Sawasdee Ka Thailand !
Landing in Bangkok – a crazy city that must be fully explored to be appreciated – underneath the crowded streets, interesting aromas that can make you not want to eat for days and hot, HOT, heat, there is an extremely unique city with a lot to offer and wonderful, gentle people .
Thailand offers extremely accessible and affordable transportation (via plane, sleeper train & bus), making it effortless to tour the whole country on any budget and time constraint.
Head down to the beautiful Thai islands, surrounded by turquoise water and limestone formations – great for relaxing, snorkeling, diving, yoga, and getting lost on a motorbike in a postcard background. I will caution you though – the famous Koh Samui is highly touristy. So touristy, that it reminds me of being on a family vacation in Florida – built up shopping centers and strips of restaurants are not exactly what I’m looking for when I head to Thailand. Also, I was very disappointed to find the garbage all over many of the beaches. I started to feel as if I was consciously needing to cut it out of all of my beach photos Especially on the main beach of Koh Phi Phi – I did not even want to swim in the water because all of the garbage from the nightly beach parties kept washing onto shore. I love beach parties, but the Earth is our home, lets pick up after ourselves and keep it clean.
Be sure to check out some of the stunning Buddhist temples – ladies remember to show respect by covering your shoulders, and wearing knee-length skirts or pants (a sarong will do the trick).
My absolute favorite part of Thailand – actually, it may have been the best day of my life- was roaming free with the gentle giants north of the quaint, ancient city – Chiang Mai. While this is a must, I can not stress enough how important it is to be aware of the abusive elephant camps in Chiang Mai.
Crazy city, picturesque islands & elephants – No wonder why Thailand is the huge travel hype right now – not to mention the extremely low prices that are drawing in younger travelers from around the world.
Our Itinerary was a little choppy due to hopping back and forth between countries, but I will provide our Thailand itinerary as if we went straight through Thailand. Backpackers, check out the bottom section to see how our trip was split based on our backpacking route if you are using this itinerary to connect into the other SE Asia countries.
Make sure to use a Meter Taxi when leaving the airport, or look into the shuttle/train (the public transportation is very easy to figure out and there are signs and maps posted in the airport – I was able to figure it out at midnight, by myself – and felt extremely safe the entire time)
- Check out sightseeing ideas under day 2, 3 & 4 if you have time to explore — many flights, such as ours, arrive in late at night so I am leaving Day 1 open for travel.
Accommodation: I stayed at Suneta Hostel and Lub D Bangkok (Both Great Hostels – each giving you a very different feel based on the location). If not looking to stay in a hostel, I highly recommend staying at Lebua.
Day 2: Explore Bangkok
- Visit the Khlong Lat Mayom Floating Market (Only open on Saturdays & Sundays, head there in the morning around 10 am – 1pm)
- This was our favorite market on the entire trip. It is all food, and there are hardly any tourists there. All of the locals kept bringing us new foods to try, and seeing how the locals cook out of their small boats was really neat. It is about 20 minutes west of the Khao San Road area, but any taxi driver should know where to go (although they may look at you funny when you ask them to take you there as it is not a hot tourist spot).
- Hop on the river taxi (you can get on at almost any pier), and take a ride up and back down the river. There are actually a few really cute market stalls where I found 2 of the most beautiful ceramic essential oil diffusers right outside the most northern pier on the boat taxi. Hop out, check out the markets and cruise back down the river to Wat Arun. Wat Arun is viewed best just before sunset, when the beautiful Thai sky turns pink, and then viewed back on the other side of the river (by the Grand Palace) after sunset, once the lights are on.
- Visit the Si Lom Night Market (Very close to Lebua – if staying in the Khao San Road district, try to squeeze this in with Sky Bar)
- Head to Sukhumvit Road — while I do not support prostitution, viewing this road at night really allows one to see how abundant prostitution is in some countries.
- Head to Sky Bar at Lebua for Drinks — & Reminisce about the Hangover 2….
