I was lucky to spend 1 month and 2 weeks in Thailand this past year and ended up falling completely in LOVE with the country (my diary post of my adventure here). The first time I went to Thailand was in January when I stayed for an entire month and only ended up spending a bit over $1,000 for the entire month traveling around! Talk about cheap! The second time I came for 2 weeks and stayed in Bangkok and the island of Koh Tao to visit my friend Alex from Alex in Wanderland.
I really love countries that are somewhat off the beaten path and less touristy. So I wasn’t sure I’d love Thailand the first time I came because of its hoards of tourists. Luckily it proved me wrong and I fell in love with the country, its people and its landscape. I cannot wait to return!
Many people have been asking for my full list of Thailand recommendations to help plan their trips, so I decided to compile them all up into one Thailand Travel Guide. By no means am I a Thailand expert (there are many people out there for that), but my reccs are things I personally did, loved, hated or had recommended to me by other friends. Hopefully, this helps many of you on your upcoming planning to Thailand!
My 1 Month Thailand Itinerary:
Bangkok – 4 days Chiang Mai – 3 days Krabi-Koh Lanta – 3 days Railay Beach – 3 days Koh Tao – 8 days Koh Phangan – 3 days Pai – 3 days Chiang Mai – 2 days Chiang Mai to Laos (took slow boat to Laos)
GETTING AROUND & FOOD TO TRY IN THAILAND
I have a lot of information in this post, so I’ve tried to organize it so it’s easy for you! At the bottom of this post, I have tips about getting around Thailand and what foods you should try while you’re there. Each location section has info on what to do, where to eat/drink and where to stay in Thailand!
If you like cities like I do, then most likely you will enjoy Bangkok. It is a crazy city that’s full of life and excitement. If cities aren’t for you then it might be a bit too chaotic. In fact, a lot of people told me they didn’t like Bangkok when they went or that they had heard from someone it was skippable so they didn’t go. But man, what a mistake because I LOVED it! I don’t recommend skipping it. You just have to go there with the mindset that you are going to a hot city with lots of traffic, but so much to see and plenty to do! I recommend flying into Bangkok to begin your trip to Thailand.
These temples could take up an entire day and they should because they are gorgeous. My fave temple in Bangkok was the Wat Phra Kaew or Temple of Emerald Buddha. Other good ones are Wat Pho, Wat Arun, The Grand Palace.
This floating market is honestly super touristy now, but still a cool outing to do if you have time. A bus will take you there in the morning and you’ll get to float down the river in a little boat to the different side shops. We paid a little extra to go on the boat tour to see the water canals outside of the market and that was one of my fave parts. You can also find some authentic food stalls still and ladies selling mango sticky rice on the sides of the water banks.
Thonglor & Sukhumvit Soi 11
These are both great neighborhoods to check out for food, nightlife, and shopping. While in Thonglor go check out The Commons, a hip food market with artisan cafes and cool shopping, and while in Sukhumvit try and visit the many cool rooftop bars and nightlife.
Go shopping or just wander through these massive malls. They are all next to each other and this is an area where you’ll see a lot of young and hip Thai people. It’s so fun to people watch in this area. Plus, these malls are really nice and air-conditioned! I didn’t do a lot of shopping in Bangkok, but going through these malls was so fun for me! They have everything you could ever want.
This street is where the grungy backpackers go out (like me). So, if you’re not into the hardcore party scene you might want to avoid this. However, it is a blast if you really embrace the culture of the street. It’s filled with 100/200 baht buckets of alcohol, scorpions on sticks and men peddling the infamous Ping Pong shows. I ate a scorpion here and went to a Ping Pong show (I don’t endorse this, but I did have fun because I had a few drinks). Going out on this street will be a night to remember…or forget 😉
I did a cooking class in Chiang Mai (see below) which I would highly recommend if you’re going there, but my friends did one in Bangkok and loved it with Sompong Thai Cooking School.
