I love Thailand. It was on the top of my list to visit in Southeast Asia and I was not disappointed. There are a few places in Thailand I felt were sub-par, super touristy, or skeevy, but most of it was absolutely amazing. The people are super nice, incredible nature including caves, waterfalls, and beaches, and some fantastic ruins. The food is also the best in Southeast Asia in my opinion. I was back and forth through Thailand on three occasions since getting around Southeast Asia often requires stopping in Bangkok. There are no visa requirements for Americans, so it's easy to come and go. There is so much to see and do in Thailand. Although I saw a good chunk of it, there is still so much more. I'll definitely be back again.
Suggest Staying: 2-3 weeks
Transport: Plane, bus, minibus, train, taxi, tuk tuk, songthaew
1. Koh Tao
Highlights: Scuba, snorkel, swimming, beach, sunset
Suggest Staying: 3-7+ days
I had read that Koh Tao was one of the best places in the world for scuba diving, but what I didn’t know that I got from other travelers is that this island is the most wonderful place to just go and relax. Despite being right next to the much larger, popular islands of Koh Pha Ngan and Koh Samui, Koh Tao has just enough people for it to be lively, but is well balanced with a super chill vibe that can easily make you lose track of time. Everyone I talked to stayed longer than expected. My plan was to stay 5 days and I ended up spending 11. It’s a great place to get scuba certified because it’s very cheap and often lodging is included. The dive sites are close which means less travel time on the boat making it cheaper, more time efficient, and good for those who get sea sick. In addition to diving, you can snorkel around the island (also fun), enjoy the beach, see some of the most beautiful sunsets, eat healthy, exercise, and do yoga. There is even some hiking. The sunsets really are spectacular…everyday! Be careful if you visit, you may not want to leave.
See & Do
- Sairee Beach. Main popular area on Koh Tao with the largest beach and good amount of restaurants, shops, and nightlife. Great place to watch the sunset.
- Mango Bay. Beautiful area for swimming and snorkeling.
- Nangyuan Island. Snorkel through the underwater Chinese Garden and Japanese Garden on either side of the island. Hike up to the top for a nice view of Koh Tao and of the island itself. Refreshments served and you can enjoy the beach too.
- Ao Leuk. Really nice snorkeling spot with fish and crevices to swim through and around.
- Hin Wong Bay. Really nice snorkeling and marine life.
- Shark Bay & Shark Island. Good snorkel spot. Sometimes sharks are around, but they can be tough to spot.
- Mango Bay View Hike. Although the view at the end was a bit underwhelming, it’s still a fun hike to do. Lots of hills. Bring plenty of water. Took maybe 45 minutes each way. Unfortunately you can’t actually see the sunset from the viewpoint.
- Yoga. Check out Grounded, morning and evening classes under a small covered outdoor pavilion. The instructors rotate, but Ellie in particular was fantastic. Great instruction and really helps you feel relaxed.
- Sail Rock. The most popular dive site around Koh Tao, and a very popular one around the world. It’s possible to see all kinds of fish, turtles, and other marine life of all shapes and sizes. It’s also possible to see whale sharks in the area. It’s farther away and therefore costs more to go. I unfortunately went during low visibility, so it wasn’t as exciting given we had difficulty seeing, but I believe it’s great when clear. More open space and deeper dives, so good for both beginner and advanced divers, plus larger marine life than some of the smaller sites.
- Southwest. Absolutely loved this site. Also deep and open which for a beginner is wonderful to casually glide through the sea almost as if you’re flying. Lots of cool marine life and massive reef walls.
- Chumphon. Also really loved this site. Deep and open with lots of cool marine life and massive reef walls.
- Green Rock. Really nice site that’s a bit more enclosed. Couple of really cool swim throughs. It’s a shallower dive and requires a bit more finesse than the larger, deeper sites, but you also get to see some really cool smaller marine life, like tiny shrimp that can clean your fingernails. Some good size fish too.
- White Rock. Another nice, shallow dive site for a variety of marine life, especially the smaller stuff. You will see some good size fish as well.
- Hin Win Pee & Wreck Dive. Combined dive site where you get to swim around an old sunken battleship without needing any advanced training if you just swim around the top, then you can swim around the reef to see some nice marine life.
- My Favorite Dives. Chumphon, Southwest, and Green Rock. Sail Rock was cool and I think I would have liked it better had the water been clearer.
