When to Go
Just like most Southeast Asian countries, Thailand can be notoriously hot. We visited Thailand during the extreme heat (end of March-April) and it was a challenge. If you end up visiting around this time, you should try to participate in the country’s New Year festival in April, Songkran. It’s a big water fight across the nation and seems like great fun for everyone. Don’t let the heat deter you from visiting this beautiful country. To embrace the heat, try waking up early to do sightseeing, rest/eat/relax at your hotel or a cafe during the peak time, and spend your nights wisely.
How to Get Around
In Bangkok, getting around is easy and convenient with the BTS Skytrain. The train is cheap, safe, clean, and most importantly: air conditioned. Depending on how many times you plan on using it, I would check the unlimited passes they offer. Tuk Tuks are common as well but we always preferred to take the train in the larger cities. From Bangkok to Ayutthaya, we took a minivan ride which was affordable but a little uncomfortable (You can find more information here). While in Ayutthaya, we rented bikes to visit around the city. Our hotel was further from the main city, so we had to use Tuk Tuks as well. For day activities in Chiang Mai and Phuket, most companies will offer to pick you up from your Airbnb or hotel. Try staying in a central place to avoid public transportation and explore by foot!
What Cities to Visit
Depending on what you want to do during your Thailand vacation, these are the most popular cities for travelers: Bangkok, Ayutthaya, Chiang Mai and Phuket. Bangkok is the capital where you can find modern city life mixed with the old culture. Ayutthaya is where you can find ancient and archaeological temples and ruins. Chiang Mai is located north in the mountainous area of Thailand where some of the more active activities happen. Phuket is more southern and is home to some of the most beautiful beaches in the world.
Here was our basic itinerary in Thailand that lasted two weeks:
- Bangkok (2 days)
- Bus → Ayutthaya (1 hour)
- Ayutthaya (2 days)
- Bus back → Bangkok (1 hour)
- Fly → Chiang Mai (1 hour)
- Chiang Mai (3 days)
- Fly → Phuket (2 hours)
- Phuket (4 days)
- Fly back → Bangkok (1.5 hours)
- Bangkok (2 days)
Where to Stay
Airbnbs and hotels can be dirt cheap for a decent place. Very affordable for younger people who want more a luxurious space that feels like home rather than staying at hostels (which can be cool, too!). Here are the Airbnbs and hotels we stayed at during our trip:
- Bangkok Airbnb
- Beautiful rooftop pool, good, clean space for up to two people.
- Ayutthaya Retreat
- Gorgeous property with Thai-styled rooms. The outdoor pool and pond were great places to relax.
- Chiang Mai Airbnb
- Walking distance to a big mall, beautiful pool in the complex. A bit away from the city center.
- Chiang Mai Treehouse
- Great new experience, friendly staff, plenty in the area to explore, the owner will coordinate to pick you up in Chiang Mai and stop along a beautiful waterfall and food markets.
- Phuket Airbnb
- A nice property, but quite a drive away from the city center. Owners offer to drive you around to see the sights for a fee.
- Second Bangkok Airbnb
- Nice cottage before an early flight to the airport. The staff can arrange for a shuttle to drop you off after check out.
What to Do
There’s plenty to do in Thailand! Visiting temples, eating street food, cooking classes, lounging on the beaches, etc. Here are some of my favorite spots we visited and activities that we did during our stay in each city:
- Wat Pho
- Grand Palace
- The Emerald Buddha Temple (Wat Phrakaew)
- Wat Phu Khao Thong
- Wat Chai Watthanaram
- Wat Lokayasutharam
- Wat Mahathat
- Wat Rat Praditthan
- Chiang Mai:
- Chiang Mai Night Bazaar
- Elephant Sanctuary
- Asia Scenic Thai Cooking
- Bua Thong Waterfalls
- Phi Phi Islands
- Maya Bay
- Ko Phi Phi Le
Lastly, I DO NOT recommend riding any elephants (or any animals in Thailand). Elephants used for riding (bareback or not) are treated horribly and you should avoid it at all costs. If you want to interact with elephants, I suggest visiting the Elephant Sanctuary listed above. It’s a rural home for rescued elephants and other wild animals that has a no riding policy. I also do not recommend visiting any tiger petting zoos. Usually the tigers are treated badly as well and it’s only possible to interact with them because they are heavily drugged. DO NOT DO IT FOR THE ‘GRAM!
What to Eat
Thai food is popular all across the world. I was surprised to find that popular dishes like Pad Thai and mango sticky rice aren’t necessarily authentic Thai food. You can learn more about Thai cuisine if you take a cooking class. They have them in most bigger cities and they are relatively cheap at around $20. Street food is everywhere in Thailand. If you want a variety, there will most likely be a street food market nearby where you are staying. I don’t have much restaurants to recommend as we just ate at places we saw along the way. Roti Sai Mai in Ayutthaya was something interesting I never heard of before. It’s cotton candy strings wrapped in a sweet roti and it can be quite addicting for those with a sweet tooth. Kao Soi in Chiang Mai is considered a popular dish. It is a very comforting curry noodle soup. We made it during our cooking class and it was great. It can be hard to sort through the tourist trap food places and find yourself authentic Thai food. Street food and night markets were our go-to places.
How to Prepare
- Buy a sim card at the airport: Right when you’re off the plane and ready to go, stop by the DTAC counter and get yourself a sim card. They are relatively cheap and will last during your whole trip. It will definitely be useful in emergencies, finding your way around, or just browsing social media during downtime. Just be careful not to lose your current sim card. Put it in a safe place until you leave!
- Bring Thai Baht: You WILL need to get Thai Baht. I recommend getting a good amount of baht at your local currency exchange place (Just don’t get ripped off at airports. Find a place that matches Wells Fargo or BOA exchange rates). I ran out of baht eventually and I had to use an ATM that charged a small fee. If you don’t have enough time to get baht before your trip, just withdraw enough for one transaction when you first get there so you don’t have to keep paying those annoying ATM fees (Or just open a Charles Schwab account that has zero ATM fees if you travel internationally enough!)
- Bust out the short-shorts and sunscreen: If you’re travelling around March-April, prepare for nearly unbearable heat. Sunglasses, sun hats, shorts, tanks–the works. Protect your skin with sunscreen with at least 30 SPF. Keep in mind that you will have to cover up when visiting most temples (no shorts, no visible shoulder/stomaches, dresses should be below the ankles).
- Bring bug repellent: Bug repellent is a MUST to fight off those mosquitoes. I had many mosquito bites by the end of the trip and it was not fun.
- Get vaccinated: Coordinate with your famly doctor well before your trip so you can take preventative medicine and vaccines for malaria, Hep B, and typhoid. I didn’t have enough time to get vaccinated for malaria but luckily the bites I got didn’t infect me. Don’t take the risk, though!