THERE’S A LOT GOING ON IN THAILAND. Its territory includes 1,430 islands; its tropical coastlines stretch for 2,000 miles. The country is home to the world’s oldest evergreen rainforest, protected by Khao Sok National Park, an ecosystem that dates back 160 million years.

Then there’s the wildlife. Poster species like Asian elephants and Indochinese tigers get a lot of attention, but this is a nation that’s also home to 10% of the world’s bird species — nearly 300 more species than on the entire European continent. And with over 33,902 active temples in the country, there’s a long way to go before Thailand’s wats are outnumbered by malls…which is just one of the reasons why I want to go.

Here are 40 images that have me set on traveling to Thailand as soon as I can scrape together the airfare. Maybe they’ll inspire you too.


Amphawa floating market

Some floating markets are pretty touristy, but the Amphawa weekend market just outside of Bangkok is the real deal. The food here is cooked and served directly from boats floating along the village canal, just like when the market began in the mid-17th century.
Photo: Georgie Pauwels



Poi is a dance that originated among the Māori of New Zealand, and you’ll see energetic Poi dancers on beaches throughout Southeast Asia. Grab a Singha, find a hammock under the stars, and enjoy the show.
Photo: Scott Sporleder


East Railay Beach

East Railay Beach is where many of the longtail from Krabi dock. It's connected by paths to the peninsula's resorts as well as the picturesque West Railay Beach.
Photo: Mike Behnken


Asian elephants

Thailand’s endangered Asian elephants are protected in centers like the Elephant Nature Park, where you can see and interact with them in a responsible way.
Photo: Eddy Milfort


The Beach, Maya Bay

A hidden cove sheltered by 100-meter cliffs, Maya Bay has been a firm favorite among backpackers ever since the The Beach was filmed here for its 2000 release. Honestly, though, it doesn't take a movie to make this place look good.
Photo: Scott Sporleder


Nighttime tuk-tuk

Tuk-tuks are to land what longtail boats are to Maya Bay—everywhere. Make sure to agree on a fare before you hop in your ride. A short trip through the streets of Bangkok shouldn’t cost much more than 60B.
Photo: Scott Sporleder


Grand Palace, Bangkok

From grand thrones to spired pavilions, prepare to see a lot of gold when you visit Bangkok's Grand Palace.
Photo: DanaRiza EltraStudio


Yi Peng festival, Chiang Mai

As the wind casts away the wishes of Buddhists floating paper lanterns into the night sky for Yi Peng, the sky above the ancient capital of Chiang Mai glows with what looks like a million stars. This festival of light, which coincides with the Loi Krathong festival, is celebrated on the full moon of the 12th lunar month each year.
Photo: Mith Huang


River delta, Phang Nga Bay

Since ancient times, Thais have relied on grand rivers like the Mekong to get around and source food. This network of river estuaries by Phang Nga Bay winds through mangrove forests and right out to sea.
Photo: Ole.Pophal


View of Bangkok from Baiyoke Tower II

If you include the surrounding metropolitan area, Bangkok is a city of 14 million—that’s 40 times bigger than Thailand’s second largest city. As an extreme primate city, Bangkok tops a list that includes Paris, London, Dublin, Budapest, and Vienna.
Photo: Link text


Vegetarian Festival, Phuket Town

Brought to Phuket by the Chinese at the beginning of the 19th century, the nine-day Vegetarian Festival is a riot of firecrackers, drumming, and marchers testing their endurance by splaying open their tongues, cheeks, and other body parts with homemade piercings, as well as taking hot oil baths and walking on hot coals.
Photo: Nestor Lacle


Sunset on Ko Chang

Thai for Elephant Island, 70% of Ko Chang is untouched rainforest and jungle-clad mountains. The west coast is famous for its coral reefs and beaches, making it a popular spot with travelers.
Photo: Pietro Motta


