20 Cities in Thailand

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Thailand is a country filled with some of the world’s most diverse landscapes, incredible cuisine, friendly locals and more things to see than you could ever hope to tick off. Although its islands often get all the limelight, Thailand’s cities are buzzing hubs where visitors can get to the heart of the country, admire towering temples, snack on street food, trek out into the countryside or hit the beaches.

The capital of Bangkok offers a perfect starting point for those wanting to dive straight into the deep end of this eclectic country, while other popular cities like Chiang Mai, Pattaya and Phuket offer stunning natural wonders, great nightlife and a chance to explore Thailand’s history.

Under-the-radar destinations like Nong Khai, Surat Thani and Sukhothai are still relatively untouched and outside the tourist trail, meaning traditional palaces and wats, cascading waterfalls, wildlife and unique cultural activities await those that decide to explore less visited cities. No matter where you decide to go, if you have one week or six months, Thailand’s cities and towns are distinctly different and each offers its own take on authentic local experiences.

Thailand Cities And Towns

Best Tours

Bangkok: Damnoen Saduak Market and Maeklong Railway Market

20 Towns And Cities in Thailand 

1- Bangkok

Bangkok: City Highlights Temple and Market Walking Tour
Bangkok tops the list of major cities in Thailand.

One of the most unusual capital cities in the world that recently became the most visited city on earth, Bangkok is likely the first place you’ll step off the plane on your visit to Thailand.

Its peaceful Old Town is where you can admire the famous Grand Palace, Wat Phra Kaew and the reclining Buddha at Wat Pho, as well as a cruise along the Chao Phraya River or party on Khao San Road.

Contrastingly, taking the modern SkyTrain into downtown Bangkok, you’ll be surrounded by skyscrapers, glitzy designer shopping malls and world-class food.

It’s also perfect as a base for day trips, whether to the popular floating markets, Maeklong Train Market or other nearby Thai cities.

Recommended tours:

2- Chiang Mai

From Chiang Mai: Doi Inthanon National Park Day Trip
Chiang Mai is of the most popular cities in Thailand for expats.

There’s one word to describe Chiang Mai and that’s ‘laid-back’.

Located in northern Thailand, this city is the polar opposite of the capital, offering lush fields, wooden buildings, great local coffee shops and restaurants and regular processions of monks.

Wander along the Ping River or shop for handicrafts at one of the night markets, before sampling fresh Thai cuisine.

Chiang Mai has more than three hundred temples, so you’ll need a few days to even make a dent – Wat Chedi Luang, Wat Phra That Doi Kham and Wat Sri Suphan are some of the most visited.

On a short walk or tuk-tuk ride you can be chasing waterfalls, cycling rice fields or washing elephants in the same day.

Recommended tour: From Chiang Mai: Doi Inthanon National Park Day Trip

3- Chiang Rai

From Chiang Mai: Chiang Rai Temples Small Group/Private Tour
Chiang Rai is one of the fascinating northern cities in Thailand.

Even further north than Chiang Mai lies Chiang Rai, a countryside city most famous for its jaw-dropping structure, Wat Rong Khun, also known as the White Temple.

Actually an art exhibit, this intricately carved glittering white building draws visitors from around the world.

Chiang Rai is also popular with travellers looking to explore other countries, as it lies near the borders of both Laos and Myanmar.

Other attractions, such as tea plantations, elephant sanctuaries and the night bazaar make Chiang Rai popular with backpackers willing to brave the long journey.

Recommended tour: From Chiang Mai: Chiang Rai Temples Small Group/Private Tour

4- Phuket

Phuket: Maya, Phi Phi, and Bamboo Island with Buffet Lunch
Phuket is one of the most popular cities in Thailand because it’s on an island peppered with lovely beaches.

Phuket is Thailand’s largest and most popular island.

The city of Phuket sits on the island’s southern coast, also encompassing the often-visited Phuket Old Town, home to brightly coloured Chinese shophouses and quirky cafes.

Within the city itself, there are non-stop things to do thanks to the sheer number of tourists here.

Thalang Road buzzes through day and night with markets, bars, shops and restaurants, plus it makes the perfect place to stay if you’re keen to explore the island.

The western beaches, the Big Buddha statue and Wat Chalong are all easily accessible, while boats to other islands such as James Bond Island, Maya Bay and the Phi Phi Islands also leave from the area.