Day 3: Explore Bangkok
- Visit the Grand Palace, Wat Phra Kaew & Wat Pho
- Get there as early as possible, so you are not walking around in the heat in the middle of the day
- Head to the Chatuchak Market (The Famous Weekend Market – filled with clothing, food and everything you could ask for at a Thai Market. Think elephant pants, tank tops, bamboo, etc. )
Day 4: Explore Bangkok
- Hop in a tuk tuk and enjoy the ride
- Get a Thai Massage
- Other options depending on your interests: Check out the Famous Boxing Stadium, visit China Town, visit other smaller temples, check out the museums, wander into some of the tiny local markets, take a cooking class (mine was not hands on enough, so I am not going to recommend it), check out a movie at the theaters, visit MBK.
- Shop the markets on Khao San Road and explore the nightlife
Day 5: Flight or train to Chiang Mai
- Relax by the pool
- Explore Ancient Chiang Mai
- Visit Wat Chedi Luang
- Check out the local shops
- Visit the Chiang Mai Night Bazzar / Have dinner at it (Another great market!)
- Accommodation: We stayed at 137 Pillar House and it was incredible (breakfast is fine, but head out to dinner at night time for more authentic food. We found the 5 star hotel restaurants tend to westernize foods for an added “comfort” to travelers – which we were not a fan of). There are many great hostels as well.
Day 6: Explore Chiang Mai
- Get a thai massage/relax/swim/shop/continue exploring the city/take a cooking class
- Visit Doi Suthep (ideally around 4pm/in the afternoon) & check out some of the remaining walls around the ancient city
- Eat at an Amazing restaurant called Bamboo Bee
Day 7: Patara Elephant Farm
- This Elephant Farm is wonderful – a sustainable farm that both breeds and rescues elephants. The family owned farm offers many acres for the elephants to roam free – allowing mom & baby to stick together, elephants can graze all day at their own pleasing, and all riding is bare back. Your day long elephant experience involves learning about the elephants care, bathing them, feeding them, bonding with them and riding bareback for about an hour.
- Many elephant “experiences” cost only $15-30 and allow you to hop onto a chair on the elephants back, take a ride, hop off and head back to your hotel. While you may not view this as abusive, that elephant is working ALL day without breaks, leading to both mental and physical abuse. In addition, many camps use chairs, which can break the elephants spine when too much weight is put on them (no more than 2 people should be riding in a chair, but it’s safer to stay away from chairs regardless). Paying a steep price may make you feel like you are getting ripped off, but your money is going to a good cause – paying local mahouts to care for the elephants, medical care for the elephants, food, land, etc. and more importantly – not giving money to continue the abuse of elephants.
- Many people are completely against riding elephants all together – even bare back. While I understand their views, I think that using elephants in a safe manner for tourism can have many positive impacts. The money brought in via safe elephant tourism can continue to keep these elephants in a safe-haven – free from land mines, poachers and the illegal logging in some areas. In an ideal world, elephants would all roam free in the wild, but unfortunately, we live in a very un-ideal world.
Elephants have so many human like qualities – they are truly gentle giants. I was able to experience an amazing connection with the mother elephant I was riding – as she ran off into the woods to chase after her curious baby elephant, she could sense my uneasiness and tightened her ears around my thighs, like a seat belt. Such intuitive animals.
- A very different experience from Patara – this Park was created by a woman with a heart as big as the world. She has added on more and more acres, and she rescues abused elephants from poachers, logging, the circus, tourism and more. Seeing these elephants is both heart breaking and amazing – to know that they are now roaming free on her land, living the life that they deserve. You will be exposed to elephants that have stepped on land mines, that have broken spines, that are blind due to circus photography and lights – and blind due to being stabbed in the eye as a form of abuse to work harder, while chained up logging – moments after having your baby early due to stress, and watching your baby die as it rolls down the hill you were working on. The stories and elephants will break your heart, but this is reality- and we can not keep it “Out of Sight, Out of Mind”. It is so important to educate ourselves and others — and to support this amazing Park that is taking these elephants into their care. Seeing how the Elephants can regain human trust after being abused by them is simply incredible.
