I’m often asked for recommendations for Thailand because, well, that country has my heart in a whirl. It is a country that is best spent for slow travel, where sights and sounds can be absorbed rather than merely observed. Below is my itinerary for a 2.5/3 week adventure!
To start, here are a few tips:
The country caters to tourists. So, whenever you're in doubt about how to get places, find one of the million tourists booking booths and they will help you out. If you have reservations about the term ‘tourist booths’ – I hear you because same. I whole heartedly prefer the rugged adventure & genuine experience rather than anything even remotely cheesey. But honestly, the charm is not lost and you’ll still be able to experience the country in full.
Transport can usually be booked from your hostel/hotel and will take you all the way to your next hostel/hotel. It’s great. Types of transport to use: planes, mini buses, big VIP buses, ferries, SungTow (they look like trucks and you ride in the truck beds), trains & motor bike taxis. I wouldn’t recommend Tuks Tuks (unless you're okay with getting ripped off).
The street food is SO GOOD don't be afraid of it.
If you want to ride elephants, please make sure you are going through an elephant rescue. If not, you’ll be adding the negative affects of tourism on elephants (abuse & neglect). Rescues will save these elephants from these tourist attractions and rehabilitate them back to health. You’ll get to wash and bathe and play with these elephants and have a once in a lifetime experience. Typically, you’ll find these rescues more prevalent in the North.
This country is amazing.
Okay. here we go.
Fly into Bangkok
Stay in a hostel/hotel near the Khao San Road area. This is where everyone (young twenties – thirties) goes out at night. It can be crazy. But it is also very central to everything/all the sites. You might feel a bit out of your element in Bangkok because it is such a hectic city and you'll be jet lagged. Stay as long as your body needs to adjust to everything (jetlag, I mean, not the spicy foods) and then start exploring Bangkok.
Some fun sites & things to do:
Grand Palace, take a boat ride on the river, experience the floating markets, local markets & night markets, experience Sky Bar for wonderful drinks and amazing skyline views of the city, go to Erawan Falls (beautiful - a must see, book it through any tourist booth on Khao San Road or your accommodation), go to the local markets & weekend markets, go out at night.
You could spend 3-4 days in Bangkok (depending if you do a trip to Erawan Falls) & to give yourself some time to get used to everything.
Next Stop: Chumphon OR Surat Thani
You can take a bus from Bangkok to either of these places (book with your accommodation) or a 1 hour flight in to the Chumphon or a train ride to Surat Thani.
My recommendation would be to take the flight to Chumphon. Once you're at the tiny airport, a transport bus from FAME will be there to take you into the city. Stay the night at FAME hostel & Tour Services and also eat there for pretty lovely western food. Tell FAME you want to go to the island of Koh Tao, Koh Samui and Koh Phangan. They will book you ferry tickets easy peasy – Koh Tao is the closest of the islands, and also the smallest, most relaxed and least developed (also, my favorite). All of these islands are best enjoyed barefoot, with a beer in hand walking in the sand.
Do not spend more than a night in Chumphon as there is not too much to do. They have lovely street food just up from FAME restaurant on the main street there. In terms of night life, there are a few options but mostly just good to get a night’s rest.
Other Chumphon accommodation: https://www.tripadvisor.com/Hotel_Review-g616039-d2032496-Reviews-A_Te_Chumphon_Hotel-Chumphon_Chumphon_Province.html
If you do go to Surat Thani, same thing – don’t stay long! It is just a stop over town to the islands.
Next Stop: the islands
Note: you can take high speed ferries from Chumphon & Surat Thani to each of these islands and between each of these islands – your hotel/hostel will always be able to help you with purchasing these tickets so no need to plan too far in advance aka you’ll most likely be okay to book the night before.
Amazing, cute island. The smallest of the islands but still just as fun. Most people stay near Sairee Beach. That’s where everyone is. It’s a great place to get your scuba diving license or to just go for a dive! A popular little trip is to Koh Nang Yuan for some hiking and a beautiful, even smaller island.
A lot more developed, more resort like. There is a Starbucks & Subway, both of which we CRAVED (weird, I know) after having lived there for a few months now at this point. Most people enjoy this island for the more ‘lavish’ selection of foods, shopping and resorts. Chaweng beach is the most popular area to stay in. Definitely take a day trip to Anthong National Park – absolutely gorgeous.
