Thailand is so much more than beaches and food. Its collection of major cities – most notably the capital, Bangkok, are hotspots for religious architecture, cultural landmarks such as museums, and some of the best shopping malls in Asia if not beyond.
More importantly, it’s easy to live the high life in Thailand’s cosmopolitan hubs without breaking the bank. A highly competitive hospitality scene, a plethora of fantastic yet affordable restaurants and street food stalls, plus shopping malls and markets for all budgets, will ensure that you can stay in high-end hotels (and enjoy all the luxury amenities), shop till you drop, and eat well without worrying too much about the expense.
Here’s our pick of the top cities in Thailand – and where to stay in each destination:
From the ostentatious Grand Palace to the revered Reclining Buddha at Wat Pho, and from street food markets to some of the ritziest rooftop bars in the world, Bangkok has something for everyone.
You can buy brand-name clothing at one of megamalls in Siam Square and take advantage of knockdown prices at markets around the corner. Vibrant and varied, romantic, the city promotes its past with markets on the river Chao Praya, and looks to the future with skyscrapers and neon lights.
Must-see attraction: Grand Palace
This opulent former royal residence, built in 1782, is now home to a museum.
Bargain-hunting tip: Chatuchak Weekend Market
This is the largest market in Thailand,with more than 15,000 stalls, and is perfect for hunting cheap fabrics, antiques and souvenirs
Accommodation: Centara Grand at Central Plaza Ladprao Bangkok
Walking distance to Chatuchak market and Phahon Yothin Skytrain station, this property has eight restaurants. Blue Sky Rooftop Restaurant offers urban bistro dining; Hagi serves Japanese cuisine and Le Danang offers Vietnamese. Also available are Italian, Cantonese and Thai seafood. The SPA Cenvaree has a fitness centre, steam room and outdoor pool.
A one-hour flight from Bangkok, Chiang Mai is up in the cooler, greener, mountainous north. As such, it’s a perfect base for biking, hiking and elephant trekking – provided you use an ethical company.
Pick up a bargain at the night market, improve your skills at a cooking class, or wake up at sunrise to join the Buddhist monks as they climb to the hilltop temples.
Must-see attraction: Wat Phra That Doi Suthep
This extravagant temple affords fantastic views of the city below.
For culture fans: Karen Village tour
Learn about organic tea production, meet members of the Karen tribe, then tour a Buddhist temple.
Accommodation: Khum Phaya Resort & Spa, Centara Boutique Collection
All 85 rooms and villas at this Lanna-style property have a Jacuzzi, and there’s a pool bar on-site. Kham Saen Restaurant offers all-day dining and Rim Tran Bar serves snacks and refreshments. SPA Cenvaree has a fitness centre, sauna and steam rooms, and staff offer a shuttle service to downtown Chiang Mai.
Three hours’ drive south from Bangkok is Hua Hin, Thailand’s first beach holiday destination, where history combines with local life and stunning natural landscape for a luxurious getaway.
Hua Hin is home to a famous International Jazz Festival as well as a number of great golf courses and spas. On a daytrip you could also take in the town of Phetchaburi with the 19th-century Khao Wang summer palace.
Must see-attraction: Khao Luang cave
Walk around the 170 Buddha statues in a stunning cave temple.
Active travellers’ tip: Pa La-U Waterfall
Hike past scenic rivers and fish-filled pools to this gorgeous waterfall.
Accommodation: Centara Grand Beach Resort & Villas Hua Hin
Thailand’s first beachfront resort from the Jazz Era has been carefully restored and now there are private villas, a spa with pools, manicured gardens and pavilions. It offers easy access to multiple golf courses as well as Hua Hin’s night market where travellers can enjoy fresh
Perhaps the most famous party destination in the country is less than two hours’ drive from Bangkok. Pattaya is popular for clubbing, including gay-friendly bars, plus waterparks, shopping and golf. However, families will enjoy Jomtien Beach, too.
Must-see attraction: Walking Street
This entertainment hub of the city and perhaps the heartbeat of the whole country’s nightlife.
For a break from the chaos: Sanctuary of Truth
This enormous temple, built entirely with hand-cut wood carvings, is 20 stories high yet still unfinished.
Accommodation: Centra by Centara Avenue Hotel Pattaya
This 51-room Kosher hotel has easy access to the Avenue Shopping Complex and Pattaya Beach and it’s a five-minute drive to the departure pier for Koh Larn. There’s a Lobby Bistro, Pool Bar, rooftop pool with Jacuzzi and fitness centre with sauna and steam rooms.