Thailand is an ancient kingdom known for its incredible beaches, ornate palaces, Buddhist temples, and delectable cuisine. This Southeast Asian nation is the second-largest economy in the region; tourism is one of its biggest industries, and for good reason. Thailand’s attractions range from the hustle and bustle of Bangkok, the nation’s capital, all the way to the sandy shores of Ko Samui and Phuket. Its natural wonders range even further, including adventurous waterfalls, gorgeous coral reefs, lush jungles, and much more.
Because Thailand measures more than 500,000 square kilometers, it can be hard to know where exactly to start when traveling to this beautiful nation. Not to worry, though — we’re here to break down Thailand’s most impressive natural wonders.
Known by some as the ‘Rose of the North,’ the city of Chiang Mai is one of Thailand’s must-visit locales. It is the second-largest city in the country, and it is both mountainous and situated on the bank of the Ping River. It boasts a relatively cool climate, rich culture, and pristine national parks.
One of the most famous attractions near Chiang Mai is Doi Inthanon National Park, an elevated region of land known for being home to Thailand’s highest peak. It is highly populated with wildlife, including nearly 30 species of bats; it also witnesses Thailand’s massive bird migration every March. As part of the Himalayan mountain range, Doi Inthanon has many hiking opportunities and waterfalls.
A park closer to Chiang Mai is Doi Suthep-Pui National Park, famously home to the Hindu hermit Sudeva. An elaborate gilded temple and a combination of deciduous and evergreen forests mark Doi Suthep-Pui. It is also home to the winter residence of the Thai royal family, Bhubing Palace.
Thailand’s northernmost city of Chiang Rai was founded in 1262 as part of the Lao –Thai Lanna kingdom, and became as a province of Thailand in 1910. This atmospheric city is quieter than typical tourist destinations but stands out for its unique white architecture and misty views.
It is home to Golden Triangle Park, where Thailand, Myanmar, and Laos meet; this border location is a coveted destination for its uniqueness. The area also has a beautiful view of a Mekong River tributary.
Another natural attraction near Chiang Rai is Khun Korn Waterfall, located 1.5 kilometers from the trailhead, about forty minutes from the city center. Elegant bamboo forests and banana trees surround the waterfall. At 70 meters tall, it is an impressive view and a fun hike.
Khao Yai National Park
Khao Yai National Park was Thailand’s very first national park. It lies on the San Kamphaeng mountain range in central Thailand; the area is a primarily grassy plateau with tropical forests. At more than 2,000 square kilometers, this protected area is home to a range of wildlife, including the Asian black bear, Indian elephant, macaque, and deer.
The nearest town to Khao Yai is Pak Chong, about a three-hour drive from Bangkok. The park itself offers trails, as well as wildlife tours for those fascinated by Thailand’s fauna.
Erawan National Park
Waterfalls are one of this natural wonder’s main attractions, too. Erawan National Park boasts an impressive seven-tiered waterfall, especially in the rainy season. This picturesque tiered waterfall is accompanied by many caves and a unique breast-shaped hill named Khao Nom Nang.
Phang Nga Bay
Located between Thailand’s southern mainland and the island of Phuket, Phang Nga Bay is famous for its archaeological sites, limestone cliffs, and its history as a home to Thailand’s indigenous people. It is mainly shallow and populated by 42 islands and many species of aquatic wildlife and mangrove. Much of the bay is part of Ao Phang Nga National Park, which protects the largest mangrove forest in Thailand.
Phang Nga Bay is famously home to the so-called ‘James Bond Island,’ which rose to international fame after being featured as the antagonist’s hideout in the 1974 James Bond film The Man with the Golden Gun. The island’s real name is Khao Phing Kan, and it is unique for its upright karst tower structure, which gives it a floating spike-like appearance. Visitors fascinated by the island’s role in the movie and its improbable structure can kayak or sail near it. Otherwise, visitors can admire it from Phang Nga Bay’s other islands.
In the province of Krabi, the Krabi River empties into the aforementioned Phang Nga Bay. This scenic area on the west coast of southern Thailand is known for its coral reefs, hot springs, and spectacular sunsets.
One of Krabi’s most famous destinations is Railay Beach, a pristine stretch of white sand surrounded by limestone cliffs. Railay is the perfect place to catch a panoramic sunset, go rock climbing, and to swim or sail. It’s also home to the Phra Nang Cave Beach, which has a shrine to Phra Nang — worshiped by local sailors — and impressive stalactites.
Also off the coast of Krabi are the Phi Phi Islands, a large grouping of islands in the Strait of Malacca. They are known for their beaches, singular arrangement, and marine life. If you find yourself in southern Thailand, this lively mini archipelago is incredibly fun to visit.
Located off Thailand’s eastern seaboard, Ko Samet is a popular excursion from the bustle of Bangkok. This enchanting island has the same white sand beaches that populate the rest of Thailand, along with a cozy, romantic vibe and the unique cajeput tree. The southern end of Ko Samet is where visitors can find Laem Toei, a wild, rocky cape with drier vegetation and a sprawling sea view.
Khao Chamao-Khao Wong National Park
The final destination on this list of Thailand’s most beautiful natural attractions is Khao Chamao-Khao Wong National Park, a region with a nearby wildlife sanctuary known best for its rare animal species and waterfalls. Khao Chamao is verdant, chillier than the rest of Thailand, and the perfect place to glimpse the Asian elephant or a wild boar.
From the impossibly balanced James Bond Island to the perfect beaches of Phang Nga, Thailand is full of natural wonders. Learn more about everything Thailand has to offer at Visit Southeast Asia.