Thailand Travel Guide.
Now that I’ve officially kicked my jet lag (FINALLY), let’s talk about Thailand! In case you missed it, I recently got back from a solo trip to Thailand, traveling around the country with just my trusty backpack. It was such an incredible trip that really helped me recharge, feel inspired and ready for more solo adventures.
Lately I’ve been booking travel based on cheap flight deals so when I stumbled across $600 flights to Thailand back in March, I jumped on the opportunity to book a trip to one of the top destinations on my ever growing list of places I want to travel to. Like many other places in Asia, Thailand is incredibly affordable once you’re there – I stayed in Airbnb apartments for the majority of my trip and ate amazing food, got massages and rented boats, all for significantly less money than my day to day life in San Francisco. A bit more about my trip:
Where To Go: For my trip I bounced around Thailand, starting in Bankok, then flying to Chiang Mai, then to Phuket and the Phi Phi Islands. Flights within the country are super easy and really affordable – I flew on Air Asia and Bangkok Airways and had great experiences with both, which saved a lot of time and allowed me to see several places within a fairly short amount of time.
Although I bounced around quite a bit, here’s what I’d change if I were planning my trip over again:
- 2 Days in Bangkok: I was a bit underwhelmed with Bangkok but it was a necessary destination for starting my trip since it’s the home of Thailand’s major airport. Don’t plan on spending too much time in the city, 2 days is just enough to have 1 day to dedicate to temple hopping (but be sure to pack long pants and a short sleeved shirt to wear so you’re allowed in) and 1 day to explore the city and enjoy its nightlife, shopping and restaurant scene.
- 4 Days in Chiang Mai with a day trip to Pai: The mountains and greenery of Chiang Mai are such a breath of fresh air after spending time in Bangkok – I absolutely loved it and while the city itself is pretty small, there’s a lot to do and see just outside of it. I’d recommend 4 days in Chiang Mai so you have time to get up in the mountains, hang with some elephants and see Pai (which I didn’t! I’m still bummed).
- 4 Days Island Hopping: Thailand KILLS IT in the beaches department with several island options just off the coast of the mainland. My island time was a bit shorter and I stayed on Phi Phi Island and wish I had more time to bounce around a bit more. I’ve also noticed that accommodations on the islands tend to be either very romantic/honeymooners, or backpacker/crazy partiers, so do some investigation into the area you’re staying in to make sure you get the right vibe (mine was on the honeymooners side of the spectrum and I actually felt WAY isolated since there weren’t any other non-couple travelers around).
I ended my trip with a quick day in Phuket before flying back to Bangkok to start the journey home and I wish I had skipped it. The area I stayed in (Patong Beach) was pretty sleazy and after the amazing beaches in the Phi Phi Islands, it was a total bummer. I was also suffering from a bit of a cold so I wasn’t feeling very fun and spent most of my time in Phuket napping at my Airbnb or laying poolside. If you’re going to spend any of your trip in Phuket I suggest really doing some research into where to stay to avoid the more touristy areas to find a beach that’s clean and not overrun with people trying to sell you things.
What To Do: My travel style is very intentionally different than my day to day life – I tend to book flights and accommodations, and then worry about not much else until I’m actually on my trip. It’s a nice reset to not have each day planned out and instead get to explore new places and figure out where to eat/what to do/what to see, while I’m there. In general I did a lot of wandering around and winging it while I was in Thailand, but below are some favorite things to do in each part of the country that I spent time in:
- Eat the street food!: Yes, Bangkok has plenty of restaurants but some of the most delicious and inexpensive eats can be found all over the city at street food carts. Be adventurous and order whatever catches your eye, just make sure it’s either cooked right in front of you or is still warm to avoid any food poisoning troubles (and pack Imodium just in case!)
- Grab a rooftop drink: Celebrate your trip by splurging on some swanky rooftop drinks at one of Bangkok’s luxe bars to get a full view of the city. Check out Octave, Sofitel or Above Eleven for amazing views (but be sure to check what time they open, it didn’t seem like Bangkok was big on day drinking).
