10 Unforgettable Things to Do in Thailand

10 Things to Do in Thailand: Tuk Tuks
Monks in Bangkok

Thailand is absolutely one of my favorite countries to visit. The food, the atmosphere and all the night markets are all some of the best things to spend  time doing in the country. There’s so much to do in one week alone, and if you have the time, spending multiple weeks to a month in multiple cities is probably one of the best ways to explore the country. However, if you’re short on travel time like me, then here are 10 things to do in Thailand for just a week.

10 Things to Do in Thailand

10 Things to Do in Thailand:

1. Get Lost in Temples

I love temples, but temples tend to have similar influences and designs throughout Asia. I’ve had my fair share of temple-going and Thailand’s temples were definitely stunning. Like many other Asian countries with buddhist (and similar religions) roots, you can find beautiful and small temples in the local neighborhoods if you want to avoid the more touristy areas.

BANGKOK

On our first night, we stumbled upon a temple near the Pat Pong Area that was still open and lit-up at night with street stalls and performers. We didn’t go there that first night, but it was so fascinating that we made sure to go back and explore it before leaving Bangkok. The temple, Wat Hua Lamphong, was the most populated and lively at night with street stalls, street performances, and brightly lit lights. Most temples we saw at night in Thailand were like mini night markets, sparkly neon lights and all.

We also visited some tourist favorites like Wat Pho (Wat Phra Chetuphon Vimolmangklararm Rajwaramahaviharn) and Wat Arun. Each of the temples were beautifully decorated with statues of buddha and other deities, tiles that lined the walls of all the structures, and even wraps to cover your legs and arms before you walked in for free. For some reason, I forgot that needed to cover up my shoulders and legs for temples and wore short-shorts and a tank top. It was one of the hottest days in Thailand, so cut me some slack! There will be people selling those wrap cloths outside temple doors and they’re often working with the tuk-tuk drivers to bring in more unsuspecting customers as well. I had a light rain jacket to cover my shoulders, but I tried to avoid buying a wrap for the temple from the hawkers outside. With time running out before temples closed (most close around 4 or 5), I caved and bought one for about 150 baht outside of Wat Pho. Little did I know, I would walk in and find out that I could have easily picked up a wrap when visiting the main prayer hall to wrap around my legs for temporary use. To avoid all of that, just remember that for temples in Thailand, you must have your shoulders covered and pants, a dress, or a skirt that falls at or below the knees.

Wat Pho (Wat Phra Chetuphon Vimolmangklararm Rajwaramahaviharn)

The temples are beautiful and the temple attendants at the most touristy temples really take their temples seriously. They will kick you out of the prayer hall if they find you to be even the smallest of disrespectful and they are very strict on what you wear. I found that the attendants were particularly strict at Wat Pho, but it was one of the places with the most visitors. This temple had the famous reclining buddha as well as two main prayer halls. We were also able to walk a short distance from this temple to the dock to take the ferry (ท่าเตียน) to Wat Arun. 

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10 Things to Do in Thailand: Wat Pho
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Wat Arun

Wat Arun is a famous temple you can see from the shores of the Chao Phraya river on the opposite side. It’s a beautiful temple with large tiles pyres that glisten in the sunlight. Wat Arun is also equally beautiful at night as it remains lit all day. The temple is also near Wang Derm Palace, so there’s a lot of military security when you leave the castle to get to the main road in that direction.

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Bangkok, Thailand: Wat Arun
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The temples in Chiang Mai were equally as beautiful, but a lot more peaceful. At the temple near our hostel, Wat Phra Singh Woramahawihan, we were able to actually sit in on a prayer for the young buddhist monks who were beginning their studies and we were able to talk to the head monk of the temple as he spoke English! He invited us to stay for a flower celebration they were having, but we had to go since we didn’t visit the temple until our last day in Chiang Mai.

CHIANG MAI

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2. Knock Out on a Sleeper Train

I took the 2nd Class Mixed Sleeper Train with air conditioning from Bangkok to Chiang Mai. Many blogs say that space books up fast, so I booked online through 12 Go Asia. I picked up the ticket from their office near Hua Lamphong the day before. 

When I was researching Thailand before the big day, I read various blogs that said to take the sleeper train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai. Now, I’ll be honest. Spending half a day on a train sounds absolutely disgusting, especially when you factor in how hot Thailand is and how dirty and cramped trains can be. Riding on a sleeper train is not like riding economy on a plane. It’s not even like riding for 8+ hours on a Greyhound bus (been there, done that!). You get a bed with sheets, an air-conditioned train compartment—if you spring for it, and you should—and a privacy curtain. If you’re lucky, you’ll be in a compartment where people are not so noisy, or you’ll be placed in the compartment with young backpackers or a group of rowdy travelers on a “luxury” vacation. There is no wifi on the train, but you’ll be knocked out for most of the ride if you take the train at night like I did. 

