly resorts), restaurants and bars. We can safely say that if you are a rock-climbing enthusiast consider staying in Railay. Even though it is a more expensive than Krabi town, it is well worth it.

Tips:

  • Get insurance.
  • The International Medical Clinic at Ao Nang, phone +66 91 849 9914, is the nearest (good) hospital to Railay.

4 – Rafting:

  • Best location: Chiang Mai, Pai & Nan. Available on the river Kwai, Mae Cham, Mae Taeng, Pai River, Khlong Song Phraek in Phang Nga
  • Prices: ฿1200 – ฿1800 ($35 – $55)
  • Best Time: November to February

Whether your preference is cool laidback drifting on gentle, well-behaved rivers, or the action packed white water version of badly behaved mountain streams, both are available in Thailand. There is an additional third option that is a combination of bits of both.

Rafting: Top things to do in Thailand
White water rafting in Thailand

The technical basics: 6 levels of classification for flowing water, based on the difficulty of navigation are:

  • Level 1: These are rivers with gently flowing water, definitely not frightening, but also fun.
  • Level 2: The beginning of fast flowing water, with waves up to half a man’s height.
  • Level 3: Waves are up to 4 feet high, and water will often spill into your boat.
  • Level 4: This is serious stuff. The fast flowing water is concentrated in a narrow passage, and the boat requires a high level of skilled handling.
  • Level 5: The water flow is very fast and the boat twists and spins, and is very difficult to control.
  • Level 6: These are the waterfalls, and very few people can handle them.

Thailand has opportunities for levels 1 to 4.

With spectacular scenery around every bend, white water rafting is a very popular activity in Thailand. All the above-mentioned destinations offer great rafting experiences so make your selection not on the location, but on the difficulty level.

Tips:

  • Check the safety levels of the company providing the white water rafting. If you do not have an idea of the level of the safety standards necessary, you can compare the safety standards of the company you are considering using with the standards of other companies.
  • Remember that July to Oct is the rainy season and the water of all rivers will be in spate.

5 – Muay Thai (Thai Boxing)

  • Best location: Bangkok, Phuket & Chiang Mai
  • Best place to Train: Chuwattana Gym, Bangkok
  • Training price: ฿1000 ($ 30) a day. This includes 5-6 hours of training along with a 30-min private class, accommodation and food!
  • Best place to view a match: Rajadamnern Stadium, Bangkok & Lumphini Stadium, Bangkok
  • Price to watch a match: Non-Thai’s have to pay up to ฿2000 ($60) to watch a match

Muay Thai, the National Sport of Thailand, is believed to have originated in the Ayutthaya period. It is a scientific combination of grabs and strikes including those by kicks from knees, shins, fists and elbows. Considered a dangerous sport, Thai boxing was banned in the 1920s, and it came back in 1937 with rules for making it a safer. It has now evolved into a popular spectator sport.

Muay Thai fight in Bangkok
A Muay Thai fight in Bangkok

While watching a match is an experience, learning Muay Thai is extremely demanding. There are hundred’s of training camps spread out over the country, but not all of them encourage non-Thai’s to join.

If you are looking to learn, Chuwattana gym comes highly recommended by our friend Momo. Momo has been travelling from France and London to Thailand for over a decade to learn Muay Thai. Spending between 4 – 6 months each visit, he has explored many gyms in Bangkok and Phuket, and says that Chuwattana gym is his favourite by far. The instructors, equipment, gym, food and accommodation are the best there.

In Momo’s words, “you’ll learn more Muay Thai in Thailand in 2 months, than you can possibly learn in London or France in a year”. So if you are interested, Thailand is the best place to learn Muay Thai.

Tips:

  • For details contact The International Muay Thai Federation at Pathumwan Stadium, 154 Rama Road, Bangkok or The Lumphini Stadium, Rama Four Road, Bangkok.

6 – Diving & Snorkelling

  • Best location for Diving: Koh Tao, Burma banks, Surin Islands, Koh Ma, Koh Lanta and Koh Chang
  • Best location for Snorkelling: Islands near Krabi and Phuket.
  • Best Time: Mid October to mid May.