- Get all of the massages: I joked before going to Thailand that I was going to get a massage every single day and that actually wasn’t far from the truth! There are massage parlors everywhere in Bangkok and they’re all incredibly affordable. A traditional Thai massage is more stretching than the massages we’re used to (which feels amazing!) so go for the “oil massage” or “aromatherapy massage” for a more standard option. I spent a few hours at Massage in Garden during a rainstorm and it was the absolute best massage of my life for under $20 USD.
- Do some temple hopping: Yes, Thailand has a lot of temples. No, you shouldn’t try and see them all. Make sure you bring the appropriate clothing (long pants + a short sleeve shirt so your shoulders are fully covered) and check out the Wat Phra Kaew (Emerald Buddha), Wat Pho (Reclining Buddha) and Wat Arun (Temple of Dawn).
- Visit a nightmarket: Bangkok comes alive at night from the city’s club and party scene to its bustling night markets full of shoppers and basically anything you could ever want to purchase. Do some shopping after sunset at one of the city’s night markets like Pratunam, Asiatuque or Talad Rot Fai. One tip: don’t get discouraged by the endless rows of fake designer bags and clothing, you can score some serious vintage gems and leather goods with a bit of patience!
- Elephant Nature Park: One of the best days of my life! While there are many elephant attractions around Chiang Mai, I cannot urge you enough to really do your research and make sure any elephant experiences you have are humane, as that’s sadly not the norm. I spent a full day at Elephant Nature Park and cannot recommend it enough – all of the elephants on the property are rescued or have been rehabilitated from injury, and they take the treatment of the elephants very seriously. You won’t see any elephant rides or circus tricks here but you can get up close with the incredible creatures and learn a ton about each individual animal and their backstory (PLUS there are also hundreds of rescue dogs running around, aka it was my heaven).
- North Gate Jazz Co-Op: While nightlife isn’t as big of a thing in Chiang Mai (bars close promptly at midnight and aren’t very packed), the North Gate Jazz Co-Op was SUCH a fun place to grab drinks with live music and a really diverse crowd.
- Enjoy the coffee scene: I was shocked by just how many cute coffee places were scattered throughout Chiang Mai (just don’t expect much to be open early in the AM!). Some favorite were: The Larder Cafe, Cafe Racer, Akha Ama Coffee and Ristr8to Coffee.
- Do some more temple and wat hopping: More temples! Leave the city center to see Wat Phra That Doi Kham (get ready for a little hike!) or check out Wat Phra Singh Waramahavihan right within the city itself in all its golden glory.
Phi Phi Islands:
- Rent a long-tail boat: Many of Thailand’s islands are very small so you can easily spend a day island hopping with the help of a long tail boat. Rent a boat and get access to secret coves and beaches, including Maya Bay (where the Beach was filmed), Monkey Beach and Bamboo Island.
- Snorkel & scuba dive: The water near Phi Phi is the most beautiful I’ve ever seen with bright turquoise colors and crystal clear waters, making it an amazing spot to snorkel and scuba with lots of coral reef areas and marine life. Sadly my trip wasn’t long enough to spend the day getting dive certified (next time!) but the snorkeling was also great – just ask your boat driver for the best spots away from the crowds.
General Tips: Overall I found Thailand to be a really easy country in Asia to navigate compared to Japan and China. The cultural differences weren’t AS extreme and the language barrier was manageable which made it easy to get around. A few general tips:
- Tuk Tuks are your best friend: Ditch the Uber and embrace the local transit! Tuk tuks are by far the fastest, easiest and most affordable way to get around. Just show the drive your destination on Google Maps before you hop in and ask for the price upfront since they aren’t metered, and be prepared to help navigate if needed.
- Plan on hitting an ATM once you’ve arrived: Most places in Thailand tend to prefer to be paid in baht vs. credit cards since the cost of individual transactions tends to be pretty low. Hit an ATM upon arrival so you’re prepared with baht (but don’t stress taking out too much cash at once – there were ATMs everywhere).
- Bring all of the bug spray: While I didn’t buy any souvenirs in Thailand, I came home with about 50 mosquito bites, even after slathering myself in bug spray, day and night. Bring the bug spray and plan to use it regardless of where you’re spending time in the country.
Is Thailand on your travel list?!