What is Thailand famous for? Its glimmering temples, magnificent palaces, stunning tropical beaches, mouthwatering dishes, and crazy festivals are just some of the things that draw visitors to the Land of Smiles.
Whether you’re an adventure junkie, a culture-loving explorer, a beach bum, or a foodie, you will find what you’re looking for in this Southeast Asian gem. Thailand is one of the most visited countries in the world and it has something to offer to every kind of traveler.
Read on to learn about 30 things Thailand is famous for!
1. Picturesque beaches and islands
Did you know that Thailand is home to about 1,430 islands? The Southeast Asian nation has over 1,500 miles of coastline, which means there’s no shortage of beautiful tropical beaches.
The Gulf of Thailand and the Andaman Sea surrounds the southern islands, which are famous for incredible stretches of soft white sands, pristine waters, and cool sea breeze. Some of the popular beaches include Klong Dao beach in Koh Lanta and Pattaya Beach in Koh Lipe. Ko Phi Phi’s Maya Bay, which got its popularity from the movie The Beach, is also great. Secluded beaches like the Freedom Beach in Phuket and Lamai in Koh Samui are perfect for quieter getaways.
With its long coastline and plenty of stunning beaches, it’s not surprising that Thailand is famous for its diving sites. Its fantastic marine and reef life make it one of the best diving destinations in the world.
Being a tropical nation, one can go diving in Thailand all year round. For optimal diving conditions, it’s best to go between November and April. Some of the best diving sites include Koh Lanta, Koh Dok Mai in Phuket, Similan Islands, and Koh Tao.
3. The exciting backpacking scene
Thailand is famous for being the backpacking hub of Southeast Asia. Because of its central location and budget-friendly offerings, it has become a rite of passage among backpackers.
Most visitors fly into Bangkok and make the city their first stop for backpacking around Southeast Asia. These budget travelers often travel in groups, hopping from one country to another. Solo backpackers are also common but they often end up meeting fellow backpackers and exploring Thailand together.
Thailand is popular for younger travelers but here you’ll meet travelers of all kinds – adventure seekers, party animals, foodies, culture junkies. And with everything Thailand has to offer, it’s not hard to have a great time.
4. Laidback rural getaways
Looking for quiet retreats in the mountains?
Lucky for you, Thailand is not just about the sweaty and crazy Bangkok and the sun-soaked beaches down south. The country is also famous for its amazing, sometimes secluded, rural locations for those who prefer the laidback nature. The northern provinces of Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Mai Hai Song, and Pai are great if you’re looking for cooler temperatures, mountains to climb, jungles and caves to explore, waterfalls or farming villages.
5. Historical bridges
In Thailand, bridges are not merely structures that connect landmasses (or even countries) together. Some of Thailand’s bridges are iconic landmarks of historical significance.
The most famous bridge is the Bridge on the River Kwai in Kanchanaburi Province, a section of the Thai-Burma Railway. This railway, a project of the Japanese, was estimated to take five years to complete. To finish it in 16 months, the Japanese brought in 330,000 forced workers, local slaves, and Allied POWs. About 90,000 Asian laborers and 16,000 Allied POWs died while working on the project and the railway soon earned the nickname ‘Death Railway.’
Other popular bridges in Thailand include the first and second Thailand-Laos Friendship Bridge over the Mekong River, the Rama VIII Bridge over the Chao Phraya River, the Pai World War II Memorial Bridge, and the Bang Na Expressway, the longest bridge in the world.
6. Ancient cities
Thailand is famous for its ancient Siamese cities that will fascinate any history buff. Thailand’s long and complex history means there’s so much to explore and learn.
The earliest Thai kingdoms date back to the Paleolithic period, some 20,000 years ago. The city of Nakhon Pathom (Nakhon Chai Si) in central Thailand is the nation’s oldest city. The ancient cities of Sukhothai and Ayutthaya both served as capital cities of Siam and are UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Crumbling temples, ruins, old Buddhist statues, and ancient art abound in these old cities.
