When we think of Thailand, what might come to mind is massive cities balanced out with neon-blue seas and limestone-laden beachscapes, but this Asian country is composed of so much more.
Buddhist temples, ancient structures, colourful markets – on land and off – and yes, jaw-droppingly amazing beaches, are what help illustrate Thailand’s vast and varied culture, just waiting to be discovered.
Here are a few of our favourite spots on this cultural tour – just get ready to have your senses sufficiently overloaded.
Temple of the Reclining Buddha
The Temple of the Reclining Buddha – also known as Wat Pho – in Bangkok is a frontrunner in the ‘largest’ department. It plays host to the largest collection of Buddha images in Thailand, the largest reclining Buddha in Bangkok, and is also the country’s first centre for public education.
This big golden Buddha is a feast for the eyes. When visiting here – and other temples – you’ll want to make sure you’re dressed appropriately with shoulders covered, trousers below the knees, and that you remove your shoes before you enter a viharn, which is the general worshipping area.
Ayutthaya Historical Park
You’ll find the Ayutthaya Historical Park about an hour and a half’s drive from Bangkok, and from there, it’s a sprawling spot, part of which has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Though the Siamese Kingdom of Ayutthaya was captured by the Burmese in the 16th century, the park still contains a great deal of ruins including ancient temples, royal structures, crypts and Buddha images, including one that’s carved into a tree.
Chatuchak Weekend Market
The Chatuchak Weekend Market is one of the biggest in the world, and is the place to go if you want to get the true Thai shopping experience. It’s broken into sections so is easily digestible, with the clock tower as a reference point.
Here, you’ll find everything from clothing to antiques, souvenirs and handmade artwork. There’s even a food court packed with Thai street food for mid-afternoon nibbles.
Temple of the Emerald Buddha
In Thai, Bangkok’s Temple of the Emerald Buddha is known as Wat Phra Kaew, considered widely as the most sacred Buddhist temple in all of Thailand.
Inside the great gold buildings is the famed Emerald Buddha, which was originally created in India, where it was prophesised that it would bring ‘prosperity and pre-eminence’ to the country in which it resided. Carved from a single jade stone, it can only be touched by the King of Thailand, so keep your paws to yourself.
Take a look at any tourist pamphlet selling Thailand holidays and you’re likely to see heart-stoppingly beautiful beaches lined with limestone cliffs.
To see one of these Thai staples in action, you’ll want to head over to Krabi’s Railay Beach, or Rai Leh to the locals. Due to its surrounding cliffs that cut it off from the mainland, Railay is only accessible by boat, but that just means that once you’re there, it’s you, the sun and the scenery.
Rice paddy tours
Rice is Thailand’s most important crop, harvested at sweeping rice paddies found across the country.
Up until recently, the country was the world’s largest rice exporter, but now only stands behind India and Vietnam. There are a number of tours that leave from Bangkok and venture out into the Thai countryside, where you can visit working farms and get a breath of fresh air outside of the city.
Si Thep Historical Park
The ancient portions of Si Thep make up the Si Thep Historical Park. It’s surrounded by a moat, and is laden with ponds and swamps. Also inside are museums whose exhibits explore the area’s archaeological finds and history, ancient rusty-red sculptures and crumbling buildings, as well as temples.
Damnoen Saduak Floating Market
Bangkok’s most popular floating market and arguably one of the best in the world, Damnoen Saduak takes place along the Damnoen Saduak Canal.
The market is broken into three sections, and consists of a network of narrow canals on which vendors sell their wares via long, skinny boats. The market is especially popular among tourists, and typically sells fresh fruit and vegetables that come straight from the vendors’ farms.
To get the best prices, you’ll want to haggle.
Ko Phi Phi Le
Ko Phi Phi Le is one of Krabi’s many islands, this one belonging to the Phi Phi archipelago. The beaches here are all blindingly blue water, limestone cliffs and white sand.
They’re so beautiful, in fact, that Ko Phi Phi Le was chosen as the paradise setting for the 2000 film The Beach, which has helped make the shores here some of the most popular in all of Thailand.
The Death Railway
Don’t be fooled by the name – all is quite safe on the Death Railway, a long stretch of locomotive travel that stretches from just off Bangkok and crosses into Burma.
It was constructed under Japanese supervision in World War II by POWs, and along the way are museums and memorials remembering the men that helped construct this modern monolith.
As for the railway itself, it features more than 600 bridges and covers an astonishingly wide bit of ground, making it a special feat, and an interesting window into both the Thai scenery and the country’s history.
Have you been to Thailand? What cultural gems would you add to our list? Let us know in the comments below.