Thailand

Two Weeks to Travel the Best of Thailand

Thailand is truly a beautiful country.

With expansive, golden beaches, lush forests, glittering temples, ace coffee and excellent street food, there’s a bit of something for everyone.

Truth be told, two weeks in Thailand isn’t nearly enough time to even begin to cover a fraction of what the country has to offer.

But, it’s certainly a start to exploring an incredible nation.

Before visiting Thailand, I’d dreamed of seeing the temples, and beaches for years. Leaving, I was a bit disappointed- I felt many of the places I went to were over-developed for tourism. And, by means of comparison to other places in SE Asia, I much preferred my time in Vietnam and Laos.

However, I do believe Thailand is a great introduction to Asia- especially for trepid travellers. If you’re a seasoned traveller, looking for adventure, the below itinerary may not be the most interesting trip for you. But, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t visit Thailand- there are plenty of places that are less visited, and still retain the aspect of Thai culture that makes the country so incredible.

An Itinerary to Hit Thailand’s Best Bits in Two Weeks

You could spend months in Thailand, and still leave with so much to explore.

A first time trip to Thailand usually has three common components: a few days in the hustle and bustle of Bangkok, a few days in the north of the country in mountainous Chiang Mai, and then a few days south, island hopping.

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The below plan aims to allow for enough island time, intermixed with mountainous explorations in the north, and seeing some of Bangkok’s best sights. You can, of course, flex time in each spot up or down, but to avoid feeling too busy on holiday, I’d allow for at least a few days in each spot.

Day 1: Arrive in Bangkok (use this day as a rest day, for the most part)
Day 2: Explore Bangkok
Day 3: Explore Bangkok
Day 4: Fly to Chiang Mai
Day 5: Explore Chiang Mai
Day 6: Explore Chiang Mai
Day 7: Explore Chiang Mai / Day trip to Chiang Rai
Day 8: Fly to the Gulf or Andaman Islands

Gulf Islands
Day 8: Fly to Koh Samui (you’ll likely lay over in Bangkok), ferry to Koh Tao
Day 9: Explore Koh Tao
Day 10: Explore Koh Nang Yuan from Koh Tao
Day 11: Explore Koh Tao
Day 12: Day trip to Ang Thong National Park from Koh Tao
Day 13: Explore Koh Tao
Day 14: Ferry to Koh Samui; Fly to Bangkok; Depart Bangkok

Depending the time of your departure from Bangkok, you may need to leave Koh Tao sooner.

I’ve recommended spending time on Koh Tao than Koh Samui or Koh Pha Ngan because it’s smaller, and quieter. That said, there are some gorgeous hilltop resorts on Koh Samui, like Charming Fox if you decide to spend a night or two on the bigger of the Gulf islands.

Andaman Islands
Day 8: Fly to Krabi (you’ll likely lay over in Bangkok), take a van to Railay, and ferry to Railay beach
Day 9: Explore Railay
Day 10: Day trip to Hong Island
Day 11: Day trip to Four Islands from Railay (Chicken Island, Poda Island, Tup Island and Koh Mawr)
Day 12: Day trip to Koh Phi Phi
Day 13: Explore Railay / Krabi
Day 14: Ferry to Phuket or Krabi, Fly to Bangkok, depart Thailand

Depending on the time of your flight, and where it departs from, you may need to leave Koh Phi Phi a day sooner.

If it were me, I’d opt to head to Koh Lanta instead of spending more time in Railay. While I enjoyed Railay, I much preferred my time in Koh Lanta.

Once in Lanta, I’d spend a day seeing the island, and then another doing one of the most gorgeous day trips in the Thai islands. From there, if my departure flight permitted, I’d head to Koh Phi Phi for a day before departing. I haven’t listed this itinerary option as the ‘first choice’, because it’s more taxing, but also means you’ll get to see more of the country.