- Getting There. You can fly into Krabi or Surat Thani (closest) airports easily from Bangkok and then just take a bus to the port. Then hop on one of the speed boats (Lomprayah is the nicest/fastest) that goes to all three islands, Koh Tao being the last one. Takes about 2.5 hours. Bathrooms on board. Bring a snack. Ride is pretty smooth, but if you get sea sick easily, bring some meds (I use Dramamine).
- Scuba. There are so many scuba shops on the island it’s overwhelming. Most of the resorts also have their own dive shops. The main differences are the number of people in a group and if they have their own boats. I went with Big Blue Diving after reading wonderful reviews on TripAdvisor. Although there are lots of people due to its popularity, the groups are small, only 4 people max and then maybe 4-8 groups total at the site. They have their own boat so they control when, where, and how they get out. The pricing is competitive, and in general diving is super cheap on Koh Tao compared to other places around the world. The dive masters are fantastic. You get discounts the more you dive and pay at the end. Big Blue is also a great place to get certified, they have a pool, are located right on the beach, and hostel style dorms are included in the price for certification.
- Snorkeling. Several companies offer a full or half day snorkel trip to several sites around Koh Tao. Includes lunch.
- Swimming. Be mindful of swimming around Sairee Beach if you have an open cut because the water can get really warm and breeds bacteria I’m told. I’m not sure what it was but the water did feel kind of strange to swim in. Other places were fine.
- Mango Bay View Hike. I recommend going early in the morning or later when the sun is going down. Leave yourself enough time to get back before dark or bring a headlamp. The path is along a dirt road. To find the trailhead, follow the road across from the 7-Eleven all the way. When you get to the viewpoint, you will see a bar and someone will ask for 100 baht to see the view, but you can try just walking past or saying no and you might not have to pay.
- Exercise & Nutrition. There’s a gym and health cafe on the island a bit down away from town called Fitness Cafe. Yummy, healthy food and shakes. It’s past the CrossFit.
2. Chiang Mai
Wat Pha Lat
Highlights: City, shopping, food, nature, temples, meditation, elephants, massage
Suggest Staying: 3-5 days
Stay Around: Nimannahaeminda or Old City
I loved Chiang Mai. Spent about a week, partly to relax and partly to see the sites. You can see the old city in a day or two, but there are a couple of interesting neighborhoods to see as well as some fun excursions to do outside the city. Great place to go sightseeing, experience Thai culture, hiking, nature, elephants, massages, and meditation retreats.
See & Do
- Old City. Temples, shrines, shops, and tour companies.
- Thonon Rachadamnoen Alley. From Tha Phae Gate and Prapokkloa Rd (towards the south end) in Old City has a bunch of temples. They’re all different and worth the wander. Most, if not all, are free. Pick the ones that look interesting to you.
- Saturday and Sunday Walking Streets. At night, really fun with vendors, street food, and live music.
- Night Market. Open area with street food and a stage. My personal favorite night market in Southeast Asia.
- Night Bazaar. Market with a variety of indoor shops including clothing, accessories, and food.
- Loi Kroh Road. Nightlife, food, massages. Part of it is a bit sleazy at night with the girl bars and ladyboys around.
- Nimannahaeminda Road. Artsy, nice area with neat cafes and restaurants. Also a bit of nightlife.
- Suthep Road. Area around Chiang Mai University where you can find lots of cheap street food and wander around the campus.
- Wat Chedi Luan. Buddhist temple.
- Wat Chian Mun (Man). Oldest monastery. Buddhist pictures view on Sun.
- Wat Suan Dok. Buddhist temple with white structures and gold stupa. Very beautiful. Just outside the Old City walls. Meditation classes.
- Wat Umon. Buddhist temple in the woods, very serene and calm. Large grounds, really nice. Meditation classes.
- Wat Phra That Doi Suthep. Large Buddhist temple. Street food, shops, and taxis around. 30 baht entrance.
- Doi Suthep. Really cool temple at the top of a mountain with great views.
- Wat Pha Lat (Phalad). Follow in the footsteps of monks on this secret, amazing hike to a temple hidden away on the mountain atop a waterfall. The waterfall was dried up when I visited, and may be dried up permanently, but either way it makes for a beautiful scene. Not often frequented by tourists. Probably my favorite Buddhist temple in Chiang Mai.
- Buhping Palace. Gardens also. Ok to stroll but can’t go in anything and no views really. 50 baht entrance. Nice to walk around, but if you’re short on time, skip it. Outside the city.
