Skip to Content

Visiting Thailand: A First Time Visitors’ Guide

A first time visitors guide to visit Thailand including specific travel tips on when to go, what to do & city tips for Bangkok, Chiang Mai & the islands

Bangkok Skyline
Gotta love that skyline! Bangkok is always impressive.

I’ve been lucky to visit Thailand countless times; in fact, I can’t even remember how many times I’ve been to visit Thailand since I first visited in 2010. One of my more recent trips was on a gay group travel with OUT Adventures during which I had the opportunity to rediscover everything I love about amazing Thailand. Plus see more than a few places and have more than a few experiences that I somehow missed on all my previous holidays in Thailand.

It seems that when you visit Thailand, there’s always something new to see and do. But there are also lots of familiar favorites. If you’re new to traveling in Thailand, use my guide here as a reference to discover the best of the best—and then you better get started on planning a return trip because Thailand always leaves you wanting more!

Revisiting one of Southeast Asia’s most touristic countries, I realize how big of a tourist destination this country is. For many, Thailand is the beginning of many Asia backpacking and travel adventures. I still remember when I landed in Bangkok the first time, I didn’t experience as much of a culture shock as my new-found friends along Khao San Road.

That’s not to say that the noises and smells of Bangkok didn’t strike me — but it was all a bit less than I was originally anticipating. Thankfully, this is a country that’s full of exciting and interesting surprises but it’s also all very approachable. Give credit to the famous Thai smile & service for that.

Thailand is a beautiful country and if you’ve only got a two-week holiday, there’s unfortunately a lot that you’ll miss out on. Below, though, you’ll find a beginner’s guide to one of the easiest, friendliest and most gay-friendly destinations in Asia.

Thailand Travel Guide for First Time Visitors

A First Time Visitors’ Guide to Thailand

Visit Thailand Travel Tips

If you’ve only got so much time to visit Thailand, there are a few hotspots you’ll want to check out. With more time, there are plenty of other cities and locations to visit across the country, but for a two-week itinerary that takes in as much of Thailand’s diversity as possible, plan to hit up Bangkok, Chiang Mai and an island in the south.

Remember: Thailand is a big country and offers a huge variety of destination types. From the world-class city of Bangkok to the mountainous natural wonders in northern Thailand and the relatively pristine beaches of the south, Thailand has a bit of everything for everyone. For a two week trip to the Land of Smiles, it’s easy to get a sample of the best of each.

When to Visit Thailand

October to April is the tourist high-season. Over the summer months you’ll experience the rainy season and hot, hot, hot weather. But then again — you can also get bargain deals on tours and hotels.

If you plan your trip around some of the more interesting festivals and holidays (Loi Krathong, or the Lantern Festival, in October/November and Songkran in April), then you’re sure to have an amazing cultural experience. Read about my trip to Thailand during Songkran here.

Thailand Grand Palace in Bangkok
One of Bangkok’s top tourist attractions is the Grand Palace. On your way to visit, you might be stopped and told that it’s closed, but don’t trust these tuk-tuk drivers! It’s a popular travel scam. Trust your instincts.

What to Wear in Thailand

Thailand has warm weather year-round so you shouldn’t need much. Shopping in Thailand can also be fun and affordable. Bangkok’s malls have all the fashion brands you can possibly imagine — from the west and from the east. Bartering at the markets is also common and you’ll find many great deals on decent clothes.

Anything you’ve forgotten? You can always buy a new one. For basic amenities, 7-11 is going to be your one-stop shop. There are thousands of 7-11 convenience stores across Thailand and you’d be hard-pressed to walk down a street without finding at least one. Note that for some temples and also for the Grand Palace in Bangkok, shoulders and knees must be covered by men and women.

Getting Around Thailand

Bangkok is a modern city and it’s possible (and pretty easy, too) to travel with public transportation on the city’s above-ground subway, underground subway, public buses and even boats. It’s also quite affordable to travel by motorbike taxis (if you dare) and tuk-tuks (three-wheeled, motored vehicles). Just make sure to agree on a price beforehand.