7. Buddhism and monks
Theravada Buddhism is Thailand’s national religion. About 94% of the population practises this religion and it largely affects the way of life of the locals. It is common to witness Thais giving daily offerings to spirit houses and temples scattered all over the country. Offering food and material goods to monks is also common. In a principle called the “Buddhist moral economy,” it is believed that through giving, Buddhists receive or make merit, which negates the effect of past evils in the giver’s present life.
With over 300,000 monks living across the country, you’ll likely see one or two when you visit Thailand. Dressed in bright orange robes, they are highly respected. Majority of Thais will give up their seats on public transportation for a monk. They are normally friendly and polite as well, even to foreigners so tourists should be just as respectful.
With Buddhism as its main religion, Thailand is famous for temples, locally known as wat. There are over 40,000 temples in Thailand so visitors can easily encounter one or more during their trip. Most temples in Thailand date back to old dynasties and reflect that era’s architectural and construction style. Some of the most iconic temples in Thailand include Wat Phra Kaew in Bangkok’s Grand Palace, the White Temple in Chiang Rai, Wat Ratburana in Ayutthaya, and Wat Doi Suthep in Chiang Mai.
Temples are sacred spaces and even tourists should practise good behaviour and wear proper attire when visiting.
9. Thai cuisine
It’s no wonder this Southeast Asian country is a favorite among foodies. Thailand is famous for its mouthwatering cuisine, which has a variety of tastes and textures. Although known for strong, aromatic ingredients, there are a variety of flavors available due to the influences of Chinese, Indian, and even Western cuisine.
Iconic dishes that one must not miss when in Thailand include tom yam (hot and sour soup), pad Thai (stir fried noodles), som tam (green papaya salad), khao niao ma muang (mango sticky rice), khanom bue ang (Thai crepes, coconut ice cream, guay teow (noodle soup), khao pad (fried rice, and gaeng keow wan (green curry). Most of these are available in restaurants and even street food stalls scattered across the country.
10. Fried insects (ma laeng tod)
Thailand is famous for its budget-friendly dining options, which are available in street stalls and markets. Even the most iconic Thai dishes can be found in the streets. But there is a type of street food that visitors find daunting – ma laeng tod or fried insects.
These edible bugs are commonly deep fried to a crisp and salted before serving. It might seem scary at first, but eating insects in Thailand is a very normal part of life. These fried insects are low in calories, high in protein, highly nutritious, and surprisingly tasty.
Rot duan (bamboo worms), nhon mai (silkworms), maeng da (giant water bugs), maeng pawng (scorpions), and tak ka tan (grasshopper) are common options.
11. Thai milk tea (cha yen)
Thailand is famous for its delicious version of the milk tea.
Thai milk tea, or cha yen, is a drink made from strongly brewed Ceylon or Assam tea. Food colouring is often added in the tea mix, giving it a distinct orange hue. Pouring evaporated milk, coconut milk, or whole milk over the tea adds taste and gives it a creamy texture. Condensed milk, sugar, and tapioca pearls may also be added, and it can be served either hot or cold.
12. Tropical climate
Thailand is famous for its all-year round hot weather. The weather is not the same across the country but for the most part, Thailand is tropical and humid.
Like most Southeast Asian countries, majority of the country experiences only two seasons — wet and dry. The northern provinces like Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai, which are in higher elevations, enjoy milder temperatures ranging from 10 to 27 degrees Celsius from November to February. But for the rest of the country, the sunshine and humidity is intense. Even the rainy season can be swelteringly hot. In southern provinces like Phuket and Krabi, temperatures can soar up to 40 degrees Celsius. Bangkok is pretty hot most of the time but it experiences a cool season from November to February when temperatures average to 27 to 29 degrees Celsius.
13. Tear-jerker Thai commercials
When it comes to tear-jerking and viral commercials, it’s hard to beat Thailand.
