6 of the best Thailand holiday destinations for luxury retreats and budget breaks

Combine tradition and culture with luxury in Thailand (Getty Images)
Combine tradition and culture with luxury in Thailand (Getty Images)

With culture-stacked cities, world-famous beaches and jungle interiors, Thailand’s unique landscape begs to be explored. Home to some of the best yoga retreats, beach bars and Buddhist temples in the continent, it’s no wonder that history-rich Thai towns have become such tourist hot spots.

Whether passing through on a budget world tour or relaxing on a family holiday, there’s something for everyone on the traditional shores of Thailand. Take a cooking class to get familiar with the local cuisine, go on a boat trip to scuba dive in lively reefs or take a tuk-tuk to share in the street food of the bustling night markets with good-natured locals.

With so much to discover in the tropical climate, where you stay depends on what you want to take from your trip to southeast Asia. Think glamorous sky bars in Bangkok’s destination hotels, a beach paradise in Koh Samui and under-the-radar eco-resorts on the River Kwai.

Here’s The Independent’s selection of stays to inspire your next holiday to Thailand.

Read more on Thailand travel:

Chiang Mai

The hostel is just 825m from the Chiang Mai Night Bazaar (Mapping Hostel)
The hostel is just 825m from the Chiang Mai Night Bazaar (Mapping Hostel)

Best for: Budget breaks

Chiang Mai, a city in northern Thailand and the former capital of the Lanna Kingdom, has retained its ancient authenticity and traditional values. Hundreds of terracotta Buddhist temples dot this cultural hub that is set between lush mountains, jungles and rice fields.

The city is also a culinary hotspot. Chiang Mai has several Michelin-listed restaurants, such as Ginger Farm Kitchen. Alternatively, try market cheap eats including pad Thai orsai oua – a ground pork sausage marinated with lime leaves.

Where to stay

Mapping Hostel

Thrifty travellers rejoice: bargain beds are plenty, including the riverbank bungalows of the Mapping Hostel (from just £4 a night). Make a weekend of it to experience the bustling Sunday night market of The Pae Walking Street, just over a mile away. A snack bar, luggage storage and free Wi-Fi cover the basics, while private rooms include air conditioning and garden views. Set opposite a temple, Mapping Hostel is an incredible break from the often-tumultuous backpacking tours of Thailand.

Phuket

The Slate has an array of activities for parents and little ones (The Slate a Phuket Pearl Resort)
The Slate has an array of activities for parents and little ones (The Slate a Phuket Pearl Resort)

Best for: Family fun

Thai tourism has the strongest hold in Phuket, a southern province on the Andaman Sea. From serene spa breaks to luxurious retreats and family-friendly beach resorts, the versatile nature of Thailand’s largest island offers the perfect holiday destination for children of all ages. Classical architecture, blinding white beaches and underwater wonders facilitate child-friendly itineraries the whole family will enjoy.

Where to stay

The Slate

Inspired by Phuket’s rich tin mining history, The Slate is a blend of Thailand’s natural allure and industrial past. Live the suite life with connecting rooms and pool villas for a family of four. Think cultural excursions to Phuket Old Town, days at Splash Jungle water park, and swimming in the shaded and shallow lagoon pool. Utilise the Tin Box kids’ club to keep little ones occupied while parents indulge in a pamper at the spa. Children under seven eat free from the kids’ menu, though for something a little more gastronomic, join a hands-on cooking class and the family can become experts in the local flavours.

Keemala Resort

If it’s a zen escape you’re looking for from a trip to Thailand, the hotel scene on Phuket’s north-west coast focuses on serenity and wellbeing. Spa treatments and yoga classes pair brilliantly with a forest backdrop inside the area’s hotels and resorts.

A 20-minute drive from Patong, Keemala Resort is made up of fantasy bird’s nest villas, clay pool cottages and tree houses. The lavish tree-top rooms have a wooden structure and décor, four-poster beds and private pools. Vegetable gardens supply ingredients to the restaurant chefs, and a short journey through the lush jungle foliage lies a golf course and rum distillery – both are well worth a visit by guests. Star attractions at the resort include massages, outdoor baths and regular shuttles to the white-sand beaches nearby.

Read our full hotel review here

Koh Samui

For white sands visit Koh Samui (Getty Images)
For white sands visit Koh Samui (Getty Images)

Best for: Beach days

Thailand’s second-largest island, Koh Samui, sits in the Samui archipelago, a popular cluster of white sand holiday destinations. Famous for their magnificent waterfalls, rainforests and luxury spas, the islands attract thousands of international tourists each year. From buzzy markets, raves and full-moon parties to holistic health retreats and cleansing yoga sessions, Koh Samui has it covered.

