We know because we go: our favourite cultural hot spots in Thailand

Thailand… the destination that conjures up images of vivid blue waters, white sandy beaches and well Leonardo in the 90’s with his top off. But, whilst the beaches are next level on the beauty charts, there is so much more to this country than its idyllic southern islands. So, if you’re looking for a travel spot that’s got island hopping as well as jungle, incredible food, waterfalls, temples and then some? We think Thailand could be the one for you!

Still not convinced? Read on for some of the STA Travel crew’s favourite Thailand moments and memories that venture beyond beach bum living.

Kim Durbridge, Senior Digital Marketing Executive

Two words. THE FOOD!

Mr Kai’s in Chiang Mai, which has to be the best restaurant in the whole of Thailand. There’s always a crowd outside, Tables and chairs are set around haphazardly making a super cosy atmosphere. Everything is £2 or less. Be sure to try the northern Thai speciality of Khao Soi – a steaming bowl of tangy red curry sauce full of chicken, veg and soft noodles, topped with naughty crispy noodles. Then head to a cooking class in the area for a chilled afternoon. You get to eat everything you make!

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If you can’t make it to Chiang Mai, head to Sukhumvit’s Soi 38 in Bangkok for the ultimate initiation to street food.

Everyone heads to Thailand for the beaches first off, but it’s the food and bustling market atmosphere that will keep you hooked and returning time and time again.

Shannon Hansen, Travel Expert Western Australia

I fell head over heels for Rawai Beach in the south of Phuket. The hospitality shown at the Rawai Palm Beach Hotel was next level and nearby Nai Hairn Beach was a beach lovers paradise. But beyond this, a must visit is the local market where the fisherman come in every evening to showcase their catch. You get to choose which fish you want, and they’ll cook it for you right there.

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From my month backpacking in Thailand – Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai were my faves. There’s so many colourful temples, delicious thai food and waterfalls to bask in. The Northern hill tribes trek was fantastic, and we got to try some seriously interesting local dishes (fern anyone??).


Katie Heward, Digital Designer

I went to Elephant Hills in Khao Sok National Park – where you got to feed & bathe the elephants! But to add to this, you stay right on the lake and can kayak straight off from the deck of your hut. A pretty amazing view to wake up to, or have a beer at sunset listening to the jungle I think you’ll agree?

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Georgie May Birch, Digital Marketing Executive

Daily sunsets washed down with Chang’s on the Thai islands never failed to please, but for me, it was Pai where I felt most at home.

By day, cruise the quiet roads on a moped (helmets please!) in search of the best waterfall to lounge at after stopping off for a big bowl of Thai curry and green papaya salad. By night, sip on fresh watermelon smoothies and listen to the locals rocking out Jazz and Blues. Mmmmm Perfection.

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Daniel Coleman, Store Manager Australia

Kanchanaburi is amazing! It’s a fantastic place to chill out for 3 days after visiting Bangkok.

Many locally owned and run guest houses are located directly alongside the River Kwai and it’s a great spot to try local dishes, rent bikes and explore the surrounding forest. The Erawan Waterfalls are beautiful too and perfect for a wake-up refreshing dip. It’s also close to the three pagodas pass.

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The town itself has a sad history from WW2 with strong Australian connections made famous by the book and film Bridge on the River Kwai. The WW2 museum with an international soldier cemetery is a somewhat sombre experience but provides insight into the history of the region when it was occupied by the Japanese.

Rachael Porter, Digital Marketing Executive

Definitely my first scooter ride to Pam Bok Waterfall & The Land Split in Pai!

Hire a scooter out in the main town, and follow the road signs to the outskirts – the scooter ride itself is a lot of fun (especially if it’s your first time like it was mine) head to Pam Bok Waterfall first which is on the same stretch of road as the Land Split. The waterfall is set in a canyon with a swimming hole below, and there’s some low ledges for cliff jumping. Just chill there for a while and soak up the peaceful nature vibes.

On the way back stop off at the Land Split, which stopped the owner of the land being able to properly farm when it occurred – but he made the site into a tourist attraction to explore and walk through all the nature. It’s the owner who makes the visit – he ushers you to sit down and piles up loads of homegrown goods and drinks and only asks for a small donation. Then you can just lounge around in the hammocks for a while. If you hadn’t realised I love Pai!

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Jessica Uhren, Creative Studio Manager

Sleeping in straw huts with views of the mountains in Pai was a big highlight for me!

But devouring everything in sight with the locals at Chiang Mai‘s forever bustling night markets, green Thai curry for breakfast (you will learn to love this) and snorkelling off the beaches of Koh Tao are pretty well up there on the best moment list too.

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Brendan Martin, Travel Expert Germany

It’s got to be Kanchanaburi for me too.

I spent a few months working there and often found myself in one of the many cool cafes. De’Tal has great smoothies, perfect for cooling down while walking around exploring and 10 O’Clock Cafe has the best cheesecake in all of Thailand! Vegetarians are also well looked after at On’s Thai Issan, a small vegetarian restaurant on the main backpacker strip. On also offers cooking classes with groups and teaches you how to make amazing veggie Thai curries.

There are some amazing temple complexes in the area so it’s worth hiring a Tuk-tuk driver for the day to take you around some of them. The most well-known is Wat Ban Tham, also known as Dragon Temple because the temple’s entrance is through a dragon’s mouth. My favourite temple complex in the area is the beautiful Wat Tham Sua (also sometimes seen as Wat Tum Seu and not be confused with another temple with a similar name in Krabi).

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Alexx Hayward, Global Marketing Executive

As much as I love the big city chaos of Bangkok and the dreamy Koh Tao beaches, my absolute favourite Thailand memory was volunteering with children in the Sangkhlaburi district. It’s pretty far off the beaten track (no Chang singlets to be seen!) and the local make up is super diverse – there’s a huge mix of Karen, Mon, Thai and Burmese ethnicities who all call this place home.

Our volunteer tasks included making bricks, working on a new water pipe and singing along (very badly) to nursery rhymes, and we spent our spare time exploring the huge Buddha statues dotted around the district, sans annoying backpackers with selfie sticks (except for ourselves, of course). Wandering the night market was another highlight, if not a bit tricky with hardly any English menus! Apparently, the desperation for banana roti with custard is something that transcends the boundaries of language. Sangkhlaburi isn’t your usual Thailand travel brochure destination, but for us it was eye-opening and incredibly fulfilling. Totally worth adding to your Southeast Asian adventure!

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So, soak up the tropical beach lifestyle of Thailand with a S­angsom bucket in hand for sure (we have and would do it all again) but don’t miss out on the culture, scenery and history this fascinating country has to throw at you too. Head to our Thailand Travel Guide for even more Thai goodness.