Recommended tour: Phuket: Maya, Phi Phi, and Bamboo Island with Buffet Lunch

5- Pattaya

Pattaya: Alcazar Cabaret Discounted Admission Ticket
Pattaya is one of the best cities in Thailand to visit for a beach holiday near Bangkok.

Pattaya is a lively nightlife-centric city to the southeast of Bangkok, sitting right on the coast of the Gulf of Thailand.

Pattaya often gets a bad reputation for being seedy, thanks to the many massage parlours and go-go bars that line the city’s downtown area, but Pattaya has so much more to explore.

Avoid the walking streets in favour of Pattaya’s beaches; Pattaya Beach has tonnes of watersports, beach bars, waterfront cafes and other activities, plus great sunsets and is in close proximity to modern shopping centres, top restaurants, nightclubs and luxe hotels.

For more tranquillity, stay in Pattaya South instead, with the Jomtien Beach area being popular with expats and providing a quiet stretch of sand that’s mostly used for snorkelling and diving trips to nearby islands such as Ko Lan and Ko Khrok.

Recommended tours:

6- Krabi

From Krabi: Phi Phi Islands Speedboat Day Tour
Krabi is one of the famous holiday towns in Thailand.

On Thailand’s southwestern coast, Krabi is both the name of the city and the province in which it sits.

The city itself is mainly a tourist base, with some excellent markets, shops and bars but it works perfectly as a base for the surrounding attractions and makes for a useful place to stay.

The city’s river, Pak Nam, is a peaceful place to take a stroll to get a glimpse into locals going about daily life, while the most popular sight is the Tiger Cave Temple, which lies around half an hour from the city and is home to a giant gold Buddha and 360-degree views.

From Krabi, you can also take boat trips through dense mangrove forests, catch a ride to the stunning beaches in Railay or take a dip in the mineral-rich Emerald Pool.

Recommended tour: From Krabi: Phi Phi Islands Speedboat Day Tour

7- Chanthaburi

Chanthaburi sits in Thailand’s eastern region on the banks of the Chanthaburi River.

The main area of interest is Chanthaboon Old Town, lined with cute wooden houses, local markets and the Gem Market, where you can browse for precious stones if you’re searching for a souvenir.

A short distance outside the city on the coast, you’ll also find the pretty Khao Laem Sing Forest Park, which hides waterfalls and nature trails – although head here in the morning to avoid the heat!

Other popular sights include the stunning Wat Phai Lom, also known as the Royal Monastery and Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, the latter of which gives a glimpse into French architectural influences in Thailand.

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8- Nong Khai

One of Thailand’s lesser-visited northeastern cities, Nong Khai is often bypassed by travellers coming and going from Laos, as it’s just a stone’s throw from the Lao capital of Vientiane.

However, it’s definitely worth staying awhile and exploring the area, which sits right on the Mekong River.

The best attraction here is Sala Kaew Ku, a lush park filled with ancient sculptures, carvings and statues of various deities.

There is also a selection of beautiful wats and temples, such as Wat Pho Chai and Phrathat Klang Nam, the latter of which is said to contain the feet bones of Buddha himself.

For something more scenic, visit the Skywalk just outside the city in Wat Pha Tak Suea, a glass bridge suspended over the countryside with epic views, from where you can look over the Mekong and into Laos on a clear day.

9- Hua Hin

Hua Hin: Full Day Trip To Sam Roi Yot By Sail Boat
Hua Hin is one of the relaxing beach cities in Thailand.

Hua Hin is just south of Bangkok, taking around four hours by bus.

Although the city was formerly only popular with locals looking to escape the city on weekend beach escapes, this coastal destination has quickly become popular with tourists too, thanks to some great restaurants and glamorous hotels popping up.

The most incredible thing to see here is Khao Sam Roi Yot National Park, which means ‘300 peaks’ in Thai.

Dramatic mountains, lakes and villages are ripe for exploring for those looking for adventure, or alternatively, admire it from a distance while chilling out on Sam Roi Yot beach.

There are a multitude of beaches in Hua Hin, getting quieter as you get further from the city, plus there’s also a bustling night market and more than one waterpark if you’re travelling with kids.

Recommended tours:

10- Kanchanaburi

Way Of Life At Samprasob River, Kanchanaburi
Kanchanaburi is one of the historic towns in Thailand.

Kanchanaburi is one of Thailand’s most historic and fascinating places.

It can be reached either via air-conditioned bus from Bangkok or via a rickety old train, which is far more fun.

The city is most famous for being home to the original Bridge on the River Kwai, which you can still visit.