Where to stay

Santiburi Koh Samui

On Mae Nam Beach, Santiburi Koh Samui offers luxury villas, suites and tropical outdoor pools just five minutes from an 18-hole championship golf course. Blanketed in green, wooden interiors bring the outside in punctuated with Thai-style furnishings. There’s water sports, a spa and authentic Thai and Mediterranean dishes served at the Sala Thai restaurant for the ultimate beach break.

Bangkok

Some of literature's most respected names have spent time at the Mandarin Oriental Bangkok (Mandarin Oriental Bangkok)
Some of literature's most respected names have spent time at the Mandarin Oriental Bangkok (Mandarin Oriental Bangkok)

Best for: Culture and history

The sprawling metropolis of Thai cities is best exemplified in the vibrant nightlife and well-populated stalls of Bangkok. Bangkok’s mix of markets, temples and sky bars make room for a versatile range of boutique, luxury and budget hotels.

Love it or hate it, the hustle and bustle of the Thai capital is home to some of the most exciting nightlife in Asia. Living it up on lively party cruises and glamorous rooftop bars is a small ask in the cosmopolitan district.

Where to stay

Mandarin Oriental

Most notably, the Mandarin Oriental, the host of 147 years of Thai history. It’s not hard to see why it remains among the finest places to stay in Bangkok: the hotel’s riverside location and five-star service exude legendary elegance and class. A regular stay for literary greats such as James Michener and Noël Coward, some suites still bear the names of creative icons.

The hotel underwent an extensive renovation in 2019 but retained its authentic 19th-century features across large rooms with natural furnishings. There are four restaurants as well as jazz bars and terraces overlooking the Chao Phraya River, allowing guests to taste Thailand’s culinary scene from the comfort of the hotel – there is even an on-site sweet shop. Although it is on the pricier side, a stay at the Mandarin Oriental guarantees a holiday rich in history and culture.

W Bangkok Hotel

In Silom, W Bangkok Hotel quenches the appetite of party lovers visiting Thailand. Eat and drink at The House on Sathorn, one of Bangkok’s premier restaurants, in great company. Cocktail hours and Thai food are up for grabs with compliments from the chef.

The WooBar keeps the party bouncing in the neon interiors of its lounge and cocktail area. Think energetic nightly DJs and VIP areas, the ultimate spot to take friends or make new ones. Eccentric disco balls sparkle under W’s signature pink lights and stylish rooms encapsulate Asian chic interiors. Craving a cocktail? Suites feature a mixing bar, and the “Wet Deck” serves up innovative cocktails by the pool.

Kanchanaburi

Float on the River Kwai in this eco-resort (River Kwai Jungle Rafts)
Float on the River Kwai in this eco-resort (River Kwai Jungle Rafts)

Best for: Going off-grid

Travel under the radar and stay in traditional wooden huts on rafts in western Thailand. Kanchanaburi is a town steeped in history that crisscrosses the River Kwai with the WWII Burma Railway otherwise known as the ‘Death Railway Bridge’. Aside from historic war memorials the popular resort town buzzes on the banks of the river with markets and restaurants with river cruises departing for the aquamarine waterfalls of the Erawan National Park.

Where to stay

River Kwai Jungle Rafts Resort

Moored atop the historic River Kwai, bamboo lodges furnished by locals provide a relaxing destination holiday in the depths of the tranquil River Kwai Jungle Rafts Resort. Established in 1976, guests staying in the row of rafts are encouraged to partake in the local rituals and customs of the Mon people, such as dancing.

The floating eco-resort in Kanchanaburi has no electricity, internet connection or hot water, but rooms feature private en-suite bathrooms, hammocks and kerosene lamps. On-site activities include river jumping, boat trips and paddle boarding to local waterfalls in an unspoiled, fertile landscape free from crowds – though you may simply choose to enjoy getting away from it all.

Ko Yao Noi

Relax in a villa pool with panoramic views of Phang Nga Bay (Six Senses Yao Noi)
Relax in a villa pool with panoramic views of Phang Nga Bay (Six Senses Yao Noi)

Best for: Luxury escapes

The idyllic island of Ko Yao Noi in Phang Nga Bay is just a 30-minute speedboat from the busy shores of Phuket. Secluded fishing villages, rubber plantations and long-tail boats make the vibrant greens and blues of this setting a peaceful retreat in the depths of Thailand’s diverse nature.

Where to stay

Six Senses Yao Noi

For a luxury escape, Six Senses Yao Noi is the perfect hideaway holiday for couples, boasting romantic hilltop views, creature comforts and privacy. Lavish villas feature infinity pools, restaurants offer authentic home-grown Thai cuisine, and a wellness spa provides a relaxing break from the kayaking, scuba diving and Muay Thai lessons on offer. Fans of the silver screen can take a sightseeing tour to James Bond Island and even catch a viewing of The Man with the Golden Gun on the resort’s beach.

Read more: The ultimate guide to Chiang Mai, Thailand’s northern creative hub

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