Alternate Andaman Islands Route
Day 8: Fly to Krabi (you’ll likely lay over in Bangkok), take a van to Railay, and ferry to Railay beach
Day 9: Day trip to Hong Island
Day 10: Explore Railay in the morning, ferry to Koh Lanta in the afternoon
Day 11: Explore Koh Lanta (rent a scooter)
Day 12: Day trip to Four Islands from Koh Lanta (Koh Kradan, Koh Ngai, Koh Chuek, Koh Muk)
Day 13: Ferry to Koh Phi Phi, half day trip around the Phi Phi islands (afternoon)
Day 14: Ferry to Phuket or Krabi, Fly to Bangkok, depart Thailand

Gulf Islands or Andaman Islands?

If you’re trying to decide on whether you should visit the Gulf Islands or Andaman side, your choice may come down to weather.

Being on opposite sides of mainland Thailand, each experiences a different rainy season. There are times, like early April, that overlap in good weather on both side, which is when I visited.

Another factor in your choice should be what you want to do.

The diving on Koh Tao is legendary the world over, so if you’re coming to dive, you’ll likely want to choose the Gulf Islands. But, if you’re after the limestone karsts and secluded beaches that cue visions of Thailand at first glance, you’ll want to head to the Andaman side.

How to Get Around Thailand

Arriving in Thailand

It’s likely you’ll fly in and out of Bangkok if you’re coming from another international hub in the US, Europe or Asia.

Take note there are two airports in Bangkok, both offer multiple ways to get to the city centre, but if you’re not on a tight budget, call a grab. It’ll be cheaper than taxing a taxi, and more comfortable than navigating public transit.

Getting Around Cities

In both Bangkok and Chiang Mai, you can take Grab (SE Asia version of Uber), tuk tuks or taxis around any distance that isn’t walkable.

Bangkok also has a river ferry, and an established metro system.

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Getting Around the Country

If you’re short on time, fly. AirAsia and Bangkok Airways (as well as a few other regional operators) offer daily flights throughout the country. Book in advance for the best rates.

There’s a more eco-friendly overnight train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, but if you’re short on time, the hour long flight is a better option.

And, when flying north to south, you may layover in Bangkok or Phuket, but it’ll be much quicker than taking a combination of trains and buses to a ferry port.

Getting Around the Islands

I’ve written a guide to ferrying between the Thai islands.  Once you’re at the islands, you’ll find ferrying between them to be pretty easy.

Ferry operators differ in some regards, but are comparable.

To figure out how each island is connected, simply Google ‘Railay to Phuket’ or ‘Railay to Koh Lanta’, and so on. Your search should return a number of operators with schedules.

It is a bit of work to understand where each island is in relation to each other, then check each schedule and plan out your timings, but fairly easy once you get the hang of it.

One thing to note, most ferries reduce or stop services during the rainy season- especially on the Andaman side.

When it comes to booking ferries, I did so in advance to avoid being stuck on any given island, but from what I observed, you’ll likely be fine reserving a day or two in advance at the ferry office of whichever island you’re at. Many hotels/hostels are also able to help with this service for a small fee.

What to See & Do in Each Itinerary Stop

The below recos are by no means exhaustive- there’s plenty to do in each stop on the itinerary. However, if you’re short on time, you’ll need to prioritize.

Bangkok

Thailand’s capital, Bangkok, is a bustling metropolis- to say the least. The intense, constant grid lock is enough to cause sensation overload in even the most seasoned traveller.

Mix in the dozens of beautiful temples, vibrant street markets, hundreds of restaurants and cafes, and infamous nightlife, and you’ve got a city with more to see and do than anyone could possibly find the time for.