Diving and snorkelling enthusiasts are spoilt for choice in Thailand. The brilliant coral reefs and near perfect water visibility conditions of the Andaman Sea, help rank Thailand as one of the world’s top destinations for viewing marine life.

If you are looking for snorkelling opportunities in Krabi or Phuket, consider Khao Lak and the Similan Islands (both can be reached from Krabi and Phuket in under two hours). Khao Lak is one of Thailand’s most peaceful resort destinations. This quiet and non-touristy area has spectacular corral reefs and is great for viewing sea life including sea turtles.

Thailand is one of the best locations in the world for diving & snorkelling
It's a real joy to spot a sea turtle while diving in Thailand

If you’d rather spend an entire day on one island (instead of going for the island hopping tour), a trip to the Similan Islands is a good option. These picture perfect islands are ideal for snorkelling and diving.

Koh Tao in Samui is one of the best destinations for diving. Its Sail Rock is reached after a one and a half hour trip, but the effort is well worth it. Another great destination for watching marine life is Burma Banks, which lies about 40 miles Northwest of the Surin Islands. Divers can encounter Grey Sharks, Silvertip Sharks and Nurse Sharks quite often, as they explore the submarine mountain which rises from the seabed almost all the way to the surface.

If you are a diving enthusiast, who wishes to avoid crowds, consider the Surin Islands. The waters surrounding the Richelieu rock offer a high possibility of spotting a Whale Shark.

Koh Lanta in Phang Nga Bay has two diving sites: Hing Daeng and Hin Muang, also known as Purple Rock. Divers may come across manta rays and whale sharks.

A slight variation from the normal diving sight is the King Cruiser wreck. This ship sank near Phuket in 1977 and its wreck has now become home for marine life and corals.

For those interested in watching Leopard Sharks along with other marine life, Shark Point, one and a half hours away from Phuket is the perfect destination.

Tips:

  • Before booking your travel, check to see if national parks and other diving areas are open – many are closed from May to October.
  • New to diving? Koh Ma near Koh Phanan has a large variety of marine life and calm waters, making it perfect for novice divers.

7 – Teaching English

If you have the time, ability and inclination to teach English, Thailand has excellent opportunities for you. Teaching English (and volunteering in general) offers a chance to understand Thai culture and make a contribution to society, and, gives a purpose to those searching for one. The benefits of teaching can also include a decent salary (starting at ฿30,000 ($1000) a month) and accommodation.

Teaching English & Volunteering in Thailand
Teaching English & Volunteering in Thailand is the best way to understand Thai Culture

Generally native English speakers are given preference. If you have prior English teaching experience and a TEFL (teaching English as a foreign language) certificate, your prospects improve further.

The requirements for English teachers in Thailand are fluid. They vary by school and regional needs. Public and Government schools usually have more students in each class and salaries are lower. The advantage is that they have more vacancies and fewer requirements from applicants.

Private schools, on the other hand, have better remuneration packages and require higher qualifications from teachers. They also have fewer vacancies, but their hiring rules can also be flexible. They may take a candidate with fewer qualifications.

The Thai Government requirements to teach English (and for getting a permit to do so) are:

  • A certified degree and transcript from a four-year college.
  • Master’s degree if you are interested in pursuing a job in a university.
  • A TOEIC score above 600 or IELTS score above 3 if you are from a non-native English speaking country.
  • Non-immigrant B visa.

Tips:

  • Documents you will require for a teaching (work) visa: original copy of degree, original employment contract, passport, proof of Thailand address, notarised copy of your degree from your embassy or ministry of foreign affairs.
  • We advise against working on a tourist visa.

8 – Stay at a Buddhist Monastery 

  • Best location: Chang Mai, Bangkok

For those looking for a break from it all, peace and quiet with absolutely no distractions – no calendars or clocks or worries – spending time in a Buddhist monastery might appeal to you. Although monasteries accept anyone willing to open their minds to Buddhism, you need to be a Buddhist if you wish to stay for long or ordain.