The island infamous for its full moon party. If you plan correctly, you’ll be able to experience the most wild night(s) of your life with both the Jungle party & Full Moon party. These parties happen on Haad Rin Beach & in general, most stay near there no matter the day of the month. Koh Phangnan is gorgeous however, and I prefer other parts of the island where it is more quiet and the beaches are more deserted (& preserved). Check them out: http://kohphanganmap.com/beaches
About the Full Moon + Jungle Parties
Everyone comes out to party on the beach, the tide recedes, and it is simply one of the most fun nights of your life. The Jungle party is inland – essentially in a forest – and again, woah. Usually these jungle parties happen on a Friday and the Full Moon happens on a Saturday. Also, don’t fear, there is a Half Moon party too. If you bring it with you, you'll lose it. No cell phones (you won't have reception). No passports. Bring a fanny pack, if that.
Buy your Full Moon + Jungle Party party AND TRANSPORT tickets from your hotel. Transport home is essential!
Get neon painted and drink lots of buckets! Time of your life!!
Ringing in the New Year with a Full Moon party was one of the best nights of my life.
Not partying but definitely just as amazing -
Next stop: Ao Nang (near Krabi)
From Koh Phangan - book tickets that take you to Ao Nang. Basically, you'll get on a ferry from Phangan to Surat Thani. From Surat Thani, you'll take a mini bus or bus to Ao Nang. They should be able to handle that all for you...ask ANY tourist booth or your accomodation to book.
TIP: if they only have to Krabi City/Town, that’s okay. Just take a SungTow (a truck bed essentially) to Ao Nang / your accommodation.
Use Ao Nang Beach as your base. Granted, I don’t find Ao Nang to be very beautiful, it does make for a great launch point to other places.
Book boat tours to the Phi Phi Islands to see Maya Beach, Bamboo Island, Chicken Island etc. So beautiful. If you can, splurge here. Private boat tours go a looonnng way, especially for these islands.
Take a day trip via long tail boat to Railay Beach. You can rock climb and play with monkeys that run all over the beach.
Take a sunset cruise! Take night dives and see glow in the dark fish & phytoplankton.
Cooking classes! I would definitely recommend this class: https://www.lonelyplanet.com/thailand/krabi-province/activities/yas-thai-cookery-school-in-krabi/a/pa-act/v-9574P62/357594
· I wouldn't actually stay on Koh Phi Phi, but some do. But feel free to take a boat there after you've done all the day trips from Ao Nang you want to do.
Next Stop: Phuket
Either book a boat from Phi Phi there or a bus from your hostel in Ao Nang.
So no one really likes Phuket, & I find it to be totally miss-able. But if you do want to go, stay near Patong Beach. This place is CRAZY, over developed and super touristy.
Next Stop: Chiang Mai!
Chiang Mai is in the north and has a wildly different vibe than Southern Thailand. In a great way. It is much more relaxed scene, that blankets you in tranquility. Jungles replace beaches. You can still find a busy nightlife, but overall, there is a less hectic feel to the city. The north is very popular for elephant rides and I would recommend Baan Chang Elephant Park.(https://www.tripadvisor.com/Attraction_Review-g293917-d1907703-Reviews-Baanchang_Elephant_Park_Private_Day_Tours-Chiang_Mai.html)
Other fun ideas & adventures
Flight of the Gibbons to zipline through the jungle (https://www.tripadvisor.com/Attraction_Review-g293917-d1021770-Reviews-Flight_of_the_Gibbon-Chiang_Mai.html)
The many beautiful temples (http://www.chiangmai.bangkok.com/top10-best-temples.htm)
ATV adventures (https://8adventures.com/atv-chiang-mai/)
White water rafting on the Siam River (https://www.tripadvisor.com/Attraction_Review-g293917-d617148-Reviews-Siam_River_Adventures-Chiang_Mai.html)
If you have time, I would highly recommend heading even further north to Chiang Rai and Pai.
Stay here for the cutest bed and breakfast / homestay anyone ever did see:
BaanLek Home Stay
Fly back to Bangkok and spend a day. Head to Khao Sok National Park for some final pristine beauty, cave tours, river rides, & eco lodge stays. (http://www.khaosok.com)
Then leave for your other countries!