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Second time in Thailand - Where to go on a return visit

Thailand has one of the highest numbers of repeat visitors in Asia and, according to the Tourism Authority, more than 60% of UK tourists have been before. If you've already visited, you'll understand why – from jaw-dropping beaches and friendly locals, to low prices, delicious cuisine and an astounding variety of things to see and do, it's no wonder we keep going back.

Map of Thailand and Southeast Asia

On a first visit, most tourists tend to tick-off Thailand's best-known hotspots: a spell in Bangkok followed by a beach resort or island like Phuket or Koh Samui. Chiang Mai is another top destination, with its delicious cuisine and fascinating hill-tribes.

Thailand is a ver spiritual place

When planning a return trip, you may want to revisit some of these hotspots, see things you missed out on last time, or discover somewhere completely new. Here are some ideas to help you plan your itinerary:

Returning to Bangkok

Last time you were here, you probably saw some of the capital's top attractions: The Grand Palace and Wat Prakeaw; the ornate spires of Wat Arun, and the reclining Buddha at Wat Pho; or the street markets in Chinatown, and the backpacker hub of Khao San Road.

Bangkok, nights view of Thailand's capital

All are popular for good reason, so its worth seeing these if you missed out last time. If you haven't spent time on the local waterways before, book an early morning trip to Damnoen Saduak Floating Market or take a boat ride along the Chao Phraya River. For souvenir shopping, you could also time your visit around Chatuchak Weekend Market – one of the best shopping experiences in Thailand.

Bangkok is full of monuments and great architecture

If you've already "been there, done that," then it's time to dig a little deeper. A guided food tour, evening cycle tour, or a trip to Bang Krachao Island (a green oasis in the Chao Phraya River) puts a whole new perspective on the city. Or if you're fascinated by local life, you could tour Bangkok's biggest slum – a few metro stops from the city centre, Klong Toey Slum is home to the bulk of Bangkok's rural migrants and poorest people. An experienced guide can lead you safely through the slum's narrow alleyways to experience its schools, businesses and everyday life.

Night markets in Bangkok

At the other end of the scale, you could treat yourself to a meal in one of Thailand's most luxurious restaurants, like Vertigo at the Banyan Tree, Sra Bua by Kiin Kiin at the Sian Kempinski, or Sirocco – the world's highest alfresco restaurant.

Returning to Chiang Mai

Temple-hopping is a "must-do" Chiang Mai activity that every first-timer gets a taste of. Some of the most popular wats (Buddhist temples) include: the enormous Wat Chedi Luang; mountain-top Wat Phra That Doi Suthep; the ornate façade of Wat Phra Singh; the teak pillars of Wat Phan Tao; the tiered wooden roof of Wat Lok Molee; and 13th-century Wat Chiang Man.

Chiang Mai verdant hills

If you've already ticked these off, Chaing Mai has plenty more for your return trip, with more than 300 wats in and around the city. For something a bit different, try the underground tunnels and talking trees at Wat Umong; or the huge seated Buddha at Wat Phra That Doi Kham. Alternatively, you could tour the temples at night –Wat Sri Suphan is particularly special with its glowing purple light.

Details of temple in Chiang Mai

If you loved Chiang Mai Night Bazaar on your first visit, then time your second trip around the Sunday or Saturday Night Walking Street Market. For local flavours and fantastic photos, try Warorot Market in Chinatown; Siriwattana Food Market; or the Morning Market at Chiang Mai Gate – open from 4.30am to midday, if you arrive before 9am, you're likely to be the only tourist here.

Tunnel and shrine in Chiang Mai

If you feel like you've already done Chiang Mai's temples and markets to death, try somewhere like the "Art in Paradise" 3D museum, or Bang Kang Wat Artist Village – a compound of teak houses, artists' workshops and cafes. Or to escape the city bustle, head to Huay Tung Tao Lake, hire a pedal boat and relax in a waterside restaurant.

