Nestled in the heart of Southeast Asia, Thailand is a country that captivates more than 38 million travelers from around the world each year.
Thailand has a unique culture, fascinating history, and jaw-dropping landscapes, but that’s not all that Thailand is famous for.
From the serene spirituality of its devoted Buddhist population to the tantalizing flavors of its world-famous street food, in this guide, we explore what Thailand is famous for, so you can begin to understand why it’s the second most popular destination in Asia to visit.
Let’s jump straight in.
What Is Thailand Famous For?
1. Stunning Beaches
Let’s be honest, one of the many reasons people visit Thailand is because of its jaw-droppingly beautiful beaches. It’s estimated there are over 741 beaches in Thailand, located on more than 2,400 km of coastline and 1,000 islands.
Thailand’s beaches are easily some of the best in the world, with the softest, whitest sand you’ll ever touch, bath-like crystal-clear warm water, and natural surroundings that make you feel like you’ve just landed in pure paradise.
Depending on where you are in the country and what beach you choose, you could be engulfed by towering limestone cliffs (Railay Beach, Krabi), hidden away amongst tropical jungle (Bottle Beach, Koh Phangan), or surrounded by pristine, untouched and unspoiled nature (Maya Bay, Koh Phi Phi).
If you enjoy water sports, then the beaches around Phuket are perfect since they have bigger waves, deeper waters, and offshore winds for windsurfing.
If you prefer snorkeling and diving, head to the Phi Phi Islands, where you’ll find an abundance of marine life and colorful fish thrive. For those looking for a quiet and secluded beach to retreat to, there are endless beaches in Koh Phangan, Koh Samui, or Koh Tao that allow you to escape the crowds.
2. Tasty Cuisine
Thai food is arguably one of the best cuisines in the world. Famous for its incredibly bold flavors, unique blends of spices, vibrant colors, and just the sheer diversity of dishes available are what makes Thai food so unique.
Not only is Thai food delicious, but it’s a huge part of Thai culture. Street food is the norm in Thailand, especially in cities like Bangkok where space is at a premium. You’ll find street food vendors and stands on every corner, with smoke and smells of BBQ meat wafting from every angle.
Each region in Thailand also has its own special cuisine. For example, in Chiang Mai, Khao Soy and other hearty Thai curries such as Masamam Curry are what make Chiang Mai famous.
Of course, no trip to Thailand would be complete without trying the classic Pad Thai (stir-fried noodles with chicken and prawns) which is super popular, and there are even several restaurants and street food stalls that hold Michelin Stars for their Pad Thai – such as Pad Thai Fai Ta Lu, one of the best places in Bangkok for Pad Thai.
Other popular dishes include Pad See Ew (glutinous noodles stir-fried with chicken and onions and dark soy sauce), as well as Thai curries, named Red, Green, and Yellow, which are known for their rich, aromatic flavors as they use coconut milk as a base.
Thailand is also famous for its rice production, with 7.69 million tonnes being exported in 2022.
Rice is eaten in Thailand with some dishes, but is primarily as a side to stir-fried dishes, with Pad Krapow Moo (minced pork stir-fried with Thai holy basil and lots of chilies) being one of the most popular and Khao Pad Gai (chicken fried rice).
3. Street Food Culture
We mentioned earlier that Thailand is well known for its street food culture, so let’s dive into a bit more about why that is.
Street food is not only quick to make, and quick to eat, but it’s also cost-effective and affordable. For many centuries, street food was served on floating market boats, which were primarily used by working-class people as a means of trade and transport.
Since the 1960s, street food has become more popular on the streets, as a demand for faster and more portable food options became apparent.
Since then, very little has changed, and street food remains an integral part of Thailand’s culinary scene.
Many local apartments and houses do not come with a cooker or an oven, so many Thai locals rely on the network of street food to eat.
No matter how big or small the street food cart is, you’ll find everything from small BBQ skewered pork or chicken to huge bowls of noodle soup, as well as popular Thai food favorites such as Mango Sticky Rice and Papaya Salad.
Not only are street food vendors everywhere, especially at night markets, but they provide an income for many locals who cannot afford to open up an established restaurant.
Top tip: Always choose a busy street food stall and ensure the food is hot, to minimize the risk of becoming unwell.
4. Buddhist Culture & Temples
From the moment you step foot on the airplane on your way to Thailand, the country’s Buddhist traditions and values become apparent.
Greeted with a friendly smile and a traditional ‘wei’ (bow with palms together) upon your embarkment, you know that Buddhism is a huge part of the culture – Theravada Buddhism, which translates to “school of the elders”, to be precise.
