Is 2024 the year you touch down on Thai shores? This in-depth Thailand bucket list is a must-try

  • From island-hopping and cultural exploration to shopping and water-based activities, Thailand has so much to share with the world.
  • Last year, over 27 million tourists touched down on Thai shores, making Thailand one of the world’s top travel destinations.
  • Among the most frequent visitors to the Land of Smiles are South Africans, who have no visa requirements to enter the country for up to 30 days.

Thailand is one of the world’s top travel destinations – and for good reason.

From island-hopping and cultural exploration to shopping and water-based activities, Thailand has so much to share with the world.

It’s no surprise, then, that millions of foreigners flock to Thailand every year – in fact, 2023 saw over 27 million tourists touch down on Thai shores. Among the most frequent visitors to the “Land of Smiles” are South Africans, many looking for a tropical getaway or a luxurious break from the hustle and bustle. 

“2024 might just be the year when you take the chance to treat yourself to some well-earned bucket-list longings. The good news is that Thailand is one destination that ticks all the boxes. From lovers of culinary experiences to travellers looking for a mind and body reset, as well as eco-tourists, we welcome so many different types of visitors and cater to every wanderlust wish. 

“What makes travelling to Thailand simpler and hassle-free when compared to other overseas destinations is that South Africans don’t need a visa to enter Thailand for up to 30 days for tourism purposes. It’s as easy as booking a flight, packing a bag, and making your escape to a country that quite literally has it all,” says Sadudee Sangnil, Director of the Tourism Authority of Thailand for UK, Ireland and South Africa. 

For those needing an inspirational nudge in the right direction, Sangnil has this month-to-month guide of what Thailand has to offer this year:

Sunlit serenades in January

The beginning of the year is peak season in Thailand. You can expect sun-filled days and mild evenings with little chance of rain. As such, it’s the ideal time to visit a festival or outdoor event. Some of the month’s most popular events include Bangkok’s ‘Concert in the Park,’ a unique musical attraction that’s attended by a flurry of international visitors every year.

The concerts, held every Sunday during January and February, showcase a selection of music, from top-charting pop hits to Broadway medleys, as well as classical music and traditional Thai favourites. The best part? Admission is free, and there are many different public transport options to travel to and from the event. 

February: Love beneath the waves

February is the month of love for people all over the world, and for South Africans looking to get hitched in true communal Thai fashion, it’s the month to be in Thailand. In what has become an internationally renowned spectacle of love, hundreds of couples – both local and foreign – visit Thailand in February to take part in the Trang Underwater Wedding.

Couples are paraded through the streets of Trang town and then travel by boat to an underwater location where they slip on some scuba gear over their wedding garb and literally tie the knot underwater. The ceremony comes complete with a ceremonial waterproof marriage certificate – what’s not to love about this unique way of starting a wonderful new journey together? 

Conservation and connection in March

For the animal-loving travellers amongst us, March is the month to visit Thailand. The elephant is Thailand’s national animal and 13 March is National Thai Elephant Day. To celebrate the day, tourists can visit several different elephant sanctuaries, including the Elephant National Park – one of the most popular conservation projects in Thailand.

Elephant Haven in Kanchanaburi is also a great option, as is the Samui Elephant Sanctuary. At these sanctuaries, visitors can observe these majestic giants in their national environments, play with them in mud pools or do volunteer work – the perfect chance to give back. 

Grab your water gun in April 

There’s arguably no other event that is as synonymous with Thai culture as the Songkran Festival. The festival, which centres around water play, is hosted in April every year to celebrate the Thai New Year. During Songkran, people engage in world-famous water fights, but there’s also a spiritual component to the festival, which sees people visiting temples for purification rituals and blessing ceremonies.

April is a great time to be in Thailand if what you’re after is a chance to see all the islands and towns in one go because each region celebrates the festival in unique ways. 

