CNN  — 

Made up of 514,000 square kilometers broken into a whopping 77 provinces, Thailand is a country where you need much more than a week – or even a year – to fully appreciate it.

Very few locals have even been to every province, while most international tourists only make it to a handful, with Chang Mai, Bangkok and Phuket being the biggest draws.

To help get your wanderlust juices flowing, here’s a list of all 77 and some of their top attractions. Keep in mind the capital city of each province goes by the same name. For example, the capital of Chiang Rai province is Chiang Rai city.

To make it easier, we’ve divided the list into Thailand’s six main regions: north, northeast, central, west, east and south.


1. Chiang Mai: Trekking

Doi Inthanon National Park covers 482.40 square kilometers. As one of Thailand’s most popular provinces for tourists, Chiang Mai has plenty of great attractions but one of the best has to be Doi Inthanon National Park. Capped by the 2,565-meter peak of Doi Inthanon — Thailand’s tallest — it’s a lush expanse of waterfalls, trekking trails, campgrounds and hill tribe villages.

2. Chiang Rai: Golden Triangle

On the long road to enlightment.

This big beauty in Chiang Saen overlooks the Golden Triangle, offering views into Laos and Myanmar.

Thailand’s northernmost province is the best place to see the famed (and infamous) Golden Triangle.

There’s not much golden or triangular about it, really, but spending time at the intersection of Laos, Myanmar and Thailand floating down the Mekong, trekking in the hills or learning about the area’s drug trade at the Hall of Opium is worth a few days in addition to the city of Chiang Rai’s attractions.

3. Lampang: Elephants

Hats off to the Thai Elephant Conservation Center.

The province of Lampang is a popular destination for those who like to get close to nature. Really close. The Thai Elephant Conservation Center under Royal Patronage lets you spend anywhere from a few days to a month helping care for some of the 50 elephants that live there.

4. Lamphun: Historic temples

The most popular sight in this small but historically significant province is Wat Phra Tha Haripunchai, which dates back anywhere between 1,200 and 400 years, depending on what you consider the original structure to be. Debate aside, the 46-meter-tall chedi is as impressive as any you’ll see in Thailand.

5. Mae Hong Son: Hippy hideout

Colorful locals in Mae Hong Son.

The most mountainous of Thailand’s provinces, Mae Hong Son offers plenty for nature lovers as most of it is covered in virgin forest. The town of Pai is a huge draw for backpackers and is full of bars and music (some say too full), but it’s easy to get out of town for some peace and quiet if that’s not your scene.

6. Nan: Buddhist art

One of the most remote provinces in Thailand, Nan is quiet and leafy. Among Nan’s highlights are the mysterious and intricate carvings and murals at Wat Nong Bua, which are likely over 100 years old, although no one knows for sure as records have been lost.

7. Phayao: Heaven and hell

Trees and mountains dominate this northern Thailand province, but there are some important religious sites, too.

The most visited of the lot is Wat Si Khom Kham, which has the tallest Buddha image in the region at 16 meters (52 feet). Best of all, however, is the cheesy but somewhat disturbing onsite exhibit that depicts what heaven and hell are likely to look like.

8. Phrae: Traditional architecture

Phrae’s Wat Phra That Cho Hae is a royal temple built in the late 12th century. The excitement level in Phrae is pretty low, but there are plenty of mountainous parks open for trekking outside the main town.

The architecture is notable, too. Many hotels and guesthouses offer a map that details some of Phrae’s old, teak buildings dating back a hundred years or more.

9. Uttaradit: Camping

One of Thailand’s most mountainous provinces, Uttaradit’s gorgeous Phu Sai Dao National Park is 200 square kilometers of deciduous, dipterocarp, pine and evergreen forests. Plenty of hiking trails and camping grounds vein the park’s landscape near the border with Laos that has, through history, sheltered various groups of rebels wanting to stay off the radar.

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Getting to northern Thailand

Several Thai carriers (see transportation info at end of article) offer daily flights from Bangkok to Chiang Rai, Chiang Mai, Lampang, Nan and Phrae.

Buses heading to Thailand’s northern provinces depart from Bangkok’s Morchit terminal. Call 1490 for the latest bus schedule and route information.

Thailand’s State Railway operates daily trains to Chiang Mai from Bangkok on its Northern Line. Visit their website for schedule information.