Food & Drink
- ต๋องอาหารเมือง. Local dishes on Nimannahaeminda Rd and no. 13 close to the sushi place. Always crowded. Many dishes unique to Northern Thailand. Many spicy. My host recommended and the only way to find it on Google maps is using it’s name in Thai, so just copy and paste.
- Musashi Sushi. Nice, fresh.
- Rustic and Blue. Nice cafe for tea and breakfast. Other meals served also.
- Shopping & Groceries. Festival Center is a nice mall with a really awesome grocery store and food court. Located in East Chiang Mai. Also have Maya Shopping Center.
- Hospital. I needed a doctor before heading to Chiang Rai and ultimately before entering Laos, so I went to Chiang Mai Ram Hospital. Best hospital experience I’ve ever had. Got an exam, blood test, results, diagnosis, and medication all in the span of only an hour and half. Didn’t even have to leave the building, and the whole thing cost less than $100 without insurance. Absolutely amazing. English speaking nurses and doctors were not a problem. If you incur medical expenses, keep your receipts. I was reimbursed through my World Nomads policy.
- Meditation Retreats. There are several Buddhist temples that offer meditation retreats, which is basically living like a monk for a number of days. They vary from an afternoon to more often 1-3 day retreats. You can also find 10-days or more. I wanted to do one, but found out about them too late. They are very inexpensive, much cheaper than you would find in the U.S. You basically just pay for meals and accommodations. Probably similar to staying in a hostel.
- Doi Suthep. There is a nearby waterfall that is walkable. Easy to see Doi Suthep while in Chiang Mai or on the way out of the city, like to Pai. There is also supposedly a hiking trail, but I think it’s pretty far and steep. I made it as far as Wat Pha Lat, about half way up the mountain in about 30-45mins.
- Wat Pha Lat. I found out after the fact you can drive there, but the secret hike is way more awesome. The scenery is absolutely stunning at the temple. It’s in use and inhabited by monks. Just a wonderfully peaceful place. You can do a retreat here. To get to the hike, go to the end of Suthep Road by Chiang Mai University. Walk forward and turn right at the intersection towards the rear entry of Chiang Mai Zoo. You will see in the distance a red and white radio/tv tower just to your right. This is roughly where the trail starts. You will see two green signs that have what appears to be a hiking trail map. See pictures below and also read this post which has more details.
Highlights: Waterfalls, caves, canyon, hot springs, massage, yoga
Suggest Staying: 3-5 days
Stay Around: Pai Walking Street (Bus Station)
I originally heard about Pai from BeMyTravelMuse, a wonderful travel blog I highly recommend reading. While traveling, many people also told me about this place. Although it sounded like a place full of lazy hippies, the countryside outside the town is absolutely incredible. Hiking, waterfalls, caves, sunsets, road trips, and more. Great place to come and relax or adventure. Another place where people stayed longer than planned.
See & Do
- Mor (Mo) Paeng Phaeng Waterfall. Natural rock slide.
- Yun Lai Viewpoint. Just outside the town near Mo Paeng.
- Pai Canyon. Beautiful place to walk around on the tops of the hills and stay to watch the sunset. It can get crowded around the main viewing point. I accidentally stumbled upon two people having sex down below while I was wandering around. Guess they weren’t as well hidden as they thought.
- Land Split. Short hike up the hill where you can see a distinct separation in the land and valley.
- Pembok (Pam Bok) Waterfall. Waterfall and swimming area. Can hike up and around the back also for a neat view of the waterfall and swimming pool down below.
- Pai Circus School. Learn to dance with fire. On site hostel.
- Pai Memorial Bridge. Crosses the river.
- Pai Walking Street. Lots of street food and a few things to buy.
- Wat Mae Yen Viewpoint. Giant white Buddha statue in the mountain. Wondful for sunset.
- Thai Pai Hot Springs. Park with a river hot springs that runs through it. You can literally relax in the hot baths out amongst the trees. Fantastic, even in the heat to relax your muscles.
- Tam Lod (Tham Lot) Cave. Very cool and popular cave where you will ride along the river inside the cave on a narrow bamboo raft, periodically getting out to walk around the chambers.
- Mae La Na Cave. One of my favorite adventures on my trip through Southeast Asia. Supposedly the longest navigable cave in Thailand, you can hike to a waterfall inside the cave, or just go halfway. Very off the beaten path, a dash of danger, and definitely not visited by tourists. It’s not for everyone though. For more info, see my detailed post, Possibly The Best Thing In Pai You’ve Never Heard Of.