Taxis are also abundant in Bangkok and other cities, but in Bangkok be prepared to wait in traffic! Also make sure you get a metered taxi (look out for the pink ones!). In other cities — especially in southern Thailand, you’ll find larger capacity taxis called songthaews — just flag them down, tell them where you want to go, and if they can fit you in, you’re all set. Again: agree on a price beforehand.

Bangkok rooftop pool - Sofitel So (Silom)
In Bangkok, especially when it’s swelteringly hot outside, plan an afternoon at one of the city’s many rooftop pools. The one at the new Sofitel So hotel in Silom even regularly hosts pool parties!

Where to Visit in Thailand: Bangkok

Most holidays to Thailand begin in Bangkok. Some people choose to skip Bangkok and head straight for the mountains and hill tribes in the north, or the beaches in the south. But if you’re like me and love a good city, Bangkok is not to be missed. But it’s a big, BIG, BIG city, so finding the right places to go can seem overwhelming. Below are my favorite things to do in Bangkok

Top Things To Do in Bangkok

  • Explore Khao San Road — For backpackers and dirty hippies, this is paradise. The street can be a bit dirty and dingy but it’s an experience worth checking out. There’s plenty of street food, tacky souvenirs, late-night nightlife, roadside massages and cheap guest houses in the area. Be careful that it doesn’t suck you in though and make sure to visit other cool areas in Bangkok such as Silom and Sukhumvit.
  • Enjoy the Nightlife in Silom Soi 4 and Soi 2 — The heart of gay nightlife in Bangkok, a visit to the DJ Station club in Soi 2 and the street-side bars on Soi 4 are a must for gay travelers looking for a fun night out in Bangkok.
  • Visit the Chatuchak Weekend Market — When you start exploring this market, it’ll likely feel like the largest market in the world. And maybe it even is. They sell everything here from strange and exotic animals to trendy t-shirts, souvenirs and fresh food. But it’s a fun experience and makes for a great activity on the weekends, plus gives you the chance to get in some shopping. I like to visit at the end of my trip so I can fill up my backpack with last-minute gifts and clothes.
  • Visit Wat Pho — This Buddhist temple is famous for its Reclining Buddha. It’s located nearby to the equally famous Grand Palace which is another popular tourist attraction. It’d be quite easy to take these two sites in during an afternoon and if you only plan to visit one Buddhist temple in Bangkok, Wat Pho should be it.
  • Eat at Sukhumvit Soi 38 — It’s been called the best street food in Bangkok. That’s not an easy claim, but this street off the busy and popular Sukhumvit Road certainly can hold its own. With fresh fruit juices, noodles and soups everywhere and even a stand selling the always-popular mango with sticky rice, you could eat here every day and still not taste it all!
  • Shop at the MBK Shopping Center — Looking for some technology? The massive shopping area around the MBK mall is great for shopping and on the top floor is a massive cinema showing English-language films. Plus, the free Bangkok Art & Culture Center is just across the street and makes for a great air-conditioned escape when needed.
Bangkok Gay Nightlife in Silom Soi 4
Nightlife in Bangkok is practically legendary. And the gay bars and clubs in Silom almost always make for a fun night out! Pictured here is Rob, Scott, Ed and myself at the gay bar Telephone Pub on Soi 4, Silom.

Where to Visit: Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand

Chiang Mai is a great starting point for visiting northern Thailand. If you only have a few days in the north, it’s possible to take in most of the major sites.