Bangkok Artist's House
Baan Silapin: Bangkok's hidden Artist's House
01:46 - Source: CNN


10. Amnat Charoen: Nature walks

One of Thailand’s youngest provinces (created in 1993), Amnat Charoen’s main attraction is Phu Sa Dok Bua (Mountain Lotus Pool) in Senangkhanikhom district, a collection of 11 stone pools that each contain a different species of lotus near a nice waterfall. It’s a bit of a hike to get to but worth the trip.

11. Bueng Kan: Wildlife spotting

Thailand’s newest province, Bueng Kan, was officially created on March 23, 2011. Outside of the capital, there’s a nice wildlife sanctuary called Phu Wua Wildlife Reserve with plenty of trekking trails, waterfalls, wildlife and camping.

12. Buriram: Khmer ruins

Part of the mighty Khmer Empire that ruled a millennium ago, the province of Buriram offers one of the most interesting sights in the northeast: Phanom Rung Historical Park.

The park has an incredible Hindu temple on the edge of a 400-meter-high volcano, the central attraction being a shrine dedicated to Shiva.

13. Chaiyaphum: Nature walks

This nearly circular province on the border between central and northeastern Thailand is one of the country’s largest, bisected by the Phetchabun mountain range. The huge Tat Ton National Park is loaded with things to see – wide waterfalls, strange rock formations, large caves and scattered Khmer ruins.

14. Kalasin: Dinosaur hunting

The northeast province of Kalasin is known for its large hoard of dinosaur bones. The best place to check them out is the Sirindhorn Museum and Phu Kum Khao Dinosaur Excavation Site, which has displays, bones, statues and excavation pits.

15. Khon Kaen: Cobra handlers

One of the Cobra Village's professional handlers plays with his personal pet snake.

If you find yourself in Khon Kaen – right in the middle of Thailand’s Isaan region – a trip to Baan Kok Sa-nga is in order.

Also known as the King Cobra Village, the one hobby all the villagers have in common is snake breeding. Locals entertain visitors with brave and/or stupid tricks such as cuddling, boxing and outright taunting them.

16. Loei: Mountains and sunsets

The fertile, mountainous province of Loei is a favorite destination for those wanting scenic drives or cool weather, with the peaks of Phu Rua National Park being a hot draw.

If you head to Tham Pha Ya cave near Ban Mai Santi Tham at sunset, you can see millions of bats streaming out into the dusky sky to get some grub, a scene that usually lasts for about an hour.

17. Maha Sarakham: Buddhist relics

About 90 minutes’ drive south of the main town of Maha Sarakham stands the large forested temple of Prathat Na Dun. There’s a replica of a traditional Isaan village here. But the main attraction is the chedi, which is a copy of the 10th-century original erected on the site and houses a relic of the Buddha.

18. Mukdahan: Strange stones

Right on the border with Laos, Mukdahan is a remote and sparsely populated province that doesn’t get many visitors despite having some cool attractions.

Check out the Hin Thoep rocks in Mukdahan National Park – large sandstone edifices that 100 million years of rain and wind have shaped into planes, animals and even a flying saucer, depending on your ability to use your imagination.

19. Nakhon Phanom: War history

This far northeastern province has a violent history. Serving as a base for the U.S. 56th Air Commando Wing, it saw some of the fiercest fighting to take place on Thai soil during the Vietnam War. Bob Hope stopped over on a USO tour.

Ho Chi Minh actually lived in Nakhon Phanom between 1928 and 1931 in the tiny village of Ban Nachok. His former home and a modern museum are now open to visitors. Military tourism aside, you can also check out Wat Phratha Maha Chai, one of the holiest temples in the province.

20. Nakhon Ratchasima: Phimai Historical Park

Thailand’s largest province – often called Korat – is another destination with Khmer and Hindu influence, especially noticeable in the Phimai Historical Park. Smaller than Angkor Wat but built in the same style – despite being a Buddhist temple and not Hindu – its origins date back to the 12th century.

21. Nong Bua Lamphu: Wat Tham Klong Pen

Things don’t move too fast in Nong Bua Lamphu, another one of Thailand’s younger provinces (it was created in 1993). Hit up Wat Tham Klong Pen, a Khmer-era temple where revered monk Pu Khao Analyo lived and meditated. In a way he’s still there, as the temple keeps his ashes in an urn onsite.

22. Nong Khai: Sculpture park

This skinny little province was an important site for warring empires over the past few centuries, but today it’s busy with traffic in and out of Laos via the Friendship Bridge.

