With over more than 10 visits to Thailand, I have pretty much visited most of the major destinations of the country, even though I’m sure I have much more to discover! I especially love the south of the country around Krabi, Koh Phi Phi, and the islands on the east coast of Koh Samui, Koh Phangnan and Koa Tao. That’s where I believe are the best destinations for those beach lovers looking to escape their frozen homeland during wintertime. For those coming to enjoy more of the fascinating Thai Culture, Bangkok is very rich in culture itself, but the highlight is definitely the north of the country, also be more appealing for nature lovers. Its main attraction will be the amazing city of Chiang Mai, where a large community of digital nomads has already formed over the past few years. The nature over there is just stunning; trekking, waterfalls and all those tourist activities (canopy, jungle walks, tiger kingdom, etc.)… you can find it all.
Itinerary 1: Bangkok and around
For those who are only there on a stopover on one of those many flights between Europe, Australia, and North America, Bangkok alone has a lot to offer by itself. If you are a backpacker, you can go straight to Koh San Road and check in one of those cheap hotels and enjoy the wild nightlife Bangkok has to offer without ever leaving the area. It’s very common to stay there and believe that Bangkok doesn’t expand past that street (as I have the first 2 times I came to Bangkok). But for all other tourists, I usually recommend hanging around Sukhumvit, which is a pretty large area. Any hotel will actually do since transport in taxis is pretty cheap anyway, and the sky train (BTS & MRT) is a great mean of transport and very easy to use to get anywhere you want. I personally always liked the stretch called “Thong Lo” known as the Japanese neighborhood; a very clean and chic part of the city. Pattaya is just an hour ride away, so that’s an easy beach to reach if you need to work on that tan before continuing your journey back home. Pattaya is nothing impressive as a beach destination by itself, but it does have the typical assets of what Thai beach destinations have to offer; hotels, beach life, shops, restaurants, bars, clubs, etc.
Itinerary 2: The South
People who know me knows I’m more of beach boy than a mountain guy, so it’s no secret my favorite part of Thailand is the south. With at least 2 weeks (or 1 traveling quickly) you should head straight to the south, by train, or even better with one of their cheap flights which are pretty frequent nowadays on Bangkok Airway and Thai Airways. I recommend a circle route between the most famous destination, probably flying straight to Phuket or on the other end to Koh Samui, and making your way around the most famous tourist spots. Koh Phi Phi is a long time favorite, and it really is beautiful, having been selected for the movie “the Beach” with Leonardo Dicaprio a few years back. Krabi is my personal favorite, especially an area called Ao Nang. From there cross to the eastern part and hop on a boat to the 3 islands about 2 hours away. Start with Koh Samui, the more sophisticated islands and one of my favorite places in Thailand. Afterward, cross to Koh Phangan, after having synchronized your itinerary carefully to get there on a full moon, to experience the full moon party like most people do. Actually you don’t have to be there on full moon to party, as they invented a party for just about every word that has “moon” in it… Half moon party, black moon party, you name it, they have it. Then Koh Tao is a favorite for Water Sports. I love diving over there, visibility is great and it is a very popular and cheap place to do your PADI diving course.
I usually recommend this itinerary as a multi-country trip, traveling from Singapore to Bangkok or vice-versa, visiting Malaysia on the way. It makes a really nice 3 to 4 weeks journey through 2 of the most popular countries of Southeast Asia.
Ao Nang Sunset, near Krabi
Itinerary 3: The North
The North will attract those nature lovers, with its deep jungle-like landscapes. Chang Mai is the highlight and you will probably stay a while here as there are many things to do around the area. But I usually recommend doing the north combined with a trip through Laos, a better experience than just Chaing Mai in my own opinion. With 2 weeks, you basically head to Chang Mai by bus or plane, and after a few days, you get to Chang Rai close to the Laos border. From there, you can find plenty of tour operators that will gladly take your money in exchange of a wonderful 2 day/1 night excursion on the Mekong River including trouble free visa procedure all handled for you (quite honestly that’s worth a lot already). Laos is one of the best destinations for nature lovers so this is why I usually recommend it together. The usual Laos trip goes down the Mekong river all the way to the capital Vientiane, crossing on the way must stop cities of Luang Prabang and Vang Vieng (with more time, definitely spend more time off the beaten track in Laos, it is still one of those “raw” countries that still offer a unique south-east experience). From Vientiane, it is an easy bus ride back in Thailand through Udon Thani which is worth spending a night or 2.
If you have any comments or suggestions on your favorite trip or itinerary, please do not hesitate to let me know!
Don’t forget to visit the full Thailand Guide to get all the details on this amazing country.
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