Thailand Travel Guide
Whatever you write about Thailand, it has already been written a thousand times; maybe a hundred thousand and one. But we will write it again: we love Thailand – and hope you will love it, too! Having travelled quite a lot around Southeast Asia, we are absolutely confident that Thailand is arguably the most interesting, convenient and safe destination to visit, offering diversity of activities, sights and experiences, from lazy beach holidays on paradise-like islands to the less discovered rugged parts of the country where wild jungle adventures beckon you.
So why should you visit Thailand?
Travelling around Thailand by land or air is easy, cost effective and comfortable
There is a variety of regional and national budget airlines which offer a wide network of routes countrywide bringing you from Bangkok to the south, west, north, northeast or east in an hour’s time.
Almost any time of the year you can grab a deal between THB1000 (less than USD30) and THB1500 (less than USD50) one-way almost to any destinations; even cheaper during promotion periods when Thai AirAsia, Thai Lion Air or Nok Air throw in the market dirt-cheap tickets.
Travelling by bus in Thailand is the top choice for many locals and tourists alike. The roads are kept in great condition and a large fleet of buses of different classes operated by numerous companies can bring you literally to every corner of the country – very often you won’t even need connection rides: buses call to the smallest villages! With local, express, VIP and VIP24 buses, all ranging in comfort and ticket price you have a wide choice.
If buses do not reach where you need to go or if you prefer a quicker transfer, there are minivans and tourist buses which serve the most popular routes.
Rail travel in Thailand is not so popular as in some Western countries, but with the brand-new trains which have recently started plying the route between Bangkok and Chiang Mai, Nong Khai and Ubon Ratchathani it reaches a completely new level, though even the older sleepers, either 2 class or 1 class, are a quintessentially Thai experience. If you have few baht in your pocket – travel by train in Thailand! Third-class carriages are painfully slow but they are cheap. We mean cheap.
Long tail boats, speedboats, local ferries and high speed catamarans are at your disposal when you need to make a hop to the Thai islands, either in the Gulf of Thailand, including Koh Samui, Koh Phangan and Koh Tao, or in the Andaman Sea – from sleepy beauty of Koh Lanta to the world famous Koh Phi Phi.
Thailand is a year-round destination
While there are cold, hot and rainy seasons in Thailand, there is always good weather somewhere in the country – whether you need your dose of the sunrays close to the sea or feel enthusiastic about trekking in the mountains or jungle.
Though the best time to visit is generally from November through February, April splashes with wild water celebrations, May through July are filled with blossoming trees and season fruits, and waterfalls are at their best during the rain season. If you want to go to Thailand – just go, no matter what time of the year it is!
Travelling in Thailand is affordable
Yes, you can splash here, too. There are luxury villas which cost from USD2000+ per night – and they do cost it! – but you hardly find the better value for your money as far as accommodation is concerned anywhere in the region – well, probably with some exception of the most popular island destinations, to be frank.
While there are hostels in Thailand and you can pay for a bed in a dorm, very often adding just another THB100 (USD2,5) buys you a private room in a tidy simple guesthouses, in most cases – with an en-suite bathroom.
The best value accommodation which we have met so far is found in New Sukhothai, Ayutthaya, Mukdahan and probably Kanchanaburi. That said, you can score a great deal starting from THB500 even in the most tourist-heavy areas like Phuket or Koh Samui.
Thai food is the top
We are seriously addicted to Thai food! While in Thailand, do not limit yourself to ordinary khao pat or pat thai about which you have learned back home. Thai cuisine is diverse, and besides a huge variety of seafood on offer – which you are unlikely to find dirt cheap, by the way, – there is a whole wealth of local specialties, from Isan treasures of som tam (green papaya salad) and spicy meaty larb (our perennial favourite) to the southern sweet Muslim roti pancakes with banana, egg or spicy curry f to more specific flavours like the northern mouthwatering khao soi curry with coconut milk and egg noodles.
Your everyday bowl of noodles or rice with curry should not cost you more than THB60, THB30-40 being the more reasonable price – and you can easily survive on a couple of those per day plus fresh fruit and vegetables which are abundant and affordable – both from street markets or huge supermarkets.
Where to go in Thailand
And now you need to plan your route. It is not as easy as it may look. As soon as you start researching, you find out that there is much more about Thailand than well-known package tourist destinations, from Phuket to Pattaya and from Chiang Mai to Koh Samui. And even in the best explored destinations you are always sure to find off the beaten path corners which will reward all your efforts you spend to find them.
You have not seen Thailand without visiting...
The bustling capital of Thailand never stops surprising. Backpackers on a budget feel at home in Khao San Road and the glittering malls of Siam with swish rooftop bars offering the best city view ever lure those who have some cash to splash.
The city with cultural scene yielding only to Bangkok, Chiang Mai has an infinite charm. Elaborate Lanna temples, misty chilled mornings up Doi Inthanon and a variety of activities on offer will keep you busy for days, weeks and months, if necessary.
With hundreds of islands both in the Gulf and off the shores of the Andaman Coast Thailand does offer a wide choice. As a first-time visitor, you can try the most popular beach destinations like Phuket in the Andaman – the largest island in the country with long wide beaches and plenty of nightlife or Koh Samui in the Gulf – for a more paradise-like island experience.
