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Thailand’s largest island is an international magnet for beach lovers and serious divers, who enthusiastically submerge themselves in the Andaman Sea. Blue lagoons and salmon sunsets make for a dream-like atmosphere, and indeed, a vacation here can feel a bit surreal. Watersports are the most popular activities, though once you’ve had enough sun there’s still plenty to explore at the island’s aquariums, gardens, and Buddhist temples.
Golden palaces, floating markets, majestic porcelain-laid spires…you've never seen a capital city quite like Bangkok. Visit Pratunam or Siam Square for premium shopping, then unwind in the European-style gardens of Dusit. Thon Buri is home to the awesome Wat Arun temple, and over in Phra Nakhon, you’ll find the Wat Pho temple of the Reclining Buddha. Savor mango sticky rice at a food stall before taking in the gilded splendor of the Grand Palace.
You could spend your whole Chiang Mai vacation exploring the famous Night Bazaar. Once you’ve exhausted the art of the cheerful haggle, however, there’s plenty more to explore. The National Museum and Botanic Garden are great places to soak up some local culture and to breathe in the delicate fragrance of Thai orchids. In the city’s center, the remains of ancient walls embrace over 30 temples. Limber travelers can climb 300 stairs to Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep, an ornate Buddhist temple in the hills.
The southern Thailand town of Krabi serves as base camp for exploring the province of the same name, a lush region of jungles, limestone cliffs and idyllic isles floating just offshore in the Andaman Sea. Buddhist shrines still used by local monks are tucked into the chambers of the town's top attraction, Tiger Cave. The riverside pier links travelers with ferries and longboats to the best scuba diving, rock climbing and white sand beaches on the coast.
A visit to Pattaya is a wonderful way to explore the beaches along the Gulf of Thailand. Relaxed and family-friendly Jomtien Beach is a hot spot for watersports and seaside massages. The giant Buddha of Wat Khao Phra Bat keeps watch over the city, and the wooden Wang Boran Sanctuary of Truth pays homage to Buddhist and Hindu art and architecture. At night, tons of bars and strip clubs attract an adults-only crowd.
Just 80 kilometers north of Phuket, Khao Lak was essentially erased by the 2004 tsunami. But the town, and the tourist industry it relies on, has rebounded. It remains quieter than other coastal destinations, offering secluded beaches, tranquil nights and family-oriented activities. You want full moon parties and besotted nights? You’re out of luck. But if you’re looking for unparalleled scuba diving in the Similan Islands, you’ve hit the jackpot.
A favorite getaway for Bangkok residents, Hua Hin is a pretty beachside town. Family friendly and relaxed, it lacks the all-night partying and seedier aspects that make other nearby beach resorts a haven for unsavory characters. Once a small fishing village, it was transformed into a royal resort, and it’s these close links with Thai royalty that ensure Hua Hin won’t become overdeveloped or lose its small-town vibe.
Drifting serenely in the Gulf of Thailand, the palm-fringed island of Ko Tao takes its name from the abundant sea turtles that reside on its shores. White sand beaches sheltered by steep hills – some only accessible with four-wheel drive vehicles – and 300 days of sun per year invite long afternoons of lounging.
The dive sites surrounding Ko Lanta are considered to be some of Thailand’s finest. An intricate system of reefs, islets, and underwater caves are teeming with vibrant sea life. While you splash in the waves you may catch a glimpse of a Moken (sea gypsy) boat, gliding nomadically through the waters. Cap off your day with mouthwatering seafood, freshly caught and spicy enough to make your tongue tingle.
We're guessing they don't have a werewolf problem in Koh Phangan, because every month on the full moon, thousands of people take part in the Full Moon Party's all-night festivities, including music on the beach. By day, you'll find a lovely island with coconut trees and plenty of sandy white beaches. If you're a diver, visit Sailrock for a spectacular wall dive.