1. Wat Rong Kung (White Temple) – Chiang Rai
Number one on my top 3 places to visit in Thailand is Wat Rong Kung or better known as “the white temple.” On this top 3 list I specifically chose to only put one temple on the list of hundreds of other possible temples one could visit as this is the best bang for your buck. It is very easy to get “templed out” visiting the country of Thailand as there are Wats on “every corner” (like US southerns say there is a Waffle House on every corner). The White Temple is located in Chiang Rai which is in the North Eastern part of the country. You can fly into Chiang Rai, however the airport hub is a pricier ticket than if one were to fly into Chiang Mai and take the 3 hour bus ride over. You could possibly strick a deal flying from Bangkok to Chiang Rai using the in-country airliners Thai Smile or Nok Air (note: these are budget airliners that often charge you for everything (seat, baggage, food, etc.) so don’t expect the fireworks with these folks). Anywho, however you choose to get there- just make sure you get there! It is definitely worth the long trek as are the other places listed in this list. When you make the turn into the entrance (most likely from the wheels of a tuk tuk driver that you’ve flagged down) you will begin to see sparkling shimmers of light emminating from the magnificently bedazzled structure. Truly a work of artistry, this must see site wreaks of handcraftsmanship and pure innovation beyond its time. It’s voted in the top three temples for all of Thailand, but my bias puts it #1. The landscaping that surrounds it is perfectly manicured and well treated. It’s clean and well-kept all over proving how much of a traveler’s delight this site truly is. Make sure you walk all the way around and try to go on a day when it is not raining (which is tough in Thailand – especially during raining season between May-Oct) so that you can take a peak inside the main temple (it’s closed off when it’s raining). Get there early too as this site is very popular and you’ll want to snag a photo without a bunch of people in it. When you’re done- walk over to the nearby shops and stop in for a post temple treat and get a Thai tea or freshly made smoothie!
2. Maya Bay – (Phi Phi Islands) – Phuket
Do you remember the 2000 movie starring Leonardo Di Caprio called “The Beach?” No? Well, what about the 2016 movie starring Jason Stratham “The Mechanic?” Not a movie buff and these references mean absolutely nothing to you? Well no worries! I don’t need a movie reference to relay the wonders of the incredible island of Maya Bay. It truly is a magical place, but the journey to get there is as tough as trying to pull a rabbit out of a hat. After the long flight to Phuket (or Krabi), one must take a shuttle, private taxi, or tuk tuk ride to the pier that departs from the coast of Phuket (or Krabi). Upon arriving at the pier, you board a medium size speed boat (200-400 passengers) that takes you on the two hour wadey ride (if you are prone to sea sickness I recommend knocking yourself out with some sort of medical aid-wink) to your pre-selected island of choice (Koh Phi Phi, Long Beach, etc). If you have selected to arrive at Koh Phi Phi (which is the main island) you will be bombarded by loads of hotel and tour guides vying to get your attention. Once you settle into your place, you must then schedule and pay (if you have not already) for a speed boat or long tail boat ride to Maya Bay. Sound exhausting yet? Hang on! Don’t give up, it will be worth if it you keep trucking! One tip for the choosing whether to pick the speed boat or the long tail boat depends on your budget at the very least and adventure level at best! The long tail boat ride to Maya Bay is less expensive and more of an authentic experience, however, be prepared to get soaked by the sea waters and up close and personal with death lol ….just kidding! But the trip is not for the faint of heart! Once you arrive at the island, you will have a choice to stay on the boat of pay the 450 baht fee to enter. My advice- pay the fee! You didn’t come all this way not to see the magic that awaits inside. One should note that if you cannot swim, do not opt for the long tail boat ride as you will need to swim from the boat to the island. The speedboat drops you off on the other side where you simply hop off. Once you arrive at the beach, the magical experience begins! You will enjoy crystal clear blue and light green waters and soft clean sandy shores. You can swim around, but be careful of the jellyfish (there are signs). It literally is the most spectacular beach experience I have ever been to and you won’t be disappointed by the view!
3. Kwan Phayao – (Lake Phayao) – Phayao
This site is probably one of the most underrated places in Northern Thailand. Nestled between the two Chiang superpowers (Rai and Mai) the sleepy town of Phayao is a hidden find that contains one of the most stunning views of the picturesque mountains of Thailand. To really appreciate this beaut, one must either rise early or time sunset perfectly. Kwan Phayao is the provinces’ gathering point for nature reflection, picnics, exercise, or a post-work wind down on the strip of pubs and eateries. While still an overlooked tourist destination, this spot is rapidly growing with commerce and development to accommodate is growing audience. To get here, one must either fly into Chiang Mai or Chiang Rai and take the bus ride in. It’s about 1 hour from Chiang Rai’s bus terminal and 2 hours from Chiang Mai’s…Chiang Rai’s bus ride is easily more enjoyable than the twisty turny mountainous (cross your fingers) ride from Chiang Mai. You’ll have to weigh out your preferences more when it comes to cost, time and what’s worth it to you (for example: Chiang Rai’s airport is more expensive and has a quicker ride than Chiang Mai, however, you’ll likely find a cheaper deal flying into Chiang Mai). One other thing to note is in regards to the amount of seasonal rain the lake receives (this determines how high or low the water level is). When there is a drought, they usually build a bridge that you can cross to visit the floating temple on the lake. When the heavy rains come in, there is a boat that will paddle you across. You can rent kayaks and paddle yourself or simply enjoy the view from it’s long stretch of sidewalks. Either way plan a stop in town for the weekend to enjoy this serene view!