- Mork-Fa Waterfall. Hike to a large, beautiful waterfall where you can swim in the pool below. Turn off route 107 onto 1095 and drive around 20-30 minutes. It’s about halfway to Pai. Costs 100 baht. There is a changing room, campground, and small shelter for sleeping. Has a 500 meter natural trail and also a bat cave.
- Mae Hong Son. This very famous part of the loop that takes you from Chiang Mai up through Pai and up to the Chinese Villages at the border of Myanmar and down back around.
- Pha Seau Waterfall. Beautiful waterfall with fish swimming in part of the stream. Located in Thampla National Park.
- Fish Cave. Randomly interesting river and cave with around a hundred or so blue fish. They are considered sacred so they are not fished out. Nice area for nature and to walk around. Even has a campground. Located in Thampla National Park.
- Chinese Villages. Up in the north towards the border with Myanmar, there are several small Chinese Villages that look totally out of place in Thailand. It’s a bit of a distance to see, but it’s pretty cool if you have the time and sense of adventure. There are places to eat and drink tea. I visited Ban Rak Thai which resides on a nice lake with Chinese style covering people’s homes. Was a bit eery, maybe just because it’s pretty off the beaten path, so it was pretty quiet.
Food & Drink
- Na’s Kitchen. Good food, but crowded and slow.
- TTK. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner just over the bridge fro the East towards town. Koi who works there is super nice and friendly.
- Om Cafe. Great place for interesting and healthy breakfast.
- Cafe Ong Pai. Located at Mor Paeng waterfall.
- Sushi Hill. Thai and sushi. Really good. Located at the Pailanna Resort.
- Getting There. Pai is located up in the mountains and as a result, the road is very windy to get here. The only options for transportation is by minivan, motorbike, taxi, or rental car. Each has its own pros and cons. The most popular is by minivan, but I heard stories of people throwing up in the back, so bring some motion sickness pills if you get car sick. It depends on the driver. Motorbike is nice, but for some it might be scary since it’s not uncommon to be overtaken by minivans/cars along the windy roads. Given all this, I rented a car and drove myself from Chiang Mai. It’s easy to find an automatic transmission car if you don’t know how to drive a manual. I found this to be great to have space for my stuff, A/C, and the freedom/safety to travel around and outside Pai.
- Rental Car. Thai Rent A Car is cheap and provides good cars and great service.
- Waterfalls. During the dry season in Mar/Apr, many rivers and waterfalls start to dry up. Still fun to climb on the rocks though, and some waterfalls do have some water, possibly even enough to swim.
- White Water Rafting. Possible to do, but not in the dry season during Mar/Apr.
Highlights: Beach, rock climbing, caves, nature, kayaking, scuba, snorkeling, swimming
Suggest Staying: 3-5 days
Stay Around: Railay Beach (West) or Ao Nang
Very beautiful and popular destination for locals and tourists alike. What you might not know is that Krabi is actually the province. There is Krabi town, but it’s not on the beach or really anything interesting. The main things to see in Krabi are the several beaches with views of small limestone karsts emerging from the sea. The water is crystal clear, warm, and wonderful for swimming and snorkeling. There is scuba diving off the mainland in the Andaman Sea. Pretty amazing sunsets as well. This is also a good spot to make your way to Koh Phi Phi. I didn’t get there due to the weather, but I’ve heard from many travelers it’s great for beaches, small islands, kayaking, and partying. It’s where The Beach was filmed.
See & Do
- Railay Beach. Beautiful beach at the southern tip of Krabi, popular for the beach itself as well as rock climbing. There are also a couple caves nearby. There is a West side (beaches, rock climbing, sunsets) and East side (more secluded, backpackers, restaurants, bars).
- Phran Nang. Cave and beach next to Railay Beach.
- Tonsai Beach. Another popular spot adjacent to Railay Beach.
- Ao Nang. The most developed with shops, restaurants, hotels, and resorts. Great play to stay if you want a nice beach and lots around you. It’s a bit more touristy, but definitely the easiest to get to, most convenient, and fun to walk around for an afternoon.
- Getting There. You can actually fly directly into Krabi from Bangkok via AirAsia for a very low fare. You can then take a minibus, big bus, and sometimes long tail boat to your accommodations.
- Getting Around. It’s difficult to tell just by looking at the map, but you will end of having to take a long tail boat between the beaches. You can usually find a bunch of them just hanging out on the various beaches.
