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Tourism in Thailand- A Detailed Overview

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Tourism in Thailand is BIG business. So big in fact, that the money generated from tourism is an integral part of the Thai economy. But why is tourism in Thailand so important, how does the tourism industry operate here and why do so many tourists visit Thailand each year? Keep reading to learn all about tourism in Thailand.

Tourism in Thailand- What’s it all about?

It is no secret that Thailand is one of my favourite destinations in the world. The weather, the natural environment, the culture, the people, the hustle and bustle of the cities, the food- are all major draws when it comes to tourism in Thailand, not only for me, but for thousands of tourists each year. As a result, tourism in Thailand is BIG business.

In this article I will delve into the tourism industry in Thailand, taking a look at what makes this tourist destination so appealing and how this impacts the country. Ready to learn more about tourism in Thailand? Read on!

The geography of Thailand

The success of tourism in Thailand can in part be attributed to the geography of the country. Thailand is a country located in Southeast Asia, bordering Myanmar to the north and west, Laos to the northeast, Cambodia to the southeast, and Malaysia to the south. Thailand is the world’s 51st largest country by land area and covers an area of approximately 513,000 square kilometres.

The geography of Thailand is characterised by several distinct regions. In the north, there are mountainous areas, including the Shan Hills and the Thanon Thong Chai Range, which run along the border with Myanmar. The highest peak in Thailand, Doi Inthanon, is located in this region.

To the east of the mountains lies the Khorat Plateau, a large flat region that covers most of northeastern Thailand. The plateau is mostly agricultural and is known for it’s production of rice and other crops.

In the central region of Thailand, the Chao Phraya River basin dominates the landscape. This is the most populous region of Thailand and includes the capital city of Bangkok. The area is known for its fertile soil, which supports agriculture and industry.

The southern region of Thailand is known for its long, narrow peninsula that extends into the Malay Peninsula. The region includes numerous islands and is home to some of Thailand’s most popular beaches and tourist destinations that contribute significantly to tourism in Thailand.

Thailand has a tropical climate, with temperatures generally ranging from 20 to 35 degrees Celsius (68 to 95 degrees Fahrenheit) throughout the year. The country is also prone to monsoons and other weather patterns, which can bring heavy rainfall and flooding in some areas.

The tourism industry in Thailand 

The tourism industry in Thailand is a significant contributor to the country’s economy, accounting for around 12% of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP). Here are some statistics on the tourism industry in Thailand:

  1. In 2019, Thailand welcomed 39.8 million international tourists, generating revenue of 1.93 trillion baht (approximately 63 billion US dollars).
  2. The COVID-19 pandemic severely impacted the tourism industry in Thailand, with tourist arrivals dropping by 83.2% in 2020 to 6.7 million, and revenue falling to 332 billion baht (approximately 10.7 billion US dollars).
  3. The top five source markets for Thailand’s tourism industry are China, Malaysia, India, South Korea, and Japan.
  4. Bangkok is the most visited city in Thailand, with over 22 million international arrivals in 2019. Other popular destinations include Phuket, Pattaya, and Chiang Mai.
  5. Bangkok, the capital city of Thailand, is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world. The city is known for its vibrant street life, ornate shrines and temples, and delicious street food.
  6. The tourism industry in Thailand employs over 3 million people, including those working in hotels, restaurants, transportation, and other tourism-related businesses.
  7. The tourism industry in Thailand has been shifting towards more sustainable practices in recent years. In 2019, Thailand was ranked 32nd out of 190 countries in the World Tourism Organisation’s Sustainable Tourism Index.
  8. The Thai government has set a target of attracting 100 million international tourists and generating 5 trillion baht ($166 billion USD) in revenue by 2024. To achieve this, the government has introduced various measures to promote tourism, such as visa fee waivers, tax incentives for hotels and airlines, and the development of new tourism infrastructure.