Top Things To Do in Chiang Mai

Smoothies in Thailand
Smoothies from Smoothie Blues in Chiang Mai
  • Visit Doi Suthep — Getting here might seem like a trek, but it’s quite easy to book a bus or grab a songthaew. The mountain-top temple is one of Chiang Mai’s most popular tourist attractions and is actually quite impressive.
  • Shop at the Sunday Walking Street Market — The Ratchadamnoen street in Chiang Mai’s Old City comes alive each Sunday evening from 5pm. You’ll find souvenirs, clothing, street food and local art along the market.
  • Eat, Drink & Play in Nimmanhaemin — This neighborhood on the western side of the city is a cool place to hang out full of trendy restaurants, cute cafés, bars and hotels. Try the fruit smoothies at Smoothie Blues!
  • Go for a massage — While massages can be found all over Thailand, in Chiang Mai they’re especially cheap. You can grab a decent one hour massage for just 200 baht at many places across the city. Ask around for recommendations.
  • Enjoy the North Gate Jazz Club — For expats and tourists, this is a cool bar to hang out in Chiang Mai’s Old City. Each Tuesday night, the bar has an open-mic jam session and the atmosphere is just really cool. It’s a fun and unusual experience.
  • Visit an Elephant Park or Reserve — If you’re like most tourists to Thailand, you’ll want to see some elephants during your holiday. Chiang Mai is where you’ll find the vast majority of tours & planned visits to elephant parks. Read about my day tour to the Elephant Nature Park here.
Thai Food
One of Thailand’s best cultural attractions is its food. But be warned: Thai food is actually very spicy!

Where to Visit: Beaches in Southern Thailand

Koh Phi Phi (Thailand)
Koh Phi Phi is a popular island for tourists but is a great place to be based if you want to easily enjoy the famous Thai beaches.

Beaches, islands, luxury resorts, fresh seafood…southern Thailand is an incredible place for an escape from reality. There are also a ton of options for the south. If you want to do rock-climbing and other adventure activities, plan to visit Krabi. If you’re after the legendary full moon parties, go to Koh Phangan. Want southern Thailand’s gay nightlife? Plan your trip to Patong Beach on Phuket. Just after a beautiful beach holiday? Koh Phi Phi is your island.

Things To Do in Southern Thailand

  • Stay at a Beach Resort Hotel — Unlike other countries where it may still be possible to find undiscovered beaches to pitch a tent or a hammock for the night, Thailand’s beaches are fully developed. You might as well splurge a little (remember: this is still Thailand so you can still get a good deal) and go for a nice beach hotel. I use when searching for quality hotels.
  • Visit the Phuket Old Town — Known for its art deco architecture, the city makes for a simple afternoon excursion. Plus it’s likely you’ll pass through at some point if you’re visiting some of the islands near Phuket such as Koh Phi Phi.
  • Embrace the Craziness of Patong Beach (Phuket) — The most touristic part of Phuket (which is already Thailand’s most touristic island), Patong Beach is crowded with tourists. But don’t let that deter you! The nightlife here can’t be beat — even if it’s a bit ridiculous. Bangla Road is the most famous spot and any night of the week it will be crowded with people. It’s also the city’s red light district so you can imagine the characters you might run into. The nearby Soi Paradise is where you’ll find Phuket’s gay bars and clubs which include nightly drag shows and happy hours. It’s a lot of fun!
  • Eat Seafood (duh!) — Staying on an island, it’s really hard to ignore the endless seafood possibilities. Try Tom Yum Soup — a hot & sour soup with prawns — or just go for the grill.
  • Do Water Sports — If you want to get away from lounging on the beach, take some time to do various water sports. Whether it’s diving, snorkeling, windsurfing or kayaking, prices are usually affordable. Certain islands are better for certain experiences so ask around and decide what your’e interested in before booking a destination. On Phuket I can recommend sea kayaking with John Gray’s Sea Kayaking experience. They offer countless different experiences but the guides are fun, the scenery is incredible (you can even visit bat caves!), the food is delicious and the staff is super friendly.

Need more help planning your first trip to Thailand? Check out the official Thailand tourism website at

Doi Suthep (Chiang Mai)
The golden Doi Suthep temple in Chiang Mai – beautiful building, but also a great place for looking out over the land below
  1. Dale says:

    So many things I have to agree with here, but the one I support the most is the North Gate Jazz Club recommendation. Really enjoyed that place even if it was a little more Western than it was Thai.

    • Adam says:

      Glad to hear you agree with my suggestions Dale. You’re right that North Gate Jazz is definitely western, but it’s just so much fun and such a unique experience, I couldn’t resist including it here!

