So you’ve got a couple of weeks in Thailand but you’re not sure where to start? Checkout my itinerary below for how to make the most of your time.
Arrive and soak in the craziness that is Bangkok. There is a clear ticketing system for taxis at the airport that will take you straight to your accommodation. Be aware that there are toll fees which you will have to give your driver money for. Also, make sure you have a map or an idea where your hotel is as our driver drove round muttering the street name over and over in an attempt to find it…
Then it’s time to hit up the sights! The Grand Palace is the biggest tourist attraction and attracts huge crowds. For this reason, I preferred Wat Pho as it wasn’t as busy and there’s some really lovely architecture. You’ll have time to visit both if you wish though as they are in the same area. There is a small entry fee for both places and you will need to be appropriately dressed. They do have some clothing you can borrow if necessary but think long skirt/trousers (not leggings, they didn’t seem to like mine!) and covered shoulders. You will also have to take off your shoes before entering the temples.
Other sights you might want to check out are Wat Benchamabophit (the Happy Buddha) and Wat Indrawiharn (the Tall Buddha). These are both free attractions.
Please be aware that lots of scams take place in Bangkok, particularly around The Grand Palace. Be wary of anyone telling you that The Grand Palace is closed (it is highly unlikely it is) and offering you a ride in a tuktuk to other temples in the meantime. They will take you to certain shops/travel agents/boat trips that they have deals with. If you are aware of it, then you can get a cheap tuktuk ride around some of the sights but it is very easy to get caught up in it all.
When the sun goes down, check out the night markets. There’s more than enough “Gucci” handbags and “RayBan” sunglasses to go around. Or watch a ladyboy cabaret if you need a break from the shopping.
If you need a break from crossing the manic roads and avoiding being hit by a scooter, head to Lumphini Park. There’s a large lake and some nice walkways. You can also get a good view of the city whilst taking in some fresh air.
Another good way to see the city is from the Baiyoke Sky Tower. The viewing platform revolves which is pretty cool and gives you a 360 degree view of the city. You can also pose for a picture in a tuktuk and we also made the most of the fruit buffet that was included in our ticket. Loads of lovely fresh fruit and a good chance to try some more unusual fruits! Make sure you get the right tower, as we went to the Baiyoke Suite Hotel first which is not the same thing!
The BTS Skytrains are an efficient way to get around and pretty simple to use. Ask the ticket attendants which line to get if you’re unsure.
River boats are really cheap (about 30p each way!) and a good way to reach the temples. I think we used the Chao Phraya boat.
Tuktuks can be a good way to see a few sights as your driver will wait at each temple for you but heed my warning above!
Taxis are more expensive than tuktuks but still a lot less than UK prices! You will be charged more as a tourist though so barter and agree on a price before you get in the taxi, or choose one that is on a meter.
Accommodation: we stayed at Lub d Bangkok Silom which was a great hostel. Good location and there was a tourist desk in the hostel. We stayed in the Railway Twin room with shared bathroom facilities. The whole hostel was clean and modern. Book the hotel here.
Days 3 – 8
A couple of days in Bangkok were more than enough for me and I was excited to head south to the islands. Check which islands have the best weather for the time of year you are visiting. We went to Koh Samui and Koh Tao which were both lovely but Koh Tao was definitely our favourite. There is an overnight sleeper train from Bangkok and then a ferry which gets you to the islands. I would recommend booking your transport in advance as the trains can get pretty busy or you might be able to get a cheap flight.
I didn’t have high expectations of the overnight sleeper train and thought I’d get next to no sleep. I was pleasantly surprised though and wouldn’t hesitate to use this method of transport again. I booked a joint train and ferry ticket through 12go which was really simple. We picked up the tickets at their office, which is opposite the train station (but across several busy roads!). After you get your tickets, grab some dinner at Kafe Kafe which is next door and does great pad thai.
The second class sleeper train was fine but I’d go for the bottom bunk when you book your ticket. Pack a jumper too as it can get a little chilly! Also, the seats fold out into beds and the attendant makes up your bed for you. I was surprised at first, thinking that I’d booked the wrong train when I saw seats rather than beds!
Most of the people on the train are heading to the islands, so everyone convenes at a small café/ticket office and gets a sticker depending on which island they’re going to. There’s about an hour couch journey to the port (included in ticket) and then it was around 45 minutes to Koh Samui. We bought hotel transfer through the ferry company as taxis on the islands are more expensive than in Bangkok and our hotel was quite far away.
We actually only stayed in Koh Samui on our first and last nights on the islands, spending the majority of our time in Koh Tao instead. In hindsight, it would have been easier to get the train to Chumphon and a ferry from there straight to Koh Tao, rather than to Surrathani and onto Koh Samui. We weren’t sure of our plans though but this could be a way for you to save time if you only want to go to Koh Tao.