- Weather. Best time to go is between Oct-Feb. Mar and Apr start to get really hot, although I didn’t think it was that bad, especially if you spend your time in the water. May brings the rainy season. It’s interesting because the weather here on the Andaman Sea is completely different than the gulf where Koh Samui, for example, is located. So if you plan to go to either or both, check the weather for each, as there may be significant differences and the best time to go may vary. Possibly even by a couple of months. I visited in May and every night was a pretty massive thunderstorm, so the rainy season was just beginning. The days were very sunny and hot.
- Railay Beach. Unbeknownst to me before arriving, there are actually two parts to Railay Beach, the more well known and popular West side and more secluded backpacker East side. If you want an easier time getting around, near the rock climbing, and closer to Tonsai Beach or a quick boat ride to Ao Nang, stay on the West. The East side is only accessible by boat, or an off the beaten path from the West side. I arrived late at night during a torrential downpour and was dropped off at a dock in the pitch black. Not knowing if I was even going to the right place, I was told to wade through the sea with my bags and hop on a long tail boat where we chartered out into the darkness and crashing waves of the sea around the rocks only to arrive on the “other” side of Railay (West) that was opposite from my hillside bamboo hut. Since there are no roads to the East side, I had to find this non-obvious path and walk about 30 minutes. Was an adventure that was fun looking back on, but knowing what I know now, I would have stayed on the West side of Railay Beach or on Tonsai Beach.
- Sunset. Railay Beach on the West side is a prime spot., but I would think Tonsai and Ao Nang would be great as well.
Highlights: Temple ruins
Suggest Staying: 2-3 days
Stay Around: New Sukhothai
Kind of like Thailand’s version of Angkor Wat, I absolutely loved Sukhothai. There are tons of temples and the ruins are in surprisingly good condition given how old they are. You can walk around all of the temples and it’s very beautiful. Since it’s a bit far outside of Bangkok and most people seem to just settle for Ayutthaya, there seem to be less tourists here than one might expect which is kind of nice. Friendly people around also. Allow 2 days for temple seeing, especially if you’re on a bike.
See & Do
- Center Loop. Wat Mahathat, Wat Si Sawai, Wat Thapangngern, King Ramkhanhaeng Monmument
- Northwest Loop. Wat Phra Phai Luang, Wat Si Chum, Wat Saphan Hin
- Getting Around. If you are staying in New Sukhothai, there is a cheap bus that goes to Old Sukhothai and the ruins. When you get to the park, rent a bike just outside the central entrance and cycle around the area. I thought it was a lot of fun, you really feel more engrossed in the nature and everything on a bicycle as opposed to being driven around or on a motorbike.
River Boat Ride
Ayutthaya was another really cool site for temple ruins. Really neat style and loads of fun to bicycle around, especially along the river. You can see everything in a day, two max if you visit the areas outside the center. At night, it’s possible to take a boat ride through the river and you can see temples lit up along the bank.
My guesthouse arranged a private boat ride for me. I had no idea where I was going as a couple in a tuk tuk drove me to this back alley and helped me onto a boat. Just me and the driver. Seemed a bit suspicious, but he ended up being very nice and although it was a little more expensive than I would have liked, it was another fun adventure.
See & Do
- Temple Ruins. They are all pretty centrally located and not terribly far on a bike, motorbike, or tuk tuk. I lost my map that had my recommendations, but you can get a nice area map with a list and some suggested routes.
- Boat Ride. Along the river bank where the temples are lit up.
- Getting There. Don Muang Airport (DMG) has bus or train to Ayutthaya. If you arrive Suvarnabhumi Airport (BKK), you can take a minibus to DMG for 40 baht or take the sky rail to avoid traffic. Then hop on the train which costs 20-65 baht. Alternatively, take the A1 bus to Mochit bus station in Bangkok and then catch the bus to Ayutthaya.
- Train Tickets. When purchasing a train ticket, the cheapest ticket will most likely not be a seat, so ask at the counter. You will pay extra, but it’s still cheap. No A/C on the train. Not bad for short trips, but wouldn’t recommend for more than an hour or two.
Chiang Rai is most popular for the famous White Temple which is absolutely spectacular. There are also a few other neat things to see around the grounds there. The town itself I thought was pretty cool. Very laid back and a great place to chill for a couple days if you want. There are also several excursions outside the city other than just the White Temple including mountains, waterfalls, caves, monkeys, and a tea plantation. I was meeting my Stray Asia tour in Laos, so I unfortunately didn’t have time for most of these, but would definitely go back the next time I visit Chiang Mai.
See & Do
- White Temple (Wat Rong Khun). Picturesque white, sparkling temple just outside the city.