KEY SIGHTS

  • Go temple hopping: Thai temples don’t hold back. Stunning mosaics, impressive gold statues, no detail overlooked. These temples to visit in Bangkok are absolutely breathtaking
    • The Grand Palace: If you only visit one temple in Bangkok, make it this one. But, start early- early as in there before it opens so you’re one of the first few dozen people inside. It gets insanely busy- it’s an absolute madhouse an hour after opening
    • Wat Pho (Reclining Buddha): Named after a monastery in India where Buddha was believed to have lived, it’s one of the oldest temples in Bangkok. The primary reason to visit is to see the huge reclining buddha, measuring over 45 metres of pure gold leaf. It’s quite a sight to behold
    • Wat Arun (Temple of the Dawn): Some people argue this temple is the most iconic in Bangkok, more so than Wat Pho. It was built during the 17th century on the bank of the Chao Phraya river. The main spire of the temple can be seen from miles away. When you get close enough, you can see the beautiful white exterior of the temple is covered in layers of gorgeous mosaics
  • Visit a floating market: Today, Damnoen Saduak is Thailand’s biggest and best preserved (for what that’s worth) floating market. Hosted on 19th-century canals built by King Rama IV, the market occurs every day of the week. It’s best to go with a group to visit, as the markets are outside of the city
  • Swim in a rooftop pool: The best way to gain access is by staying in a luxury hotel, which are surprisingly affordable in Bangkok
  • Visit Khao San Road: This is backpacker central in Bangkok, and is home to some popular cheap hostels, a range of bars, along with the historic Phra Sumen Fort (one of the oldest remaining fortifications in the city)
  • Have sunset drinks at one of the city’s swank hotel rooftops: My favourite, for its incredible views is Vertigo, atop Banyan Tree hotel
  • Shop at the Chatuchak Weekend Market: With over 15,000 stalls, the market is truly a sight to behold
  • Eat your way through Chinatown on a guided food tour

WHERE TO EAT & DRINK

Say ‘Bangkok’ to anyone and they’ll likely cue images of gridlock, or a crazy party scene. They may even think of the city’s beautiful temples.

Chances are, they won’t mention a great cafe culture.

Call me pleasantly surprised to discover a whole slew of trendy, hipster-esque cafes. Why was I so happy?

Because, those kind of places often mean great coffee and delicious brunch.

Are these places ‘Thailand cheap’?

No, but they are still more affordable than any brunch or cup of artisan coffee I’d have out in New York City or London.

While in Bangkok, I usually went to brunch and then had street food for dinner. One night, I treated myself to a fancy dinner at Banyon’s restaurant, Saffron.

Don’t get me wrong- there are plenty of great places to eat in Bangkok, but with the city being so large and traffic being what it is, I usually only picked one place a day as a destination to dine- often for brunch.

  • Gallery Drip Coffee: Part art gallery, part coffee shop, Gallery specialises in single-bean drip coffees with beans sourced from around the world
  • Toby’s: A beautiful space on Sukhumvit Soi 38, Toby’s specializes in Aussie breakfast dishes and creamy flat whites
  • Rocket Coffeebar: Specialising in artisan coffees, Rocket sources its beans from Central America and Africa. The food menu looked good, but I was tempted by an orange cocoa cold brew- bitter, sweet and savoury
  • Not Just Another Cup: Walking distance from Rocket (only about five minutes), I popped in here for a delicious avocado, pomegranate, mango salad and you guessed it, cold brew. Not Just’s cold brew was everything I hoped for- crisp, slightly bitter and refreshing

ACCOMMODATION RECOMMENDATION 

Bangkok attracts visitors from all over the world, including high end jet setters. It should come as no surprise some of the world’s greatest luxury hotels are spread out across the metropolis.

But, in Bangkok, luxury doesn’t have to mean $$$$$. On a flashpacker’s budget, I stayed at affordable luxe hotels in Bangkok.

Two favourites for ultimate luxury- Banyan Tree and SO Sofitel. And, if you’re in it for the poshtel life, the private rooms at Warm Window Silom are incredible.

Chiang Mai

Everyone told me I’d love Chiang Mai, and of course, they were right.

Temples, gong baths, meditative yoga, Thai iced teas, all of the cold brew, lovely massages, and some seriously good night market eats.

It’s a place I miss every day and am already plotting a visit to again.