Chinatown, Bangkok

Sick of visiting the world’s Chinatowns only to find them more gentrified than Williamsburg? Try Bangkok, where Chinatown’s energy pulses through tiny alleys and crowded markets and you’ll find some of the best street food in a country that knows how to do street food.
Photo: Eddy Milfort


Wat Arun, Bangkok

Wat Arun (Temple of the Dawn) gets its name from the Hindu god Aruṇá, a personification of the first rays of the morning sun. Built in the 17th century, Wat Arun’s iconic prang (spires) were added in the early 1800s by order of King Rama II.
Photo: Adam Baker


Thi Lo Su Waterfall

Located in Umphang Wildlife Sanctuary, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of Southeast Asia’s largest tracts of virgin forest, is Thailand’s biggest, tallest waterfall—Thi Lo Su.
Photo: Amir Yalon


Grand Palace, Bangkok

Home to the kings of Siam (and later Thailand) from 1782 until 1925, the Grand Palace today is only used on ceremonial occasions such as coronations. Most of the rest of the time, it's hosting hundreds of camera-ready tourists.
Photo: Ole.Pophal


Suvarnabhumi Airport, Bangkok

Opened in 2006, 16 miles east of downtown Bangkok, Suvarnabhumi Airport is the busiest in the country. According to the Bangkok Post, the international airport was the world's most popular place for taking Instagram photos in 2012, with over 100,000 images snapped in one year.
Photo: Dennis Wong


Ko Tao

Ko Tao (Turtle Island) is named after its shape, but it’s also an important breeding ground for endangered hawksbill and green turtles. Long known as probably the best place in the world to complete a dive certification, Ko Tao is also attracting more and more climbers who come for the towering granite boulders dotted among its forests and beaches.
Photo: Eddy Milfort


Sunset in Krabi

If you’re heading to a Thai island, chances are you’ll be motoring there in a longtail boat, as ubiquitous to the Andaman Sea as gondolas are to Venice, and just as photogenic. This longtail was shot in Krabi.
Photo: Mikhail Koninin


Muay Thai match

Known as the “Art of Eight Limbs,” Muay Thai (Thai boxing), uses eight points of contact—punches, kicks, elbows, and knee strikes—to beat the opponent. Compare that to the French savate, which uses just the fists and feet (four points), or boxing, which uses just the fists (two points), and you can see why Thai boxers beat renowned practitioners of other martial arts throughout the 20th century.
Photo: Mith Huang


Phu Khieo Wildlife Sanctuary

Phu Khieo Wildlife Sanctuary’s grazing area, Thung Kamang, is where you’ll see these young Thai hog deer. The respected sanctuary is also home to over 350 species of birds. To visit, you’ll have to prove an intention to study nature and arrange for permission before arrival.
Photo: Prachanart Viriyaraks


Wat Rong Khun (White Temple), Chiang Rai

Designed by artist Chalermchai Kositpipat in the late ’90s, Wat Rong Khun’s white walls look serene from afar, but as you walk the bridge to the entrance you’ll be accosted by a sea of ceramic arms reaching for help from deep inside hell. Inside the Buddhist temple, look out for murals of Michael Jackson and Neo from The Matrix.
Photo: Pedro Alonso


Jungle Yoga Retreat, Khao Sok National Park

Thought yoga was an ancient practice? It’s not nearly as advanced in years as the ecosystems of Khao Sok National Park, where the Jungle Yoga Retreat is based. Thought to be over 160 million years old, Khao Sok is the oldest evergreen rainforest in the world.
Photo: Stefan Magdalinski


Macaques at Lopburi

Lopburi’s 10th-century temples are 150km north of Bangkok and home to hundreds of macaques. Visit during the Monkey Buffet Festival, held annually on November 25th, when fruits and vegetables are left outside temples for the primates.
Photo: Pavel


Bangkok by night

Bangkok has an amazing nightlife that ranges from hole-in-the-wall dive joints to glitzy rooftop bars perched on top of slinky skyscrapers.
Photo: digitalpimp.