- Golden Triangle. Area where Thailand, Myanmar, and Laos intersect. Was famous for drugs from the poppy fields.
- Clock Tower. At night changes color on the hour.
- Quick Stop. If coming from Chiang Mai, you can go directly to the White Temple via bus to Chiang Rai and then tuk tuk or minibus to the White Temple. Then continue to Laos in the afternoon and cross the border into Huay Xai. I recommend spending at least 1 day here, but if you’re short on time, it’s easy to just see the main attraction.
- Accommodations. Everyone stays at Mercy Hostel. It’s the nicest hostel, and probably the nicest budget accommodation I’ve stayed at. Private rooms and dorms. They also have a list of excursions and will help you book them.
- Food & Tea. Across from the clock tower, Yoddoi has a wonderful tea and coffee selection as well as good food for all meals.
Koh Samui is one of the most popular and heavily visited islands in Thailand. So it’s pretty touristy and very developed. Of the three nearby islands, I thought Koh Samui had the nicest beach, at least along Lamai Beach. There are tons of restaurants, bars, and shops as well.
See & Do
- Lamai Beach. Really nice beach. Relaxed area.
- Lamai Sunday Night Market. All kinds of food, clothes, and other trinkets.
- Grandfather & Grandmother Rocks. Hin Yai and Hin Ta are famous rock formations that are interesting to visit, climb on, and take funny pictures.
- Chaweng Beach. Most popular part of the island, very developed, very touristy. Beach, shops, restaurants, and bars.
- Scuba Diving. Around Koh Tao.
- When To Go. I arrived here mid May. The rainy season was just starting to creep in the day I left. May can be a great time to go, but can be risky due to the weather. Days were beautiful, hot and sunny and there were hardly any people around except locals and expats. Personally I liked that because I just wanted to relax. More popular times to go are Dec-Feb and then picking up again in Sept.
- Laundry. Easy to get laundry done for cheap. Had mine done before heading to Europe.
Koh Pha Ngan
Full Moon Party
Although I wasn’t interested in the Full Moon Party, I happened to be on Koh Tao and making my way east back to the mainland at the exact time of the event. So of course I had to check it out. Although I went during low season, there were still lots of people. Huge sound systems lined the beach with people drinking, dancing, and jumping over fire. It’s quite a spectacle and even if you’re not a big partier, I recommend checking it out if you’re around for it. There is also a Half Moon Party. Some really nice beaches and waterfalls can be found if you travel around the island, so there’s actually quite a bit to see and do if you want more than to just party.
See & Do
- Full Moon Party. Located in Haad Rin where there are tons of bars and restaurants.
- Haad Rin Nai. West side, good for sunset.
- Haad Rin Rok. East side, good for sunset.
- Mae Haad and Ko Ma. Quiet, secluded beach located in the northwest. Best snorkeling around the island. Go along the left side of the island coming from the beach towards the middle and make your way out towards the end. It’s a bit difficult walking over the rocks (wear sandals or water shoes if you have them), but you will see some really cool stuff in the shallower water next to the rocks. Pretty sure I saw a baby octopus, along with a bunch of fish feeding on the rocks.
- Wang Sai Waterfall. Pool good for swimming, but check if there is water in it because there is none during the dry season. Also some aerial activities.
- Haad Salad. Nice quiet beach in the northwest.
- Haad Yao. Nice, long beach with white sands. Good for snorkeling. There is also a secret beach on the other side of the rocks to the south down below High Life Bungalows. It’s not super impressive, but fun to try and locate.
- Scuba Diving. Around Koh Tao.
- Full Moon Party. You can go to a bar or get buckets of alcohol on the beach. It costs money to use the bathroom and although it’s not much, people will often pee in the ocean. It’s kind of gross when things start getting really busy. You will also pay to get in and receive a wristband. However, I think if you are there during the day or are staying and make your way through the back, you might be able to avoid the fee.
- Stay Around. Haad Yao (calm) or Haad Rin (party).
Bangkok is an experience. It’s a bustling city that offers a wide array of things to see and do. Most people go there to party on the infamous backpacker street Khaosan Road. But there are also some really nice temples and palaces. The farther into the city center and away from the tourist spots, the nicer it gets in terms of buildings, shops, restaurants, etc. Personally, although I liked some of the sites, I didn’t particularly like Bangkok as a whole. It’s super crowded, loud, touristy, and takes at least 30 minutes to get anywhere, even if it’s close.
See & Do
- Wat Po. Magnificent grand palace with a massive reclining Buddha. Massive area, leave about an hour to visit.