  2. Thanks for posting this, Adam! I really don’t know much about Thailand at all. However, it’s a place that I really do want to visit. I’m hoping to explore southeast Asia and Thailand within the next year or two and have just started researching all the possibilities. I’ll definitely keep this post in my back pocket as it’s filled with a lot of useful information for the first time visitor!

  3. Sam says:

    I’ve been to Thailand only once for two weeks, and that was back in 2009. Zab has never been, and I’m really looking forward to going with him (maybe early next year?!) and rediscovering some of the places I visited as well as what I missed out – Chiang Mai being most notable in this case!

    • Adam says:

      Ahh, yes two weeks in Thailand will really only scratch the surface. It’s a big country and there are so many great things to see and do!

  4. MACH says:

    Great info. Thanks!

  5. Renuka says:

    A great guide indeed! Thailand is fun without a doubt. I’d love to gorge on seafood and relax at a beach…

  6. xylem says:

    Such a wonderful blog. After reading your blog I really can’t wait going to Thailand.

  7. Thailand such a wonderful place. Its my desire to visit this place. Thanks Adam for sharing great info.

  8. Great guide! Thailand has always been a dream of mine, I’m hoping to finally go after I work for a while in Australia and save up money!

    • Adam says:

      Glad to hear that Hannah – hope you get to spend a decent amount of time in Thailand. There is so much to see and do there – I could easily visit multiple times over and over!

  9. Great post! Lots of things to ponder for my future trip to the country.

  10. […] Visiting Thailand: A First Time Visitors’ Guide […]

  11. Joan says:

    Thanks for the useful pointers! Thailand is really one of my favourite places in Southeast Asia to travel in.

  12. Wow thanx for the great tips Adam, we are in australia at the moment & so close, have always wanted to travel thailand. You’ve just made up our minds!

  13. Sal Banuelos says:

    Thanks for all the tips and info on Thailand, I’m hoping to take a trip with my wife. This would be our first time. So I want to make sure I have it well plan out.
    Thanks again

    • Adam says:

      It’s a good idea to plan before you visit, but also make sure you leave some room for last-minute changes and some flexibility in the schedule!

  14. Iris Milton says:

    Thanks for sharing! Very useful tips, interesting and informative post. I will keep it in my mind till my first vivit to Thailand.

  15. william says:

    Good read, but why does a travel group always have to be of a certain sexually orrientation?

  16. Mian says:

    Thanks , its definitely going to help, and yes! the hotel picture with pool and the sofa is amazing!

    • Adam says:

      Hey Mian – let me know if you end up staying at the hotel – it’s one of the best places I’ve stayed all year!

  17. Miguel says:

    I suddenly remembered my first night walking on Bangla Road.

    I wasn’t prepared of what to witness. :D

  18. We love Thailand! It’s suitable for every kind of traveller, whether you want to be in the lap of luxury, or really grind it out. The culture, and people are incredible, and don’t get us started on the cuisine! Great post. Hope to see more =)

  19. I just returned from Vietnam and while there, met a few people who had just been to Bangkok. All I heard from them were rave reviews, so my husband and I are planning to add Thailand to our next trip to SE Asia. Great info and photos here!

  20. Kevin says:

    Single father going to head to Thailand in May on a dad only trip. I have only a week. Please help me make an educated decision as I now have information overload. Bangkok and Islands or Bangkok and Chiang Mai? I would be equally happy at both places. This is my first time to Thailand.


    • Adam says:

      Tough call Kevin! I guess I’d make a list of some of the things you’d rather see/do. Then tick off which can be done where and which locations cover more of your “bucket list” items. Are you interested in seeing elephants while in Thailand? Go to Chiang Mai. Interested in a beach holiday with snorkeling or diving? Go south!

  21. Thailand is one of the best and top destinations in the world. Its tropical climate, lovely beaches, interesting culture, vibrant economy, and friendly people make Thailand a true paradise for all people from around the world.

