Thailand is known as the land of a thousand smiles, which should be a clue about the bright and welcoming culture you’ll find there. The tropical country also boasts a rich history, and there are countless landmarks in Thailand worth getting to know. There is no shortage of tropical islands made famous by films and television shows, and there are plenty of spectacular temples to explore. Whether you want white sand beaches, palaces or bustling city markets, Thailand is the place to be. Take a closer look at just a handful of the country’s most famous landmarks.
1. Prasat Hin Phimai
Prasat Hin Phimai is one of the oldest and most significant temples in the country. Built in the 11th century, the temple is one of the largest and most impressive examples of Khmer architecture found anywhere in Asia. It is situated in the heart of the Phimai Historical Park, and it is very similar in style to Angkor Wat in Cambodia. The temple complex is surrounded by moats and ancient walls, with several scenic ponds and bridges. Walk through some of the galleries, and you’ll find yourself within the inner sanctuary. Here, you can see a number of beautifully preserved statues.
2. Bridge Over the River Kwai
For those interested in military history, there is no better destination than the city of Kanchanaburi. Here, you will be able to see the famed bridge over the River Kwai. The iron bridge itself was part of the Death Railway, which was built by prisoners of war in World War II and led all the way to Burma. The bridge was featured in films and books, and it is a poignant reminder of the tragedy of war. Trains still cross the bridge daily, but there is also the option to cross on foot. There are small platforms that you can use if a train happens to come by, and they also serve as vantage points for views and photography.
3. White Temple
Wat Rong Khun, or the White Temple, is one of the most fascinating and spectacular landmarks in Thailand. Although it looks like it might be ancient, the White Temple was actually only designed in 1997 by the artist Chalermchai Kositpipat. The temple is essentially an art installation on a grand scale, featuring countless gates and sculptures. As you enter, crossing over a bridge, hundreds of outstretched hands reach up from the ground. Then, opulent details give the entire area a surreal look. For something unusual and unforgettable, the White Temple fits the bill.
4. James Bond Island
There are several wonderful islands in Phang Nga Bay, but none can compare to James Bond Island. The isle is actually called Khao Phing Kan, and it boasts beautiful beaches as well as unique limestone formations and cliffs. Once it was featured in the film The Man With The Golden Gun, Khao Phing Kan became known forevermore as James Bond Island. Many visitors explore the island on a day trip by boat that departs from Phuket. Once you’re there, soak in the scenery, enjoy the beach, but prepare for bigger crowds thanks to the island’s incredible popularity.
5. Sukhothai Historical Park
Sukhothai is a small city, but it was once the capital of Thailand. At the Sukhothai Historical Park, you can see what remains of this ancient city. Most of the structures date back to the 13th and 14th centuries, and they are spread out over several acres. The best way to tour the park is on a rented bicycle, and mornings are the coolest and least busy time to do so. You’ll be able to see temple ruins, large Buddha statues, bridges and more, all surrounded by moats and lakes. Visiting Sukhothai is an incredible opportunity to see a preserved piece of history.
6. Temple of Dawn
Wat Arun, or the Temple of Dawn, is a Buddhist temple found in Bangkok. Built during the reign of King Narai in the 17th century, the Temple of Dawn is a striking structure. At dawn, the very first rays of light in the city strike the temple, creating an iridescent sheen. That’s due to the exterior material, a mixture of porcelain and seashells that reflect the light beautifully. As fantastic as the spire looks from the outside, you can also head inside and climb right up the central prang. From here, you’ll be treated to spectacular views over the Chao Phraya River and even across to Wat Pho, another famed temple in Bangkok.
7. Phi Phi Islands
In a 2000 film called The Beach starring Leonardo DiCaprio, one Thai archipelago was prominently featured: Ko Phi Phi. The largest island, Ko Phi Phi Don, is now a popular vacation spot for those in search of blue waters, stunning beaches and a relaxed atmosphere. From Yao Beach, you can snorkel and scuba dive, exploring the rich marine life in the surrounding reef. At Monkey Beach, you can kick back on the sand and see countless wild monkeys at the same time. The smaller and uninhabited island of Ko Phi Phi Leh is where you find Maya Beach, also simply known as “the beach”.
8. Grand Palace
Despite the name, the Grand Palace is actually a collection of structures in Rattanakosin, the historic center of Bangkok. Many of the buildings were built in the traditional Ayutthayan style, but more modern and western buildings have also sprung up within the complex. Within the Grand Palace’s walls is the Wat Phra Kaew, where you can see the enormous Emerald Buddha. The Thai Royal Family no longer lives in the Grand Palace, which means you’ll have more freedom to explore the buildings and see places like the throne halls, Boromabiman Hall and the government buildings in the Outer Court.