Something to note: the juice they offer you is NOT free! When you first get on the train and settle down, attendants will come through offering you pre-prepared juice on a tray. It’s so tempting, but don’t do it if you’re trying to save your baht on something more substantial than sugary juice. No food or drinks on the train are free. 

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3. Experience Tuk-Tuk Magic

The Tuk-Tuk. The popular mode of transportation that inspired many silly songs while on my trip with gems like “Get in my Tuk-Tuk”. 

When you’re walking around Bangkok, tuk-tuk drivers are not afraid to make any kind of noise to get your attention. We were clapped at, yelled at, woofed at—all the catcalling techniques you can imagine, but we decided to ride in a tuk-tuk of drivers who were less vocal on our last day in Bangkok and our last day in Chiang Mai.

For both rides we were able to haggle the driver down almost a hundred baht from their original price. I think riding one once for the experience is good enough, especially since there are other modes of transportation that are cheaper or just as cheap (i.e, Thailand’s “Uber,” Grab). Some tips from a local, although seemingly common sense: don’t get into a tuk-tuk until you have negotiated the price you want, and have gotten explicit agreement on said price. Be prepared to stand your ground and be aware of where you are.

Other than using tuk-tuks, we really utilized Grab. Grab is Thailand’s “Uber,” but you can actually pay cash to the driver instead of paying with credit card (although credit card is an option). I feel that the drivers preferred cash over credit payments, and it was convenient for us as we could split the money up on the spot or shortly after the ride. Also, there are an abundance of Grab drivers, even in Chiang Mai, and they were often cheaper than the tuk-tuk. The app offers in-app translatable chats so that you can talk to your driver, and all the drivers we used were very friendly. So, Grab is a great alternative to mopeds or tuk-tuks if you don’t want to ride them the whole time you’re in Thailand. While we could use Grab in Chiang Mai, there were less drivers than in Bangkok, so it might not be an option in the true countrysides of Thailand. The Grab app is available for iPhone and Android.

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4. See Elephants (But Don't Ride Them)

When looking for an Elephant Sanctuary, it was really hard to search through reviews and truly know which sanctuaries treated their Elephants well, and which sanctuaries didn’t. We wanted to visit Elephant Nature Park, but by the time we could request our vacation time, the sanctuary had booked up since it was the most well-known and renowned. Instead, we went with Elephant Jungle Sanctuary because it was slightly cheaper and we could do most of the same things as the other sanctuaries, but without spending a whole day there. Some reviews I saw online stated that the Elephant mahouts (keepers) used sticks with nails on the elephants, but when I visited, I didn’t see sticks, but I did see barbed wire on the roofed area where we were feeding the elephants.

The mahoots seemed to treat the elephants like they were forceful parents. When the elephants decided that they really didn’t want to be mud bathed anymore and ran away, the trainers let them leave without any form of punishment (as far as we could see). We rinsed them off with water from a watering hole down the way and then the visit was largely over. They gave us a lunch of eggs, rice, curry and fruits, so all-in-all, I enjoyed the visit. Elephant Jungle Sanctuary cost 1200 baht for the half-day morning visit. It included feeding the elephants (bananas and bamboo), bathing the elephants in mud and water, and lunch. It also included being picked up from and dropped off at our hostel in a red truck (Chiang Mai’s famous tuk-tuk style trucks).

As far as how ethical the sanctuary is, I feel that it is important to research by yourself as an addition to what is said on various blogs. However, if I were to go to Thailand again (which I definitely will), I would try Elephant Nature Park.

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5. Take a Cooking Class

Since all three of us were focused on eating our way through Thailand, a cooking class was the perfect opportunity to eat a crap-ton of food and learn how to make all the foods we had been eating for the roughly two weeks we were there. We chose to take a class in Chiang Mai through Thai Secret Cooking School run by ‘Mei’ and her husband at their house in the San Sai district of Chiang Mai. There, we participated in the full-day class from 8:30 to 3:30PM for 1200 baht. The three of us decided to learn how to make Po Pea Thot (Thai Fried Spring Rolls), Pad Thai (Thai Style Noodles), Tom Kha Gai (Chicken in Coconut Milk Soup), Namprik Gaeng Kheaw Whan (Green Curry Paste), Gaeng Kheaw Whan Gai (Green Curry with Chicken) and Gluey Thod (Deep Fried Bananas). We were also able to make coconut milk from scratch and also learned how to make Khao Nuaw Ma Muang (Mango and Sticky Rice) using the beautiful purple color of the Butterfly Pea. 

