Thailand Itinerary

Thailand is one of the most popular destinations in South East Asia and a cornerstone in the backpacker’s trail through this part of the world. It’s a country that offers so much to its visitors, from a rich textured history represented in its many spectacular wats, temples and Buddha statues, to its stunning landscapes and wildlife to vibrant cities like Chiang Mai and Bangkok.

This is a country you could comfortably allocate months to and still feel like you need more time to continue exploring it.

My itinerary will presume you have two weeks to travel and will serve as a high-level guide. Thailand shouldn’t be explored with a checklist in hand, you just need to go with an open mind and see what surprises unfurl in front of you.


Bangkok (2 – 3 Days)

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We’ll start our tour in the capital, Bangkok. This is a city that people either love or hate, there’s no in between. I’m one of those people that don’t particularly like Bangkok. I try to limit my stays to 1 or 2 days max.

The crazy traffic, unforgiving heat and humidity and general dirtiness don’t appeal to me much. People that enjoy this town say that this is Bangkok, and you need to accept it for what it is. Untamed chaotic energy, you need to go in with an open mind.

Regardless, for a first time visitor Bangkok is a must-do destination.

Popular Attractions:

  • The most famous landmarks in Bangkok are luckily within close proximity to one another. You really should start your tour of Bangkok by checking them out:
    • The Grand Palace:  was built in 1782, and for 150 years home to the Thai King, it’s a dazzling complex of buildings. Its intricate designs and architecture are simply stunning.
    • Wat Phra Kaew: is regarded as one of the most important temples in Thailand. Inside this temple you’ll find the statue of the Emerald Buddha. This Buddha, which dates back to 15th century, is actually carved from a single block jade.
    • Wat Pho: is located behind the Temple of the Emerald Buddha (Wat Phra Kaew). This temple contains the Reclining Buddha, which is one of the most impressive Buddha statues in the world. The giant statue measures 46 metres long and is covered in gold leaf.
    • Wat Arun: Perched on the river bank of Chao Phraya, its majestic spires tower of the surrounding landscape. At night, with lights shining on it, Wat Arun is even more beautiful.
  • Visit A Floating Market: Bangkok has several floating markets, including: Taling Chan Market, Bang Ku Wiang Market, Tha Kha, and Damnoen Saduak. As you’d expect, the vendor’s boats are jammed into the waterways. Piled high with tropical fruits and vegetables, this is a great place to practice your haggling skills.
  • Chinatown: This is a great area to explore and the perfect place to grab some street food. Chinatown also offers a lot of good shopping options. You can buy trinkets, souvenirs and gifts for family and friends from your trip.
  • Shopping: To really satisfy your shopping urges you need to head to the Siam Shopping District. It’s a famous area filled with shopping centers, such as: Siam Paragon, Center, Discovery, Square and MBK. These malls will offer you everything you could imagine, from cheap stands, to affordable brands to high end shopping.
  • Check Bangkok’s Nighlife: Bangkok is famous for its nightlife that covers everything from upscale sky bars (like the on Banyan Tree Hotel) to the more salacious adult bars on Soi Cowboy.

 

Popular Daytrips:

  • Ayutthaya Historic Park: This is a UNESCO World Heritage site and it’s definitely worth the effort to visit. It holds the historic remains of the capital city of Ayutthaya.
  • Nakhon Pathom Chedi: One of the oldest cities in Thailand it features Phra Pathom Chedi, which is  the tallest Buddhist monument in the world.
  • Ko Samet: This isn’t a daytrip but an overnight trip. If you find Bangkok really isn’t to your taste then you can hop on a ferry and head to Ko Samet for a quick island getaway.


North Of Thailand (4 – 5 Days)

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After experiencing chaotic Bangkok we’re gonna shift gears and explore the cultural side of Thailand in the North. You can base yourself either in Chiang Mai or Chiang Rai. Chiang Mai is by far the more popular destination.

Even though the traffic in the north can get bad it never reaches the horrific levels of Bangkok. The northern towns, to my eye, offer a more relaxed atmosphere where you can delve into the Buddhist culture through its hundreds of wats and temples. There’s also an opportunity to talk with monks and get their perspective on life.

Beyond the cities, the North offers stunning landscapes and opportunities to get close to Thailand’s wildlife, including elephants and tigers through reserves and camps.

