Woman sitting on the edge of a hotel pool in Thailand

Find Your Balance in Thailand: 5 Big City and Small Town Pairings

This story was created in partnership with: Tourism Authority of Thailand 

When you’re ready to book your next holiday, what type of trip do you want to take?

Maybe you’re hoping to recharge your batteries on an idyllic beach surrounded by swaying palms and electric-blue waters. Perhaps you’ll gravitate toward a cosmopolitan city and relish the feeling of waking up in an excitingly foreign place, not knowing where your day will take you. Or, maybe you’ll choose to immerse yourself in nature and rediscover your love for adventure. 

Whatever you choose, we’re guessing you’ll be looking to nurture your mental and physical wellbeing and dive head-first into grand adventures — because if 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that balance is absolutely integral to our happiness. 

When it comes to striking the perfect balance on holiday, no country delivers the best of both worlds quite like Thailand. From its nature-rich national parks to its spiritually-charged experiences, its nourishing cuisine and exciting outdoor pursuits, it’s remarkably easy to find the perfect balance here — whatever that looks like to you. 

If you want to hit the country’s can’t-miss sights and overlooked gems — while finding that perfect balance of wellness and adventure — start piecing together the ultimate Thailand itinerary with our tips below.

Floating bungalows in Khao Sok National Park, Thailand
Khao Sok National Park, Thailand | © Marcin Kalinski/Unsplash

Well-known hotspots + lesser-visited locales: get the best of both worlds in these destinations

Beach getaway or big city break? Must-see metropolis or underrated small town? It can be so tough to choose what you want from your holiday. But who says you can’t have it all? 

The key to getting the best of both worlds on your Thailand vacation is to ensure your itinerary includes both iconic destinations and lesser-known locales. This way, you can cover the can’t-miss sights and explore off the beaten path spots that many visitors tend to overlook. 

If you’re having trouble narrowing down your options, the following recommendations will help you uncover your ideal big city + small town match.

Temple along river in Bangkok, Thailand
Bangkok, Thailand | © Robson Hatsukami Morgan/Unsplash

1. Bangkok + Sukhothai

Among Bangkok’s dizzying array of attractions — be it golden palaces, jaw-dropping temples, or backpacker favourites like Khao San Road — you’ll find quiet pockets of calm in this sprawling megacity. Catch your breath along the Chao Phraya River or in Lumpini Park, or hit one of the city’s world-famous food stands to fuel up on delicious Thai street food staples.

After a few days of sightseeing here, you’ll be ready for a slower change of pace — and that’s where Sukhothai comes in. With a relatively remote location between Bangkok and Chiang Mai, Sukhothai sees far fewer crowds than its popular counterpart, the historic city of Ayutthaya.

Sukhothai’s ancient ruins certainly warrant a visit, however; The UNESCO World Heritage Site of Sukhothai Historical Park is home to an impressive collection of ancient sites and temple ruins dating back to the 13th century.

Ancient temple ruins in Sukhothai, Thailand
Sukhothai, Thailand | © Peter Borter/Unsplash

2. Bangkok + Koh Kood

This pairing is for anyone who wants the sightseeing and culture of a city break without sacrificing the restorative benefits of a beachy getaway.

After spending time in Thailand’s dazzling capital, make your way to Koh Kood, an island located in Trat Province near the Cambodian border. Compared to nearby islands, Koh Kood is still flying relatively under the radar, and it’s the ideal destination for those looking to do little other than soak up the sun in a postcard-perfect setting.

Many travellers claim the island’s beaches are some of the best in all of Thailand, so you’re guaranteed paradisal vistas that’ll have you feeling like you’re worlds away from everyday life.

Aerial view of Koh Kood, Thailand
Koh Kood, Thailand | © Sacha Gregoire/Unsplash

3. Chiang Mai + Pai 

If you’re after a mix of adventure and wellness on your Thailand holiday, look no further than the likes of Chiang Mai and Pai. 

The best thing about Chiang Mai is that it has all the perks of a bustling capital — including buzzing markets, renowned historic sites, and some of the best street food in the country — with a small-town atmosphere that feels surprisingly laid-back.

Set aside time to go temple hopping and fill up on steaming bowls of khao soi before heading further north to Pai, a tranquil town surrounded by endless mountains and cascading waterfalls. 