KEY SIGHTS

  • Gawk at Some of CM’s Most Beautiful Temples: Over 30 temples line CM’s streets, these three can’t be missed for their history, significance and beauty:
    • Wat Doi Suthep: Revered as one of the most important temples in all of Thailand, Doi Suthep is worth the journey to get there. Not only is the temple stunning, but the surrounding complex is full of interesting things to observe, and there’s a great view of Chiang Mai
    • Wat Phra Singh: Known as the most popular temple in Thailand, by visitor numbers, Wat Phra Singh is located in old town, only a short walk from Wat Chedi Luang. The temple is so popular because it houses Chiang Mai’s most important Buddha image, the Lion Buddha
    • Wat Chedi Luang: Built in the early 1400s, Wat Chedi Luang was as one of the tallest buildings in Chiang Mai before collapsing during an earthquake in 1545. Reconstructed in the 1990s, it’s famed for once housing the Phra Kaew (Emerald Buddha)
  • Indulge in a Massage: Some of the best massages I had in Thailand were in CM. One of my favourites: Fah Lanna for a luxe massage experience. It’s pricer than most Thai massage places, but for a reason- you get your own private village, pick out the oils you want to use, and the therapists are well trained. And, Arayana Spa was the best foot massage I had in all of SE Asia
  • Visit an Elephant Sanctuary: If you do decide to visit a sanctuary, please do your research ahead of time and book with a truly ethical operator. You shouldn’t be allowed to ride or wash/bathe with the elephants. If any touching is permitted, it should be minimal. I went to Elephant Nature Park (ENP) and had a good visit. Many of the rescued elephants at ENP arrived with serious injury or history of abuse
  • Visit the Night Bazaar: CM’s night bazaar is said to be one of the best in all of Thailand. I’m not big on shopping for souvenirs, but if you are, this market is definitely the place- spices, homewares, paintings, clothes, infamous ‘elephant pants’ scarves, jewellery- it’s quite the assortment
  • Take a Local Yoga Class or Experience a Gong Bath: There are several studios in Chiang Mai, and with both yoga and gong baths drawing deep roots to Asian culture, taking a local class or trying your first gong baths are perfect activities
    • I visited The Yoga Tree twice during my week in CM-once for mindful yoga (hatha flow) and another time for the gong bath
  • Take a day trip to Chiang Rai: If you can spare an additional 2-3 days, I’d recommend spending them in Chiang Rai– the temples were some of the best I saw in all of Thailand. If you’ve only got a day though, there are plenty of tour operators that stop at two of the best temples- the white temple and the blue temple

WHERE TO EAT & DRINK

Spending five days in Chiang Mai, I left already craving the delicious food I’d eaten.

Whether you’re a vegetarian or not, these places have great options for the veg friendly and those who prefer a bit of meat or seafood with their meals.

My favourite places to eat in the city

  • Farm Story House (Old Town): Finding this cosy cafe on my first day in Chiang Mai (CM) by wandering a narrow side street felt like the best discovery. I ended up coming back several times during my stay- the food was delicious and affordable, and cafe environment, quiet and relaxing
  • The Larder Cafe & Bar (Nimman): It may not look like much from the outside, but rest assured, the breakfast game is top notch
  • Khao Soy Nimman (Nimman): You must come here to try the khao soy- a spicy, salty noodle soup that’s from northern Thailand. I had mine with egg and it was * to * die * for * – the best meal I had in CM
  • Kalare Night Bazaar (Old Town): Dined on the best pad Thai I had in all of Thailand (also SE Asia) at this night market. If you’re new to night markets, this one should make you feel at east- it’s clean, stalls have sanity rankings and there’s plenty of space to sit down and enjoy the entertainment (usually live music)
    • Look for the yellow pad Thai signs or simply the winding line- it’s the longest line in the market
    • There’s also a great fruit shake vendor (behind the yellow pad Thai stall), serving up frothy, delicious fruit smoothies
  • Rustic & Blue (Nimman): Another favourite for breakfast or brunch- I tried simple eggs with vegetables and a green juice

And, two dessert recos-

  • Fruiturday (locations in Old Town and Nimman): Hands down, best fruit shakes I had in CM (and I tried a few different places). Liked this place the most because the fruits on offer are extensive, and, most of the staff speak at least conversational English, so it’s easy to ask for adjustments to your shake (e.g. no sugar)
  • Cheevit Cheeva (Nimman): This place does bingsu (Korean shaved ice) very well. I tried the strawberry bingsu, which was delicious- sweet, but not too sweet with a flavour punch from the fresh strawberries mixed in

WHERE TO HAVE COFFEE

CM is a haven for digital nomads. People with laptops are everywhere- cafes, restaurants- you name it. It’s no surprise- the wifi is strong, and in the case of cafes, the ambiance is great and coffee is excellent. Coffee culture taken seriously in this small city. 