This railway, also known as the ‘Death Railway’ is a dramatic track that runs into the hills, so make sure to visit both the River Kwai bridge and the full length of the railway – the train still runs twice a day and tourists can ride on it for epic views.

Learn more about its dark WWII history and the prisoners of war who built it at the Death Railway Museum and Kanchanaburi Cemetery.

An hour out of town is the magnificent Erawan National Park, home to glittering emerald waterfalls and freshwater pools that you can swim in, along with jungle hikes, giant caves and mountain ranges.

Recommended tour: From Bangkok: Historical Day Tour to River Kwai

11- Ayutthaya

From Bangkok: Ayutthaya Temples Small Group Tour with Lunch
Ayutthaya is one of the top tourist cities in Thailand for history fans.

Before the country was Thailand, it was Siam, and Ayutthaya was one of its ancient capital cities.

Only around an hour by train from Bangkok, Ayutthaya is a UNESCO World Heritage sight and an unmissable destination when visiting Thailand.

Originally home to more than 400 temples, many of which are now ruins, the city is reminiscent of Angkor Wat, with endless history to explore.

Whether you walk, tuk-tuk or cycle, don’t miss some of the most famous ruins, including the Buddha’s head wrapped in a tree at Wat Phra Mahathat, Wat Yai Chai Mongkhon, Wat Chaiwatthanaram and The Golden Mount.

After dark, the city’s night market comes alive selling souvenirs and freshly made food, and don’t miss visiting the Summer Palace, the former home of the Thai royal family.

The best way to visit Ayutthaya isn’t on a stuffy train or bus – instead, catch a boat up the Chao Phraya on a day trip.

Recommended tour: From Bangkok: Ayutthaya Temples Small Group Tour with Lunch

12- Koh Tao

Koh Tao isn’t a city as such, but as one of Thailand’s smallest islands, it’s an entity of its own and not to be missed.

There are only a few things to do here, and they all involve beaches and the ocean.

One of South East Asia’s most popular diving destinations, whether you’re a pro or looking to get certified, Koh Tao is where you’ll spot incredible marine life under the impossibly clear waters.

A few gorgeous white-sand beaches, John Suwan viewpoint and some laid-back beach clubs make up the activities, or if you’re just not the relaxing type, hiking, Muay Thai and cycling around the island are also fun activities.

Recommended tour: Ko Tao: Snorkeling Day Trip to Koh Nang Yuan with Meals

13- Pai

Thailand’s north is brimming with underrated places, including the charming city of Pai.

Completely immersed in nature, the landscapes here are mist-covered hills, rice paddies and canyons, which outdoor types will love.

Pai Canyon is the most popular attraction, which does what it says on the tin – you can climb, hike and wander around this lush canyon on a fun day trip.

Around Pai are also a tonne of stunning waterfalls, such as Pam Bok and Mo Paeng along with the Tha Pai hot springs, where you can relax for a few hours.

Finally, don’t miss climbing the 353 steps to reach the White Buddha, from where you can enjoy panoramic views of Pai and the surrounding countryside, covered in mountains, hills, cascading rice terraces and winding rivers in an array of greens and yellows.

Recommended tour: Pai Highlights Private One Day Trip From Chiang Mai

14- Nathon, Koh Samui

Koh Samui is a Thai island that needs little introduction: crystalline waters, soft white sand beaches and endless beach bars, water sports and relaxing activities; most people visit for a chance to chill out.

However, Koh Samui’s capital Nathon, more of a town than a city due to its size, is rarely visited yet full of interesting sights.

Shopping is a fun pastime in Nathon, which has tonnes of affordable local shops selling everything from fabrics to souvenirs, clothes and more – also useful if you forget to bring something with you!

Nathon is Koh Samui’s major port, so seafood is vital here and it will be some of the freshest you’ve ever tasted if you visit one of the many markets.

Also don’t miss wandering among the old Chinese shophouses, Hainan Temple and Wat Chaeng, along with Hi Lad waterfall which is a short walk from the town.

Recommended tour: Koh Samui: Half-Day Island Highlights Tour with Hotel Pickup

15- Surat Thani

Ban Nam Rat Watershed Forest In Surat Thani
Surat Thani is one of the cities in Thailand to tick off your to-visit list for the nature you’ll find nearby. Here’s Ban Nam Rat Watershed Forest.

Surat Thani is in southern Thailand and is a gateway to the islands of Koh Samui and Ko Pha Ngan, along with a plethora of other amazing sights.