Explore Michelin-starred restaurants in May

South Africans love good food, and if there is one reason to visit Thailand, exploring its culinary gems should be one of the reasons. Michelin Guide, the internationally acclaimed culinary authority, has once again celebrated Thailand’s vibrant and diverse culinary scene by showcasing a total of 447 food establishments in Thailand.

The 2024 edition of the Michelin Guide Thailand has recognised outstanding culinary establishments across the nation, with 6 new shining stars and two additional two Michelin Star restaurants. 

June: The month for a good hike

Although Thailand is best known for its pristine beaches and marine biodiversity, it also has a lot to offer in the way of natural vegetation and towering hills to be explored.

June is the perfect time for a hike in the Northern Hills. Some of the most popular hikes include the one to the summit of Doi Chiang Dao, from where the views stretch all the way to Burma. Hikers could also consider going on guided walks through terraced rice paddies and visits to some of the surrounding villages. 

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Hit the jungles in July

In July, both the north and south regions of Thailand typically experience high levels of rainfall, but that doesn’t stop nature lovers from hitting the jungles for a truly authentic experience of the tropics.

Some of the most popular jungles are in Khao Yai, Umphang and Nan. Fortunately, with heavier rainfall comes heavier waterfalls, which are breathtaking to experience. The rainy season is also the best time to see the best fauna and flora, which thrive during this time of the year.  

August: One for the shoppers

August is typically regarded as the beginning of off-peak season in Thailand, which makes it the best time to cash in on cheaper flights and accommodation prices. With heavier rainfall, most tourists head indoors over this period to experience some local cuisine and the bustling shopping malls in urban areas such as Bangkok.

Popular shopping destinations include Siam Square Bangkok and the expansive Chatuchak Weekend Market. Here you’ll find amazing finds, including silk products, aromatic Thai spices, coconut oil products, jewellery, curious trinkets, high-end accessories, and artisanal handicrafts. 

September: The month for culture

September is long-boat racing season in Thailand – fast-paced races are held in four regions of the country to celebrate the Buddhist Lent. Each year, the races draw large crowds of enthusiastic locals and tourists who cheer on the participants and enjoy the cultural activities that surround the events.

This is the ideal time to be a part of the action in various locations, including Ayutthaya, Phitsanulok, and Nan.

Shopping under the stars in October 

In terms of the weather in Thailand over October, it’s usually a bit of a mixed bag. The rainy season draws to a close over the month, but occasional showers are still to be expected.

This month is the best time to see a few of Thailand’s night markets for yourself. Each town has its own version of a night market as well as large versions such as the Patpong and Mahadthai Night Markets, which offer an open-air shopping experience that will cater to your curiosity to try some of the local delicacies while stocking up on some real bargains.

November: Time for festival fever

The Loy Krathong festival is set to take place in November this year. As one of Thailand’s most enchanting and visually stunning festivals, it is a celebration of lights, water, and spirituality. The festival holds deep cultural and religious significance, as it is a time for Thais to pay respects to the goddess of water, Phra Mae Khongkha.

At the heart of Loy Krathong is the tradition of crafting and floating krathongs, intricately decorated floating baskets, onto rivers, lakes, and other bodies of water. The festival is celebrated nationwide, but certain locations, such as Chiang Mai, Sukhothai, and Ayutthaya, are renowned for their elaborate festivities.

Dive into December 

Thailand comes alive in December, with the month being the beginning of the peak season, so it’s a great time to get stuck into some of the country’s most popular watersports. It’s the ideal time to do some island-hopping and visit hotspots like Phang Nga Bay, with its intricate series of breathtaking mangroves, lagoons and caves. Many of the tour operators around Thailand offer services such as exploring by boat, as well as activities such as snorkelling and scuba diving at various spots along the coast.

For those with a need for speed, there are also many opportunities to jet ski and wakeboard. For something slower, you could consider boarding a sailboat off the coast of Kho Phi Phi or the Similan Islands for some sightseeing and sundowners. 

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