- You will be able to walk around the park – viewing elephants, water buffalo and dogs all roaming free together – bathing the elephants in the river along with feeding them ; riding is not permitted as many of the elephants have been abused.
- We did the overnight (2 day experience). I would highly recommend it, as this is one of the only ways to have the park to yourself in the morning – and the local ladies who give massages upstairs are fantastic. If 2 days is not manageable, you can still visit for just the day.
Day 9: Fly to the Thai Islands
- If you are heading to the Thai Islands in the summer of the Northern Hemisphere, you will be able to count on better weather on the Eastern side (Koh Pha Ngan, Koh Tao, Koh Samui) – this is the rainy season for the western side (Koh Phi Phi, Krabi, Au Nang, etc.) and the Andaman sea becomes quite rough.
- Fly to Phuket for the Eastern side OR fly to Koh Samui for the western islands(and take the ferry to Koh Pha Ngan or Koh Tao – the ferries leave multiple times a day).
- We started in Koh Samui and spent 3 days there with the family (I would only recommend spending a day on the island)
- Chaweng Beach on Koh Samui is beautiful – large white sand, turquoise water beach but SUPER crowded.
Day 10: Day Trip to Mu Ko Ang Thong National Marine Park (Can get there from Koh Samui or Koh Pha Ngan)
Day 11: Explore Koh Pha Ngan
- Check out an AM beach yoga class
- Get Lost on a motorbike – there is still untouched land on the island and it is SO beautiful – resembling an island tropical jungle.
- Visit Koh Maa Beach
Accommodation: Bounty Bungalows – owned by such a wonderful family!
Day 12: Explore Koh Pha Ngan
- Continue exploring other beaches – I personally love the beaches in the north!
Day 13: Explore Koh Pha Ngan — The sunsets are surreal
Day 14: At this point, you may be:
- Heading back to Bangkok to fly home from vacation
- Want to stay on Koh Pha Ngan because it’s, well amazing.
- Transfer to Koh Tao or head over to the Eastern Side
- After 6 days on the eastern side, I headed over to the west. We took a ferry from Koh Pha Ngan to Surat Thani, and then took a comfortable A/C bus to Phuket.
Day 15: Phuket
- Visit Kata Beach & Karon Beach
- Get a fish Pedicure — I can not begin to describe the feeling… a mix of being tickled with an electric shock – I could not stop laughing!
Day 16: Head to Koh Phi Phi
Day 17: Explore Koh Phi Phi (Head to the Lookout Point in the middle of the Island for beautiful views). There are no cars on Koh Phi Phi, but I highly suggest exploring the island by foot, or boat taxi! There is a lot of night life on the beach — flame throwers, dancing, music & buckets. Think mini full moon party.
Day 18: Day trip to Phi Phi Le — stopping at Monkey Island (the monkeys are amazing!), Pi Leh Lagoon (this was one of my favorite places) & Maya Bay (THE BEACH with Leo!)
Day 19: Take the ferry to Krabi – Explore Krabi – grab dinner at the night market by the water
Day 20: Boat to Ao Nang Beach in the AM
Day 21: Boat back to Krabi, head to Railay Beach, visit Phang Na Bay if time allows OR whatever your heart desires.
— At this point, I took a bus from Krabi to Penang, Malaysia (which can be arranged the day before; busses leave 2-3 times a day)
Happy Travels My Friends !
As of Summer 2015 – US citizens traveling to Thailand for less than 30 days do not need a visa. Malaria was not a concern, and additional vaccines were not required.
We spent a few days in Bangkok, and then flew to HCMC, Vietnam. We worked our way up the coast of Vietnam and through Laos, did a land border crossing from Laos to Thailand and flew from Udon Thani, Thailand to Chiang Mai. From Chiang Mai, we flew to Siem Reap, Cambodia, and then flew to the Thai Islands from there.