We were picked up at our guesthouse and taken to the local market about fifteen minutes away. There, we met the cooking teacher, Mei, and learned about the ingredients of some traditional Thai foods. We were able to roam around the market for 15 minute and buy fruits and things if we wanted. I bought the Thai chili paste she recommended since it was cheaper (and came in a travel-size) at the market. After the market, we drove about 30 minutes to her house in the countryside and started our class picking the necessary vegetables and herbs from their garden. Everything we made we ate and we were given an hour break in the middle of the class to take a nap, tour the garden or even just sit and relax. It was crazy hot and humid outside and because the kitchen and eating space was an open plan to the outdoors, you could really feel the heat halfway through the class. If you’re not on a time crunch, definitely take the full-day class. We were able to cook lunch and dinner meals and eat them there. We were also able to really get our hands into the cooking and learn about our teacher. 

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6. Get a Thai Massage

As a Thai massage virgin and someone who had just spent the entirety of her Thailand trip walking miles on flat feet in flip flops, the prospect of flopping down on a massage chair to get twisted into wacky shapes was short of a dream. I had never gotten a professional message in my life before Thailand (and sadly haven’t gotten one since). We left getting the massage for the day before our last day in Chiang Mai and the last day of our Thailand vacation, so we did a quick google map search in the area and found a Thai massage boutique that hired women who are rehabilitated criminals called “Women’s Massage Center“. I have to admit, instead of being apprehensive, we were all excited by the concept and decided to stop into one of the many locations in Chiang Mai with the best reviews. 

When you first walk in, it looks like your typical swanky massage boutique. You go to the back and change clothes into a baggy shirt and jeans that tie across the chest and waist respectively. After, you get your feet washed and massaged–which for me was the best part, to be honest. Lastly, you walk to the very last room filled with about 20 or so padded benches. The room was dark with calming music and the only voices that could be heard were of the women doing the massages. 

My friends thought the massages weren’t deep enough, but having had no massages to base it on, I thought it felt average, but not too bad. After the massages, we each tipped the women who gave us a massage a few baht while they gave us tea and told us to rest a few minutes in the front lobby area. 

Overall, the experience was worth it. We definitely did our research on the boutique when we first found out about it, and all the reviews were honest and pretty spot on. If you don’t mind missing out on a bone-breaking massage, then I suggest going there.

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7. Spend All of Your Money at Markets

Out of all the markets I’ve been to while abroad, I think I spent the most money at the markets in Thailand. Although I haggled my way down to good prices for both parties, I found that I spent so much more money in Thailand because I kept thinking “That’s like $5 USD, right? That’s pretty cheap.” Well, $5 to $10 purchases add up if you’re not careful and I had to pay an overweight luggage fee when I returned to Japan. Face, meet palm. 

When you go to any of the markets in Thailand, be ready for the art of war–price war that is. Be sure to haggle the prices down at these markets and stalls, and if you don’t like the price at one stall, I guarantee you that another stall has the exact same thing in the exact same print for cheaper and is willing to go cheaper. What’s important to remember is not to go back to a stall once you’ve rejected an offer. If you go back, there’s no telling how high they’ll raise the prices. I made the mistake of going back after rejecting an offer not because I didn’t like the price, but more so because I wasn’t sure if I wanted the item itself. After walking around the rest of the market, I went back to get the item–a wooden carved elephant candle holder, and I had to pay at least 100 baht higher than her original price. A small price to pay for a beautiful conversation piece in my apartment.

Also, as you walk around, you will see the notorious elephant pants at every market and street stall. Try not to spend over 800 baht on those pants because they are definitely an over-saturation of the market in Thailand. 

PAT PONG NIGHT MARKET

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DAMNOEN SADUAK FLOATING MARKET

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MAEKLONG RAILWAY MARKET

Thailand: Maeklong Railway Market
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8. See a Muay Thai Fight

When we started planning out the things we wanted to do on the trip that wasn’t eating, we were sure we wanted to see a Muay Thai Fight. We were able to ask the people at the front desk of Sleep Hotel Bangkok about many of the spontaneous things we did, and the Muay Thai Fight was one of them. By the last two days of our time in Bangkok, we sat down in our room and wondered how we were going to fit everything in the last two days. But, thanks to the friend we made, Gaum, at the hotel, we were able to go to Rajadamnern Stadium after seeing the temples in the area.