  22. Madhu says:


    Was planning to visit Thailand for a week in xoming holidays and your fantastic informative blog will help me a lot in my planning. many thatnks

  23. Kim W says:

    This has been a real help thank you! Perfect for a first-timer like me! Have definately taken notes!

  24. Mike says:

    Last time I was in Thailand was in ’82 when I was in the US Navy….we always anchored out in Pattaya Beach back then….would love to go back someday but for now it’s just a dream….thanks for the memories….

  25. Rob says:

    My family visited Thailand for the first time last February. Bangkok is an amazing experience getting used to all the people and traffic! We enjoyed the Grand Palace, Khao San Road in the evening and a tour out to the Floating Market. We then made our way to the island of Koh Samui! A wonderful experience and hope to return one day soon!

  26. Ashley says:

    You are a gem! This is great info.. question.. I’m going for two weeks..I get in on a Monday, leave on Sunday. Plan is to stay in bangkok for 3 nights.. then I was heading to phucket, and then out to the islands, BUT do I need to do Chiang Mai? Trying to decide if the travel time to and from is worth it? Would love your thoughts. I’m staying in Silom, so I’m very excited about your recommendations there. Thanks again!

    • Adam says:

      I think if you’ve got two weeks, you can definitely get away with skipping Chiang Mai. Most people tend to do Bangkok, Phuket and the islands OR Bangkok, Chiang Mai and northern villages. It’s your decision whether you want to go north into the mountains, or south to the sea!

  27. Lauren says:

    Unreal.. thank you SO much for all of this information! I am a female solo traveler absolutely terrified and daunted by the task of planning a long trip to Thailand supported by volunteering. I have no idea what Im doing… so I cant even begin to tell you how helpful this has been!

  28. Alain says:

    Telephone Club is still there? My first time was in 2008, then in 2009! Great memories of those trips!

  29. suree says:

    Stumble this post while doing some research plan to thailand. Great one Adam.

  30. Jane says:

    I didn’t managed yet to visit Thailand, but in the summer I will give it a try.
    I heard that thai food is pretty spicy so I want to try it as soon as I arrive there.
    How is people there? friendly? it’s safe to go there?

    • Adam says:

      Hi Jane – Food in Thailand is 100% spicy! Some of the spiciest I’ve ever had! But it’s sooo good and they’re usually willing to make it less spicy for you, if you ask.

  31. Flip Flops says:

    A great post thank you – lots of info to take in for when i visit. Love the look of the rooftop pool!

  32. Kez says:

    Hey Adam,
    My daughter (aged 23yrs) and I will be heading out to Thailand in June. However, it’ll be our first time to this wonderful country, but I’m completely lost on where we should go. I’m looking for a trip of a lifetime where we can relax, but also have some fun without her getting bored, but ideally do not want to be where all the nightlife is. Any suggestions would be truly appreciated.

    • Adam says:

      Hey Kez – just depends how much time you have. Chiang Mai, Bangkok and Phuket are the top 3 tourist parts of Thailand – and they’re all great for an introduction into Thai culture. Phuket and some of the other islands will be the most relaxing, unless you prefer forests and hillsides, then go up north to Chiang Mai.

  33. Great tips! I’ll pass this along to my sister who’s going to be in Thailand next week!

  34. Donna says:

    Hi Adam we going to Thailand next Feb 16 how far in advance shall we book our hotels?

  35. I like the way the article’s laid out with the 3 different locations. I’m really pleased that you opted for the ethical choice with the elephant park, rather than promoting one of the many bad elephant tourist attractions in Thailand, which are so cruel to the animals.

    I personally didn’t like Patong and only enjoyed Phuket because the vegetarian festival was on at the time and we saw some unbelievable crazy religious sites there and ate some delicious food. I would recommend the north of Koh Phangan for it’s beauty and quietness.

  36. Anita says:

    Thailande seems really attractive to me, especially for the temples and their spectacular architecture. I am glad you’ve listed the elephant parks/reserves because they are unfortunately exploited for tourists’ entertainment elsewhere.

Comments are closed.