Depending on your reasons for traveling to Thailand, your needs and your own personality you will find that each Thai city has different attractions and turn offs for you. While some people crave the vibrancy of Bangkok, others are better suited to a more laid back city vibe, such as can be found in Chiang Mai. Some visitors and expats desire the western style amenities and activities of Pattaya while others desire a more traditional Thai experience as you would find in Khon Kaen or Udon Thani.
As you might imagine, choosing the best Thai city overall is an exercise in futility, because each person will have a different idea of what is best for them. Personally I prefer the energy and diversity of Bangkok, while others I know can’t stand the crowds, traffic and pollution in Bangkok, but would rather settle in the smaller Chiang Mai, somewhere in Issan for a more authentic Thai experience or even on one of the Thai islands, such as Krabi or Koh Samui.
If you are thinking of traveling or relocating to Thailand the best way to know which Thai city will suit you is to visit Thailand and see for yourself. If that isn’t possible or if you are doing some preliminary research here is a short description of several Thai cities that can help you to narrow down your choices and make your decision a bit easier.
This is the obvious choice or those who love the city life. Bangkok is unquestionably the most Westernized of the Thai cities and has the most diversity of attractions, people, food and culture. If you only have a few days to spend in Thailand you will almost certainly want to spend them in Bangkok as this is where you will find the greatest opportunities for world class shopping, dining and tourism.
Those coming to Thailand for business purposes almost always spend the bulk of their time in Bangkok because this is where you will find the headquarters of many International companies. Additionally, the hotels available in Bangkok are well suited to the business traveler. All of the major hotel chains have signature properties in Bangkok from the Peninsula Hotel Bangkok Thailand to the Sheraton Grande Sukhumvit Bangkok Thailand and the Banyan Tree Bangkok. Each has their own distinctive charm and attraction.
Budget travelers will also find Bangkok to be the ideal stop thanks to the large number of budget accommodations, the cheap and plentiful food and the diversity of experiences to be had, both during the day and night. Those planning on a longer stay may find the Bangkok cost of living to be a bit prohibitive, but rest assured there are many cheaper alternatives if you are willing to forego some things that you take for granted in the West. No matter what type of traveler you are it is quite likely you will find something of interest to you in Bangkok.
While some may ask “Is Pattaya the biggest brothel in the world”, the truth is that Pattaya has much more to offer than just beer bars and go go bars. There may be a large number of Thailand bar girls in Pattaya and you may not believe it, but outside Walking Street, Pattaya can actually be a family friendly destination. Thanks to the large population of foreigners there is are a great number of cheap hotels and restaurants that provide western style service and food. If you are looking for western amenities and food without the high prices in Bangkok then Pattaya may be ideal for you.
Families may be interested in the Pattaya floating market which makes for a nice day trip. You will also find many festivals held in Pattaya, such as the Jazz Festival, Tattoo Festival and Bike Week. If nothing else you could never say that Pattaya is boring. There is always something to do and always something new happening.
If you are looking for accommodations in Pattaya you can check out Le Prive Pattaya Thailand and the Woodlands Suites Hotel Pattaya Thailand for starters.
Chiang Mai is world’s away from central and southern Thailand. It can be said that you haven’t really experienced Thailand until you’ve made a trip to Chiang Mai and over 1 million tourists do just that every year. The city has its own distinct vibe and history, partially because it was the capital of the Lanna empire in the past, which was actually a separate kingdom from Thailand.
Both tourists and expats will find plenty to do in Chiang Mai. There are a large number of restaurants and bars, both Thai and Western, so you won’t be at a loss for good things to eat. Chiang Mai also has a huge number of temples to see, and one of the most famous in Thailand, called Doi Suthep, is located outside the city.
When compared with Bangkok, Chiang Mai has a much more laid back feel as well as being considered much more artsy, thanks to the large number of painters, musicians and artisans that make the city their home. It is also considerably cheaper than its southern neighbor and it is still possible to find accommodations for under $5 a night, making it the perfect destination for the budget traveler.
Chiang Mai has all the amenities the Western traveler or expats could need, while also maintaining a distinctly Thai charm and friendliness. One final benefit for Western travelers is the climate in Chiang Mai which is much cooler than other parts of Thailand and can even get chilly during the winter. Chiang Mai is definitely a jewel in the north of Thailand
Khon Kaen is one of the major cities in the area of Thailand known as Issan. In fact, it is a large hub for trade and commerce because of its location in central Issan and proximity to Bangkok to the south, Cambodia to the east and Laos to the north. It has seen quite a bit of growth over the past two decades, yet maintains a rural Thai feel in many ways, mostly due to the large population from the surrounding areas.
One of the major attractions of Khon Kaen is that it is the home of Chanabot silk, specifically a variety called Mudmee silk. This silk is considered some of the best in the world and you can both see it being manufactured as well as purchase some fantastic souvenirs.
Overall, Khon Kaen is much quieter and less congested than Bangkok or even Chiang Mai. There is also a good sized expat population here so there are plenty of good western restaurants and western goods to be had. This can be a good place to enjoy typical Thai hospitality if you need a bit more excitement than rural life can provide.
Naturally there are many other places in Thailand to visit than just these 4 Thai cities. Southern Thailand is well known for its islands and beaches and if that’s your thing I would certainly recommend you head south. Some of the top beaches and scuba diving in the world are in southern Thailand and not to be missed. As you head south you will find Hua Hin, Chumphon, Surat Thani and finally Hat Yai as the major Thai cities in the south.
As with any country, each Thai city has its own unique style and flavor and I think each one could be considered the best Thai city based on your own needs and likes. What about you? Which Thai city do you consider to be the best in Thailand and why?