Why people travel to Thailand

Tourism in Thailand is popular because of the wide variety of attractions and activities that are available here. There are several reasons why people are motivated to travel to Thailand. Here are some of the most common ones:

Cultural attractions

Thailand is known for its rich and vibrant culture, including ancient temples, palaces, and traditional Thai performances. The Thai culture is admired by many, with people being extremely friendly, welcoming and kind.

Beaches and islands

Thailand boasts some of the most beautiful beaches and islands in the world, such as Phuket, Koh Samui, and Phi Phi Island, which offer stunning scenery and water sports activities. Diving here offers some of the best opportunities in the world.

Adventure activities

There are plenty of adventure activities to be enjoyed in Thailand, such as hiking, rock climbing, zip-lining, and rafting. Tourism in Thailand is perfect for the adventure seeker!


Thai cuisine is famous worldwide for its diverse flavours and unique combinations of spices, herbs, and ingredients. Food tourism is very popular here, but beware- the food is spicier than most people expect!


Thailand offers a wide range of shopping experiences, from traditional markets to modern shopping malls, where visitors can buy everything from souvenirs to high-end luxury goods. The floating markets are a lot of fun too!


Thailand has a vibrant nightlife scene, particularly in cities like Bangkok, with a variety of bars, nightclubs, and entertainment venues.

Health and wellness

Thailand has become a popular destination for those seeking health and wellness retreats, with a range of spa and yoga retreats on offer. Massages in Thailand are cheaper than in most parts of the world and experiencing a Thai massage has almost become a right of passage for tourists visiting Thailand.

Affordable cost of living

Thailand offers relatively affordable travel costs compared to other popular tourist destinations, making it an attractive option for budget-conscious travellers.

Thailand is a popular tourist destination with a diverse range of attractions catering to different types of tourists. Here are some of the most popular types of tourism in Thailand:

Cultural tourism

Thailand has a rich cultural heritage, and tourists often visit the country to explore its ancient temples, palaces, and museums. Some of the most popular cultural attractions include the Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew in Bangkok, and the ancient city of Ayutthaya.

Beach tourism

Thailand is famous for its beautiful beaches and islands, with Phuket, Koh Samui, and Phi Phi Island among the most popular destinations. Tourists can enjoy a range of water sports and activities, such as snorkelling, diving, and island hopping.

Adventure tourism

Thailand offers a range of adventure activities, including trekking, rock climbing, white-water rafting, and zip-lining. The northern region of Chiang Mai is particularly popular for adventure tourism.

Medical tourism

Thailand has become a popular destination for medical tourism, with a range of hospitals and clinics offering medical procedures at a lower cost than in many Western countries. Many people choose to travel here for cosmetic surgery, dental treatment as well as other medical aspects.

Food tourism

Thai cuisine is famous worldwide, and tourists often visit Thailand to experience the country’s diverse and flavourful cuisine. Popular foodie destinations include Bangkok’s street food markets and Chiang Mai’s night bazaar.

Shopping tourism

Thailand is a shopper’s paradise, with a range of markets and shopping malls catering to all budgets. Tourists can buy everything from souvenirs and handicrafts to luxury goods and designer fashion.


Thailand has a diverse range of natural attractions, including national parks, such as Khao Yai and Khao Sok, wildlife sanctuaries, and marine reserves. Ecotourists can explore Thailand’s natural beauty and wildlife through activities such as jungle treks, elephant rides, and bird watching.

Wellness tourism

Thailand offers a range of spa and wellness retreats, catering to tourists seeking relaxation and rejuvenation. Popular wellness destinations include the islands of Koh Samui and Phuket.

Sex tourism

Sex tourism in Thailand has been a controversial issue for decades. The country is known for its red-light districts, such as Patpong and Soi Cowboy in Bangkok, and Pattaya’s Walking Street. These areas are infamous for their sex industry, which includes brothels, bars, and massage parlors.

While prostitution is technically illegal in Thailand, it is widely tolerated, and the sex industry is estimated to generate billions of dollars in revenue each year. However, the government has taken steps in recent years to crack down on sex tourism and to promote more socially responsible tourism practices, which I will discuss further shortly.

