Touring Thailand: top places to meet, play and stay in the land of smiles

Take a tour of the best places to meet, play and stay with our comprehensive breakdown of some of the best cities in Thailand. Be fully equipped when you plan your next overseas event or executive retreat.

For decades, Thailand has been on the top of every backpacker’s list. Its friendly faces, lush jungles, gastronomic delights, crystal clear oceans, white beaches and cities teeming with culture attract tourists and backpackers from the far corners of the world.

Last year 38 million tourists touched down in Thailand, with their spending making up a whopping 20 percent of the nation’s GDP. The Thai government and people recognise just how important tourism is for their country’s future and as a result go out of their way to create the best experience possible for foreigners, making Thailand’s nickname—‘the land of smiles’—less of a catchy slogan and more of a truism.

Today, Thailand is more than just a vacation hotspot, the Southeast Asian nation has also thrust itself into the 21st Century and has positioned itself as one of the hottest business centres in the region. While backpackers made their merry way through the country soaking up the sights, the nation has been hard at work pulling off what many describe as a miraculous ascent out of the third world.

It might seem a little dry, but to really ‘get’ Thailand it’s important to recognise what’s going on under the surface. Over the last four decades, the country has lifted an incredible number of people out of poverty and is now a widely cited economic success story. Take Bangkok as an example. As little as fifteen years ago, the city was considerably harsher—with obvious poverty and a rough character. Now, the nation’s capital is one of the world’s largest business hubs, quickly becoming renowned for its luxury offerings. With this in mind, a business trip to Thailand can bring home business inspiration as well as touristic experience.

For EAs, knowing what Thailand has on offer can make or break an international trip, executive retreat or high-profile meeting. Finding the right experience in a country that has so much to offer isn’t as easy as it might seem. So let us take you on a tour of Thailand and uncover the best places to meet, play and stay in the fabled ‘land of smiles’.

Bangkok: city of angels

Why is it called the ‘city of angels’? The slogan is a rough translation of the city’s traditional Thai name, Krung Thep. The city has deep roots in Thai religion and tradition, and ripples out from three incredible temples—which attract tens of thousands of visitors each year.

Bangkok is a city of two parts. One half is steeped in thousands of years of history. As a holy place and a cultural hub, Bangkok is built on a foundation of rich tradition that makes it one of the most interesting places to visit on the globe. An event or incentive trip to Bangkok will—without fail—leave an impression that won’t fade in a hurry. If experience is what you’re after, Bangkok’s cultural side will deliver. There’s an endless list of cultural sites to visit, delicious and adventurous treats to try, and traditional performances to marvel at.

Grand Palace of Bangkok in the heart of the city

The other half of Bangkok is distinctly modern. The city is at the epicenter of the nation’s growth. As a result it has quickly become a bustling metropolis where business and trade have brought the once gritty city into the future. Luxury hotels, architecturally designed sky rises, endless shopping experiences and world-class restaurants hallmark a place that has fully embraced a modern way of life.

Bangkok’s unique blend of modernity and identity gives business travellers the opportunity to get the best of both worlds. Delegates can experience the deep culture of Thailand, while also revelling in some of Southeast Asia’s most luxurious hotels and state of the art meeting facilities. There aren’t many cities in the world that can claim such a collaboration, but Bangkok is certainly one that can.

Chiang Mai: rose of the north

Despite Bangkok’s many charms, a city of over 8 million people may prove a bit challenging for some visitors. An executive retreat or wellness incentive might not suit the hustle and bustle of a big town. Luckily, Thailand is more than its capital city. Beyond the reaches of Bangkok are some of the most desirable relaxation and rehabilitation hotspots in the region—if not the world.

One such destination is Chiang Mai. Nestled in the mountainous Northern reaches of Thailand not far from the Myanmar border, is one of the country’s best kept secrets. Chiang Mai—or as it’s fondly titled, the rose of the north—is roughly 700 kilometres north of Bangkok. The ancient mountain city is well worth the travel (which is reasonably painless with direct flights from Bangkok) as the rugged mountainside setting will blow any visitor away, no matter how well-travelled.

Pagodas on Inthanon mountain in Chiang Mai

What makes Chiang Mai truly special however, isn’t so much the locale but the city itself. It’s the capital of the ancient Lanna Kingdom, which dates as far back as the 13th Century and as such is soaked in a history and culture that is distinctly unique from the rest of the country. A stroll through the picturesque winding walkways throughout the city is a cultural experience with ancient temples and artisan stores sporting traditional wares.

The culture that seeps out of every nook and cranny isn’t just a fortunate circumstance of Chiang Mai’s history. A young, progressive generation of Thai people are both embracing their heritage and pursuing the future, with street food stalls and start up coworking spaces harmoniously coexisting. The city has a large population of students and therefore has an abundance of trendy bars, restaurants and cafés for visitors to enjoy.

But despite its rugged setting, the region isn’t deprived of luxury. Chiang Mai has its fair share of hotels, resorts and venues that will accommodate meetings and events with world-class tech and facilities. Take Anantara Chiang Mai Resort for example, which sports colonial luxury mixed with state of the art spaces and capabilities.

Getting there

If you’re based on the east coast of Australia, getting to Bangkok has never been easier. With two direct flights a day from Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane ranging between $400 to $800 it simply becomes a matter of when you’d like to go. Note however, prices and availability of flights will vary significantly during peak and off tourist seasons.

Despite its far-flung location, Chiang Mai has its own international airport that has services running from the majority of Australia’s airport hubs. After a quick touchdown in Bangkok, the mountain wonderland is only an hour away.

As a popular tourist destination for Aussies, all the major airlines take passengers to and from the island daily with direct options available. Budget airlines also offer discounted services with a stopover in Bangkok.

Alongside a meeting or conference, delegates can enjoy hiking, bike riding, boutique shopping, visits to significant cultural and historical sites, courses on local artisan skills or a meet and greet with the wildlife at the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary—which has been looking after the welfare of Thailand’s biggest locals for nearly 30 years.

Phuket: jewel of the Andaman Sea

A tour of Thailand would not be complete without a visit to the legendary Phuket, which has made the front page of travel magazines for decades, and for good reason. Phuket is Thailand’s largest island, a tropical wonderland carpeted in lush rainforest and bordered by sublime beaches with unique islands jutting from the coastal horizon.

Over the years the island has been transformed into a paradise for those looking to unwind, escape and adventure with hundreds of experiences available for delegates and events of all shapes and sizes. Underwater wonders in the surrounding coral reefs attract scuba and snorkelling enthusiasts, mountain reaches tempt bush walkers and abundant hotels and resorts bring luxury lovers worldwide.

Phi Phi Islands off the coast of Phuket

Phuket by nature is a place where memories are made, and as an extension lends itself towards team building, wellness retreats or executive brainstorming getaways. With a myriad of activities to choose from, an EA organising an event can effortlessly combine a group of exciting adventures to achieve a specific goal or realise a desired outcome.

The island is also renowned for its gastronomic delights. The island’s local cuisine is a melting pot of Asian, Western and local flavours culminating in a staggering amount of restaurants, street food experiences and catering options. But if that’s not enough, foodies can get their hands dirty and train next to some of Thailand’s best chefs at the famous Blue Elephant Restaurant and Cooking School.