This type of Buddhism brings to life the teachings of the Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama, and is characterized by mindful meditation, impeccable moral conduct, and the everlong pursuit of enlightenment.
It’s estimated that 94% of Thai locals identify as Buddhist, and you will find 40,000 Wats, or temples as we call them, can be found dotted all over the country.
These temples are all intricately designed in a way that’s unique to Thailand, with bright colors adorning the walls and statues, as well as colorful mosaics and artwork in the meditation halls.
The orange-robed monks, some of whom reside on the temple grounds, play a vital role in Thai society, leading ceremonies and providing guidance to those in need. It’s estimated there are 300,000 monks in Thailand.
Read more: Is Thailand Worth The Hype?
5. Floating Markets
Think of your neighborhood’s quaint little local food market or greengrocers selling a variety of homegrown fruit and vegetables, butchered meats, and freshly made food and drinks.
Now picture all of this on tens of brightly painted longtail boats packed into a narrow river, with vendors calling prices for their produce, battling to be heard over one another.
Paired with the small wooden stalls that line the old canals and waterways of Bangkok and various other provinces – you’ve got yourself one of Thailand’s traditional floating markets.
The floating markets have been famous in Thailand for centuries, being one of the primary means of trade and transportation right up into the 1960s.
The Damnoen Saduak Floating Market is the most famous market in Thailand, known to be one of the country’s busiest floating markets. It’s located just 100 km southwest of Bangkok in the Ratchaburi province.
Within the city of Bangkok, there’s the Taling Chan Floating Market, which is one of the most accessible for tourists, as well as the Bang Phli Floating Market, which is considered the oldest in Thailand.
6. Paradise Islands
Each one of Thailand’s 1,000 islands is genuinely the epitome of tropical paradise. Imagine soft white sand, crystal clear waters teeming with marine life, and a backdrop of swaying palm trees and green, luscious jungle – that’s the blueprint for an island in Thailand.
Phuket is the largest island in Thailand. Phuket is famous for its iconic Patong Beach nightlife, markets, and an endless list of long, gorgeous beaches like Kata Beach, Karon Beach, Freedom Beach, and Nai Harn.
Koh Phi Phi is the most famous island in Thailand, known for its dramatic cliffs and for having one of the most beautiful beaches in the world, Maya Bay. This was the location for Danny Boyle’s blockbuster ‘The Beach’ starring Leonardo DiCaprio.
The Gulf of Thailand’s islands can be grouped together as they’re all (very handily) right next to each other.
Koh Phangan is famous for the lively full moon parties that happen every month, as well as its jungle vibes and friendly expat atmosphere.
Koh Tao is mostly famous for diving, but it also boasts rustic but pretty beaches with superb opportunities for snorkeling from the shore, and Koh Samui, the largest of the three, is known for its modernity, luxury resorts, and waterfalls.
Read more: Which Is Better? Koh Samui or Koh Phangan?
7. Muay Thai
Muay Thai, or Thai Boxing, is the country’s national sport, and the most popular sport practiced by local people of all ages.
If you’ve traveled in Thailand, you’ll almost certainly have noticed the sheer number of Muay Thai gyms that can be found throughout the country, from large chain gyms in Bangkok to more rural, open-aired settings in Issan.
Muay Thai is notorious for being one of the most rigorous and hard-working martial art sports and participants must honor the age-old traditions of discipline and respect whilst defending and attacking through the use of heavy punches, shin-bruising kicks, and impactful knees to the body.
Muay Thai fights are intense and make for a great spectacle to watch, with matches regularly being held for locals and tourists alike, especially in tourist destinations such as Chiang Mai and Phuket.
Some of the larger events are held at the Lumpinee Boxing Stadium in Bangkok, Patong Boing Stadium in Phuket, and the Chiangmai Boxing Stadium.
8. Full Moon Parties
If you’re interested in nightlife and the party scene, then you’ll almost certainly have heard all about the famous Full Moon Parties in Thailand.
Every full moon cycle, quite literally tens of thousands of people head to Haad Rin Beach on the relaxed, tropical island of Koh Phangan, to party throughout the night underneath the illumination of the full moon.
Honestly, even if partying isn’t your thing, I’d recommend visiting the full moon party at least once just to experience the atmosphere and to see it for yourself. It’s one of the most popular items on everyone’s Thailand bucket list.
It’s unlike any other party in the world, with thousands of people dancing to various stages of music, fire-dancers, fire-limbo, street food, cocktails served in buckets, and colorful body paint.