13 Surprising Facts About Thailand's beaches

Now that we understand a little bit more about tourism in Thailand and the different types of tourism found here, lets take a look at some of the most popular tourist attractions that make tourism in Thailand such big business.

  1. The Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew in Bangkok: The Grand Palace is a spectacular complex of buildings and temples that served as the official residence of the Kings of Siam. Wat Phra Kaew, also known as the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, is located within the palace grounds and is considered the most sacred temple in Thailand.
  1. The ancient city of Ayutthaya: Ayutthaya was the capital of Siam from the 14th to the 18th century and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Visitors can explore the ruins of ancient temples and palaces, including the famous Wat Mahathat, with its iconic Buddha head embedded in a tree.
tourism in Thailand
  1. Phuket: Phuket is a popular destination for beach lovers, with beautiful beaches such as Patong, Kata, and Karon. Visitors can also enjoy a range of water sports and activities, such as snorkelling, diving, and island hopping.
  1. Chiang Mai: Chiang Mai is a city in northern Thailand famous for its temples, night markets, and adventure activities such as trekking and white-water rafting. Popular attractions include the Wat Phra That Doi Suthep temple and the Sunday Walking Street Market.
  2. Sukhothai Historical Park: Sukhothai was the first capital of Siam and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The historical park contains the ruins of temples and palaces dating back to the 13th and 14th centuries.
  3. The Bridge over the River Kwai: The Bridge over the River Kwai is a famous landmark and a reminder of the suffering of Allied prisoners of war and Asian forced labourers during World War II. Visitors can learn about the history of the bridge and take a train ride along the scenic River Kwai.
  4. Koh Samui: Koh Samui is a popular island destination in southern Thailand, with beautiful beaches, lush jungles, and luxury resorts. Visitors can enjoy a range of activities, such as snorkelling, diving, and island hopping.
  5. The Floating Markets: The floating markets are a unique feature of Thai culture, where vendors sell their goods from boats on the canals. Popular floating markets include Damnoen Saduak and Amphawa, both located outside of Bangkok.
  1. Phi Phi Islands: Phi Phi Islands are a group of islands in southern Thailand, known for their white sandy beaches, crystal clear waters, and stunning rock formations. Visitors can enjoy a range of activities, such as snorkeling, diving, and island hopping.
  2. Khao Yai National Park: Khao Yai National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the largest national parks in Thailand. Visitors can explore the park’s diverse flora and fauna, including elephants, tigers, and gibbons, and enjoy activities such as hiking and bird watching.

Types of tourists in Thailand

Tourism in Thailand is what it is because of the people who choose to visit this beautiful country. Thailand is a popular tourist destination that attracts a diverse range of tourists from around the world. Here are some of the types of tourists who travel to Thailand:

  • Backpackers: Thailand is a popular destination for backpackers, especially those on a budget. Backpackers often travel to Thailand for its affordable accommodation, food, and activities, as well as its vibrant nightlife and beach scene.
  • Luxury travellers: Thailand also attracts luxury travellers who are looking for high-end accommodation, fine dining, and exclusive experiences. Thailand has a range of luxury resorts and spas, as well as private islands and yachts that cater to the luxury travel market.
  • Families: Thailand is a family-friendly destination, with a range of activities and attractions that cater to all ages. Families often travel to Thailand for its beaches, water parks, and theme parks, as well as cultural attractions such as temples and museums.
  • Solo travellers: Thailand is also a popular destination for solo travellers, who come to explore the country’s culture and natural beauty, as well as to meet other travellers. Solo travellers can join tours or stay in hostels, where they can meet other travellers and make new friends.
  • Adventure travellers: Thailand offers a range of adventure activities, such as trekking, rock climbing, and white-water rafting, which attract adventure travellers looking for a challenge. The northern region of Chiang Mai is particularly popular for adventure tourism.
  • Medical tourists: Thailand has become a popular destination for medical tourism, attracting patients from around the world who come for medical procedures at a lower cost than in many Western countries.
  • Digital nomads: Thailand is also a popular destination for digital nomads, who come to work remotely while enjoying the country’s natural beauty and cultural attractions. Thailand has a range of coworking spaces and cafes with reliable internet connections.
  • Foodies: Thailand is known for its flavorful cuisine, and foodies often travel to Thailand to explore its diverse food scene. Bangkok’s street food markets and Chiang Mai’s night bazaar are popular destinations for foodies looking to sample local dishes.
  • Culture enthusiasts: Thailand has a rich cultural heritage, and culture enthusiasts often travel to Thailand to explore its ancient temples, palaces, and museums. Popular cultural attractions include the Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew in Bangkok, and the ancient city of Ayutthaya.
  • Sex tourists: There are many people who visit Thailand for its infamous sex industry. They may be in search of a ‘Thai bride’, an erotic table-top dance or prostitution.

