Thailand Travel Guide
- Jul 20, 2016
- Category: Travel
At 20, I landed at the Bangkok International Airport without expectation. I was outfitted in an oversized backpack, a summer dress, and a smile, sweating profusely from the early September humidity. Unaware how expansive and wild this unknown land would be, I excitedly embarked on a ride that would change my life, forcing me to venture into cultures way more foreign than those I had ever experienced back in the States and backpacking Europe for the previous 6 weeks. I spent 5 months in Southeast Asia, flip flopping between class at an international Thai university on the outskirts of Bangkok with traveling neighboring cities and countries. So here is my ThailandTravel Guide with all the go-to spots and tips!
The Bangkok International Airport (BKK) is the largest airport in Southeast Asia with the most in and outbound flights. Consider this your pivot point. Exchange some money for Thai baht in the airport for a taxi. Then exchange more at a bank as soon as you get into town where there’s typically a better rate. The taxi from the airport into the city will cost you about 200 or 300 Baht…ALWAYS use the meter. Prepare yourself for an overwhelming heat sensation as you exit, immediately hop in a taxi and head downtown.
In and around Bangkok, take taxis, tuk-tuks, and motorcyles. For the most part, all are safe, but be prepared: Thai drivers aren’t the most cautious.
From Bangkok, you have two choices.
- Fly: Air Asia is the cheapest way to fly around Southeast Asia. Round trip flights from BKK typically run $90-110 US dollars, or less!
- Train: The overnight trains are not bad at all. Seriously. But don’t go during the day, waste of time. The benefit of taking the train is you’re traveling while sleeping—two for the price of one. Make sure to go to the MAIN train station in Bangkok which is only about 50 baht from Koh San Road in a taxi. The trains typically leave between 630pm – 8pm. You should be just fine to show up to the station and purchase a ticket. ONLY get a sleeper, 2nd class is more than ideal. I would highly recommend getting a top bunk which is actually cheaper but much more comfortable—cooler up top and I felt safer with my belongings. They make the pull down beds with clean sheets and have a food service on board….but get food before. The kitchen is sketchy.
Note: If you’re considering taking a bus north or south, DO NOT. It is the utter definition of miserable. Thai buses play this ear-deafening music all night, and freezing air-conditioning will make you catch frost bite, and they’re long, long, long. You’ll arrive at your destination exhausted and car sick.
I’d first spend a couple days in Bangkok.
Hotels are abundant. You can go high-end or opt for a budget accommodation. Since I lived in a house, I didn’t have first-hand experience with hotels, except: The Dusit in Hua Hin (coastal town a few hours from Bangkok) where I stayed with my mom and sister, and the Dusit Thani Bangkok a couple weeks after my stay in Hua Hin, to where I invited myself to enjoy their top-deck pool in Bangkok. Yes, it’s 5-star so if that’s too much, go the guesthouse/hostel route! Koh San Road, aka Travelers’ Road, is where there’s a ton of guesthouses and “touristy”
shops and cafes. Know that it’s very noisy here at night, so I’d stay somewhere off the main road.
Check here for a list of hotels.
Activities + Adventure
A 20-minute walk from Koh San, the palace grounds are breathtaking, rooted in history and culture. Just outside the gates, do NOT believe men dressed in suits who claim the palace is closed due to a holiday; they are simply trying to sell you on a tuk tuk tour of the rest of the city. Be sure to cover up, especially your shoulders, out of respect. If you need a shirt, you can borrow one from the palace at the front gate for free. Walk ALL the way down the long walkway within the gates of the palace to the LEGITIMATE ticket counter. Do NOT buy tickets from anyone else; it’s a scam. Then relax and enjoy!
MBK and Siam Paragon
Even if you aren’t a shopper, perusing these malls is still worth it! Spend a couple hours on the endless levels and hallways, especially the top most floor of MBK. There, you have a discounted, market-type shopping area with similar street pricing (possibly cheaper). Also make sure to go into to the grocery store on the bottom floor of Paragon—it’s better than Whole Foods! If nothing else, the malls have A/C so it’s a nice escape from the outside if you’re overheating.
Chatuchak Weekend Market
The outdoor shopping experience is super rad, again cramming everything you’d ever need in one area. Chatuchak Market is a must-see. Prepare yourself for busy and random; you can purchase everything from books to live snakes. You’ll most likely get lost in the mayhem, but relax and soak it in. Be sure to hold tightly onto your belongings. Busy crowds mean tourists are easy targets. Get there around 9am to beat the crowds. There is a stop off the Sky Tram specifically for Chatuchak. Over the years, the markets have changed some, so check out this article from a local online magazine about a new bazaar.
