Whether you’re just passing through or making Thailand a destination, you are sure to join the millions of travelers who reminisce fondly over their stay in the land of smiles. With a welcoming culture and a tourist infrastructure that caters to all types of travelers – from luxury to budget ends of the spectrum – there is something for everyone to love in Thailand. As the growing community of expats show, you may end up staying way past your first trip! Here are some ideas to help you take in the classic regions of Thailand – Bangkok, the centrally located and bustling capital city, a northern trip to the mountain towns and slower pace of Chiang Mai, and then ending with a few days in the beautiful beaches and island of the south.
Destination: Bangkok – 3 Days
Bangkok is an exciting sprawl of nightlife, shopping, culture, and of course delicious food. Most travelers to Thailand will enter via Bangkok as there are numerous flights, trains, and buses that arrive here daily, so this is a great time to get your bearings and to book the rest of your excursions and onward travel if you haven’t already. Many backpackers choose to stay on Khao San Road and you will definitely find a rowdy crowd here. But even if you’re not looking to stay in the area, it can be worth a visit in order to do a little bit of travel planning as there are numerous tour agencies based here. Do some research though, and ask fellow travelers who’ve just returned about their recommendations so you can try to avoid scams and rip offs. Khao San Road after dark is home to neon lights, cheap drinks, and a “spring break” like atmosphere, so if you’re looking for a little more quiet, you’ll want to move on. Perhaps checking out a night market or the street food stalls along Sukhumvit Road.
Three days in Bangkok is enough time to get your first taste of Thailand. Be sure not to miss the famous Reclining Buddha at Wat Po, a river cruise or a water taxi ride, shopping at the night markets, the floating markets, or Chatuchak weekend market, take in a muy thai boxing match, and maybe book a day trip or two. Unwind with a thai massage or just lose yourself in the neighborhoods, like Chinatown. Check out our full itinerary for spending 2-3 Days in Bangkok here.
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Destination: Chiang Mai – 3 Days
It’s easy to get from Bangkok to Chiang Mai via flights, buses, or trains, although my favorite is by train. The overnight sleeper trains are an adventure on their own and if you’re really on a budget, this saves you a hostel or hotel night. Overnight buses are another option, and if you’re short on time you can always fly. No matter how you arrive, you will immediately feel a slower pace in Chiang Mai. Generally the climate is also a bit cooler than Bangkok as well, which can be a welcome change!
There is quite a variety of things to do in Chiang Mai, so you’ll want to plan ahead to sort out your options. Cooking classes are especially popular here, and you will often have a variety of menus to choose from and many schools to compare. You will get hands on with a chance to prepare popular Thai dishes like green papaya salad, curries, and perhaps the local specialty Khao Soi (a noodle dish). Other classes you can take in Chiang Mai include jewelry making, Thai language classes, or courses in yoga, meditation (sometimes staying in a Wat), and even muy thai boxing. In the evening, check out one of Chiang Mai’s night markets. This is a great place to see local handicrafts, taste some delicious street food, and relax with a foot massage at the end of the day.
Because it is so close to many of the northern hill tribe villages, a day or overnight trek is a popular side trip from Chiang Mai. Although many packages exist you will find a mix of things such as elephant rides, white water rafting, waterfalls, and sometimes an overnight stay with a hill tribe. Another popular day trip is a visit to the Golden Triangle, where Thailand, Myanmar (Burma), and Laos meet. Besides this classic photo opp, Golden Triangle day trips will usually also include a trip across the river to Laos where you can sample snake whiskey, as well as to the city of Chiang Rai. For a unique day trip option, you may want to visit Wat Rong Khun, Chiang Mai’s white temple. Most can be arranged through your guest house although you might want to ask around and get opinions from other travelers as well.
Destination: Beaches – 4 Days
For your last stop, spend some time down south soaking up the sun. The beaches and islands of Thailand’s southern provinces are picture-postcard worthy and a perfect way to relax and enjoy the rest of your time in Thailand. Flights will get you there fastest, and many choose to base themselves or to fly into Phuket, Thailand’s largest island. From here you can check out our itinerary suggestions for spending 3 days in Phuket and spend your days lounging around the beaches, snorkeling or diving along the beautiful coral reefs, enjoying great seafood dinners, and exploring the local culture. Many day trips to other islands in the Andaman sea are possible from Phuket, making it a great home base.
If Phuket isn’t your style, you have many other options for places to spend your sun-worshipping time. Hua Hin and the somewhat hedonistic city of Pattaya are both located relatively close to Bangkok on the Gulf of Thailand. Ko Chang is also known as “Elephant Island” with lush rainforest and beautiful oceanside cliffs. It may not be as secluded as it once was, but you may still find your own uncrowded beach here if you avoid the main tourist areas. Ko Samui (“Coconut Island”) is popular for honeymooners or those on a romantic getaway.