Bangkok, Thailand’s capital, is a large city known for ornate shrines and vibrant street life. The boat-filled Chao Phraya River feeds its network of canals, flowing past the Rattanakosin royal district, home to opulent Grand Palace and its sacred Wat Phra Kaew Temple. Nearby is Wat Pho Temple with an enormous reclining Buddha and, on the opposite shore, Wat Arun Temple with its steep steps and Khmer-style spire.
Chiang Mai is a city in mountainous northern Thailand. Founded in 1296, it was capital of the independent Lanna Kingdom until 1558. Its Old City area still retains vestiges of walls and moats from its history as a cultural and religious center. It’s also home to hundreds of elaborate Buddhist temples, including 14th-century Wat Phra Singh and 15th-century Wat Chedi Luang, adorned with carved serpents.
Phuket City, on Phuket Island, is the capital of Thailand’s Phuket Province. In the Old Town, Thalang Road is lined with colorful 19th-century shophouses and Sino-Portuguese buildings. Built in 1903 by a wealthy tin merchant, Baan Chinpracha mansion has Italian floor tiles, shuttered windows and antique furniture. Set in a 1930s manor, the Thai Hua Museum has exhibits on Phuket’s culture and history.
Ko Samui, Thailand’s second largest island, lies in the Gulf of Thailand off the east coast of the Kra Isthmus. It's known for its palm-fringed beaches, coconut groves and dense, mountainous rainforest, plus luxury resorts and posh spas. The landmark 12m-tall golden Big Buddha statue at Wat Phra Yai Temple is located on a tiny island connected to Ko Samui by a causeway.
Pattaya is a city on Thailand’s eastern Gulf coast known for its beaches. A quiet fishing village as recently as the 1960s, it’s now lined with resort hotels, high-rise condos, shopping malls, cabaret bars and 24-hour clubs. Nearby, hillside Wat Phra Yai Temple features an 18m-tall golden Buddha. The area also features several designer golf courses, some with views of Pattaya Bay.
Krabi, on southern Thailand’s west coast, is a province characterized by craggy, sheer limestone cliffs, dense mangrove forests, and more than a hundred offshore islands. Some of its most popular beach destinations include the Phi Phi Islands, which jut from the sea like giant rainforested boulders, and Railay Beach, accessible only by boat and a prominent rock-climbing spot.
Chiang Rai is a city in northern Thailand, in the mountainous province of the same name. They city is near the borders of Laos and Myanmar (formerly Burma). Wat Phra Kaew is a royal temple that once housed the jade Emerald Buddha and now displays a replica. Nearby, the Navel City Pillar is a monument made of more than 100 Khmer-style pillars. Mae Fah Luang Art and Cultural Park is a museum showcasing Lanna artifacts.