Crime and safety in Thailand

Is tourism in Thailand safe? The answer is yes- Thailand is generally a safe country for tourists, with a low crime rate. However, as with any destination, tourists should be aware of the potential for crime and take precautions to ensure their safety. Here are some things to keep in mind:

  1. Petty theft: Petty theft, such as pickpocketing and purse-snatching, can occur in crowded areas, such as markets and tourist sites. Travellers should keep their valuables secure and be aware of their surroundings.
  2. Scams: Tourist scams are common in Thailand, particularly in tourist areas. These can include tuk-tuk and taxi drivers overcharging, fake tour operators, and scams involving gemstones or tailor-made suits. Travellers should research reputable operators and be wary of unsolicited offers.
  3. Political unrest: Thailand has experienced political unrest in recent years, with protests and occasional violence in Bangkok and other cities. Yopu should avoid political demonstrations and stay up to date with local news.
  4. Natural disasters: Thailand is prone to natural disasters, such as floods and tropical storms. Tourists should be aware of weather forecasts and follow the advice of local authorities.
  5. Drugs: Thailand has strict drug laws, and penalties for drug ofenses can be severe, including the death penalty in some cases. Tourists should avoid using or carrying drugs.
  6. Traffic accidents: Thailand has a high rate of traffic accidents, particularly involving motorcycles. You should be cautious when using local transport and wear helmets when riding motorcycles.

Overall, Thailand is a safe destination to travel in, but it’s important to be aware of potential risks and take precautions to ensure your safety. You should also familiarise yourself with the local laws and customs and respect the culture of the country before you arrive.

Sustainability in Thailand

Sustainability has become an increasingly important issue in Thailand’s tourism industry in recent years. The government and various stakeholders are taking steps to promote sustainable practices in the industry and to protect the country’s natural and cultural resources.

Here are some examples of sustainable initiatives demonstrated in Thailand:

  1. Sustainable tourism policies: The Thai government has developed policies and guidelines to promote sustainable tourism practices. In 2018, the government launched the “Sufficiency Economy Philosophy” program, which aims to promote sustainable development in the tourism industry by encouraging businesses to operate in an environmentally-friendly manner and to respect local communities.
  2. Green certifications: There are several green certifications available in Thailand, which recognise businesses that adopt sustainable practices. For example, the Green Leaf Foundation and the Thailand Tourism Awards both recognise businesses that are environmentally-friendly, socially responsible, and economically viable.
  3. Wildlife conservation: Thailand is home to a diverse range of wildlife, including elephants, tigers, and marine life. To protect these species, the government has introduced various measures, such as bans on elephant rides and the promotion of responsible marine tourism.
  4. Community-based tourism: Community-based tourism is becoming increasingly popular in Thailand. This type of tourism allows visitors to experience local culture and traditions while providing income to local communities, for example the Long Neck Tribe. Many community-based tourism initiatives also focus on promoting sustainable practices, such as the use of renewable energy and the reduction of waste.
  5. Sustainable infrastructure: Thailand is investing in sustainable infrastructure, such as renewable energy, to support the tourism industry. For example, the government has set a target of generating 30% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2036, and there are several large-scale solar and wind power projects currently underway.