My favourite cafes in the city– 

  • Ristr8to (Nimman): True coffee lovers will enjoy this- it’s a place for people who take their coffee seriously
  • Nine One Coffee (Nimman): Most mornings in Chiang Mai started here. Whether staying in the cafe to work for a bit or taking my cold brew to go, I dug the size of the cold brew (medium) and appreciated how strong the brew was
  • Aka Ama Coffee (Old Town): The coffee is fantastic and I love how close their old town location is to a few of the best temples in the city
  • Ponganes Espresso (Old Town): The cold drip was ace, but I also enjoyed the iced Thai tea I had when I stopped by another time
  • My Secret Cafe (Old Town): Hidden away from the hustle of old town, this place is a serious gem. It’s cosy, quiet and has a drink menu with loads of options
  • Overstand Coffee Shop (Nimman): Known for being a good breakfast spot in the Nimman neighbourhood, the coconut espresso is also worth popping in for

ACCOMMODATION RECOMMENDATION 

Really, there are two main areas short term visitors stay in while visiting CM- Old Town or Nimman.

Old Town is where you’ll find most of the frequently visited temples, as well as lots of markets, shops, restaurants and cafes.

Nimman is known as the student area of CM, and packed full of cafes, restaurants, shops, and near a huge mall.

I stayed at a poshtel in Nimman, and loved the neighborhood. I had a nice time wandering Old Town, but was glad to be away from the core touristy bits.

Getting to Old Town was simple from Nimman- it was a 20-30 minute walk, or easy to hop in a Grab (Uber of SE Asia), hail a tuk tuk or jump in the back of a songethaw (shared taxi truck).

Tuk Tuks were always the most expensive, Grabs were usually a few dollars (less than $3 USD), and songethaws were the cheapest- often $1-2 USD or less, pending your destination.

In terms of where to stay, I’d recommend booking a hotel or Airbnb- whatever is best for the kind of trip you’re taking. There’s no shortage of great lodging options.

Gulf Islands (Koh Tao, Koh Nang Yuan)

Most people venture to Koh Tao for some of the best diving and snorkelling in Thailand. Keen to snorkel, I decided to spend time on Koh Tao because of what I’d heard about its vibe- young, but laid back.

KEY SIGHTS

  • Relax on Sairee Beach: One of the island’s main beaches- here, you’ll find tons of restaurants, and cafes, but not so many to kill the relaxed vibe
  • Watch the sunset: I’d long heard tale of Koh Tao’s ‘sky on fire’ sunsets- when the entire sky is awash in a pink, orange and red glow- casting the final light of the day over the sea, sand, bobbing long tails, swaying palm trees and island mountains. Spend at least two nights in Koh Tao for your best chance of seeing an incredible sunset- Fizz is great for its on-the-beach beanbags, and at Blue Water, there’s usually on-the-beach live music
  • Rent a long tail boat, and drive around the island, stopping at Mango Bay and Shark Bay: Shark Bay gets its name for the Blacktip Reef sharks that dwell near the rocks. And Mango Bay is full of tons of colourful fish
  • Spend a day in paradise on Koh Nang Yuan: Only a 10-15 minute long tail ride from Koh Tao, Nang Yuan are a group of three private islands connected by a sandbar. On Nang Yuan, you can swim, relax on the beach or even try your luck at snorkelling- although, I didn’t see much. The activity I was most excited about was hiking to the viewpoint. It’s a short hike- 15-20 minutes- and mostly up steps, but it’s steep and the hot weather makes it a bit more challenging than it’d be otherwise. The view from the top is gorgeous- you have a prime vantage point of the three islands, turquoise water, white sand, and Koh Tao in the distance
  • Hike to one of the island’s overlooks at John Suwan Viewpoint or Mango Viewpoint
  • Rent a motorbike and drive around the island: When I visited Koh Tao, I didn’t know how to drive a motorbike yet, but would love to return to see more of the island- especially some of the winding, hilltop roads 

WHERE TO EAT & DRINK

  • Black Garlic: Delicious, healthy eats
  • Perm Poon: Veggie omelets + fruit shakes
  • Cafe Culture: Breakfast with an ocean view
  • Blue Water: Great for breakfast, but even better for lunch or dinner with their fresh wraps, salads and Thai dishes
  • Su Chili: Awesome Thai
  • Savage: Fresh juice bar

ACCOMMODATION RECOMMENDATION 

I found Savage hostel through Instagram- a cool looking design hostel steps from Sairee Beach with a rooftop pool, juice bar and private rooms?