Over the last decade, the nation’s advertising agencies have produced soppy, heartwarming ads that moved viewers and award-giving bodies. Thailand has won several Clios and Cannes Lions through these touching movie-like commercials. These ads are often emphasize family ties, friendship, personal challenges, and perseverance. It is perhaps the Thai values of humility, respect, and empathy that help these ads tell the best stories.
A quick search on YouTube or Facebook will yield countless of these commercials. Just make sure you have your tissues ready before watching one.
14. Thai performing arts
Thailand is famous for some of the most extravagant and elaborate live shows. As a country with highly creative and fun-loving people, Thailand’s performing arts scene offers diverse genres for any type of audience.
All over Thailand, you’ll find theatres showcasing puppet shows, ladyboy cabaret shows, dance-drama performances, classical music performances, and Muay Thai shows. Perhaps the most popular show is the Siam Niramit, a spectacular, 90-minute production showcasing over 700 years of Thailand’s history and culture. Shows like this are not just fun and entertaining but also highly educational.
15. Elephants (Chang)
Chang, or elephant, is Thailand’s national animal. It’s an enduring part of Thailand’s history, culture, and national identity.
In the late 1500s, elephants were used to fight against the Burmese, Malays, and Khmers who attempted to seize the Kingdom. Thais recognised and celebrated the strength, durability, and longevity the elephants demonstrated. Additionally, the white elephant became a symbol of royalty in Thailand. They are rare, considered sacred and kept exclusively for royal duties.
For years, elephants were put to work across Thailand, mostly for hauling teak wood and for logging in the jungles. With the decline of elephants, they now play a major role in Thailand’s animal tourism, an industry that is often criticised for ethical error.
16. National parks
Thailand has an abundant and diverse wildlife and it is most apparent in its many national parks. Home to more than 10% of the world’s animals, a lot of mammal species, reptiles, and marine creatures live in Thailand’s 147 national parks.
Established in 1962, the first official park in Thailand is Khao Yai. It’s the third-largest park in the country. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the exotic park is home to a variety of birds, tigers, wild boars, elephants, and gibbons. Another popular national park is Khao Sok in southern Thailand, which is famous for its thick rainforests, limestone cliffs, and waterfalls.
Other notable parks include Tha Pom Khlong Song Nam near Krabi, and Erawan National Park, which is famous for its seven levels of waterfalls and emerald green pool.
17. Spectacular festivals
Thailand is famous for its strong affinity for fun, colourful, and vibrant festivals. Most of these festivals have religious roots and planned according to the lunar calendar.
One of the most important Thai festivals is Songkran, the traditional Thai New Year held every April 13 to 15. The official Songkran festival lasts for three days, But in reality, the nationwide water fight takes place for one week.
Other significant and famous festivals in Thailand include the Lantern Festival (Yi Peng or Loy Krathong) held on the full moon night in November every year, Ghost Festival (Phi Ta Khon), Rocket Festival (Boon Bang Fai), and Buffalo Racing Festival (Wing Kwai). There are also music festivals like the Wonderfruit Music and Arts Festival in Pattaya and the Maya Music Festival in Bangkok.
18. Chatuchak Weekend Market
Shopping in Thailand is a cultural experience like no other. For one, Thailand is famous for hosting the largest weekend market in the world, Bangkok’s Chatuchak Weekend Market.
Also known as Jatujak or JJ Market, Chatuchak Weekend Market has more than 15,000 stalls spread over more than 14 hectares. It receives over 200,000 visitors every weekend. The market is divided into 26 numbered sections selling a variety of goods — antiques, arts, books, ceramics, clothing, home decor, plants, and even food. Prices vary and are not always cheap so it’s best to negotiate with vendors.
19. Floating markets
Thailand is famous for its varied collection of shopping areas. This includes a number of floating markets open to both locals and tourists in Thailand. Once an integral part of local life, the floating markets of today primarily exist for tourism, with a few catering to mostly locals.