Sustainability is becoming a key focus in Thailand’s tourism industry, with the government and various stakeholders working together to promote environmentally-friendly and socially responsible practices to ensure the longevity of tourism in Thailand and the benefits that this yields.

Tourism in Thailand- Complete Thailand Travel Guide

Required budget to visit Thailand

One question that people often ask about tourism in Thailand, is how much money they need to travel here. Well, the truth is that there is no definitive answer to this question and that it really depends on what type of tourist you are and what things you wish to do during your visit. As such, the required budget for a trip to Thailand can vary widely depending on your travel style, itinerary, and the time of year you visit.

However, you will be pleased to know that Thailand is generally a very affordable destination, and it is possible to travel on a budget.

Here are some estimated costs for a trip to Thailand:

  1. Accommodation: Budget guesthouses and hostels in Thailand can cost as little as 300-500 baht (around £10-16 GBP) per night, while mid-range hotels can range from 1,000-3,000 baht (£32-95 GBP) per night. Luxury hotels and resorts can cost upwards of 5,000 baht (£160 GBP per night).
  2. Food and drinks: Street food and local restaurants in Thailand can be very affordable, with meals costing around 30-50 baht (£1-2 GBP) per dish. Western-style restaurants and high-end dining options can be more expensive, ranging from 200-500 baht (£6-16 GBP) per dish. A beer in a local bar can cost around 70-100 baht (£2-3 GBP), while cocktails and wine can be more expensive.
  3. Transportation: Public transportation in Thailand is generally very affordable, with a one-way ticket on the BTS Skytrain or MRT subway in Bangkok costing around 15-60 baht (£0.50-2 GBP) depending on the distance. Taxis and tuk-tuks can be more expensive, especially for tourists, so it’s important to negotiate the fare before getting in.
  4. Activities and tours: Many of the popular tourist attractions in Thailand, such as temples and national parks, have small admission fees ranging from 20-100 baht (£0.60-3 GBP). Tours and activities, such as cooking classes, island-hopping tours, and elephant sanctuaries, can cost anywhere from a few hundred to several thousand baht, depending on the activity and the operator.

In summary, tourism in Thailand can satisfy a range of budgets. A budget traveller in Thailand can expect to spend around £30-50 GBP per day, while a mid-range traveler might spend £50-100 GBP per day. Those travelling on the luxury end can expect to spend upwards of £200 GBP per day or more.

These estimates do not include airfare or travel insurance, which can add to the total cost of the trip.

General tips for visiting Thailand

So, now that we know a little bit more about tourism in Thailand, lets cover a few general tips and ‘good to know’ aspects.

Respect the culture

Thailand is a deeply spiritual country with a unique culture and customs. When visiting temples or other religious sites, be sure to dress modestly and remove your shoes before entering. It’s also important to show respect for the monarchy and avoid speaking negatively about it.

Be mindful of the weather

Thailand has a tropical climate with hot and humid weather year-round. Be sure to pack light, breathable clothing and stay hydrated. During the rainy season (May-October), be prepared for heavy downpours and consider bringing a rain jacket or umbrella.

Watch out for scams

Unfortunately, there are many scams targeted at tourists in Thailand, such as tuk-tuk and taxi drivers overcharging, fake tour operators, and gemstone or tailor-made suit scams. Do your research and only use reputable operators.

Eat local food

Tourism in Thailand is known for its delicious and spicy cuisine, and there are many street food stalls and local restaurants where you can try authentic dishes. Be sure to try some of the popular dishes such as pad Thai, green curry, and mango sticky rice-yum!

Practice good etiquette

Thais are generally friendly and hospitable, but it’s important to practice good etiquette when interacting with locals. A couple of tips are to use the wai greeting, a slight bow with your hands pressed together, when greeting someone and to avoid pointing your feet at people or sacred objects, as feet are considered dirty in Thai culture.

Be mindful of your belongings

Petty theft, such as pickpocketing and purse-snatching, can occur in crowded areas, such as markets and tourist sites. Keep your valuables secure and be aware of your surroundings.