It seemed too good to be true.
Thankfully, it wasn’t.

This was a great place to stay for two days in Koh Tao. And, it’s affordable enough to be there a bit longer, if you’re doing a dive certification or the like.

And, if you find yourself in Koh Samui and in need of some affordable luxury, I can vouch firsthand that Charming Fox is incredible.

Andaman Islands (Railay, Koh Phi Phi)

The soaring cliffs and pristine beaches of Railay, Thailand have hovered near the top of my travel ‘wish list’ for years.

Every time I saw photos, I couldn’t believe it was a real place.
It appeared to be actual paradise.

Many people actually think Railay is an island, but it’s actually part of mainland Thailand.

It is, however, difficult to reach. Because of the cliffs and dense jungle, you can only access Railay East or West by taking a long tail boat.

The isolated location lends an island feel, which manifests as secluded relaxation.

KEY SIGHTS

  • Go for a morning walk on Railay Beach (west) or Phra Nang Beach before the crowds arrive. With the long tails bobbing, this is a seriously serene way to wake up
    • Note: There isn’t a beach in Railay East. So, whenever you hear/see Railay Beach, people are referring to the west side
  • Rent a kayak and paddle around the shoreline and limestone karats: An hour rental should cost 200 baht, make sure you take a dry bag with you to keep things safe from the water
  • Sign up for rock climbing: With more than 600 routes, Railay is home to some of the world’s best rock climbing. You can sign up to climb at any of the stalls offering it in Railay town or at your hotel if they offer it
  • Hike to the Railay viewpoint: I didn’t attempt this, the hike is actually closer to a very steep climb in mud/rock with nothing to hold onto but a flimsy rope. I saw photos of the viewpoint from the top and decided it wasn’t worth the risk. But, if adrenaline climbing is your speed, the entrance to the climb can be found on the rock path to Phra Nang Beach
  • Visit Phra Nang Beach: A stunning beach accessible by a separate trail than Railay beach (head through town to find it), this is one of the most beautiful beaches I saw in Thailand. Mangroves, caves, stunning limestone carats. It’s incredible. Visit during the day to relax, and again at night to watch the sun set
    • Tip: There are lots of bars in town and Railay East, but cocktails are pretty expensive and sub-par for what you get (in my opinion). Instead, if you want to have a drink while watching the sun set, I’d check out the Boat Bar- you can grab a takeaway beer to sip on the beach. If you’re set at having cocktails at a bar, check out Tew Lay for a beautiful view
  • Don’t miss Phra Nang Cave when you visit the beach: It’s a cave with two entrances, both filled with penis carvings. The carvings are put there by fishermen and symbolise an offering to Phra Nang, a goddess who helps ensure safe travel at sea
  • Wander over to Ton Sai Beach for a bit of quiet: Less frequented than Railay West or Phra Nang, Ton Sai is accessible through a jungle path north of Railay West, or by walking around the rocky cliff that separates it from Railay West during low tide
  • Do a day trip or a few: Can’t recommend visiting the Hong Islands enough (gorgeous!), or  Koh Phi Phi, and I’ve heard great things about the four islands boat trip as well- visiting Chicken Island, Poda Island, Tup Island and Koh Mawr
    • Note: Koh Phi Phi is close enough, that you could make a day trip out of it, or choose to go for a bit longer if you’re up to moving around a bit

WHERE TO EAT & DRINK

Don’t expect much by way of food in Railay.

I’ve heard Rayavadee (Railay’s only luxury resort) is good, but the rest of Railay is what you’d expect for a Thai island- overpriced and mediocre.