Some of the famous floating markets in Thailand include the touristy Damnoen Saduak Floating Market, Amphawa Market, Ayutthaya Floating Market, Pattaya Floating Market, Taling Chan, Khlong Lat Mayom, Bang Nam Pheung, and Bang Phli Floating Market.
20. Red light districts
Bangkok’s red light districts, and the reputation that comes with it, is a part of life in the Thai capital. It’s a bit of culture that has been around for more than half a century. Thailand does not condone sex tourism in any way, but no one can deny that the neon-lit adult bars in some of Bangkok’s districts make for an even more vibrant nightlife.
Bangkok’s red light districts of today include Soi Cowboy, Patpong, and Nana Plaza. Go-go bars that feature raunchy shows, pole dance performances, and live comedy fill these districts. Basement clubs with live music, and even laidback, casual bars for the less adventurous are also present. These areas are visible and not at all kept in the dark. The government closely monitors and regulates these bars for sex trafficking, forced workers, and ethical violations.
Thailand is famous for kathoey or ladyboys, men who identify as women. They can either be male-to-female transgenders, or men who exhibit effeminate qualities.
The growing number of gender-affirming surgeries in the country meant there are more ladyboys now. They work in predominantly female occupations like shops, salons, the entertainment and tourism industry, and yes, in red light districts. Cabaret shows, fabulous and spectacular burlesque shows featuring ladyboys are also very common.
Although still facing some discrimination, ladyboys are generally visible and more accepted in Thailand than transgender people are in other countries in the world.
22. Bangkok’s rooftop bars
Thailand’s capital is famed for its exciting nightlife options. What better way to see Bangkok’s breathtaking sights than from towering heights? Bangkok has plenty of buzzing and elegant open-air rooftop bars with great views and delicious booze.
The most popular rooftop bar in Bangkok is the Sky Bar, the world’s highest open-air bar. It became even more famous after appearing in the movie “The Hangover 2.” Other famous rooftop bars include Vertigo Grill and Moon Bar on the 61st floor of Banyan Tree Bangkok, Distil Rooftop Bar, ABar Rooftop, Octave Rooftop and Lounge, Zoom Skybar at Anantara Sathorn, and Above Eleven at Fraser Suites Hotel,
23. The Land of Smiles
Thais are famous for being friendly, helpful, and polite people. Despite the language barrier, locals are willing to go out of their way to help you, whether through restaurant recommendations or helping with directions.
Thailand is also famous for its ‘sanuk’ way of life. Sanuk is a Thai word commonly translated to ‘fun’ but it’s so much more than that. Sanuk is not mindless, frivolous fun but an intrinsic aspect of life in Thailand. It’s an intangible quality of playfulness and joyfulness, good humour, and social harmony. It also means enjoying whatever one does, whether it’s pleasure or work. This quality is perhaps what makes Thais instinctively welcoming and what keeps us, visitors, coming back.
24. Thai massage (nuat Thai)
Thailand is famous for one of the most unique type of massage – the traditional Thai massage or nuat Thai. This traditional therapy system combines acupressure, Ayurvedic principles, and yoga postures. Said to be thousands of years old, Thai massage is known for being more painful and energizing than relaxing. The recipient typically remains clothed during the session. Therapists rarely use oils or lotions.
Nuat Thai is half massage, half stretching; you will be pulled, stretched, rocked, and compressed by the massage therapist who will use every part of his/her body, including thumbs, elbows, and knees, to stretch you. This is why Thai massage is not gentle and for some, it may even feel unpleasant or painful. But because the technique is based on the notion of energy lines, or sen. It releases tension in joints and muscles and boosts energy.
25. Reverence for monarchy
Kings have long ruled Thailand since the 13th century. It wasn’t until 1932 that Thailand finally became a constitutional monarchy. Despite the little direct power it has, the royal family still has a strong influence in the country. Thais have a deep, traditional reverence and affection for the King and his family. The Constitution puts the king in a “position of revered worship,” almost like a god.
