Thailand has everything travelers dream of – white sand beaches, big city vibes and rural jungle retreats.
If you want to see it all and really soak in the culture, you’ll need about three weeks. Here’s a breakdown of the perfect Thailand itinerary.
Week One: Bangkok
Fly into Bangkok International Airport. Take a taxi from the airport to your hostel or hotel. Remember to have the address and phone number in Thai for the driver. If they aren’t familiar with the location, they’ll usually call the hotel using their personal phone. Be sure to double check that the taxi meter is running to avoid being overcharged.
Bangkok has several tourist-friendly modes of transportation:
- BTS Skytrain. This is an above ground subway. A day pass costs 140 Baht ($4) and will take you all over the city
- MRT Subway. The subway has stops that connect to the Skytrain, making it extremely convenient to explore the entire city. The MRT is a separate ticket from BTS.
- Tuk Tuks. We’re big fans of the tuk tuks. But rider beware – many of the drivers try to scam you into taking alternate routes. Best advice: Be confident, know your destination and say no if the driver asks to take you on a different route. Talk pricing before getting in and don’t be afraid to haggle. Drivers will always aim high to get more money out of you.
- Taxis. We prefer tuk tuks but taxis are convenient in the rain. Ask the driver if it is a meter taxi before getting in. If it’s not, be sure to negotiate the fare and be prepared to pay for the toll road fees (up to an extra 120 Baht, or $3.50).
- The Bedrooms Boutique Hotel. A simple and inviting hotel located a five minute walk from the BTS. The owners are incredible and go out of their way to make you feel at home.
- Cost: Approximately $45 per night, breakfast buffet included
- Ayutthaya. This is worth a day trip. Hire a private van or car to take you from Bangkok to Ayutthaya – the capital of the Kingdom of Siam. The city is now historic ruins filled with beautiful temples and a slower paced atmosphere. Rent bicycles from any of the shops and tour the city by pedal-power.
- Bangkok temples. They’re everywhere. The Grand Palace is a zoo, but worth checking out. Top of our list is the Golden Mount, with 300 steps up to the temple tower. Views here are incredible. Check out this list to find some of the must-see temples.
- Terminal 21 and Siam Center. These malls are more than your standard shopping mall. Even shopping haters will be in awe at the cool décor and unique stores.
- Khao San Road. The infamous backpacker road. We don’t recommend staying here as it’s dirty and filled with obnoxious mid-twenty drunks. However, it’s worth a visit to check out the shops and has pretty safe and cheap street food.
- Just explore. Walk until you can walk no more. It’s the best way to discover the city and absorb the culture.
Week Two: Chang Mai and Pai
Go north to Chang Mai by catching a one hour flight on Nok Air (our favorite!) or Air Asia. You can also take a 12-hour train ride from Bangkok, which is cheaper but we wouldn’t recommend it due to the travel time.
Brickhouse Hostel. The perfect backpacker destination. It’s new, clean and has some of the nicest beds in Thailand. It’s a younger party scene and local police strictly enforce quiet time at 11 p.m., so nights usually stay fairly peaceful.
- Elephant Jungle Sanctuary. Take a half-day tour to bathe with elephants in a river and lather them in mud. Sounds gross, and it is. Completely worth the experience. The tour includes roundtrip transportation and lunch.
- Price: 1,400 Baht ($40)
- Chang Rai tour. Take a day trip to Chang Rai, with several stops along the way, including a visit to a Karen long neck tribe and a quick boat ride over to Laos. Price includes transportation, tour guide and lunch.
- Price: 1,700 Baht ($50)
From Chang Mai, go to Pai. This is the ultimate jungle retreat, far up in the mountains. This is the best place in Thailand to rent motorbikes. We only spent 24 hours here and felt we saw it all, but many travelers stayed for several days. Accommodations can be found all over and don’t need advanced bookings. We recommend staying away from Buzzas Backpackers Hostel. It’s terrible.
Week Three: Islands and Back to Bangkok
We recommend at least nine days for island hopping.
Thailand has two island strings – the gulf side and the Andaman coast. On the gulf side is Koh Samui, Tao and Phangan. On the Andaman side is Krabi, Phi Phi and Phuket. Do some research to see what the weather will be during your visit. For us, we went in July – monsoon season for most of Thailand, but high season for the gulf islands.
The islands have three types of ferry services to travel between the mainland and islands. They’re all fairly similar except for speed. Lomprayah is the fastest, and therefore the most expensive, but it’s our top choice. It takes around 60-90 minutes to travel between each island. Each port has a ferry station with departure times and booking offices. Be sure to book as far in advance as possible – the boats occasionally fill up.
- Dara Samui Beach Resort. Gorgeous hotel located right on the beach with an incredible pool. Service is amazing and rooms are awesome.
- Cost: $90 per night with breakfast buffet
- Quadrophenia ATV Mountain Tours. This was one of the highlights of the trip. A private guided tour through the mountain jungles of Samui, with a stop at a restaurant on the mountain peak for lunch. It’s pricey, but worth every penny. Includes roundtrip transportation from your hotel and lunch. Read our full review.
- Cost: 4,800 Baht ($140)
- Koh Tao Montra Resort and Spa. Located on Mae Haad Beach, Montra includes the perfect pool split in two – a deep side and a shallow side with a swim up bar. Drinks are cheap, room views at sunset are romantic as hell, and the staff goes out of their way to help you out.
- Cost: $110 with breakfast included
- Snorkeling adventure. Montra’s sister resort, the Coral Grand, has its own snorkel boat that only holds about 20 people, where as many of the other snorkel companies pack you on boats with hundreds of other guests. We circled the entire island, stopping at five dive sites where we snorkeled for 30-45 minutes each. Lunch was also included.
- Cost: 600 Baht ($17)
- Summer Luxury Beach Resort. Jaws dropped when our driver pulled up at this hotel. It’s stunning. The resort feels brand new, with décor that we never expected to see on a Thai island. The rooms are massive, spotless and trendy. The hotel restaurant is also a great dining option for all meals.
- Cost: $130 per night with breakfast included
- Koh Phangan is known for the Full Moon Party which takes place each month. The party lasts from dusk till dawn, with tens of thousands of visitors descending upon the island to drunkenly rage. It’s not for everyone, but worth checking out as a bucketlist experience.
- The Challenge Phangan. This is a water obstacle course modeled after the famous ABC TV show Wipeout. Plan to spend a few hours here and have lunch. The food is surprisingly good.
- Cost: 500 Baht ($14)
Spend your final two days in Bangkok and go all out. The city has many of the nicest 5-star hotels in the world, all at ridiculously low prices. Now’s the time to splurge and wind down at a relaxing luxury hotel.
- W Hotel Bangkok
- From the moment you drive in the compound gate, you feel like royalty. Young, trendy royalty. Walls illuminate, bass bumps from the speakers and the rooms have stunning views.
- $200 per night
- SO Sofitel Hotel
- Hands down, our top hotel pick in Thailand. From welcome drinks to the room themes, this hotel sets a new bar. The staff is the friendliest in the country. And the infinity pool overlooking Lumpini Park has a view that can’t be beat. Stay here. You won’t regret it. Read our full review.
- $180 per night