With an extraordinary landscape encompassing a dynamic capital city, cloud- haloed mountains, rippling rice fields, elephant-dotted rainforests, blonde-bombshell beaches, unearthly karst islands set in luminous green waters, and coral reefs resplendent with tropical fish, the Land of Smiles has lingered at the top of visitors’ lists for decades.
So it stands to reason that when Thailand fully reopened to tourism in 2022, everyone had a reason to grin. Initially, the country made a bullish return to the world travel stage, with a seemingly insatiable demand for flights and hotels meaning it was booked solid over the festive season.
But as 2022 ticked over into 2023, visitor numbers started to trail off – despite the huge number of new and exciting reasons to visit, from the addition of domestic flight routes to freshly crowned Unesco World Heritage sites.
Having made its mark with Michelin, Bangkok is bursting with exciting new places to eat, from David Thompson’s Asian fusion restaurant Chop Chop Cook Shop to champagne and fried-chicken joint Birdies. There’s also been an update to the Jim Thompson House Museum and Heritage Quarter – which now includes video installations and interactive exhibitions – as well as the return of the hugely popular Jodd Fairs night market.
Hotel openings have also been abundant, including the Kimpton Maa-Lai, the Sindhorn Kempinski and the InterContinental Sukhumvit, with an Aman and Six Senses in the pipeline for 2024.
There are gorgeous new hotels outside Bangkok, too, from five-star escapes in the wilds of Khao Yai National Park to lifestyle hotels set on the beaches of Koh Samui, and eco-friendly farm-stays in the far north.
Yet with tourism numbers still lower than anticipated, there’s never been a better time to grab a bargain. Here is our pick of the best holidays to Thailand next year.
1. Spend time in a fashionable national park
While the cooler wildlife-packed environs of Khao Yai National Park have long been a popular escape for people living in Bangkok, a recent influx of art galleries (visit 129 Art Museum), Michelin Bib Gourmand nods (try some peppery rotisserie chicken and sticky rice at Kai Yang Saeng Thai) and fashionable hotels (such as boutique beauty Roukh Kiri and the Bill Bensley-designed InterContinental Khao Yai Resort) have put it firmly on the international tourism map.
Luxury Escapes (0808 175 4987) offers a seven-night trip, with three nights at the Sindhorn Midtown Hotel Bangkok and four nights at the InterContinental Khao Yai, from £2,103pp, B&B, including return flights with Emirates
2. Try the classic experience
It’s difficult to take in the sweep of an entire country in one trip, but, for a rounded look at Thailand, first-time visitors should aim to tick off the bright lights of Bangkok, Chiang Mai’s atmospheric old temples and an elephant encounter or two in Chiang Rai, before flopping on one of the country’s sultry southern beaches.
Take a 14-night, five-star tour with Elegant Resorts (01244 897581) from £5,675pp, including two nights at the Capella Bangkok, two nights at the Anantara Golden Triangle Elephant Camp Resort, three nights at the Raya Heritage in Chiang Mai and seven nights at the Rayavadee in Krabi. Flights, lounge access, transfers, most meals and some excursions are also included
3. Discover Chonburi
The dystopian sex-tourism destination of Pattaya has a deservedly bad rap, but there’s so much more to Thailand’s eastern seaboard. Explore Chonburi province and you’ll find mountainside temples, faraway waterfalls that even many Thais don’t know about, and untouched forests frequented by wild elephants, colour-changing lizards, peach-fuzz gibbons, baby-eyed slow lorises and a plethora of rare birds. Base yourself at the Andaz Pattaya Jomtien Beach, a new hotel located 12 miles from the fray on a stretch of empty, butter-yellow beach.
British Airways Holidays (0344 493 0787) offers seven nights at the Andaz Pattaya Jomtien Beach from £1,053, B&B, including flights with Cathay Pacific via Hong Kong and transfers
4. Combine beach and jungle
The long, golden beaches of Khao Lak, located a 75-minute drive north of Phuket airport, offer a laid-back alternative to Thailand’s busier islands, with new hotels such as the upmarket J W Marriott Resort Suites and the family-focused Avani+ Khao Lak adding to the allure. Team it with a few nights inside the wondrous Khao Sok National Park, a one-hour drive north and home to wild elephants, the world’s largest flower (the Rafflesia arnoldii), rolling rivers, glassy lakes and spooky caves.