I ate at Flametree twice, their pizza isn’t bad but there’s much better food elsewhere in Thailand.

Although, I may have struggled more than most people do with food- more so than anywhere else in Thailand, I spotted cashews in everything in Railay. With Railay being so secluded, I decided to stick to ‘safe foods’ even if it meant defaulting to Western eats.

Even though I wasn’t impressed by the food or drinks (a theme that held true throughout the Thai islands), it’s worth giving Railay town a wander- it’s surprisingly chill.

ACCOMMODATION RECOMMENDATION

When planning my jaunt around the Thai islands, Railay was a must-visit. I was so keen to visit, I didn’t even consider staying in Krabi town or Ao Nang and day tripping to Railay- I had to stay in Railay for full vibes.

Luckily, there are a few resorts that aren’t too overpriced in East Railay. I stayed at the Railay Phutawan Resort, choosing to spend a bit more than I normally would.

The hotel was okay, but nothing spectacular. Breakfast was your typical buffet variety, the pool bar and restaurant were standard island fare, and most of the rooms seemed to be a bit run down.  I upgraded to a new room for only a few extra dollars a night, which was 100% worth it for the comfort.

BONUS PLANNING TIPS

If you’re going to head to Koh Lanta or Koh Lipe, you can find my guides for those Thai islands here.

Where Else to Visit in Thailand, If You Have Time

Thailand is a big country, with tons to see and experience. One of the hardest parts of planning your trip will likely be narrowing down which places you visit.

Even on my recommended itinerary for a first time trip, I didn’t mention my favourite Thai island (of the ones I’ve visited) because its a bit further away to reach.

Two weeks is a fabulous introduction to the country, but if you have more time, consider making your way to-

  • Chiang Rai: Sure, you could go on a day trip from Chiang Mai if you’re up for a long day, but to really experience the magnificent temples (and cafes) in this town in the very north of Thailand, it’s best to spend a few days
  • Pai: A sleepy little town in northern Thailand, visitors equate Pai to an island town in the midst of Thai mountains
  • Koh Sok National Park: Safari tents perched riverside surrounded by lush mountains in the oldest evergreen rainforest? Jungle so wild and unexplored you need to hire a guide to go further than 3 km? Sign me up for that kind of solitude. For anyone that’s been there, Koh Sok cues scenes of limestone towers, deep valleys, gushing waterfalls and calm lakes
  • Koh Lanta: My favorite Thai island, Lanta is the definition of laid back. Expansive, golden sand beaches, cosy beach bars, lush forests, and a cultural presence that still cues Thailand? As if those reasons weren’t enough for me to love Lanta, the best part, perhaps was that it was relatively uninhabited- deserted even, by means of reference to other Thai islands
  • Koh Yao Yoi and/or Koh Yao Noi: Not visiting one of these islands was an oversight during my two weeks exploring Thai island paradise. My biggest complaint about the islands I visited? Most felt too developed, too touristy, and not nearly ‘Thai’ enough. I’ve heard tale Koh Yao Yoi and Koh Tao Noi are far less frequented than most Thai islands, still development, and thus, much more serene
  • Ayutthaya: A short drive (or train ride) north of Bangkok lies Ayutthaya, Thailand’s ancient capital. The Ayutthaya period is thought to be the period during which what is now thought of as “Thai style” was developed. In temples, in particular, this is when you can clearly see a marked transition from the Khmer style prangs to the bell shaped chedi. I’d love to spend a day or two wandering what remains of the ruins during a return to Bangkok

Extra Thailand Travel Tips

From nearly a month in the country, I put together a list of travel tips for first time visitors to Thailand.

In addition to those tips, a few things to note:

Language: Thai. English is spoken in many places, but expect it to be limited so be patient, and consider having an app like Google Translate ready to help 

Safety: Thailand is one of the safest countries for foreign tourism in SE Asia. Never once, during my nearly month long stay in the country did I feel un-safe as a solo female traveller. That said, take the same precautions you would anywhere  

Currency: Thai Baht. Carry enough baht on you to cover most purchases. Many places have a 500-1000 baht minimum because things are so inexpensive

Budget: In comparison to other parts of SE Asia (namely Vietnam, Myanmar, Laos, Malaysia, Cambodia), accommodation and tours were a bit higher in cost. Part of that is because Thailand is arguably the most developed for tourism. If you’re visiting from the US, Western Europe or Oz, you’ll definitely feel as though things are affordable.  