Where to go if you like...
Inevitably, the sea is the first thing which comes to your mind when you think of Thailand. Apart from the heavyweights like Phuket, Samui, Koh Phangan and Koh Tao Thailand boasts many more tropical paradise spots, often less known, less developed and less crowded.
In the Gulf, Koh Samet has been an easy weekend escape for partying Bangkokias for years; its white sand beaches and crystal clear waters teaming with marine life attracting backpackers on a budget and luxury holiday-makers alike.
Jungle-covered Koh Chang caters for nature lovers and is yet not so overdeveloped. The neighbouring Koh Kood and Koh Mak are both ultimate tropical paradise with little else than bungalows, beautiful beaches and turquoise seas. Koh Wai will definitely appeal to romantic souls.
Between Koh Samet and Koh Chang you can also enjoy a wonderful day on a beautiful yacht at a very reasonable price.
The Andaman Sea is home to more stunning islands. Koh Phi Phi islands have become backpackers’ mecca after the cult ‘Beach’ movie with Leo had been screened. Too crowded and overdeveloped now, Phi Phi still retains (some of) their savage charm.
Koh Lanta is a perfect holiday retreat for couples and families. With its long and never too peopled beaches, amazing Old Town and mouthwatering fresh seafood it is the place to be.
The Trang and Satun islands are easily the best kept of all the Andaman secrets. Go to Koh Libong to meet endangered dugongs; pamper yourself in world-class spas on Koh Ngai or let the sublime splendour of Koh Kradan win your heart.
Koh Phayam and Koh Chang Noi, up the coast towards Ranong, are both a great destination for those looking for quieter spots.
Ayutthaya, easily reached from Bangkok, is obviously the most popular destination for archaeological buffs. A wonderful mix of ancient ruins integrated into the modern city is Ayutthaya’s winning formula.
Sukhothai can satisfy even the most discerning connoisseurs of ancient temples. It has a lot of them and some more! The best way to explore the area is by bicycle – and do not miss out their famous kuay tiaw sukhothai! If Sukhothai looks too glamorous for you, check its neighbours – Kamphaeng Phet and Si Satchanalai instead.
If you are dreaming about handsome Khmer prangs of Angkor, there’s no need to head for Cambodia immediately: Thailand has its own set of Khmer ruins which are not so large-scale but impressive just the same. Number 1 in the list is Phanom Rung historical park in Buriram which has a couple of smaller beautiful satellite temples.
Phimai in Nakhon Ratchasima is not as large as Phanom Rung, but it features a lot of beautifully carved lintels and a one-tree-forest is one step away.
Prasat Mueang Sinh in Kanchanaburi enjoys peaceful setting on the banks of the river and you can combine the trip there with the visit to some other attractions in the area like a walkable stretch of the Death Railway.
Ayutthaya which we recommended above for the buffs of the ancient ruins, caters for lovers of Buddhist temples, too. We love contemporary temples with occasional ancient stupas in their courtyards – you really feel how the past and the present co-exist there!
Not many foreign visitors call on to Phetchaburi, and it’s a real pity as it is a treasure box for those who enjoy Buddhist temples. With a couple of Royal monasteries in the city and abundance of other wats which do differ greatly from each other in style and decoration you can easily spend two or three days just visiting the temples there.
One more heavily templed city is Ubon Ratchathani in Isan. Ubon’s temples are just spectacular! The local authorities set up a free tram for tourists to visit the most prominent wats, so you can see them all in a day.
With almost 150 national parks, including marine parks, and 120 forest parks Thailand has everything for those who want to get closer to nature.
The first national park in Thailand and the third largest as far as the size in concerned, Khao Yai National park in Nakhon Ratchasima is an entire jungle planet roamed by wild elephants, Sambar deer, Indian muntjac and many other animals.
The sunning beauty of Khao Sok National park in Surat Thani province with its amazing 165 sq.km Cheow Lan Lake never fails to impress.
The seven-tiered Erawan Waterfalls in the namesake National park attract hordes of tourists and are at their best during the rainy season. For a more authentic experience, plan to stay overnight in the park – there is a camping area and bungalows.
Other national parks worth visiting in the first turn include:
Kui Buri National park for wild elephants;
Kaeng Krachan National park for wild life, hiking and misty panoramas;
Ao Phang Nga National park for dramatic scenery with its 40+ astonishing karst islands, water caves and pristine beaches.
Trekking and hill tribes culture
Well, go North! All of the star destinations of the north like Chiang Mai or Chiang Rai provide plenty of opportunities for hiking and trekking in the mountainous regions with visits to hill tribe villages, waterfalls and hot springs featured in many programs.
Head to Pai to experience the slow living attitude and the old-school hippie vibe on the background of mind-blowingly beautiful valley. Move on west to Soppong, number 1 destination for off the beaten path caving in Thailand and finally reach Mae Hong Song, an increasingly popular but still underrated destination offering a lot of routes for trekking, as well as mud spa, hot springs and more.
Mae Salong with its spectacular tea plantations calls for tea amateurs and enthusiastic walkers alike while Mae Sariang has probably the least visited hill tribe villages in the region.
Our personal favourite though is Phu Kradueng in Loei with an abundance of challenging paths for hiking and amazing sun dawns from up the mesa.