9. Elephant Sanctuaries
One of the starring symbols of Thailand is the gentle giant, the elephant. They’re one of the most famous native animals in Thailand, and no visit to the Land of Smiles is complete without seeing some elephants.
If you’d like to make this dream a reality, then it’s unlikely you will find any elephants in the wild in Thailand anymore. Sadly, the only way to see them is by visiting a well-respected and trusted elephant sanctuary.
There are many elephant sanctuaries across Thailand, but the largest number of elephant sanctuaries in Thailand are in the north and are accessible within a half-day trip or day trip from Chiang Mai.
It’s important to make sure the sanctuary you visit is where you know the elephants are cared for in a more ethical and humane manner, prioritizing the well-being of these animals over the satisfaction of its visitors.
True sanctuaries will not allow people to ride them, use them for performances, and keep them chained up, but instead, focus more on the free-roaming of an elephant where visitors are allowed to observe but not interfere.
Many elephant sanctuaries in Thailand allow visitors to feed and bathe the elephants, sometimes even ride them, but this is not an ethical practice.
10. Night Markets
Thailand is famous for its culture of night markets, which can be found in pretty much every town or city, in every province in the country.
They’re a wonderful way to spend the evening and are visited by locals and tourists alike. They are not only a gathering place where you can meet up with friends after the sun goes down, but they are also a maze of street food stalls and market shops, selling everything from clothing to tourist trinkets.
The good night markets will also have entertainment, from Thai dancing performances to singing, or even karaoke.
As night markets are usually full of locals, you’ll be able to mingle with the local culture, as well as sample some intriguing and (super cheap!) authentic street food.
11. Song Kran Festival & The Lantern Festival
You’d be right in thinking that Thailand isn’t exactly a country famed for huge music festivals, but it is famous for its own unique festivals.
Loy Krathong, also known as Yee Peng, or The Lantern Festival, is one of the most famous festivals in Thailand and is celebrated in November each year.
It’s celebrated by releasing hundreds of sky lanterns into the sky, as well as placing thousands of candle-lit floating vessels called ‘krathongs’ into the rivers, which float downstream, often with nail clippings and ends of hair, symbolizing the letting go of negativity.
The festival has its roots back in India, but as Buddhism became more widespread across Asia, Thailand adopted the festival and thus is held on the evening of the full moon on the 12th month in the Thai lunar calendar.
The best place to celebrate The Lantern Festival is in Chiang Mai, as this is where you will see the largest number of lantern releases in the sky at once.
Thai New Year, or Songkran is another symbolic day in the Thai calendar. If you’ll be in Thailand during Songkran, believe me, you’ll know all about it.
This famous festival in Thailand is when thousands of people take to the streets and have massive water fights with buckets and water guns which is meant to be a form of ritual cleansing. The idea is that you wash away the bad luck so that you can start anew in the New Year.
Tuk-tuks are an all-too-common sight throughout Asia, but none are more iconic than the ones you’ll find in Bangkok.
The tiny three-wheeled rickshaws are one of the city’s most popular modes of transport and can be found bombing down every street and waiting on every street corner.
They’re completely open-air and because of their size, provide a unique and convenient way to get around Bangkok’s congested traffic and narrow back alleys.
Although it’s no secret that tuk-tuks are a huge tourist gimmick, and very expensive as a means of transport, it’s also an enjoyable way to get around since the driver will usually blast loud music and have strobe LED lighting inside his cab.
Be prepared to haggle on the price before you get in. Tuk-tuk drivers are infamous for charging a higher price for tourists, but after some bargaining, they’re always worth paying for the experience.
13. Nightlife & Entertainment
Thailand is famous for its electric mix of nightlife. In major cities like Bangkok, Pattaya, and Phuket, you will find there is a thriving nightlife scene catering to a wide variety of tastes.
From huge superclubs thumping out EDM to swanky rooftop bars on the top of skyscrapers, paired with trendy live music venues and jazz cafes, there’s a club for every taste.
In Bangkok, Khao San Road is famous for its nightlife. It is primarily known for being the place where backpackers meet, with a whole host of bars catering to the younger crowd, whilst more upscale bars can be found mostly around the Thong Lor and Sukhumvit areas.
14. Incredible Accommodations
Some of the best and most beautiful accommodations in the world can be found in Thailand. In the main cities, you’ll find your typical chain hotels as well as some of the most luxurious five-star hotels with infinity pools 30+ stories up.
In more rural areas in the north of Thailand, you can find eco-friendly bamboo huts and bungalows, whereas in the south, there is a wonderful range of beachfront resorts and bungalows.
