Thailand is one of the easiest places to travel or experience. Whether you’re planning to visit solo, with a friend or other half, or even with kids.
I’ve collated my picks from Thailand to help with planning a trip there, whatever the time of year. These are the best bits summarised, so you can pick out what suits your style of travel etc.
The capital, Bangkok
Getting around Bangkok is straightforward if you’re prepared/researched and the transport options are vast. It’s easy to resort to a taxi which is cheap, but you could get stuck in traffic during rush hour. So, I would definitely recommend some of the other options for travelling around the city – more info can be found in my post here: A brief guide to transportation in Bangkok.
In terms of things to do, pick through my highlights from one of my longer visits, for whatever takes your fancy, here: Same same but not quite like this.
Make sure you consider a day trip to Bang Krachao which is virtually the only green part of the city. It’s a great place to escape the pollution. Easy enough to walk around, but the best way to see everything is on a bike, as there is no traffic here. Bikes are easy to hire when you get there but arrive earlier in the day to make the most of it and ensure there are enough or they may run out; as they had when we went there for early lunchtime on the weekend.
The weekend is a good time to visit when the floating (although not much actually floats) market is on, but it will also be busy with tourists and locals. Check out more details over in my post here: Bangkok’s hidden beauty – the “green lung”, Bang Krachao.
The alternative, often extremely touristy, floating markets in the city should be experienced on a first trip to Bangkok. The sheer fun of bartering down prices whilst balanced on a shallow boat, from vendors passing by in their own boats is quite something. Head there early to avoid the crowds.
On the subject of markets and shopping generally, Chatachuk market in Bangkok on the weekends is a must. Housing 8000 stalls, this is one of the largest markets in the world. Definitely a place to escape the sun and potentially spend hours traipsing through the well organised sections. Pick up a map on arrival and plan your attack visit. You can find everything from clothing to souvenirs and pet accessories to garden tools. There are some nice food stalls for snacks and drinks and also a few restaurants, so make a day of your visit.
Sukhothai, Lopburi, and Ayutthaya are best visited en-route between Bangkok and Chiang Mai. These destinations are quite suited to longer or return visits where you can take your time. Alternatively it’s a very long day trip from Bangkok. See rural Thailand highlights, and some vast temple complexes (Ayutthaya is best explored by bike) including monkeys (Lop Buri) who have the run of the area.
Read more in my posts:
Pushbike pain, Ayutthaya
Monkeys and temples, Lop Buri
In some ways, a contrast to Bangkok, Chiang Mai in the north of Thailand is less polluted, more laid back and more condensed. An overnight train or short internal flight will get you there fairly easily. The former isn’t as bad as it sounds, especially if you refer to Seat61’s advice here (which is kept up to date and great for getting around Thailand via train).
My highlights and recommendations after spending around 6 weeks on 2 separate visits to Chiang Mai can be found here: Wat a lot of temples and my recommendations. Do not miss Mrs Pa’s fruit shakes – my favourite tipple from all my travels, I went there almost daily.
If you are there for the Yi Peng lantern festival which is celebrated during the full moon of the twelfth lunar month (usually mid November) do not miss attending this event. If you can hook yourself up with a local or friends in the area they will be able to guide you on the best way to get there but basically find some transport out and follow the crowds. More from my experience here: Yi Ping and Loi Krathon celebrations 2013.
One of my personal highlights was the Visakha Bucha pilgrimage, but it’s not for the faint hearted, more here: Pilgrimage for Visakha Bucha, Buddhist holiday.
For craft fans, Bo Sang handicraft centre is out of town but well worth a visit if you are into papercrafts. Have a T-shirt or something else hand painted… a beautiful souvenir or gift. Scroll down to my thoughts here: Papercrafts in: Thailand.
Finally, I’ve heard and read great things about the Flight of Gibbon zip lining experience, not far from the city. Family’s, friends, groups or individuals who enjoy something a little physical but a lot of fun can safely explore the tree top views and it’s a good way to spend time out of the sun.
3 hours by bus from Chiang Mai, the city of Chiang Rai is quite westernised and even more laid back then Chiang Mai. It has its own night market but otherwise tends to be a place to chill out rather than ‘do’ much. However, a short distance from the city offers the rather unique Wat Rong Khun ‘White temple’, the pictures on my post here: Not same same, don’t do it justice but will help with you deciding whether to visit.