Getting There: It’s likely you’ll fly into Bangkok or Phuket from an international hub. Once at either, you’ll find it easy to fly around the country, or take alternate (slower) forms of transportation (e.g. night trains, buses)

Where to Stay: For the most part, stayed in great budget hotels, and private rooms of hostels for $20-30 USD per night. Twice, in Bangkok, I treated myself to five star resorts because I scored affordable rates- less than $100-130 per night.  

  • Use Agoda or Booking.com to help find places in your budget
  • If you’re on a treat-yo-self trip, there’s no shortage of gorgeous, four-five star resorts around the country, many of which are fairly affordable

When to Visit: I visited in late March/early April and had great weather throughout the country. 

  • In the north, this time of year, expect 80s-90s F with hazy, polluted skies from the forest burning, and a lack of rain
  • In the south, there were intermittent bouts of rain (usually overnight or late afternoon), but for the most part, it was sunny and warm (70s-90s F)
  • And in Bangkok, it was hot and humid, which made hotels with rooftop pools all the more appealing

Tipping: Tipping isn’t expected. I’d round up only if the service was exceptional (think a truly excellent massage) 

WiFi Access: In part, because of Thailand’s excellent tourism infrastructure, I found cafes with WiFi everywhere. My cell signal was stronger in some parts of the country than others, and the same goes for hotel WiFi, but strong enough everywhere to stream Netflix 

SIM Card Options: I bought a 30-day SIM upon arrival at Bangkok’s airport, which served me the duration of my trip

Packing Necessities: What you bring in total will depend on what you do over the course of your trip, but I’d recommend bringing each of the below-

  • Lightweight scarf (to cover up at temples)
  • Swimsuit / cover-up
  • Trainers and sandals
  • Clothes to hike / walk around cities
  • Lightweight clothes, for the hot days
  • Short sleeves and pants if you plan to visit The Grand Palace in Bangkok, where the temple dress code is stricter than elsewhere in the country
  • Layers and a foldable jacket for cooler nights and island breezes
  • Baby wipes or toilet paper for restrooms (note: some parts of the country will have squat toilets, especially those closer to Malaysia)
  • Umbrella or rain jacket for sudden, unexpected downpours (island life)
  • Any specific beauty or personal hygiene items you must use over the course of your trip- you’ll find major drug store brands in Bangkok, but expect to pay a premium elsewhere for brands you recognise
  • Reef safe sunscreen
  • Strong mosquito repellent, an absolute must for the islands

Have you ever been to Thailand? What would you advise first time visitors to do, or see? 

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2 comments

  1. Thailand hasn’t really been at the top of my list to visit, just because I hear stories of how over-tourism has somewhat ruined the economy and its locals. However, your post proved otherwise, as there still seems to be lots of untouched beauty in the country, far from tourists. Perhaps I’ll give Thailand a try, should I travel to that part of the world some day!

    1. Thanks for making this point, it’s something I’d addressed in other posts about Thailand, especially the islands, but forgot to mention here. Edited to adjust upfront, because I agree with what you’ve heard- I was disappointed by much of Thailand, especially in direct comparison to nearby countries I visited afterwards- Laos + Vietnam.

      But, a year later, reflecting on my time there, I think I felt let down by some of the islands I visited because I went to some places that are too well known. There were a few islands (Koh Lanta, for example) that I loved because they felt more laid back and ‘Thai’ than spots that’ve become tourism hotspots. I’d definitely return to Thailand, I could even see myself living in Chiang Mai in the north for a bit. But, if I’m going island hopping, I’ll pick ones that are less developed to let the beauty of the environment speak for itself.

      That kind of travel style isn’t for everyone though, and I do think Thailand is a good introduction to Southeast Asia for a lot of visitors. Plus, there are some genuinely beautiful places and experiences to be had.

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