Discover other islands

Thailand has so many stunning islands and beaches that it's hard to know where to start. If, after your first visit, if you loved the party scene on Koh Samui or Koh Phangan in the Gulf of Thailand, try to Phuket or Koh Phi Phi on the Andaman Coast. And if you got hooked on scuba-diving and snorkelling on your last trip, put Koh Tao or a Similan Islands liveaboard experience on your return itinerary.

Koh Phi Phi on the Andaman Coast

Another option is to venture further afield, away from the most obvious islands. Southeast of Bangkok near Cambodia, Trat Province has some fantastic islands to explore: unspoilt Koh Kood (also known as Koh Kut) has pristine beaches and a jungle-clad interior; Koh Mak is known for its simple Buddhist lifestyle; and Koh Chang has a buzzing party scene.

Shipwreck in Koh Mak

Other Robinson Crusoe options include tiny Koh Bulon Lae near the Malaysian border; the empty beaches of Koh Phayam in the Andaman Sea; and the five hilly islands of the Moo Ko Surin archipelago, close to the Burmese border.

Be more adventurous

Chiang Mai's hill tribes

Hiking to Chiang Mai's hill tribes is top of many first-timers' wish lists. But although the area's mountains and indigenous communities are undoubtedly amazing, they receive hoards of tourists each year – for your second Thailand trip, it's worth exploring elsewhere

Bridge in a remote corner of Mae Hong Song

A little less visited is neighbouring Chiang Rai province, which has fewer tourists but plenty of hiking guides and hill tribe tours. For more intrepid adventures, Mae Hong Song province (west of Chiang Mai) has Myanmar-style culture and magnificent caves. And if you're feeling even more adventurous, take a flight from Bangkok or Chiang Mai direct to Nan Province for some of Asia's rarest hill tribes and nomadic communities.

Experience more history

Lucy exploring historic trails in Thailand

Did you visit Ayutthaya on your first Thailand holiday? An easy daytrip from Bangkok, the mind-blowing ruins of this ancient city are well worth it. If you've already ticked it off, consider heading north to Sukhothai Historical Park, where you can experience the remains of Siam's first capital.

Phanom Rung Historical Park

For an Indian Jones type of adventure, travel east of Bangkok to the seldom-visited Isan region, and seek out Phanom Rung Historical Park – here, you'll find Thailand's biggest Khmer temple complex, which sits on the rim of an extinct volcano. Southwest of Bangkok, Phetchaburi is another good option. This sleepy town has sacred cave shrines, 11th-century Khmer remains, and a 19th-century hilltop palace.

Lush vegetation in the way to Thailand's Death Railway

If Kanchanaburi didn't make your itinerary the first time round, I'd definitely recommend a visit on your return trip. This lush province gives a harrowing yet essential insight into Thailand's "Death Railway." Famous sites include the Hell Fire Pass and Bridge over the River Kwai, plus a restored section of the original railway, which visitors can travel along. You can tour the main sites on a daytrip from Bangkok but it's better to spend a night or two here in a floating hotel.

Under the spell

As well as discovering new places, one thing I love about returning to a country is the chance to re-visit the places I loved most on my first trip. Whether it's returning to a fantastic hotel, showing my partner my favourite beach, or going back to an island I visited a decade ago, this nostalgic element really adds to the excitement. My top two places to return to in Thailand are: Bangkok, for its sheer energy and incredible diversity; and Nan Province, for its untouched beauty.

With so much appeal, it's no wonder that Thailand sees so many repeat visitors. One trip simply isn't enough to pack it all in, and its fantastically friendly people and mesmerising landscapes mean that you simply can't shake off the spell that the country casts over you. Within a week of returning home from my first trip, I'd started planning my next Thailand adventure. I've been hooked ever since.

Lucy Grewcock

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Lucy Grewcock

Lucy Grewcock

The Escape Artist

One-off experiences, action-filled adventures and eye-popping cultural encounters: my kind of travel...

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