Take a day trip to explore the old temples and ruins of the Kingdom’s ancient former capital, Ayutthaya. It’s about an hour and a half train ride from Bangkok. The image below, fuzzy and terribly framed, is me at 20 there!
As you browse trinkets on the street in the Red Light District, men will approach you and invite, “You want to see ping-pong show?” That’s when you say, no matter how feminist you may be, “Okay!” This show is the most ridiculous thing you’ll ever seen. Women literally shoot ping pongs from their vaginas, draw audience members’ portraits with markers with their vaginas, slurp a soda through a straw with their vagina, and more. Go once, experience it is all its glory, consider what these women must think and feel, and then be done.
The largest, oldest park in Bangkok, Lumphini Park attracts hoards of older Thais who gather for slow-moving group exercise classes–it’s so cute!
After you’ve gotten your fix of Bangkok, head either south (the islands) or north (the mountains), depending on what you’re craving at the moment.
NORTHERN THAILAND: CHIANG MAI
Activities + Adventure
King’s Elephant Conservation
Do NOT miss the conservation. One of my highlights of Thailand. The elephants are well cared for, a surprising thing there for animals. Your guesthouse/hotel can give you details on how to get to the bus station and at where to get dropped off. It’s about a 45-minute bus ride. 200 Baht entry fee.
Some may argue the night market is what makes Chiang Mai famous. Take time to walk around the river bank and over the bridges, it’s beautiful.
Yee Peng Festival
Every year, in November, locals and travelers gather to send thousands of lanterns into the night sky. It’s thought to be the perfect time to make a wish for the year to come. If you can schedule your travels around this festival, I highly recommend it!
SOUTHERN THAILAND: THE ISLANDS
Ok, now head down south.
Take a train or flight to Koh Samui and then an hour ferry straight to Koh Tao. The trip is long but soooo worth it.Famous for scuba diving, this is where my sister Miya and I got PADI certified. Absolutely a blast! If you go there (which I would recommend since the diving is considered world-class) it costs about 300 dollars all in. Check out Buddha View Dive School. They are wonderful. Buddha View is a great option because they have a small, very clean pool where you first practice diving before going out into open water. The accommodations are clean and nice enough, and the facility is directly on the water, the other side of the island from the main port.
Ko Phi Phi
Your journey to Ko Phi Phi is similar, but it’s on the opposite side of the tail of Thailand. You can fly much easier here, which I recommend because it’s much more south than Koh Tao. Fly directly to Krabi, then take a ferry to Ko Phi Phi. There is a bungalow guesthouse on the other side of the island to which you must take a boat from the main port in Phi Phi. You basically will have your own beach. It’s quiet and clean (roughing it a bit, but each bungalow has electricity and a mosquito net and you wake up to the most beautiful sight every morning). It’s family owned, and they are wonderful.
Of course, I was 20 when I stayed there, so now, a decade later, I’d probably want a bit nicer accommodations. Check here for a few options. Again, relatively speaking, prices are super cheap.
Activities + Adventure
Head out on adventure from your hotel/guesthouse, straight uphill to the lookout point on the island. You can go from one side to the other, but remember it’s jungle; prepare yourself with bug spray!
Phi Phi Lay
Did you ever see Leonardo DiCaprio in the movie “The Beach“? This is where that film was shot. Pay for a personal boat tour of the the island. You’re limited to where on the island you can go, since they are trying to preserve the land, after the film did so much damage. Here, the water is the most pristine water in the world.
Note: If traveling during rainy season (end of September to early November), it’s possible a storm will roll through while you’re on a ferry boat or long boat. Know that you won’t die…I say this because I thought I was going to. The boat operators/locals know the water so well, you’ll be fine. I recommend packing garbage bags or a water proof bag for your belongings and camera.
On the way back from Phi Phi, stay one night in Ao Nang, directly next to Krabi, on the mainland of Thailand, right on the water.
For a budget option, check out The Cashew Nut, a clean, safe guesthouse a super nice Muslim family owns. Interesting for the cultural experience in a country that is so rooted in Buddhism. Remember: I haven’t seen the place in a decade, but it was clean and simple. Plus, it’s about 100 meters off the main strip of road in Ao Nang. For nicer accommodations, check here.
Be sure to spend an afternoon at the Tiger Cave, feeding wild monkeys mangoes!
There are so many other spots to explore in Thailand. This is just to get you started! Comment below with your favorite spots!