I didn’t realize this until I actually started looking at traveling more, but it feels like Thailand is a right of a passage for most twenty-somethings. Two weeks or even a month is extremely feasible on a shoestring budget, and the country has a ton of options for every type of traveler. Last year I visited Thailand with a few friends, and learned a few things (mostly I should have given myself more days in each place!), so I thought I’d lay out a suggested itinerary for anyone who wants to visit this beautiful country.
Bangkok: 3-4 Days
You’ll probably fly into Bangkok, so it’s a great place to start your adventures! This is going to be the most bustling part of your experience, but embrace it for all its worth. Make sure your taxis turn their meters on and avoid the tuk-tuks, but otherwise spend some time exploring all this city has to offer! Some recommended spots:
- Shop around the Chatuchak Market. Bargain and enjoy the bustling atmosphere. There’s a lot to take in. Just remember, though, it’s pretty cheap material. You get what you pay for.
- Explore the Grand Palace. Make sure you get there well before its closing time of 3:00 p.m…. Because we didn’t. You can also pack yourself a little picnic and head to the park outside the palace for dinner. As the sun sets, the palace begins to light up. It’s a pretty stunning sight to witness.
- Enjoy roaming around the Marble Temple. This is a much quieter area, and it’s totally lovely on its own.
- Sail along the Chao Phraya River. You can book one of the tour boats or do it like a local and board one of the passenger boats.
- Grab a drink or two along Khao San Road. This is very much backpacker central, but it’s definitely a nice place to relax a bit and meet other travelers. Heck, if you’re like two of the girls I was with, you’ll meet a local and wind up at another party later in the night!
Chiang Mai 4-5 Days
For a much more laid back vibe, head northwards (either fly or take an overnight train) to Chiang Mai. Even with Ao Nang’s perfect beaches, Chiang Mai is still my favorite of where we visited, and it’s definitively on my must-return-to list. The air is little cooler up north, and the whole area is much more relaxed. It’s great for hiking, exploring more of Thailand’s traditional culture, and, hey, there’s even a lost city! Whatever you do, do not ride elephants or visit one of the tiger kingdoms. We made the mistake of visiting a tiger kingdom, thinking it was a legitimate sanctuary. It’s very disheartening to learn it’s a scam. A reputable place, though, is the Elephant Nature Park, which we missed making reservations to.
Here are some ideas:
- Take a day trip to Chiang Rai to see Wat Rong Khun. Every time I see pictures of this stunning silver temple, I kick myself for not knowing about it before we went. Don’t make my mistake and check it out for yourself.
- Spend an afternoon wandering around Wiang Kum Kam, a recently discovered lost city. You’ll have the benefit of seeing a suburban side of Thailand as well as getting to check out the rediscovered temples.
- Try hiking to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep. We tried hiking and failed, but it is possible to hike up to this golden temple. Either hiking or getting a ride, it’s worth it. The temple is gorgeous, and the gold practically glows in the sunlight.
- Spend a day at the Elephant Nature Park. Another missed opportunity because we didn’t book early enough! My friend went, though, and fell in love with it. It’s extremely reputable as a proper sanctuary not only for elephants but other rescued animals as well.
- Go temple hopping. Just take a day, morning, or however long you want and roam about Chiang Mai checking out the temples. There are over 300 in this one area, so you’re bound to run into one no matter which direction you take.
- Find the Emaciated Buddha in Wat Umong. Built in the late 13th century, it is set among a wooded area. You can find trees of wisdom, a field of broken Buddha sculptures, and more.
Ao Nang, Krabi 5-6 Days
Spend the most days down in Thailand’s beaches and give yourself time to totally unwind. I highly recommend at least one day down here of just lounging on the beach, drinking smoothies, and napping. We went to Ao Nang after hearing it would be the least busy and touristy of the beaches, and we found a brightly colored, calm beach town. Yes, there are tourists, but it escapes the party/sleazy reputation other beaches seem to get.
- Go island hopping. Your hostel can help you with most of your planning, but definitely schedule a day to go island hopping! It’s super inexpensive, lasts all day, and takes you to different islands, each more beautiful than the last. Leave your nicer cameras at home, because getting wet is almost a guarantee. While island hopping, expect to go snorkeling, beach hopping, and sea kayaking. You’ll also be fed lunch and snacks throughout the day, including fresh fruit.
- Do some yoga! Wake-up a little earlier one day and head to Marina Yoga for a lovely class to kickstart your day. Your body will probably need the good stretch out from all the traveling!
- Walk around town. This town is brightly colored, and you could easily spend an afternoon walking around and taking in all the multicolored buildings.
- Eat halal food. Ao Nang actually has a pretty large Muslim population! One of the aforementioned gorgeous buildings is the mosque downtown. Around the streets, you’ll find absolutely delicious, cheap halal food, so eat your heart out. I still dream of that food sometimes.
- Climb a little and find a more deserted beach area. The main beach near downtown will be a bit crowded, but if you climb around one of the cliffs, you’ll find yourself at the private beach of one of the resorts. While you can’t take advantage of their amenities, you are allowed on the beach as long as you sign in.
- Take a cooking class. Something else than can be arranged with your hotel or hostel. One of the girls I was with took one and enjoyed learning how to make the everything from Pad Thai to Som Tam.
About the author: Samantha has had a bit of an affinity for traveling since birth when she was born in China, adopted, and raised in the US. Since then she’s been able to call many different places home and has developed a pair of restless feet eager to find the next adventure. She documents her travels over at There She Goes Again. When not traveling, she turns into a total homebody, preferring sitcoms, a good cup of tea, and looking up cat pictures online.
Want FREE Travel Resources?
I've put together all my favourite travel planning resources to help you make the most of your next trip!