Get a massage (or ten)
I think I spent about $300 on massages for a month in Thailand because they cost about $7-$10 and are pretty amazing. You can find them just about anywhere in Bangkok or all over Thailand.
FOOD & DRINK IN BANGKOK
Bangkok Street Food
The street food in Bangkok is out of this world. Especially at markets like Chatuchak Market or in Chinatown where you can get just about any kind of Thai/Chinese food. My favorite foods to get on the street are fresh juices, banana roti (banana pancakes), pad thai, mango sticky rice, and papaya salad.
This place is soo good, but also has the funniest name. My bff’s and I went here like 3x while in Bangkok because we loved the food. I loved getting the Pad Kee Mao. This place is a bit overpriced and has a bizarre name, but it seriously was some of the best food I had in Thailand. A percentage of the proceeds go to educating people about safe sex…at least I think? There are condoms everywhere in the restaurant.
Malls are a big deal in SE Asia and there are a TON in the Siam area of Bangkok. Some of my favorite food experiences have been in the Food Hall at the Siam Paragon or the Food Republic in Siam Center. There are so many choices that it’s almost overwhelming, but oh so good!
This bar is from the movie Hangover 2 and is somewhat of a famous rooftop in Bangkok. Warning: you have to dress nicely to get in here. We were dressed like we had just come from a day of touring all over the temples (all hot and sweaty) and were denied entrance. I’ve heard it’s pretty cool though.
This hostel is right next to Koh San Road so if you’re here to get your party on and want to be able to walk right home then this is an easy and cheap option. It’s also easy to meet people and is close to a lot of cheap food options. (Read reviews on TripAdvisor | Book a room here!)
This hotel was close to Khoasan road, but far enough away that it was pretty calm. I accidentally stayed here when I missed my bus, but it was a great and fairly cheap hotel! (Read reviews on TripAdvisor | Book a room here!)
Chiang Mai is one of the coolest and most historical cities in Thailand. It’s only about the 7th largest city in the country, but there is just so much to do in and around this city! I wouldn’t miss it if I were you!
This waterfall was one of the coolest things I’ve ever done. It’s about 1.5 hours from Chiang Mai (I drove here by bike coming back from the town of Pai), but you can take the red trucks. You can literally climb up the waterfalls with a rope because of the type of stone under the falls. It was one of my highlights of my trip!
Visit an Ethical Elephant Park
There are a ton of elephant parks in Chiang Mai, but only a few are actually good to go to. I did the Baanchang Elephant Park, but since then I’ve heard that the Elephant Nature Park is the best one you can possibly do in Chiang Mai!
Thai Cooking class
I highly recommend doing a cooking class in Chiang Mai. The Chiang Mai markets are amazing and the food is super fresh. I loved the Thai Orchid Cookery cooking class we took. A and Kong are the cutest couple and we had the best time!
I heard so many positive reviews from people I met on my trip who RAVED about their experience here. Even though I didn’t have time to do it, I wish I had. I recommend booking ahead of time for this as it books up fast. I also don’t think it’s a cheap experience, but everyone says it’s well worth it!
This restaurant is also called Gramma’s Khao Soi and is essentially an outside restaurant. Khao Soi is a traditional noodle soup and is the most popular dish in Northern Thailand. Come here to try it. It’s delish!
There’s a lot of street food in Chiang Mai, but the North Gate street food is one of my faves. Here you should look out for a lady in a cowboy hat to try the pork legs she makes. They are amazing and she’s actually world famous!
My girlfriends and I stayed here for a few days and really liked it for the price. It was about $60 a night and was a pretty nice place. There was a pool and the decor was quintessentially Thai. The location was also amazing. (Read reviews on TripAdvisor | Book a room here!)
I use Hostelworld to book my hostels most of the time. Chiang Mai has a ton of amazing hostels to choose from.