Strelitzia (bird of paradise flower)

Among the palms, teak, and bamboo of Thailand’s tangled jungles, you’ll see plenty of tropical flowers like the strelitzia (bird of paradise flower), which gets pollinated by local sunbirds.
Photo: Alex


Buddha in a banyan tree, Wat Phra Mahthat, Ayutthaya

The sandstone head of Buddha looks serene in the roots of a banyan tree, though no one knows quite how the sculpture got there.
Photo: Selda Eigler


Full Moon Party, Haad Rin

Ko Phangan is the birthplace of the Full Moon Party phenomenon that has swept Southeast Asia. Still, the north and east coasts of the island remain perfectly chill. Find a beach bungalow on the water, grab a snorkel, and you’re good to go, whatever kind of partying you want to do.
Photo: Joe Stump


Young monks

95% of Thai people are Theravada Buddhists, and all males are expected to renounce their worldly concerns and enter the sangha (monkhood) for at least a short period of time. Nowadays, most spend little more than a week in their saffron-colored robes.
Photo: Scott Sporleder


Khao Lak at sunset

In southern Thailand’s Phang Nga Province, Khao Lak is a long, palm-fringed beach that’s popular with families looking for a laid-back vibe while on their holidays.
Photo: Raymond Bosma


Wat Arun, Bangkok

At temples like Wat Arun, it’s respectful to cover your knees and elbows. When you sit, think “mermaid,” keeping your feet tucked behind you in order to avoid accidentally shoving your lowly hoofs at images of the Buddha and other deities.
Photo: Jakob Montrasio


Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep, Chiang Mai

From its mountaintop location on Doi Suthep, the Buddhist temple Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep towers over the city of Chiang Mai. Come for Visakha Puja, the anniversary of Buddha’s birth, enlightenment, and death, when thousands of pilgrims walk from city to temple by night.
Photo: Mith Huang


Ko Lanta

The island of Ko Lanta is all about nature reserves and kayaking trips through mangrove forests. As a bonus, it’s just an hour’s boat ride from Krabi.
Photo: Janne Hellsten


Butterfly fish, Chumphon Pinnacle, Ko Tao

Home to colorful butterfly fish, Chumphon Pinnacle is also a great spot for swimming with whale sharks (March to May, September to October). Amazingly, these hulking filter feeders are able to grow up to 12 meters long on a diet that consists of little more than plankton and tiny squid.
Photo: David Spencer


Red chillies

Thai cuisine relies on four main flavors—spicy, sweet, salty, and sour. Even your slice of watermelon or papaya from the local street cart will be zinged up with an accompanying dipping mix of ground chilli, sugar, and salt.
Photo: momo


Longtail boat to Phi Phi

The largest and most glamorous of the Phi Phi islands is Phi Phi Don. Up until the 1940s it was a sleepy island where Muslim fishermen lived—the vibe is a bit different today.
Photo: Libargutxi


Wat Phra Kaew, Bangkok

Bangkok’s Wat Phra Kaew (Temple of the Emerald Buddha) is the most sacred Buddhist temple in the country. Find it on the grounds of the Grand Palace.
Photo: Dennis Jarvis


Night sky from Rayong

The pinks and blues of the night sky in this long-exposure photo are so peaceful. Once Thailand’s monsoon season ends in late-October, Rayong’s waters become a popular weekend getaway for Bangkok dwellers.
Photo: Prachanart Viriyaraks


Rock climbing in Railay

Between Krabi and Ao Nang, Railay’s limestone karsts and crags are extreme enough to draw world-class climbers. Best way to finish a climb? Cliff jumping straight into the Andaman Sea.
Photo: Maria Ly


Coral Island, Phuket

9km off the southeast coast of Phuket, Coral Island Resort is surrounded by colorful reefs. Known locally as Ko Hae, this is a popular spot among daytripping snorkelers.
Photo: Dider Baertschiger