Guide to Visiting Thailand
As a group of 6 we spent about $2,500/person for 2 weeks to include all travel, accommodations, food, fun, and excessive souvenir shopping. You could definitely do a trip to Thailand for half the price if you put in the effort. We covered a lot of ground and still had so many things we didn’t have time to do. Check out the video from our trip and some tips on places we visited!
Here are the 4 areas we covered:
1. Khao Sok, Surat Thani
This was hands down my favorite part of our trip (also the most expensive). We did a 3 day/2 night tour through a company called Limestone Lake Rainforest Tours. $500/person included all accommodations, food, a private tour guide, activities (boat rides, kayaks, cave hiking, jungle hiking, river tubing, massage) and 6 hours worth of private rides to our last/next locations. The first night we stayed in a floating house on Cheow Lan Lake.
The 2nd night we stayed in a tree house in the jungle where we did some tubing, hiking through the rainforest, and an included massage.
They offer 1 night tours as well and I would recommend at least doing the floating houses. The scenery here is very similar to the all the popular islands that are now overcrowded, and in my opinion the warm lake water is more enjoyable than the ocean. We took a 12 hour overnight train from Bangkok>Surat Thani to get here ($30 air conditioned), which I would recommend since you save on a hotel for a night, and get to travel while you sleep to maximize your days.
My second favorite place we visited was a small backpackers town in Northern Thailand. To get there we flew to Chiang Mai and took a 3 hour taxi the rest of the way. They have $5 buses, but it was going to take longer to get there so we chose to pay more for a private ride. The road is constant switchbacks and even if you don’t usually get motion sick, prepare to be.
Everything in Pai is very relaxed and super cheap; $5 hour massages, $3 meal with beer, $10/night hostel, or stay in a nice place for $30. There are plenty of scenic spots just outside of Pai that you can hit all in 1 day by scooter. Scooters are $5/day and while their traffic seems a little chaotic at first, you will soon get the hang of it. This is definitely the best place to learn how to drive one if you’re interested. We were comfortable enough after a few days that we decided to do the 3-hour ride back to Chiang Mai on scooter, which totally cured the motion sickness and was beautiful. We rented these scooters through a company called Aya Service that also transported our luggage in a separate vehicle for us back to Chiang Mai.
Places doable in 1 day by scooter
Pai Land split
Boon Koh Ku So Bamboo bridge
White Buddah - Temple on the Hill (during sunset)
Recommendations in Pai
Walking Street (nightlife and shopping)
Get some Khao Soi at Pen’s Kitchen (My favorite Thai dish that you can only get in Northern Thailand)
Stayed at: Pai Radise Resort ($30/night)
Really enjoyed our time in Phuket and wish we could have stayed here longer. Phuket is a lot of fun, and is a good hub to go island hopping from. The island hopping isn’t something we had time to do and is generally most tourist’s main agenda. The Phi Phi Islands is the famous one, which I’ve heard a lot of negative reviews about since the tourism boom in Thailand. We had some other traveler’s recommend “Bob’s Booze Cruise” to us if we had time to see the islands. They said this cruise did a great job of going to non-crowded areas of even the iconic touristy places.
Recommendations in Phuket
Jet Skis – Vendors on lots of beaches
Banana Pancake food carts
Bangla Road – The biggest area of nightlife, bars, and shows. Definitely a party!
Bamboo Tattoo – I felt most comfortable getting tattooed in the shops that presented themselves in Phuket as opposed to any other location. Look for one that’s clean, has good reviews, and presents a lot of their work. Schedule in advance if you want a traditional bamboo tattoo, as they will have to schedule and bring in a monk to do it.
Lots of good souvenir shopping in general
Stayed at: Air BnB on Kata Beach – Really enjoyed all the walkable stuff in this area
Overall, Bangkok is pretty overwhelming. It’s pretty dirty and the traffic is completely insane. Going a mile took an average of 1 hour every time, so we ended up doing a lot of walking. Tuk-Tuks and the Sky Train are the most realistic ways to travel around the city. Google about common scams that Tuk-Tuks and Taxis will try and pull, they are all true. We ended up in ones exactly like people warned about. Your best experience in Bangkok is going to be doing day trips to surrounding areas a few hours away.