I, unfortunately, stayed where my friend wanted to stay and ended up hating the hostel (Thailand Wow2). It’s for people on a mega budget and I wish I would have paid a bit more to stay somewhere nicer. Many of the hostels in Chiang Mai are really cheap!
This was across the street from my hostel and I considered moving to because I had heard great things about it. If I were to do it over again I would have picked this one. (Read reviews on TripAdvisor | Book a room here!)
Pai is a complete hippy town in the mountains about 3 hours away from Chiang Mai. The food is great, sites are amazing and it’s the perfect place to chill out for a few days. People who come here usually end up extending their stay. I stayed about 2 days, but wish I could have stayed longer!
GETTING TO PAI
There are a few different ways to get to Pai. Many people book on the mini bus from Chiang Mai, but just be aware that a lot of people get sick on this bus because you will be going through windy mountains and over 900 turns! My friend and I rented motorbikes in Chiang Mai and drove them up to Pai. Yes, this is a bit adventurous, but very much worth it if you know how to ride a bike. You can stop at tons of cool waterfalls and lookouts along the way!
AYA services will allow you to rent bikes from them and then they will bring your luggage up for you. We got there and all the bikes were gone so we had to use someone else, so just make sure you get there early enough. We ended up paying for them to bring our bags up and rented from someone else.
SEE & DO IN PAI
Take a tour
There are a ton of half day and full day tours offered in Pai for a cheap rate. My friend and I ended up doing a half day since we were limited on time and while it was fun, the guide was pretty bad. I guess you get what you pay for (around 200 baht). Most hostels have this as an offering for a really cheap price.
This was one of the highlights of the tour. You get to go inside a massive cave and take a boat through it to the other side. It actually sticks with me as one of the coolest things I did while in Thailand so I highly recommend visiting.
This is a waterfall you can see if you bike from Pai to Chiang Mai or just want to do a day trip. The hike down is barely a hike, but once in, it’s a beautiful oasis. It’s a great spot to cool off after a hot bike ride.
My friend and I found this little cafe on our way up from Chiang Mai to Pai and really liked it. It’s an organic restaurant on a sheep farm that serves all types of great baked goods and a good selection of lunch foods.
I love this hostel once we switched over from Circus hostel. It’s clean, great vibes and has aircon, plus it’s actually walkable to all of the restaurants listed above, has a bar and runs really cheap tours. (Read reviews on TripAdvisor | Book a room here!)
This was my nightmare of a hostel, but some people just LOVE it. If you’re into the super hippy dippy vibe then you might actually like it, but I was cold in the room (even in one of the hottest times of year) and felt like I couldn’t relax. Very weird vibes…although they do have a fire show that was cool. (Read reviews on TripAdvisor | Book a room here!)
This was an amazing snorkel tour off of Koh Lanta that I highly recommend. It was the cheapest one we could find that had everything we wanted included. It took us to an emerald cave, pristine beaches and great snorkel spots…plus the fish we saw were amazing!
My girlfriends and I stayed here and it was great! It’s about a 2 min. walk to the beach and has a great pool. If I had it to do over again I’d probably stay in a cheap beach hut on the water, but this place was pretty nice so it made up for it. (Read reviews on TripAdvisor | Book a room here!)
This is probably the hostel I recommend most in Koh Lanta. There’s a pool and it has a fun party by night and chill by day vibe. They also have air conditioning which makes everything better. (Read reviews on TripAdvisor | Book a room here!)
RAILAY/TONSAI BEACH & KRABI
Railay & Tonsai Beach are famous for the limestone cliffs and long tail boats skirting the shores. Most photos you see of Thailand are from these beaches as their photo ops are incredible. Krabi is more of a town and I personally would maybe treat it as a stopover if you don’t have as much time.
Railay and Tonsai are both small beaches and are just a boat ride away from the mainland of Krabi. I would maybe skip Krabi if you don’t have time so you can enjoy the beaches a bit more.
