Thailand is one of the most visited countries in the world, seeing over 35 million travelers annually. Some of the most iconic attractions include the stunning islands in the south, the diverse street food scene in Bangkok, and the thousands of temples scattered across the country.
Josh Shephard from The Lost Passport has lived in Thailand for the past 5 years, exploring the country from the remote mountains in the north to the tropical islands in the south. In this post, we will explore 14 of those things which makes Thailand a famous destination for travelers from all around the world.
So, what is Thailand famous for?
Thailand is a heavily Buddhist country with more than 41,000 temples, and more being built all the time. In many regions, you can easily explore 4 to 5 temples in one day on foot. Some of the most iconic temples in Thailand are the White Temple in Chiang Rai, Wat Phra Kaew in Bangkok, Wat Ratburana in Ayutthaya, and Wat Doi Suthep in Chiang Mai.
Remember to dress appropriately when visiting temples in Thailand by covering your knees and shoulders with clothing and take your shoes off at the entrance. Act respectfully by keeping your voice down and not pointing your feet towards the Buddha statues.
Oh, and in case you didn’t know, Wat means Temple in Thai!
With over 41,000 Buddhist temples across the country, you can imagine there are plenty of monks around. In fact, it is estimated there are over 300,000 monks through Thailand!
You can recognize monks quite easily as they are dressed in plain bright orange robes and typically carry alms bowls for collecting food donations. Be cautious of any monk that approaches you in the street asking for a donation of money, this is typically a scammer.
Monks are highly respected in Thailand. On the trains you will see signs which request that you offer them priority seats, there are even express lines for monks at immigration checkpoints and most ticketing venues. Remember, women are not allowed to touch monks, not even as a greeting gesture like shaking hands.
If you hadn’t gathered from the 41,000 temples and 300,000 monks, Thailand is a heavily Buddhist country. Over 94% of Thailand’s population is Buddhist, with a small Muslim minority in the far south by the Malaysian border.
Thai’s take Buddhism seriously in many aspects of everyday life. When leaving Suvarnabhumi airport you will see lots of large signs requesting that you respect Buddha and don’t use it as a decoration. As a sign of respect, don’t get Buddha’s head tattooed on your arm because it looks cool, and don’t go buy Buddha statues for your garden because they look nice between the trees.
Street food is a very broad category, so this article would go on forever if I listed every iconic dish. Pad Thai, Green Curry, and Tom Yum Goong are a few of the most iconic dishes that you need to try in Thailand.
What most travelers don’t realize Is that each region of Thailand has a different cuisine. The north heavily focuses on curries, the eastern regions have lots of spiced meat dishes, and the south has the spiciest food you will ever taste. One place to find every type of Thai food in Bangkok, a true melting pot of cultures with the most diverse street food scene in the world.
There are almost 1 000 islands around the coast of Thailand! The most beautiful islands are in the Andaman Sea, off the west coast of Thailand. Islands like Koh Lipe and Koh Lanta have incredibly clear water with stunning coral reefs to snorkel.
While many people head to the west coast, there are also beautiful islands in the far east near to Cambodia. Islands like Koh Kood and Koh Chang have stunning remote beaches where you can totally escape the crowds. There is an endless opportunity for exploring the islands in Thailand.
They’re loud, they’re hot, and they’re commonly referred to as the Tuk Tuk Mafia. However, when in Thailand you must cruise around town in the backseat of a three-wheeled Tuk Tuk. It’s only then that you will truly appreciate how fun it is zooming through the traffic in Thailand’s most iconic vehicle.
Tuk Tuks are typically more expensive than taxis, so you won’t be catching them every day, but it is worth a trip or two for the novelty.
Wearing elephant pants is a culture created by the backpackers. Walk down Khao Sarn Road and you will see about half of the travelers wearing these iconic, baggy, yet super comfortable pants. Thailand is too hot for jeans, yet long pants are required to enter temples, so elephant pants quickly became the answer for travelers.
Elephant pants can be bought in night markets and walking streets. The price is typically listed at 200 to 300 THB, but with decent bargaining skills, you will get them for around 100 THB.
Cheap electronics, cheap clothes, cheap souvenirs, and the list goes on. Thailand is a paradise for shopaholics. In Bangkok, it seems like there is a huge shopping center on just about every other corner. Certain shopping centers specialize entirely in one type of product; Pratunam is filled with hundreds of independent clothing stores, while MBK has just about every electronic device you will ever need.
Most large shopping centers also have great food courts with a huge range of local foods. The food courts are nicely air-conditioned, a great escape from the heat, and really cheap!
Elephants in Thailand have both good and bad coverage. For many years elephants have been treated cruelly for in the animal tourism industry. Wild elephants are captured, kept in captivity and mentally broken until they obey the masters.
Over more recent years the cruelty has been exposed and certain organizations have been set up as “elephant sanctuaries.” Here the elephants are free to roam around without being tortured or kept in chains. Instead of riding the elephants, visitors can feed them or bathe them in the river.
Before choosing to visit an elephant sanctuary it is important to research whether the organization is a legitimate sanctuary. Do not visit any organization that offers elephant rides, this is the first sign of animal mistreatment.
Night markets, fresh markets, weekend markets, train markets, and so many more variations. The Thais absolutely love their markets any day of the week.