One of its wackiest attractions is Sala Kaew Ku (aka Wat Khaek), built by a philanthropist who believed all religions could mix harmoniously. There are dozens of large statues from Christian, Hindu and Buddhist religions, among others, spread throughout the landscaped grounds.

23. Roi Et: Plalan Chai Lake

The people of Roi Et province know how to build monuments – the place is littered with them. But for a relaxing day out you could do worse than Bueng Phalan Chai, a large lake with plenty of green space, walking trails, shrines, statues and waterfalls.

24. Sakon Nakhon: Ancient calendar

This province is home to Thailand’s biggest natural lake, but another key attraction is Phra That Phu Pek, a small but interesting Khmer Buddhist temple that dates to the 17th century. It also contains a primitive solar calendar that was once used to plan religious rites and harvests.

25. Sisaket: Khao Phra Wihan National Park

This peaceful temple complex has been the site of a tense standoff.

Located in the bottom corner of northeastern Thailand, Sisaket province is filled with Khmer ruins. The best are in the Khao Phra Wihan National Park. The most well known is Prasat Preah Vihear, but it’s been the subject of a Thai/Cambodian standoff over access to the temple in recent years. Check first, but if it’s advisable not to go, there are plenty of other ruins in this large area.

26. Surin: Elephant Village

Pachyderm power in Surin, the home of the elephant.

Many Thais call Surin the home of the Thai elephant because the giant beasts have been central to Surin locals’ lives for centuries.

What better reason, then, to visit Ban Ta Klang Village, or the Elephant Village. You can see how the elephants are trained, go on a ride, learn about their role in the development of Thai society and even watch the trainers bathe them in the river.

27. Ubon Ratchathani: Hiking

The easternmost of Thailand’s provinces, Ubon, as it’s known, is also one of the most scenic. Pha Taem National Park is filled with important temples, waterfalls, hiking trails, camping facilities and 4,000-year-old rock paintings.

28. Udon Thani: Ban Chiang

Udon Thani's lily pad landscape.

Another Thai province that played an important part in the Vietnam War (and where Mel Gibson filmed “Air America”) is Udon Thani. The province’s main attraction dates back way further than that though.

Take a trip to the Ban Chiang National Museum, where you can see excavations of a 5,600-year-old village, ancient pottery, tools, jewelry and even bones.

29. Yasothon: Buddhist artifacts

Lift off Yasothon style.

Most famous for its insane, rowdy rocket festival in May, Yasothon has a couple of attractions that are nice to visit year round.

The Ban Song Puey Archaeological Site contains a large Buddha image, a replica of the Buddha’s footprint and soil taken directly from the place where the Buddha reached enlightenment.

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Getting to northeast Thailand

Several airlines offer daily flights from Bangkok (see end of article for airline list) to the following northeastern cities: Nakhon Phanom, Udon Thani, Ubon Ratchathani, Loei, Roi Et and Sakon Nakhon.

Buses heading northeast depart from Bangkok’s Morchit terminal. Call 1490 for the latest bus schedule and route information. Thailand’s State Railway also runs a northeast line. Visit for schedule information and to book online.


30. Tak: Bhumibol Dam

The seat of a great kingdom that goes back dozens of centuries, Tak today is known for its cool, green mountains and scenery. One of the top man-made attractions is Bhumibol Dam, which holds back the biggest lake in Thailand and is surrounded by parks, trails and waterfalls.

31. Kanchanaburi: Bridge over the River Kwai

The infamous Death Railway claimed the lives of some 16,000 POWs and 100,000 Asian forced labourers.

The Death Railway, which claimed the lives of about 16,000 POWs and 100,000 Asian forced laborers, was built by the Japanese in 1942-43 to move supplies from Thailand into Myanmar (then called Burma).

Thailand’s third-largest province is also one of its most famous because of a litany of historic events and its proximity to a strategic border crossing with Myanmar.

Don’t miss the World War II memorials in the main city of Kanchanaburi, which include a sobering war graveyard, historical parks, museums and the famous bridge over the River Kwai.

32. Phetchaburi: Phra Nakhon Khiri Historical Park

Don’t worry about the hike. Phra Nakhon Khiri has a cable car for the exercise averse. This skinny seaside province has long been a popular destination for Bangkok residents who want some sun and sand.

Head to Phra Nakhon Khiri Historical Park, a lush, hilly area that includes Khao Wang, a summer palace built by Rama IV in 1860. There’s also a museum, a cable car, walking trails and lots of monkeys – watch out, they can be nasty!