SEE & DO IN RAILAY/TONSAI & KRABI
Longtail boat ride
Along the shore of Railay beach you’ll see a ton of longtail boats that you can take out for a spin. Many of them are negotiable and you can shop around for the best rate. Some will take you to some hidden beaches and it’s a great idea if you want to see a few other islands in the area or want to see the beaches from the water.
If you’ve never seen this before you might want to experience it. Here’s a youtube video. These are the famous Thai boxing matches and many places in Thailand you can actually learn how to do it yourself. Not my type of thing, but cool to experience
Day trip from Railay to Tonsai or vice versa
Both of these beaches are technically really close (45min walk) and you can get a water taxi from one to the other. I recommend checking out both if you have the time.
This is one of the most popular sports to do off the limestone cliffs. There are many rock climbing day trips you can do or schools to join if you’re really into it.
Sunset on the beach
Railay gets a great sunset and I highly recommend watching it on the beach if you can!
There are a bunch of little caves/grottos that you can kayak through. You can either do a guided kayak or just rent one and take it out on your own.
Take a day trip to Koh Phi Phi
While I don’t 100% recommend doing this because your time in Koh Phi Phi will be limited, I did do this when I was staying on Railay and it was cool to pack in another island. The ferry is quite long and hot though and takes longer than expected. It is doable though if you want to go to Koh Phi Phi!
FOOD & DRINK
*Be careful with food and water here. There are high cases of food poisoning. Also, all 3 of my girlfriends and I got sick here. Try and stick to fried foods here.
Koh Tao is my favorite island in Thailand! It’s small, but so much fun. Koh Tao is mainly known for it’s backpacker life and diving. This is where I got my PADI Open Water Cert and Advanced Diving certifications and I’ve been back twice because I love it so much! Also, my friend Alex from Alex in Wanderland lives there so I got to visit her last time I went. She’s got tons of info about the island here on her blog, but here are some of my faves.
SEE & DO
Rent a scooter
Everyone rents scooters on Koh Tao and this is actually the island where I learned to drive a Thai scooter. Beware of people trying to scam you and make sure you take photos of your bike before you take off with it as proof. We paid about $4 a day for rental.
This is a great island to chill out for the day. You can hike up about 5mins to an amazing lookout and you can also swim and lay in the white sand. I spent about 4 hours here.
Go to the Lookout points
There are so many on the island, but just be careful if you’re biking because the roads are known to be really bad up to the points. I scootered to them the first time I visited and probably should have hiked. Mango Bay is probably my fave lookout point.
Again, this is the way to go in order to check out all of the beaches on the island. There are tons to check out! Some of the best are Haad Yuan, Haad Rin (where the full moon party is) and Ko Ma island which has beautiful snorkeling.
Full moon is on the beach and apparently it’s insanity. I personally did Half Moon and think it’s a little tamer and is set up more like a music festival in the jungle. I had a blast at Half Moon but didn’t make it too late. I’d say these parties are a bit overrated, but still a fun thing to check off the bucket list.
I stayed here during the Half Moon party because it was literally $3 a night. It’s good if you are just going to one of the big parties and need a place to crash and chill with a hangover. There’s a pool, bar, and food. I met a lot of people here, but it’s not the nicest or cleanest place. For $3 a night you get what you pay for. (Read reviews on TripAdvisor | Book a room here!)
This was probably my least favorite of the islands, but to be fair, I only went on a day trip from Railay Beach and many people LOVE it. It’s a super small island and is known for it’s party atmosphere. When I was there it was super hot, smelled like garbage everywhere we went and the beach wasn’t very awesome compared to Railay. The good thing is that there aren’t any cars or bikes so it’s very walkable, but beware because it is busy and is known as the party island.
Really cool bar and they have a 2-story roof bar. Buy 1 get 1 free buckets! Banana Daiquiri buckets are the best.