Popular Attractions And Day Trips (in Chiang Mai):

  • Explore Its Wats & Temples: It’s not an overstatement to say that Chiang Mai is overflowing with ancient Buddhist Temples. After all this is a city that’s over 700 years old. Each successive king left their mark by building everlasting temples. The result? Chiang Mai has over 300 temples and wats.
  • Doi Suthep: Doi Suthep is the most famous temple in Chiang Mai. This temple is perched high on Mount Suthep. Its grounds are beautiful, and from the mountaintop visitors get stunning panoramic views of Chiang Mai.  Be warned, this is a very popular attraction and it’s always congested with tourists.
  • The Night Market: I love Chiang Mai’s night markets, which are spread across its old town. I had some of the best food in Thailand in those stalls.
  • Visit An Elephant Camp: Visiting an elephant camp can be a great experience. You’ll get to care for the elephants, learn about them, bond with them, feed them and bathe them. Just be careful when picking a camp, there’s a lot of abuse that happens with these animals.
  • Hike in Doi Inthanon: Doi Inthanon is the highest peak in Thailand and is a two hour drive from Chiang Mai. You’ll probably want to visit as part of a tour group. These tours usually have itineraries that cover the white Karen tribe, two famous waterfalls, the King and Queen Twin Chedis, the Inthanon Royal Garden and small trek through the forest.


The Islands (4 – 5 days)

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The best way to end your tour of Thailand is dive into the waters of her islands. The hard part is deciding which one is best for you. Each island has its own unique personality and demographic that it caters to. There are islands known for their wild parties, others for their excellent scuba diving. Then there’s the islands with dreamy sandy beaches and luxury resorts. It’s a tough choice 🙂

 

To help with your decision making below is a quick guide to Thailand’s islands.

Ko Lipe

Ko Lipe is a small island that visitors can crisscross in an hour. It has three main beaches and plenty of accommodations that range from grass huts to air-conditioned bungalows. This is your little getaway island come to life. 

Ko Lanta

Ko Lanta is a beach bum's paradise, you'll get to enjoy long stretches of beach without the crowds. It's also an important destination for snorkeling and scuba diving enthusiasts. With out-of-this-world dive sites, you'll  get to swim with manta rays and whale sharks.

Ko Samet

Tired of the hustle and bustle of Bangkok? Then head off to Ko Samet for an overnight getaway or a weekend trip.
 
The majority of the island is a national park, but it has some great white sand beaches. If you're looking for a peaceful and relaxing settings then head to Ao Noina, Ao Phutsa, Au Nuan, and Ao Wai.

Hat Sai Kaeo and Ao Hin Khok are busier. Visitors come to these beaches for the sun, sand, sea and excellent nightlife. 

Ko Samui

Ko Samui is Thailand's second largest island (located in the Gulf of Thailand) and one of its most popular destinations. It's famous for it its palm-fringed beaches, coconut groves and mountainous rainforests. If you're looking for your creature comforts, then you've hit the jackpot. It has lots of luxury resorts with posh spas to choose from. 

Ko Pha-Ngan

Ko Pha-Ngan is backpacker central. Young travelers arriving to the island are looking for a wild time. Every year the island holds an EDM party called "Full Moon Party", which is basically one massive rave.

What happens in Ko Pha-Ngan stays in Ko Pha-Ngan.

Ko Phi Phi

This is another party island. Which is a shame, since it has a lot of attractions that make it better suited for families and regular tourists. It has great scuba diving sites, beautiful small islands and beaches to visit (the most famous being Maya Bay) and lots of outdoor activities. 

The nighlife here can get wild. There are tons of bars, lots of young partiers getting drunk on buckets of hard liquor and nightly fire shows (pictured above). 

Ko Tarutao

This is a quite island with stunning jungles and mountain scenery. Part of a 51 island National Marine Park archipelago, you'll get to see plenty of limestone cliffs that Thailand is famous for.  You can rent campsites and bungalows near the beach for a unquiely private experience. 

Phuket

Located in the Andaman Sea, Phuket is Thailand's largest and most popular island.

Phuket is a very well developed, and it caters to a wide variety of tourists. From travelers looking for luxury, to families and budget travelers looking for cheap accommodations to backpackers staying at guesthouses.

Some showstoppers not to be missed in Phuket are:  Phang Nga Bay's sheer limestone cliffs (like the famous James Bond Island pictured above), world class scuba diving in the Andaman Marine Parks and island hopping around the smaller islets that surround Phuket. 

Ko Tao

Ko Tao is all about the scuba diving. This is one of the most popular (and probably cheapest) places to get your diving certification. Just be prepared, the diver traffic under water can get pretty bad. 

Ko Chang

Bordering Cambodia, Ko Chang is a new addition to the popular island circuit. It has gorgeous nature that boasts several waterfalls, thriving coral reefs, rainforests and long white sandy beaches. Even though it is now a prime tourist island, it's still quieter than Phuket and Ko Samui.