- Wat Phrakaew. Emerald Buddha Temple. Massive area, leave about an hour to visit.
- Khaosan Road. Backpack area where the party never stops.
- Night Markets. There are ones located in Silom, Patpong, Sukhumvit, and Khaosan.
- Chatuchak Weekend Market. World’s largest market. Gets very busy.
- Sukhumvit. Bustling area at the city center. Night market. Popular nightlife spot as an alternative to Khaosan. Nana and Soi Cowboy are the red light districts.
- Art In Paradise. Super cool 3D art where you can take some hilarious pictures of yourself in these 3D scenes. The artwork is amazing. Located in the mall on the top floor.
- Muay Thai. Lots of fights around town, some places are free certain nights.
Food & Drink
- Coffee and Tea Heer Tai. Breakfast, lunch, good drinks. Located near Khaosan.
- The Living Room. Thai food. Bit pricey, but really good. Located in Sukhumvit inside the Sheraton.
- Jin Chieng Seng. Thai food. Located by Inn A Day.
- Ranees. Italian, pizza, Thai.
- Getting Downtown. The airport link (metro) will take you downtown. For Khaosan, take it all the way to Phaya Thai, where you can catch a tuk tuk or taxi to Khaosan.
- Getting Around. The sky rail (metro) is great. Super cheap and no road traffic. If you are traveling into the city from Khaosan, it’s cheaper and faster to tuk tuk, taxi, or Uber to the metro. Uber works well, especially at first so you can get an idea of what it costs to get around. Additionally, if the driver doesn’t speak your language it doesn’t matter because you can enter your destination in the app. Tuk tuks are a cheap, popular way to get around. Just be sure to set the price with your driver before you get going, or at least make sure he turns on the meter rather than making up his own price. Tuk tuks and taxis will be cheaper the farther you are from the main palace area. Even just walking 5-10 minutes away could save you a couple hundred baht. Keep small bills (max 100 baht) for tuk tuk or taxi because they seem unable, or unwilling, to make change.
- Airports. Suvarnabhumi (BKK) is the newer, more popular airport where most major airlines fly into. Don Mueang (DMG) is the budget airlines. Sometimes DMG can be more advantageous because it’s less crowded and located north outside the city center, which is useful if traveling in that direction from Bangkok There is a free shuttle from DMG to BKK with proof of flight. Ask around to find it.
- Money Exchange. There is an amazing currency exchange place called Super Rich (what a perfect name) in Bangkok. They take pretty much anything and give you fair rates. I had left over money from Myanmar I couldn’t exchange anywhere else in Thailand for more than a third of what it was worth, but this place took it. Located across from Central World Mall near Siam BTS station or direct off the airport link at Ratchaprarop station.
- Accommodations. While it’s fun to stay in or around Khaosan, personally I thought Sukhumvit was much nicer and also more centrally located to get around more easily.
- Tour Operators. Bangkok has many around Khaosan Rd, or just outside the main road. I went to STA Travel and stumbled upon Stray Asia which offers a hop-on hop-off bus around Southeast Asia. I joined them for Vietnam and Laos. Probably expensive for a shoestring backpacker budget, but much less and way more flexible than a regular tour. This was a great find and I had a blast.
- Scams. Taxi and tuk tuk drivers will try and rip off tourists, so ask around to see how much you should pay. Whenever you get a driver, agree on a price before you go anywhere to avoid any issues. There is also a common scam around the grand palace where someone will approach you claiming to be a volunteer. They target tourists and tell you regardless of the time of day that foreigners are not allowed in. Only Thais. They will tell you to come back later, but in the meantime will hook you up with a great deal for a tuk tuk around the city to see the sites. During this voyage, you will be taken to a shop at some point where the driver and/or the person from the palace gets a commission if you buy something. I fell for this and was told it was Buddha Day, my lucky day. There is an actual Buddha Day, but it falls in May, and it was Jan. The ride is cheap, you’ll see some temples, and can get a suit if you want, so it’s not a huge deal. You’ll lose time though because the temple closes early, like at 3 or 4pm or something. To avoid this scam, go directly to the main entrance (there is only one), and avoid the side exits. Only talk to the guards at the door who will tell you if you can’t enter for some reason.
I read about Lonely Beach and was excited to visit on my way to Otres Beach in Cambodia. I was pretty disappointed though. The beach wasn’t great, although it was nice in Kai Bae. It seemed to me to be a place where backpackers come to party, which is cool if that’s your thing. To get around on the island you must take a songthaew, taxi, or motorbike. You can’t walk due to the hills and there is only the driving road (no sidewalk or walking path). Scuba diving is supposed to be good, but depends on the season for good visibility.