Soul searching & looking for quiet time in Thailand: stay in a Buddhist Monastery
Buddhist Monastery

Some monasteries in Bangkok award temporary ordination. While the more famous wats can request donations (for ordination), you should be able to ordain for free. If you are looking to ordain in a forest monastery, Wat Pan Nanachat is a recommended option. Ordination at Wat Pan Nanachat is a year long process and free.

While the recommended duration to stay in a monastery is at least a month, we can’t say too much about this for now. We were considering spending time in a monastery in Mcloedganj, the home of the Dalai Lama, but it didn’t work out because of time constraints. We will write a page on this when we do.

9 – Attend a Thai Cooking Class

  • Best location: Chiang Mai, Bangkok
  • Half-day class Cost: ฿1000 ($ 30) in Chiang Mai, ฿1300 ($ 40) in Bangkok.

If, like us, Thai cuisine is your favourite, taking a Thai cooking class, is a fun thing to do in Thailand. You can take a full or a half-day class.

Most classes are similar – you are taught how to prepare a soup, a curry and a stir-fry. At first, you get an introduction to local spices, herbs, vegetables, and other ingredients that are used to prepare the dish. You then (in most cases) get to visit a local market where your chef selects ingredients for the dishes. The chef then shows you how to prepare popular dishes, such as Tom Yum Soup, Green Curry and Pad Thai.

Another option for food lovers in Thailand is exploring the local street and fruit markets. A popular way to do so is visiting a floating market. Damnoen Saduak Floating Market in Ratchaburi, about 60 miles Southwest of Bangkok, is one of the most famous in Thailand, and a must see destination if you are in Bangkok.

Floating market in Bangkok
Bangkok's floating market are a great place to experience Thailand

10 – Visit the Streets (for party lovers)

  • Best location: Soi Cowboy and Khaosan Road in Bangkok, Walking Street in Pattaya & Walking Street (Bangla Road) in Phuket

Thailand’s ‘Walking Streets’ come alive at night. While they can be an absolute onslaught on the senses if you are looking for some quiet time, they are the place to be if you are looking to party or simply do some people watching. Hundreds and even thousands of foreigners and locals flock to these party hubs each night.

Open mindedness and a good sense of humour are a prerequisite to enjoying yourself as you explore these colourful streets, charged with excitement and energy.

Thailand is a party destination. Image of Soi Cowboy
Thailand's famous Walking Streets and party areas come alive at night

If you would rather party in a regular place, consider Thailand’s rooftop bars that give you a good view of the city, or bars with live music. Live performances by local Thai rock bands (in the bars) are praise worthy.

Tips:

  • Be careful of scamsters.

11 – Get a Thai Massage

  • Cost: ฿250 – ฿350 ($7 – $10) for a one-hour Thai massage

There is nothing quite as revitalising as getting a traditional Thai massage after an eventful day. A Thai massage is a little like yoga; it combines stretching and pressure points.

The theory is that the human body has 10 main lines, referred to as energy lines. A therapist rubs and pulls on these lines to loosen muscle and joints. The experience can be painful, and the efficiency of the massage depends on the receivers relaxing and giving in to the pain.

The result is an energising and balancing treatment, which leaves you in a state of sublime relaxation.

For courses consider the Wat Po School of Thai Massage, Bangkok, and the Massage School of Chang Mai.

While, when in Thailand, we focus on the activities that we enjoy the most – and have, therefore, written about those from experience – to complete this list of top things to do in Thailand, we have taken help from our friends who either live in or regularly visit Thailand and from research.

Hopefully our list of best things to do in Thailand has covered your area of interest. If it hasn’t, write to us and we will see if we can include it. 

If you are prefer to first choose the place you’ll visit and then decide the activity, please visit our top destinations page. If you are planning your trip, you can visit our preparing for Thailand page, or simply start with the home page of our Thailand Travel Guide.

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