Before catching a boat, make your base here so that you can make a trip out to Khao Sok National Park, which is covered in dense forests, hiking trails, giant lakes, caves and mountains.

Surat Thani also has a lovely Old Town, full of the region’s best food markets, cafes and restaurants such as the Hokkien Shrine Night Market.

On top of the most popular islands, also don’t forget to visit the incredible Mu Ko An Thong Marine Park, Thamma Park and Ban Nam Rad Forest for more waterfalls, rainforests, lookout points and local wildlife.

16- Nakhon Ratchasima

Nakhon Ratchasima Cityscape, Thailand
Nakhon Ratchasima is one of the best cities to live in Thailand.

Nakhon Ratchasima, also known as Korat, sits slightly northeast of Bangkok and is a hugely underrated destination in Thailand.

There’s lots of history to be found here, such as Phimai Historical Park, which features amazing Khmer-style architecture, Wat Ban Rai and Wat Dhammachakra, the oldest reclining Buddha in Thailand.

For explorers, Khao Yoi National Park is not far from the city and has thundering waterfalls, Khao Yai (known as the Blue Mountain) and an abundance of wildlife including elephants and monkeys, which you can spot on hiking and cycling trails.

17- Phang Nga Bay

Another Thai destination that’s not technically a city; however, this collection of scattered islands has so much to see and do that it may as well be.

Home to multiple natural wonders such as James Bond Island, Khao Lak Lam Ru National Park and Ao Phang Nga National Park, the sheer number of rainforests, caves and waterfalls is astounding, not to mention the incredible land and marine wildlife.

Cruises, boat trips, kayaking, snorkelling, diving, hiking and swimming are just the beginning of the plethora of activities to do in both Phang Nga province and the nearby islands in Phang Nga Bay.

Recommended tour: Phang Nga Bay: Early Bird James Bond & Beyond Tour

18- Sukhothai

Just over midway between Bangkok and Chiang Mai, Sukhothai is another ancient capital that’s frequently overlooked on the way to more touristy places.

The city is bursting with historical ruins in Sukhothai Historical Park, similar to that of Ayutthaya and also a UNESCO-listed site.

After exploring by bike or on foot, there’s also the beautiful Si Satchanalai (if you’re not templed out) to see more crumbling palaces, giant Buddhas and towering Wats.

For more context to the site, check out Sukhothai’s National Museum, and after all that exploring, the city’s night market will spoil you for food choices – try Sukhothai’s signature boat noodles, made with pork and green beans.

Recommended tour: Sukhothai: Historical Park & Countryside Cycling Tour

19- Surin

Surin is a province of Thailand rather than a city, but as one of the smaller ones, it packs in a fair bit to see and do, sitting out of the way of the tourist trail right on the border with Cambodia.

First on the list is the magical 12th Century temples at Sikhoraphum Sanctuary, while elsewhere, the Phanom Sawai Forest Park is home to the famous White Buddha and three peaks worth climbing for the view.

Thanks to its location, you’ll notice a heavy Khmer influence both in architecture and elsewhere, which you can learn more about at the Surin National Museum.

Surin is also famous within Thailand for producing silk, so don’t miss visiting one of the local villages where textiles are handmade, or pick yourself up an intricately designed scarf or piece of clothing at a local market.

Recommended tour: From Khao Lak: Full-Day Snorkeling in the Surin Islands

20- Ubon Ratchathani

Another province (and city) rarely visited by tourists, Ubon Ratchathani lies in an out-of-the-way location on the Thai border with Laos.

A number of famous Wats live here, but the best is Wat Phu Prao, also known as the ‘Glowing Temple’ as at night the carefully carved and painted Tree of Life on the front glows in the dark.

Another fascinating attraction lies in Pha Tam National Park, where ancient petroglyphs and carvings can be seen in the rocks, and the park also has some stunning hikes to viewpoints and waterfalls.

Spend a day or two checking out the history, along with a visit to Ubon Ratchathani’s National Museum before day-tripping elsewhere in the province for untouched jungles, lakes and national parks, or even hop across the border to beautiful Pakse.

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India Jayne trainor
India-Jayne Trainor is a British/Australian freelance writer, photographer and contributor to various online blogs and travel websites. She has travelled to almost 30 countries, most recently Cuba and Sri Lanka. Her work focuses on solo female travel, having spent two months backpacking alone through South East Asia as well as living in Germany for a year. Her favourite country to date has been Hong Kong, but she is happy in any country by the ocean. Her next destinations are Uzbekistan and a road trip through the American Mid-West. India is currently based in London, UK.