See & Do
- Lonely Beach. Where all the backpackers go. Beach is not very nice. Lots of bars, a few restaurants, and couple dive shops.
- Kai Bae. I thought this was the nicest area. Located along the southern part of the island. Really nice beach, restaurants, shops. Bit more expensive, but had some really nice hotels and resorts if you want to splurge a little bit.
- White Sands Beach. Long stretch of beach, better in the northern part of the area.
- Chai Chet. Nice area and beach.
- Booking. Don’t book ahead of time unless going in Dec or Jan during peak season. There are plenty of places and you can get cheaper prices in person. No need for A/C really to keep the room cool, but helpful to keep the room dry from the humidity.
- Sunset. At Kai Bae Beach or vista point at south end of Kai Bae on the way to Lonely Beach. Can’t see from Lonely Beach.
- Elephants. There is supposedly an Elephant park near Porn’s Bungalow, but I couldn’t find it. I did see a baby elephant in the water when I was at the beach walking around though. Sadly a full grown man was riding him, so I’m not sure how they treat their elephants.
Jomtien Beach Condo
I only really stopped here because I was taking a couple day break. Pattaya has a reputation for being a kind of crazy drugs and sex infested area with many bar girl places and prostitution. Jomtien Beach is a little farther down and has a less skeevy vibe to it. The beach isn’t bad and has lots of space. Unless you’re looking to hang out with predominantly sleezy middle aged Western men, I wouldn’t bother with this place. The condo I stayed at was super cool though, with a massive size pool and pirate ship in the back. Not a bad place if you’re just looking to chill and not interact with your surroundings.
- Cheap Air Travel. AirAsia is a fantastic airline and makes traveling around Southeast Asia, in particular Thailand, very affordable and quick, especially to the islands. If you're thinking about traveling around more than just Thailand, consider stopping in Bangkok to catch cheap flights around the area, and especially around Thailand. Similarly, flying out of Asia can be cheapest and most time efficient out of Bangkok.
- Getting To The Gulf Side Islands. Fly into Krabi or Surat Thani (closest) airports easily from Bangkok and then just take a bus to the port. Lomprayah offers the nicest and fastest speed boat that goes to all three islands, Koh Samui, Koh Pha Ngan, and Koh Tao. Takes about 2.5 hours to Koh Tao. Bathrooms on board. Bring a snack. Ride is pretty smooth, but if you get sea sick easily, bring some meds. I use Dramamine.
- Visiting Temples. Sandals are usually ok, you will take them off before entering inside a temple. Long pants are often required, so convertible pants are perfect. No skirts above the knee and covered shoulders for the ladies. Some temples have things to rent while walking around the temple if you forget.
- Water & Ice. Stick to bottled water or use a purifier. Ice is ok only if tube shaped, not crushed. To be safe, don't use ice, or ask if it's made from purified water.
- Ladyboys. Most prevalent in Thailand, but can be found all over Southeast Asia. Many of them are quite feminine looking, so pay close attention or ask if you're getting along.
Bangkok / East Thailand
- Flights: $200 (from Taiwan)
- Lodging: $274 (hotels, guesthouses)
- Transportation: $73 (tuk tuk, taxi, bus)
- Activities: $15 (temples)
- Food: $220 (estimated $20/day)
- Flights: $106 (from Vietnam)
- Lodging: $353 (guesthouses, hostels)
- Transportation: $216 (tuk tuk, bus, train, rental car)
- Activities: $82 (temples, caves)
- Food: $255 (estimated $15/day)
- Flights: $189 (from Myanmar)
- Lodging: $753 (hut, resort)
- Transportation: $142 (bus, boat, tuk tuk)
- Activities: $240 (snorkeling, scuba diving)
- Food: $420 (estimated $20/day)
Not required, at least not for U.S. citizens. Can stay up to 30 days. Remember you departure card for when you leave Thailand.
Mosquitoes, Malaria, and Dengue
From what I understand, malaria has been pretty much eradicated in the popular parts of Thailand. Similar situation with Dengue I believe. However, if you’re going to be in mosquito dense areas like jungles or even at the beach at dawn or dusk especially, it’s wise to use bug spray regardless. I used bug spray with either deet (at least 20%) or citronella (more natural) which worked well for me. I had malaria tablets, but didn’t both with them. I’m not a doctor so you should consult yours before deciding what do about malaria medication.