Whatever you think of when you imagine Thailand, you’re probably right. Tropical paradise of turquoise waters and white sands? Check. Golden temples and orange-robed Buddhist monks? Them too. Curious monkeys and mist-shrouded peaks? Yup, even those. Adventure travel in Thailand is super-sized, and the thrills come by the dozen. Visit with elephants, trek through the jungle, climb rocks, meditate, dive among coral reefs, and sample the incredible cuisine. No matter what you choose to do in the “land of smiles,” you can bet it’ll leave you with a mega-watt grin on your face.
Thailand is full of contradictions: neon lights and skyscrapers spill out of Bangkok while ancient temples and floating markets wait to be discovered in the countryside. The geography is equally diverse: rice fields, limestone karsts, tranquil beaches, and humid jungles all jostle for space in this energetic country. Wherever you choose to travel in Thailand, opportunities to explore the landscape and culture abound.
Most adventure seekers start off in Bangkok, the Thai capital and home to over 8 million people. This lively metropolis serves as a terrific base for all adventures; its central location ensures you’ll be able to catch a bus, train, or motorbike to any destination. Before you head out of town, be sure to check out the massive Grand Palace, grab a snack on famous Khao San road, and sample a fried grasshopper.
North of Bangkok lies Chiang Mai, a laid-back city surrounded by Buddhist temples, thick rainforests, towering mountains, and even the remnants of an ancient moat. It’s a great destination for those interested in trekking excursions, meditation retreats, and learning about Thailand’s various indigenous communities. If you want to see some wildlife, several elephant sanctuaries in the area offer the chance to visit with these big creatures up close.
Adventurers that prefer sun and sand over mountains and waterfalls will find paradise on Thailand’s many islands. Choose to get your scuba diving certification on Koh Tao, check out coral reefs off the Similan Islands, or hike through the jungle to towering waterfalls on Koh Samui. Each island has its own personality: some are known for all-night parties, while others are home to sleepy villages. Make sure you’ve done your research before the boat pulls up to shore!
For those looking to really get off the beaten path, check out Thailand’s rural areas. Many adventure travel programs in Thailand offer excursions, homestays, or volunteer opportunities to lesser-visited areas, allowing you to gain a deeper understanding of Thai culture and avoid the crowds.
There’s only one problem with traveling to Thailand: deciding what to do there. And not because there is a lack of options. On the contrary, with such an abundance of options, you’ll need to make some hard choices before arriving.
Many adventure seekers are called to Thailand to explore the seas, spend days underwater, and learn about the region’s unique marine life. Whether you’re a veteran diver or just a beginner, there are as many adventures in Thailand as there are fish in the Andaman Sea. Many adventure programs in Thailand offer scuba lessons or certifications, but you can also opt for snorkeling or sea kayaking if diving doesn’t float your boat.
For the landlubbers, opportunities for hiking are plentiful. Explore the otherworldly stone karsts in Khao Sok National Forest, while spotting gibbons, hornbills, and wild elephants. National Parks are located all over the country and guided tours are usually your best bet for wildlife viewing. To really get your adrenaline going, tie in and try your hand (and feet!) at some rock climbing.
For those willing to forego a shower for a couple days, a trekking program in northern Thailand is a fantastic way to learn about local indigenous culture. Most of these excursions combine backpacking with a visit to a traditional hill community. These cultural tours allow you to learn about life in villages that have changed very little over the past centuries.
Adventure travel in Thailand is completely customizable, and you can choose as much or little support as you’d like. Many travel companies in Thailand offer group travel with a pre-selected itinerary, while others provide lodging or transportation but leave the daily activities up to you.
Be mindful of Thailand’s climate when planning a trip so you don’t get caught out in the rain (literally). The monsoon season goes from July through October, and many islands shut down during this time. The rest of the year is relatively dry, but temperatures heat up April through June. Regardless of when you travel, be ready for humidity and don’t forget your sunscreen.
Thailand scores big in the affordable travel category; your airfare is often the highest trip expense. Those who choose to go on organized tour will spend a bit more up front on program costs, but having someone else organize travel logistics can be worth it.
Costs in Thailand are quite low for Western travelers. A meal from a street cart might cost $2, while a Western-style lunch at a restaurant is about $5. Public transit around town costs $1 or less, and a day train will run you a couple of dollars. Remember that prices in markets aren’t fixed, and bargaining is expected.
Organized tours vary in cost depending on what is offered. Some adventure travel programs in Thailand include all expenses and cover your lodging, in-country transportation, meals, and excursions. Other travel programs offer less structure for a lower cost, but may require you to spend more money while traveling. It’s important to verify what your program includes before you depart; it’d be a shame to not have enough baht for another spicy papaya salad or mango with sticky rice.
If the price tags of plane tickets and programs fees are out of your range, pocket that coffee money and start saving; a little bit goes a long way in this tropical paradise. For additional funding help, try FundMyTravel and inspire others while raising funds for your adventure in Thailand.
It’s doubtful you’ll spend much time indoors in Thailand, but having a bed might be useful to rest those sore muscles after a day of adventuring. Accommodations in Thailand come in all shapes and sizes, from spartan to spectacular.
If your adventure program will be arranging lodging for you, you will likely be staying in hotels, guest houses, or hostels. Be prepared to share rooms with other program participants (and probably make some new friends along the way!). Some adventures in Thailand offer homestays; in this case, your Thai home may have relatively simple amenities. If you choose to do any trekking, come prepared to spend a couple nights outdoors.
Many travelers are not required to obtain a visa prior to traveling to Thailand and are given the right to stay for up to 30 days upon arrival. If you plan to stay longer than 30 days, it’s recommended to apply for a 60-day visa at your local embassy before departure. Visas can be renewed once you’ve landed in Thailand, but it’s best to avoid extra bureaucracy if possible. Check out the Embassy Directory for additional information.
Immense Opportunity. Thailand is a country that really has it all. Opportunities to explore the outdoors are endless, and each activity allows you to push your limits as you explore the world around you. Whether you’re confronting your fears halfway up a limestone cliff or spending your first night outside in the mountains, adventures in Thailand will stick with you forever and remind you of your potential.
Rich Culture. You may have been enticed by Thailand’s coral reefs or tropical forests, but take some time to learn about the local culture as well as the flora. Influenced by Buddhist tradition and indigenous communities, Thai culture is deep, subtle, and intriguing. Learn about Muay Thai boxing, practice your best wai bow, and wash away your worries during the annual Songkran water fight.
Tourist Overload. You’re not the only one to have recognized Thailand’s beauty, and the tourist trail here runs long and deep. It can be difficult to get away from other travelers, but not impossible. Many organized adventure programs in Thailand provide access to lesser-visited communities or participation in volunteer projects that can give you more personal interaction with locals. It may take some effort, but getting an authentic peek into the Thai way of life is worth it.
Whether you spend your time in Thailand under the sea or on the trail, you’re sure to fall under the country’s enchanting spell. Upon returning home, continue the adventure. The adventure you begin in Thailand is one you can continue on for your entire life, if you treasure the mentalities and memories if provides.