If you’re traveling on a budget, Thailand has some of the best hostels in the world for just a few dollars per night.
Not to mention there are thousands of family-owned guesthouses for you to stay in and experience.
The best part is that comparatively speaking, all of these options are really well-priced.
15. Scuba Diving
Thailand is one of the best countries in the world for you to complete your scuba diving certifications, get your license, and explore the beautiful underwater world that is beneath the surface.
Around the islands, specifically Koh Tao and the Phi Phi Islands, you’ll discover colorful coral reefs, and diverse and unique marine life such as some of the most iconic sharks in Thailand; the whale shark and black tip reef shark, as well as loggerhead turtles.
There are also spooky underwater caves, and some fascinating shipwrecks are all waiting to be explored.
Koh Tao is particularly famous for dive training and the schools on the island are some of the most respected and most popular in the world for getting your PADI Open Water Certificate.
16. Friendly Locals
Thailand is famously known as The Land of Smiles, and it didn’t get this name for no reason. It’s awarded this nickname because of the warm hospitality, friendliness, and kindness the local community extends to visitors.
The Thai people have a cultural trait ingrained in them to always lend a helping hand, be gracious and welcoming in nature, and make tourists feel at home in their beautiful country.
The locals’ openness and their willingness to share their traditions and customs with others make Thailand a truly unique and enriching destination where any traveler can come away feeling like they’ve shared in the local way of life.
It’s these genuine connections and interactions with the locals that always leave a lasting impression on anyone who ventures here.
17. Thai Massage
Thailand has gained worldwide fame for its traditional Thai massages, which have become an integral part of the country’s cultural heritage.
Thai massage has been practiced for centuries and is renowned for its unique blend of acupressure, assisted yoga postures, and stretching.
Thai massages not only provide relaxation but also offer numerous health benefits such as increased flexibility, improved posture, and relief from muscle and joint tension.
The techniques used in Thai massages have been refined over centuries and are often performed by skilled therapists who have mastered the art.
Not to mention a Thai massage for one hour is not too expensive – perfect for those travelers who need to soothe their aching backs from carrying heavy backpacks.
Thai Massages can be found almost everywhere in Thailand, and it’s this dedication to preserving and promoting this ancient healing practice that has solidified Thailand’s reputation as a global hub for rejuvenation and wellness.
Even when cost of living crises are rampant in Europe, Thailand is still famous for its affordability, making it a desirable destination for travelers seeking value for their money.
The country’s low living costs and budget-friendly options have contributed to its reputation as an affordable paradise.
From accommodation to food, transportation, and entertainment, Thailand offers a wide range of choices that suit different budgets, allowing anyone who ventures here to stretch their funds without compromising on quality or experiences.
Some might say that traveling to Thailand is a backpacker’s rite of passage. It’s certainly one of the most popular destinations in the world to go backpacking, and there is a reason for this.
Because of its longstanding reputation for being backpacker-friendly, it’s consistently voted as one of the best countries in the world for backpacking.
The combination of affordable accommodation, cheap food, unique experiences, and the ability to make new travel friends easily, makes Thailand a haven for backpackers.
Many people use Thailand as their first destination when backpacking, especially since it’s easy to visit nearby countries such as Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, Malaysia, and China from there.
20. Transgender Openness & Acceptance
Thailand is one of the most affordable countries in the world to get cosmetic surgery and transgender surgery, so it has a prominent presence of transgender people.
Not only that, but Thailand has been a known destination for cross-dressing men and transgender women for more than 700 years – though the surgery has only been available since 1975.
Most famously, Thailand is known for its population of transgender women, often referred to as ladyboys, or Kathoey, in Thailand.
The country’s open-mindedness and acceptance of gender diversity mean it’s an environment where transgender men and women can live authentically and express themselves freely.
Transgender women are often seen performing in cabaret shows, adding a touch of glamour and entertainment to Thailand’s vibrant nightlife scene.
Their unique beauty, charm, and talents are one of the reasons some people visit Thailand, making Thailand a renowned destination for embracing gender fluidity and celebrating individuality.
Thailand’s fame is known far and wide, and it’s no surprise why it’s a country that captivates the hearts and minds of travelers from every corner of the globe.
From its breathtaking temples and vibrant street markets to its stunning beaches and delicious cuisine, Thailand offers a diverse tapestry of experiences that leave a mark on all who visit.
We hope this guide helped you understand a bit more about what Thailand is famous for. We’re sure you’ll agree, it’s a country that has a lot to offer.