Commoners use a special polite language when talking about the royal family. The birthdays of the King and Queen are celebrated as Fathers Day and Mothers Day. Pictures of the king are present in almost every office, shop, or restaurant. Even seemingly minute things can be seen as disrespect. For example, one has to be careful not to step on a coin or banknote with the king’s image on it. This reverence is so deep that visitors should be careful to show respect as well.
26. Stunning and grand palaces
Thailand is famous for its breathtaking and lavish palaces, which is to be expected given the Thais’ utmost respect for the monarchy. The palaces in Thailand are some of the most beautiful and impressive ones in the world, exhibiting intricate details and a magnificence that is only fitting for kings and queens.
The Grand Palace in Bangkok is the most popular among the royal palaces. Although no longer used as royal residence, it is still often used for ceremonial events. Other famous palaces that are open to the public include the Bang Pa-In Royal Palace in Ayutthaya, the European-inspired Dusit Palace in Bangkok, the Bhubing Palace in Chiang Mai, and the Sanam Chandra Palace in the old city of Nakhon Pathom.
27. Thai Boxing (Muay Thai)
Thailand is famous for being a sport-loving nation and this is most evident in their popular martial arts and cultural sport, Muay Thai.
This close-combat sport uses stand-up striking, throwing techniques, locks, an opponent’s own momentum, and combines use of fist, elbows, knees, and shins. Tested in competition and real-life situations for hundreds of years, is it recognised as a powerful, efficient, and simple martial art. The sport is not just practised in gyms and fight camps but also demonstrated in Muay Thai live shows and theatrical performances.
28. Thai politeness
Thailand is famous for its polite and well-mannered people. Politeness is a very important part of the Thai culture and this is clear in the local etiquette. Thais are generally forgiving of infractions, especially when committed by foreigners, but it is good to know and observe these customs when in Thailand.
Honorifics are used not just for the royalty, but also for the elderly, for superiors, and even for friends. Locals do a wai (a prayer-like gesture with the hands together in front and head slightly bowed) to show respect.
Courtesy for Buddha, the royal family, and monks is not just required but expected. Removing your shoes before entering a temple or someone’s home is essential. Touching someone’s head is seen as disrespectful as the head is considered the most sacred part of the body. Losing your cool, shouting, or displaying strong emotions is looked down upon in Thailand. Smiling is not just a sign of friendliness but also politeness.
29. Bangkok Traffic
Thailand is famous (or infamous) for its congested roads. According to navigation company TomTom, capital city, Bangkok had a congestion level of 53% in 2019. The traffic in Bangkok is notably bad but it’s also a serious problem throughout the country.
In 2016, Thailand was named world’s most congested country for traffic in a study released by US-based firm INRIX, Inc. In TomTom’s 2019 Traffic Index, Bangkok ranked 11th in congestion level among 416 cities across 57 countries. The city, home to more than 10 million people and more than 5 million cars, has one of the highest vehicle densities in Asia.
When travelling across Bangkok, taking the BTS Skytrain may be the better alternative. You can also take the water taxis that travel across Chao Phraya River.
30. Tuk tuk
A convenient mode of transportation as well as a cultural icon, Thailand is famous for the tuk tuk. This colorful, open-air three-wheeled auto-rickshaw was once Thailand’s favorite way of getting around, and in some parts of the country, it still is. Tuk tuks in Thailand are vibrant, often designed with colorful lights and trinkets.
Fares are not necessarily cheap as they vary depending on your destination. Being a tourist with limited knowledge and bargaining skills will put you at a disadvantage, especially when faced with a dishonest driver. But a ride in this small vehicle is well worth experiencing even just once during your trip.
Have you been to Thailand or are you planning to visit soon? Tell us your favorite thing about Thailand in the comments or share what you’re looking forward to on your visit! Also, read our article on the many things that Bangkok is famous for.