Markets in Thailand go way beyond just shopping. They are a place where locals and tourists can socialize, grab a drink, find great food and even watch live bands play local music. Some of the most popular markets in Thailand are the Amphawa Floating Market in Samut Songkhram, Chiang Mai’s Saturday Night Walking Street, and Bangkok’s Rot Fai (Train) Markets.
Muay Thai is effectively Thailand’s national sport. In Bangkok it is common to see taxi drivers crowded around a roadside TV, shouting in unison and making bets on which fighter will win. Whenever you see a poster for an energy drink around town, they also seem to be sponsoring the latest and greatest fighters. Muay Thai is really ingrained in Thailand’s culture.
If you want to attend a fight, then Lumpinee Stadium in Bangkok’s outer district called Ban Khaen is the place to be. This is the national Muay Thai stadium with the big-name fights broadcasted nationwide. There are also smaller fights held regularly on the islands in the south which typically feature a Thai vs a foreign fighter.
If you really want to get in touch with Thailand’s nature, then you need to visit a waterfall. Hike through the hot and humid jungle for an hour or so, and a natural shower under a waterfall at the end feels magical.
The most beautiful waterfalls in Thailand are in the north. The Khun Korn Waterfall in Chiang Rai stands at over 70 meters tall and is reached by a beautiful half-hour jungle trail. The best time to visit these waterfalls is throughout the wet season which runs from April to October. During the dry season, some waterfalls may be little more than a trickle.
When travelers want to find the party scene in Southeast Asia, Thailand is the answer. Some of the biggest party destinations in the country are the Full Moon Party on Koh Phangan and Khao Sarn Road in Bangkok.
The Full Moon Party on Koh Phangan is a rite of passage for backpackers from all around the world. What started as a small beach party back in 1985 now sees tens of thousands of backpackers gather on Haad Rin Beach drinking cheap whiskey buckets and dancing to electronic beats all night long.
Khao Sarn Road in Bangkok is the entry point to Asia for many backpackers. The entire road is lined with bars, nightclubs, street parties, street food, and shops. During the night Khao Sarn Road is closed off to traffic so that travelers can roam around freely by foot, wandering from one bar to the next.
Whether you’re hopping between temples, going out shopping or just cruising around town in a Tuk Tuk you will notice one thing in common. Traffic.
Every major city in Thailand seems to have a traffic problem, and it gets even worse when it rains. Where a road is designed with two lanes you will commonly find four lanes of cars with motorbikes squeezed in between.
If you want to avoid traffic, try traveling outside of peak hours. Also, if you’re in Bangkok, try to use the train lines as much as possible.
Like many other Southeast Asian countries, there are some dodgy people in Thailand which catch unknowing tourists in scams. One of the most famous scams is “the Grand Palace is closed today but come and tour the city in my Tuk Tuk to expensive shops.” In this scam, the Tuk Tuk mafia is hard at work making small commissions from everything you buy.
Another common scam nationwide is for taxi drivers to demand a flat rate fare from travelers which is often much higher than a metered fare. The solution is simple, only travel by the meter, and only get in registered taxis which show the driver’s details on the dashboard.
Thailand has set up the Tourist Police department where travelers can report scams and other wrongdoings by dodgy locals.
For too many people, combining the words ‘massage’ and ‘Thailand’ in one sentence brings about laughter and suggestions of misbehavior. These people are oh so mistaken and may have been led astray down the wrong tourist trail.
What you should be thinking about is lying back in a comfortable recliner, listening to background sounds of waterfalls and chirping birds, while enjoying a relaxing foot massage for under $10 per hour. Of course, you could also go for a spine cracking, shoulder popping Thai massage which removes all knots from your back but leaves you aching for days on end.
The Thai word for Ladyboy is Kathoey, and they are surprisingly common. A ladyboy is a man who identifies as a woman. That can mean they either just dress like a woman or have gone the whole way with gender transformation removing their downstairs parts and taking hormonal medicines.
While most countries condemn this type of behavior, Thailand unofficially seems to support the ladyboy culture. In some of Thailand’s main tourist areas like Bangkok, Pattaya, Phuket, and Chiang Mai it is also possible to attend a ladyboy cabaret show where they proudly show off their newfound body.
For many years Thailand has been well known for its sex tourism industry. All you need to do is take a short walk down Soi Cowboy in Bangkok or Walking Street in Pattaya and you will be confronted with it full on. Strip bars, prostitutes, ladyboy bars, you name it and it’s probably there.
The sex tourism industry used to spill over into much more of the cities, however, in recent years Thailand has undergone a series of efforts to ‘clean up’ its image. While the sex tourism industry is still strong, it is more confined to certain zones like those mentioned above.
The Land of Smiles
Whether its due to the tasty food, the laid-back lifestyle, the cheap beers, the amazing beaches, or perhaps a combination of all these and much more, Thailand has become known as The Land of Smiles.
Did you know they even named one of the national budget airlines Thai Smile?
Show respect to the locals, and they won’t just respect you back but greet you warmly and show you true hospitality. Before you know it, you will have caught that contagious smile too. Thailand is a welcoming destination where you will come for a one-month trip, yet never want to leave.
What makes Thailand famous for you?
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