When you first get to the Muay Thai stadium, you’ll realize that there are two prices: prices for locals and prices for foreign visitors. Our friend at the hotel was able to call to get a quote of prices, but we were unable to get that price because she was unable to actually go with us to the stadium. We paid the foreigner price to get second-tier seats, meaning the seats weren’t right in front of the ring, but we had a clear view and actual chairs to sit in. There were also attendants that came around to take alcohol and snack orders while we watched the fights. The fights typically last about 30 minutes, and there were about six fights that day with the second-to-last being what the locals wanted to see. The fights started from the youngest of boys to the oldest and some ended with clear K.O.s. 

Although I enjoyed seeing the rituals of the boys getting ready for their fights, praying, and seeing the overall atmosphere of the stadium, I also felt sad watching the young boys fight to the point they were knocked out. I tried to remind myself that they were fighting for a shot at a dream and was glad to see that every boy had family members who came to support them. 

If you decide to see a Muay Thai fight in Bangkok, I recommend going to the Rajadamnern Stadium and getting the second or even third tier, standing-only, seats if you don’t want to pay about $60 USD to watch the fights.

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9. Gorge Yourself on Mango Sticky Rice

The first food you think of when you think of Thailand may be Pad Thai, but the second thing you should think of is Mango Sticky Rice. It is the quintessential dessert of the country. 

It’s a simple dessert of fresh and ripe mango slices with a Thai variety of sticky rice cooked with coconut milk and drizzled with condensed milk. The flavor is sweet both the fresh mango balances out the flavors nicely

You can get the dessert all around Thailand, and the taste is usually the same. Some stores color their rice with flowers, but the taste is usually the same. You can usually get this dessert for about 150 to 200 baht on average. 

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10. Get Your Wig Snatched at a Cabaret Show

Drag is an art form, and it’s no different in Thailand. I’m sure many people have seen videos of Thai beauty contests with contestants who look like beautiful women, but were born as men. Well, it’s not just a video on YouTube. When you go to Thailand, you can have the opportunity to see a professional show by Thai “ladyboys” or Thai men who dress as women. Their makeup and dress is exceptional and their acts are well-crafted. Catching a performance by these talented performers is a must-do.

We were able to see two of these shows. One was in Bangkok at the Calypso Cabaret Theater at the Asiatique Riverfront and the other was in Chiang Mai at the Ram Bar. The theater performance definitely had a higher production value, but even the small performance at the bar was entertaining and completely worth it. I don’t want to spoil the shows for you, but most of the shows consist of costumes, imitation acts of celebrities, singing and dancing. The performances are highly choreographed and the men and women tend to interact with the crowd. 

We were able to see the show at the theater for a discounted price because we had talked about wanting to see a show with the front desk of Sleep Hotel Bangkok and one of the women who works at the hotel actually has a friend who performs in the show. 

At the end of the show, it’s a good idea to tip the performers before you leave. They’ll all be standing outside waiting for the audience to walk out so you can talk to them, take pictures with them, and give them a tip then. The women we got the discount from said it was good to give about 200 baht or more to the performers. 

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Honorable Mentions

When we were in Thailand, about half of the things we decided to do were completely spontaneous to the detriment of our wallets. So, although I don’t suggest you be too spontaneous, especially when it comes to touristy attractions, some honorable mentions are a night boat cruise along the Choay Praya River, partying at local nightclubs in Bangkok and Chiang Mai, buying a wooden doll at a traditional Thai doll shop, visiting the “Art in Paradise” Trick Art Museum, shopping at Bangkok’s major mall and in it’s shopping district, visiting the Jim Thompson House Museum, and following local food suggestions and going on wild goose chases to find them (insert our adventure to find Bou Loi). 

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12 thoughts on “10 Unforgettable Things to Do in Thailand”

  1. OMG!!!!!!! Your pictures are beautiful! Thailand is and has been on my bucket list for a minute. After reading this post I think I’ll have to move it up to the top. I really want to experience the temple and taste some authentic food! Thank you so much for sharing. I feel like I took the trip with you! Definitely pinned this for later

    1. Vee, thanks so much! I’m glad my guide could help get Thailand to the top for you. I definitely recommend eating as much as possible and seeing as many temples as possible. Even I want to go back! If you have any other Thailand questions, let me know!

  2. Love these tips, Thailand is our favourite country to visit. The food, the people, the atmosphere and the temperatures are fantastic. The train market close to Bangkok is the best!

    1. Nerissa, I hope you can eventually go on that solo trip! Luckily, I think this guide will still be handy even a few years down the road. 😀

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