The islands offer similar activities but we loved Koh Tao because it’s pretty small. There is only one main road on the island and so is easy to navigate. We did a half day snorkelling trip with ‘Oxygen’ that is widely advertised on the island. It was pretty good for the price and included hotel pick up and lunch. There are a lot of people on the boat though so don’t expect a small, personal tour.
There are loads of dive schools on Koh Tao and we went with Big Blue Diving. My friend is a qualified diver so she did some wreck dives whilst I did a introductory day where she joined me on my second dive. This is a good way to try out diving if you don’t have time to do the full PADI course.
Sairee Beach is the main beach on Koh Tao and has lots of restaurants and bars along it. We really liked The Lotus Bar and it seemed to have the best fire dancers. The dancers get pretty close to the audience so be prepared for some lit ropes to be swung above your head!
Chalok Baan Kao Bay was closer to our hotel than Sairee Beach so we spent a lot of time there. It’s a lot quieter than Sairee and has really clear, shallow water so you can walk out a long way.
We stayed at Ananas Hostel in Koh Samui and whilst it was nice, the location wasn’t great. It was pretty far from the pier and a lot of the accommodation/restaurants on the beach were still being built. You can book the hostel here.
When we returned to Koh Samui, we stayed at the Coco Palm Resort as I found a deal on booking.com This was pretty luxurious and right next to the pier that the boat from Koh Tao came in from. This is very much a resort though and we felt kind of out of place as backpackers! There was a fantastic buffet breakfast but it was quite expensive as far as Thai prices go. Checkout the resort here.
On Koh Tao, we stayed at Aukotan Place and loved it. Breakfast was included and we had an en-suite twin room which was spacious, modern and really clean. The only downside was that it wasn’t that close to Sairee Beach and whilst there was a free shuttle down there, getting a taxi back was a bit pricy. Book Aukotan Place here.
Most hotels on Koh Tao seem to do a free pick up and drop off at the port. Aukotan Place would also do a free drop off at Sairee Beach. Lots of tourists rent motorbikes/scooters but as we’d never driven one we didn’t think this would be the best place to try! We saw a fair few people with bandaged legs/arms… Instead, we rented bicycles to get around the island and seemed to be the only people cycling on the whole island! The locals were laughing at us as we pedalled up the big hill in the middle of the island at 5.45am to get to the dive school on Sairee Beach but at least we know how to ride bikes! Not really sure what to suggest here except have a go riding a motorcycle here or go with someone who can drive one!
Days 9 – 14
Now it’s time to say goodbye to the islands and head north! We got the overnight train back to Bangkok and then a taxi straight to Don Muang Airport for a flight to Chiang Mai. I booked this in advance and it was pretty cheap. The earlier the better, as lots of flights were booked up and the remaining seats were a lot more expensive.
There is apparently a bus from the airport to the city centre but we had difficulty finding it! We were inundated with offers for taxi and tuktuk rides but eventually found a bus heading into the city.
If you didn’t see enough temples in Bangkok, then there are plenty to visit in Chiang Mai. There is also the Tha Phae Gate which is the entrance to the Old City. By night, you can also visit the bazaar which is huge. There are a few gems to find in the markets but the majority of the stalls sell similar touristy stuff.
A cooking course should definitely be on your to do list whilst in Chiang Mai. We went to the Zebb and Lee Cooking School where we were taught by the fabulous Scooter. The course includes a visit to a local market to learn about the ingredients before you begin your cooking. Everyone was allowed to choose what to cook, I went for: Tom Yum Soup, Pad Thai and Panang Curry. In addition to that, everyone made spring rolls and helped make sticky rice with mango.
Checkout the jungles just outside of Chiang Mai on a trek. There are lots of options from a day to several nights. I’d recommend doing some research on this as our three day, two night trek wasn’t memorable for the right reasons!
You deserve a bit of pampering after all that trekking so book yourself in for a massage. There are lots of places in Chiang Mai but some don’t look all that inviting… We went to Khunka Massage where the staff were highly professional and had a massage and pedicure. Our main reason for choosing this place though was that they accepted payment by card, which is rare in Thailand, and were low on cash towards the end of our trip!
If you have some extra time, then checkout one of the elephant sanctuaries or head up into the trees with a gibbon zipline experience. We really loved the Art in Paradise museum which is a 3D illusion gallery. Remember to take your phone (takes better illusion pictures than a fancy camera) to get some funny pictures of you posing amongst the artwork.
We stayed at Plearn Hostel which was our one and only dorm room of the trip. It was well located for the Night Market and the staff were lovely – even cooking us scrambled eggs for breakfast! View their booking page here.
It’s pretty easy to get around on foot in Chiang Mai as it’s not nearly as big as Bangkok. If you’re doing any booked activities such as trekking or cooking classes then the company will usually pick you up from your accommodation.
Phew! So there you have it, my ultimate guide to Thailand in just two weeks. There is so much to see and do but it is possible to cover a lot of ground with limited time. Enjoy your Thailand adventure!