When you think of the world’s top travel destinations, white-sand beaches with jeweled ocean waters, majestic and mysterious temples, strange and spicy foods, vast adventure parks and wild animals, and exotic cultural experiences comes to mind. And no country typifies all of those qualities – and far more – than Thailand.

Formerly the Kingdom of Siam, this modernized Southeast Asian nation has never once been conquered by a foreign invader throughout its history, a testament to its intense pride of its people. It’s also one of the most-visited travel destinations in the world (behind Paris, France, New York, etc.), welcoming tens of millions of visitors each year.

When in Thailand, you’ll never want for something else amazing to do, see, and experience, so it’s hard to even pin down a list of its best offerings. But for the first-time visitor to Thailand, here is a good place to start (and this itinerary would take you a month, not a week, to see!). Likewise, our top-5 list could easily just cover the incredible Thai islands, so those will be conspicuously absent from this edition (they deserve their very own trip report).

Here are our AllWorld.com top travel destinations in Thailand:

1. Bangkok
Of course, you’ll probably flying to Bangkok, affectionately known as BKK (You’ll see Run BKK shirts everywhere in the mold of Run DMC, for some strange reason.) One of the most dynamic and most fascinating cities in the world, Bangkok is also safe and surprisingly easy to get around if you have a little time and an adventurous spirit. While it’s surprisingly modern and sophisticated, it’s also home to some jaw-dropping temples and other cultural sites.

2. Chang Mai
Chang Mai is a really cool mountain city in northern Thailand, which still has an old-world traditional feel mixed in with a huge wave of foreign expats and digital nomads who have moved there in recent years.

3. Chang Rai
Chang Rai While you’re in Chang Mai, go the extra mile (actually, 100 kilometers or so), and make it further north to Chang Rai. Way up in the mountains, Chaing Rai forms one point of the Golden Triangle, which is the area between Laos, Mynmar (formerly Burma) and Thailand where the majority of the world’s opium is grown! In Chang Rai, you can also witness the smaller villages who adhere to the ancient custom of elongating the women’s necks over years.

4. Pattaya
It’s party time! While you’re in Bangkok, drive only an hour and a half by taxi or bus to Pattaya, the seaside Las Vegas of Thailand. While it’s got a terrible lingering reputation for its Red Light districts, girlie bars, and hedonistic Walking Street, the city has matured over the last few years, and is now home to many expats as well as couples and even families who just want a fun place to stay by the ocean with tons of restaurants and modern conveniences.

5. Phuket
So far, we’ve been bopping around up north, but take a short flight down to the island of Phuket and you’ll experience one of the best tourism points in the entire world. It’s also the country’s largest and best developed island, and a jump off point for a dizzying array of adventures, from island hopping in nearby Ko Phi Phi (where they filmed The Beach), to countless beaches, hanging out with tigers and elephants, night markets galore, and even Muay Thai camps where you can train!

Enjoy Thailand – and get ready for our island trip report coming soon!

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Norm Schriever is a blogger, Amazon best-sellling author, cultural mad scientist, and enemy of the comfort zone. His work appears in the Huffington Post, Business.com, Good Morning America, The Anderson Cooper Show on CNN, NBC, MSN, Yahoo, Hotels.com, and media all around the world.
Norm grew up in Connecticut and graduated from the University of Connecticut, where he was never accused of overstudying. After expatriating to Costa Rica in 2011, he started traveling the world and documenting what he saw. He now lives in Southeast Asia, writing his heart out and working with local charities.