Pai’s stunning setting is arguably the main highlight, and you can take full advantage of its proximity to nature by hiking, whitewater rafting, or exploring ancient cave systems. Of course, if you want to dive into the city’s holistic health scene, you’re spoiled for choice — take a yoga class, soak in nearby hot springs, or experience a traditional Thai massage.

Pai Canyon, Pai, Thailand
Pai, Thailand | © Ronny Sison/Unsplash

4. Phuket + Koh Yao Noi

Phuket is one of Thailand’s most popular tourist destinations, but there’s a whole world of culture and nature to discover beyond the bustling hotspots and partygoers.

You can spend your days here exploring the grounds of Wat Chalong, or head off in search of scenic waterfalls within Khao Phra Thaeo National Park, a protected rainforest located in the northeast corner of the island. 

From Phuket, it’s a quick ferry ride to Koh Yao Noi, a remote hideaway that has everything you could ever want in a quintessential Thai island holiday. The island’s east coast is brimming with deserted beaches, which makes it easy to get away from other tourists and feel like you have a private paradise all to yourself.

In the centre of the island, you’ll find verdant mountains and tropical rainforest dotted with swathes of mangrove fields. Ancestral traditions are preserved here, offering a glimpse of island life untouched by modern living.

People sitting in lounge chairs on a beach beside palm trees in Phuket
Phuket, Thailand | © Akash Rai/Unsplash

5. Koh Samui + Koh Tao

Visiting both Koh Samui and Koh Tao will give you a taste of two very different — but equally alluring — Thai islands. Start with a few days of luxury and pampering in Koh Samui, where first-rate spas and luxe hotels sit alongside rustic beachside bungalows and wellness sanctuaries. 

Afterward, make for the shores of Koh Tao, an irresistibly charming island best-known for its reputation as a diving mecca. If you’re new to the sport, this is the place to get your PADI or SSI Open Water certification. Beyond the scuba diving scene, there are plenty of coastal hiking trails and sandy bays to explore.

These suggestions are only the tip of the iceberg — there are so many big city and hidden gem combinations to choose from in Thailand.

Person sitting at a lookout point on Koh Tao, Thailand
Koh Tao, Thailand | © Darren Lawrence/Unsplash

You could also split your time between Bangkok and Kanchanaburi, a city known for its WW II history; pair your high-octane Phuket holiday with some downtime in stunningly scenic Khao Sok National Park; or top off a trip to Chiang Mai with a stop in the sleepy town of Chiang Rai — the options are endless!

White Temple in Chiang Rai, Thailand
Chiang Rai, Thailand | © Note Thanun/Unsplash

Why Thailand is the ideal destination for post-COVID travel

Post-pandemic, there’s never been more of a collective calling to rest, recharge, and indulge in a healthy dose of escapism. Being cooped up for much of the year has shown us just how important it is to disconnect from our day-to-day routines and reconnect with Mother Nature. 

As we begin travelling again, wellness and nature-focused holidays that leave us feeling truly revitalised will become more essential than ever. Many visitors flock to Thailand’s world-class resorts and lavish spas to feed their mind, body, and soul, but there are so many different ways to seek out wellness experiences in the Land of Smiles.

You can cultivate a blissful and serene state of mind simply by strolling along the country’s sandy shorelines; by hiking through a jungle-clad national park; or by snorkelling through crystalline seas and indulging in a decadent bowl of tom yum goong.

Aerial shot of beaches in Railay, Thailand
Krabi, Thailand | © Rachael Annabelle/Unsplash

There’s no need to spend a small fortune on five-star hotels or extravagant retreats — Thailand’s natural spaces will leave you feeling rejuvenated for free. Simply being present in nature or walking along the beach, letting your bare feet make contact with the earth, is an incredibly effective way to improve your mood and reduce your stress levels. 

That being said, if you are looking to splash out and live in the lap of luxury, you’ll find that even the most opulent hotels and resorts are incredibly affordable in Thailand and offer excellent value for money. 

Ultimately, Thailand’s outdoor pursuits and immersive natural settings offer space to hit the reset button while remaining fully mindful — and that’s where the magic happens.

Thinking it’s about time to make that dream Thailand trip a reality? Head over to TourRadar and start planning your Thailand adventure today!

Ashley is a Content Editor at TourRadar. When she’s not writing, travelling, or obsessively checking flight prices on Skyscanner, you can find her attempting to fine-tune her photography skills or watching a shark documentary.

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