1. Koh Tao
2. Chiang Mai
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.
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.
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.
Koh Pha Ngan
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.
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.
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.
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.