Respect the environment

Thailand has many beautiful natural attractions, such as beaches and national parks. Be sure to practice responsible tourism by not littering, avoiding activities that harm wildlife, and being mindful of your impact on the environment in order to preserve tourism in Thailand for future generations.

Interesting facts about Thailand

Thailand is a fascinating country and there are so many interesting things to learn about on your visit. Here are 10 of my favourite facts to get you started.

  1. Thailand is the only country in Southeast Asia that was never colonised by a European power.
  2. The country’s official name is the Kingdom of Thailand, and it was formerly known as Siam until 1939.
  3. Thailand is home to the world’s largest gold Buddha statue, which is located at the Temple of the Golden Buddha in Bangkok.
  4. The Thai alphabet has 44 consonants, 32 vowels, and 4 tone marks.
  5. Thailand is the world’s largest exporter of rice and one of the top producers of seafood.
  6. The Siamese cat breed originated in Thailand (formerly Siam) and was considered sacred by the country’s royalty.
  7. Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport is one of the busiest airports in the world, handling over 60 million passengers annually.
  8. Thailand is home to over 1,400 islands, including the popular tourist destinations of Phuket, Koh Samui, and Koh Phi Phi.
  9. Thai cuisine is known for its use of fresh herbs and spices, including lemongrass, galangal, and kaffir lime leaves.
  10. The national sport of Thailand is Muay Thai, a form of martial arts that originated in the country and is known for its use of kicks, punches, and elbow strikes.

FAQs about tourism in Thailand

Lastly, lets finish off this article about tourism in Thailand by answering some of the most commonly asked questions travellers who visit have.

  1. What is the best time to visit Thailand?

The best time to visit Thailand is between November and February, when the weather is cooler and drier. However, this is also peak tourist season for tourism in Thailand, so prices may be higher.

  1. Do I need a visa to visit Thailand?

Many nationalities can enter Thailand for up to 30 days without a visa, while others may need to apply for a visa in advance. Check with your local Thai embassy or consulate to find out what the requirements are for your nationality.

  1. What is the currency in Thailand?

The currency in Thailand is the Thai baht (THB).

  1. Is Thailand a safe country to visit?

Thailand is generally a safe country to visit, but tourists should exercise caution and be aware of their surroundings, especially in crowded areas or at night. Petty crime can occur, so it’s important to keep your belongings secure.

  1. What are some popular tourist destinations in Thailand?

Popular tourist destinations in Thailand include Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Phuket, Krabi, Koh Samui, and the islands of the Andaman Sea and Gulf of Thailand.

  1. What is the transportation like in Thailand?

Thailand has a variety of transportation options, including buses, trains, tuk-tuks, taxis, and motorbike taxis. The BTS Skytrain and MRT subway in Bangkok are also convenient for getting around the city.

  1. What is the food like in Thailand?

Thai cuisine is known for its spicy, flavourful dishes, such as curries, stir-fries, and noodle soups. There are also many street food stalls and local restaurants where you can try authentic Thai dishes.

  1. What are some popular activities to do in Thailand?

Popular activities in Thailand include visiting temples, exploring national parks, trekking, snorkelling and diving, island-hopping, and shopping. These are major contributors to the success of tourism in Thailand.

  1. Is it customary to tip in Thailand?

Tipping is not a widespread practice in Thailand, but it is becoming more common in tourist areas. If you receive good service, it’s common to leave a small tip or round up the bill.

  1. What are some cultural customs to be aware of in Thailand?

Thailand has a unique culture and customs, and it’s important to show respect for these when visiting. For example, dress modestly when visiting temples or religious sites, remove your shoes before entering homes or some shops, and avoid speaking negatively about the monarchy.

Tourism in Thailand: To conclude

Hopefully you can now see that tourism in Thailand is big business. The tourism industry here attracts a wide variety of tourists and offers a diverse range of tourism types throughout the country, from beach holidays to wildlife tourism to adventure activities, wellness retreats and immersive, cultural experiences. Tourism in Thailand generates a huge amount of money for the country and there is no question that careful tourism management is key to capitalising on the opportunities that tourism in Thailand provides.

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