Day Trip recommendations from Bangkok
Ayutthaya Historical Park – Series of old temple ruins spread throughout a city. Takes a few hours to get there from Bangkok, and once you’re there you’ll be able to take Tuk Tuks around to the different temples. Really enjoyed this.
Floating Market – Something we didn’t get a chance to do but another staple day trip from Bangkok. I believe the good ones are a few hours southwest of Bangkok.
Erawan Falls – A little tight to do in a day trip but it can be done. We ended up being pretty jetlagged the day we were supposed to go here, but was another high recommendation we had gotten from others.
Recommendations in Bangkok
Khao San Road- slightly chaotic (like the rest of Bangkok) lots of cheap bars, street food, and interesting people. Nothing glamorous but I enjoyed the weird vibe and experience.
Rooftop Bar (We did “Vertigo” which ended up being an extremely expensive dinner, the same hotel has “Moon Bar” which is just a bar that I wish we did instead. There are also a lot of other rooftop bars)
IPPUDO Japanese Restaurant in the Central Embassy – Incredible and Cheap
Nana Plaza Red Light District – R Rated
Get a travel wallet
Your best exchange of money is to either use a credit card with no international fees, or bring USD cash with you. I would say 80% of our spending had to be done in cash, so don’t expect too many places to take cards. $100's and $50's are worth slightly more to exchange than smaller bills. The best rate seems to be at Super Rich, a private company you will have to travel to. You can do the places at the airport, but as an example, to exchange $1,000 was going to cost about $30 more than the private place. If traveling to a better bank is out of your way and costs more than the difference, then obviously the airport is fine and convenient. You can withdraw Baht directly out of an ATM if you are worried about traveling with cash or need more, but expect it to cost $10-12 per transaction combining the ATM’s fee along with your bank’s, plus the difference in exchange rate. Check the exchange rates and figure out what’s best for you.
The mosquitos are no joke, deet up every day. The repellant bracelet’s you can find on amazon were a nice addition too. Bring an itch relief stick.
Street Food – some of it was the most incredible food I have eaten, and some of it definitely suspicious. There is no shame for some places to leave raw meat out all day swarming with flies. Look for cleaner places that look busy and just use good judgment. Had some of the cheapest, best food from street carts.
Strappy hiking sandals that can also get wet (like Tevas or Keen) were super helpful with all the specific activities we did.
We had gotten $500/each worth of vaccines before leaving, but I have heard from many people (tourists, people living there for years) that it’s not super necessary. I would say the cheapest/most helpful things you could prepare yourself for would be a Flu Shot, having anti-diarrhea meds, and carrying an Antibiotic Z Pac with you on your trip, in case of any bacterial infections or sickness. A doctor can prescribe you one, or you can get one even cheaper at the pharmacies in Thailand. A pill form vaccine for Typhoid Fever is also not too expensive and was the highest vaccine recommendation from my doctor to prevent food borne illnesses.
Jet lag going there was okay to deal with, coming home was rough.
We had layovers in China both ways, and while no major problems, China is slightly less convenient to transfer though than other countries. You need a visa if there more than 24 hours (could be forced to pay for one if you get a flight delay) and they have additional security to go through after getting off the plane. Was more so annoying to have to stand in more lines, throw away liquids, unpack our camera equipment, etc, in the middle of our travels. Domestic flights within Thailand were really cheap and fast ($30-$60 one way)
Get massages every day and talk to lots of people! Some of the best parts of our trip were recommended to us by strangers we met that same day.
Other Recommendations We Missed:
Elephant Nature Park (Chiang Mai)
Pet Tigers at the Tiger Kingdom (Chiang Mai)
Lantern Festival (Chiang Mai)
Doi Suthep Temple (Chiang Mai)
Lady Boy Cabaret (Chiang Mai)
Laying Buddah (Bangkok)
Havana Social Speakeasy (Bangkok)
Sing Sing Theatre (Bangkok)
Full Moon Party (Koh Phangan)