An 11-day tailor-made tour with Audley Travel (01993 838115) starts from £3,545pp, B&B. It includes three nights in Bangkok, three nights full-board on safari at the Elephant Hills luxury camp in Khao Sok National Park and four nights at the new Avani+ Khao Lak. Flights, transfers and some excursions are also included
5. Walk from temples to tribes
Tropical Thailand might not seem like an obvious choice for a walking holiday, but time your trip over the winter months and you will enjoy pleasant temperatures, low humidity and bucolic scenery.
The walking specialist Ramblers Holidays recently introduced a new level-three tour (about four miles a day, moving at a leisurely pace), which begins with a stroll around the Grand Palace and Wat Arun in Bangkok, then moves on to the Hellfire Pass on the River Kwai, and Chiang Mai’s ancient temples and fascinating hill tribes. It ends in the Golden Triangle, where the Mekong river links Thailand, Myanmar and Laos.
A 12-night Discover Thailand tour with Ramblers Walking Holidays (01707 331133) starts from £3,599pp, full-board, and includes flights, transfers, private guiding, and all site entrance fees
6. Enjoy low-key Koh Samui
Koh Samui is best known for its nightlife and easy access to Koh Phangan’s riotous Full Moon parties, but it isn’t hard to find uncrowded ribbons of fine, white beach if you know where to look.
The Garrya Tongsai Bay Samui is part of a new brand launched by Banyan Tree hotels that puts the focus on resting and recharging. Rooms are a peaceful palette of pale woods and oatmeals, restaurants offer healthy-eating options, and facilities include free wellness classes and complimentary stand-up paddleboards, kayaks and Hobie Cats.
Kuoni (0800 086 8388) has seven nights in a beachfront suite at the five-star Garrya Tongsai Bay Samui from £1,749pp, B&B, including return flights from Heathrow with Eva Air
7. Unwind with a wellness retreat in Chiang Mai
Thailand has a number of big-hitting, celebrity-frequented wellness retreats (Chiva-Som, Kamalaya, The Rakxa), but it’s in Chiang Mai that you’ll find the true spiritual heart of the country. Authentic local treatments include tok sen, a massage that uses the vibrations of a wooden hammer and pegs to loosen muscles and aid sore joints, and yam khang, a treatment where therapists dip their feet in flaming oils before applying them to the body. Try these and more on a wellness retreat at the new Aleenta Retreat Chiang Mai.
Chic Locations (020 8944 1973) has five nights at the Aleenta Retreat Chiang Mai from £5,788pp, full-board, including flights, transfers, daily treatments, classes and wellness activities
8. Take a low-impact break
If you’re looking to lower the impact of your long-haul holiday, combine Thailand’s excellent low-cost trains with stays at independently owned community- minded properties – of which there are plenty to choose from.
In Bangkok, there’s the Ariyasom Villa boutique hotel, a beautifully maintained 80-year-old mansion that has been in the Charoen family for three generations. From here, you can take the overnight sleeper to Chiang Rai for a spell at the Ahsa Farm Stay, a rustic-luxe hotel and working farm in the heart of a local northern community, surrounded by rice fields, tea plantations and rainforested mountains on the edges of Myanmar.
Original Travel (020 3958 6120) can arrange a low-impact 10-day trip from £1,750pp, including B&B in Bangkok and full-board in Chiang Rai, as well as international flights, train travel and transfers
9. Find new ways to the north west
A new Bangkok Airways flight linking Lampang and Mae Hong Son is making it easier than ever to explore Thailand’s ravishing north western countryside. No longer solely the preserve of backpackers, the region promises an embroidery of greens laced with tranquil walking trails, magical wildlife, fiery food and a surprisingly lovely array of locally-run boutique hotels, such as the Fern Resort in Mae Hong Son and the Lampang River Lodge.
Bamboo Travel (020 7720 9285) can tailor-make a two-week tour to the remote north west of Thailand from £3,445pp, including international and domestic flights, private transfers, B&B, some lunches and dinners, plus a number of activities and excursions
10. Explore an island idyll
Despite their location in the heart of Phang Nga Bay, halfway between Phuket and Krabi, the twin islands of Koh Yao Noi and Koh Yao Yai remain pleasingly quaint. You’ll arrive in style – by speedboat – for your stay at one of the few five-star resorts in the area, the recently opened Anantara Koh Yao Yai Resort & Villas.
Set on half a mile of dazzling beach, the hotel has 148 rooms, suites and stand-alone villas with Phang Nga Bay views so surreal – glowing green waters, toothy limestone karsts, swirling sandbanks – they could almost be the work of AI.
True Travel (020 3137 12447) has seven nights at the Anantara Koh Yao Yai Resort & Villas from £3,500pp, B&B, including flights and transfers