Northern hills and their tribes
There are many hill tribes in Thailand. These indigenous/ethnic minority groups are mostly found in the mountainous areas, often with poor living conditions. If you get a chance to visit an area where they live, keep an eye out for traditional hand made items, for a unique souvenir, but also to support these families. See what I got up to in the below posts.
For a true backpacker and laid back experience, Pai should be top of your list. Although it’s not what it once was, as of course everyone goes there these days, not just the backpackers.
I recommend a loop from Chiang Mai around the Mai Hong Son Province, ending in Pai. Relax and/or explore Pai. Many stay here longer once they arrive due to the natural scenery of the surrounding mountains and waterfalls. There are a few rather kitschy sights nearby but these are well worth a visit if you like that sort of thing, and I think kids would love it.
Koh Samui – East coast
One of the better East coast islands to explore or relax, I some how liken it to Spain in terms of layout. Highlights from my time on the island can be found here: Spanish Similarities.
Avoid the lady boys cabaret in Chaweng which is free but involves a hefty priced drink. The one in Chiang Mai is better.
Eat at Cafe Na in Bang Rak (next to the market). Here I tasted the best green curry I’ve ever eaten. You may want to ask for it “mai pet” (not spicy) as it was super hot. This is a lovely family run little restaurant which at the time of our visit in 2013 didn’t even have a menu, you just asked for whatever you fancied and they would cook it up from fresh ingredients.
Railay – Andaman coast
A peninsula, located close to Krabi, which is only reachable by long tail boat, can be packed with tourists. If you feel adventurous, head there and escape the crowds with a hike to the lagoon. Watch out for mud in the wet season and don’t do what I did: Beautiful, even in the mud.
Koh Lipe – South Andaman sea
A beautiful island and one of my favourites. Although it is fast changing and becoming over developed like many of the Thai islands.
Accessible from the mainland or en-route to or from Langkawi, Malaysia, it’s well worth a visit to this Almost paradise island.
Thailand boasts many natural wonders, from rock formations to national parks with waterfalls and caves. If you have the time and the opportunity visit any of the natural areas in Thailand, you will not be disappointed.
Then there’s elephants… but please please be careful where you choose to see them.
I’ve met elephants in many places in Asia and I’m sad to admit that some of these experiences were when I was naive. I didn’t really know enough about the issues elephants have faced, and the potential mistreatment linked with riding them. The Elephant Nature Park (here) near to Chang Mai is the only place I would recommend you consider if you want to see elephants in Thailand, but there are no rides possible here; they will educate you on why when you visit.
Thailand offers some of the best diving in the world. Between October and June is the best time to dive or take a course. Experienced divers can head out on a dive at any time of year. I’m not the best person to advise further on this as my attempts at diving usually get about as far as standing under water along the shoreline or at the shallow end of the PADI pool. I’m much better suited to snorkelling.
The death railway and what went on during war times, is well depicted in many of Thailand museums. Although a little melancholy a visit to Kanchanaburi will definitely put the events into perspective. It is possible to visit there from Bangkok in a day. Further info here: Death railway: Options for your visit to the Bridge on the River Kwai.
I could write post after post with guidance and advice following my travels around Thailand. However, every traveller is different so just be open minded. Look under the surface a little and experience local life wherever possible. Much the same as I would suggest anywhere else in the world to be honest.
So I’ll just leave you with a few final tips, worth noting before you travel there; at least to avoid any potential culture shock 😉
- Your feet will always be dirty when walking in Thailand, so take advantage of the bum guns for washing them. In fact give them a try for real and you might find yourself converted like me: Bum guns on my travels and why I recommend you give one a try.
- Mosquito’s will get you, everywhere. So, bug spray up and try to avoid deet based products (which melt things or make holes in your clothes), unless you’re in the jungle area. Avon’s Skin so Soft is a god send. I wear it permanently when travelling and it really reduces the chances of mosquito’s biting, although you will need something stronger in the rainforest areas. Need more tips on what to pack, check out my list of other items I don’t travel without: 13 items I don’t travel without.
- Embrace squat toilets and take note of my: Toilet tips for traveller’s when travelling in Asia generally.
- Western food in Thailand is expensive and Thai food is amazing. Try the local food even if it’s not your thing, you will find it is very good. Order dishes “mai pet” if you want them not spicy, and try not to eat just Pad Thai and banana pancakes as there are so many other dishes to enjoy.
- Enjoy a Thai massage, just about everywhere. If you can, try the women’s prison in Chiang Mai it’s really good and for a good cause. Why not try a course too – find out more about Thai massage.
Got any more tips, do share, as I will be back in Thailand as soon as I can be…