This is one of the most touristy locations in all of Thailand. I’ve only been here for a stop on the cruise, It’s the Ship where I mainly spent my time a beach club and on the main beach, Patong Beach, which I honestly thought was trashy compared to the other beaches in Thailand. I have heard mixed reviews of the area, but I do know there are nice spots where you can get away from the crowds.
GETTING AROUND THAILAND
There are many different ways to get around Thailand and I hopped around on many different types of transportation during my time here. It’s fairly cheap getting around Thailand and even cheaper if you have a bit of time on your hands!
Taxis are most places in Thailand’s main tourist locations. Some islands have different forms of taxis, but they are all pretty similar. If you fly into Bangkok it’s extremely easy to take a taxi from the airport to wherever you’re going. The taxis are usually a reasonable rate, but just be sure they have the meter on. They must do this by law so just tell them to meter your taxi. It’s typically much cheaper than negotiating a rate. Note: each city/island has different types of taxis and they operate a bit differently. Just be sure to look up the different way they operate before leaving the airport.
BTS Sky Train
This is Bangkok’s metro and is a super easy and cheap way to get around Bangkok. I recommend using this if you’re staying close to any of the main BTS stops. I used this constantly on my 2nd time to Bangkok and it was extremely simple!
Uber is big time in Bangkok and can be used all over the place and are typically cheaper than cabs. You can also get them in places like Chiang Mai and most other larger locations in Thailand. Just make sure you call them when you have wifi at the hotel or get a sim card.
You can use these taxis to get to and from the different temples or different sides of the river. The local water taxi is the orange color and is typically cheaper.
I honestly avoid taking these in Bangkok because it’s sometimes more expensive, but feel free to try them cause it’s fun and they are all over Thailand. Just make sure to negotiate a rate ahead of time.
Rent a Motorbike
I did this in Chiang Mai to go up to Pai and rented one on all of the islands. It’s super easy to get a bike and such a fun way to explore the islands! Make sure you take photos of the entire bike with all of the flaws so you don’t get screwed. Make sure to wear a helmet and be careful! I saw tons of accidents while in Thailand and it’s also really expensive if you crash or break the bike in any way!
Travel Agency Packages
There are many travel agency packages all over Thailand that will hook you up with a boat, bus transfer or train depending on where you are going. It’s usually smart to shop around at the different tour agencies once you arrive in Thailand because you can get better rates. I did a lot of transfer packages as a backpacker and it made getting to my next destination a lot easier. I used a company called Lomprayah a lot.
Local airlines are AirAsia, ThaiLion, Thai Airlines and all are pretty decent.
FOODS TO TRY
Pad Thai Mango Sticky Rice Papaya Salad Gai Med Ma Moung (Chicken Cashew Nuts) Thai Spring Rolls Green and Red Curry Pad Kee Mao Tom Yum Goong – spicy shrimp soup Banana Pancakes or Rotti Street food Kow Soi Fruit lassi’s (shakes), smoothies and juices – the fruit in Thailand is amazing and their shakes and juices are amazing! Chang Beer – my friend Alex from Alex in Wonderland makes fun of me for liking this, but this is 100% a backpacker cheap beer and I LOVE ‘em. The Big CHANG all the way! Buckets – you’ll find buckets of booze all over Thailand. The alcohol in here is usually really cheap. But hey, if you’re having a wild night it’s fun to experience! SangSom – this is the cheap rum distilled from sugar cane and is pretty cheap to drink.
I hope you have a great time in Thailand and I hope this Thailand Guide helps! Let me know if there’s anything you love that I should add to the list in the comments.
Welcome to the Traveling Spud! I’m Katie, a 30 something from Idaho who quit her marketing job in San Francisco, California to travel the world for a year. After a trip around the world, my heart chose Idaho. I'm addicted to outdoor adventures, photography, and inspiring others to get out of their comfort zones and cross experiences off of their bucket lists. Let's explore together! Read more here.