It’s no secret, one of my favorite travel destinations is Thailand. Not just one city or region in particular, but the entire country. Where else could I spend a weekend trekking, riding elephants, and bamboo rafting and then spend the next in an international city full of lights, nightlife, and some of the most interesting street vendors I’ve ever come across. Thailand is enchanting. While going through old e-mails, I stumbled upon a guide I had put together for friends that were considering a visit. Though they didn’t end up going, the advice is still valid, and the country is still remarkable. So as a potential traveler, I hope you will find some use of this.
Of course, your airfare is going to make up the bulk of your cost. Use http://www.kayak.com/explore to track flights from various departure points and fly into Bangkok rather than Phuket.
All US travelers are granted a 30-day visa upon arrival when coming in by air, 15 day by land. Make sure you have cash on you to pay at immigration. If you get a longer visa, or a work visa, more money and more research will be involved.
Once you’re there
First, prepare for an amazing experience you are never going to forget nor regret. If you want to stay where all the travelers are located in Bangkok, make sure you head to Khao San or Rambutri roads. The atmosphere there is absolutely intoxicating. One trip up and down either street and you’ll get it. During three separate stays in Bangkok, we stayed at The Green House. You’ll meet so many fellow travelers who will have tons of advice about where to go. The rooms are very affordable, the food is good, and it’s located right in the middle of it all.
When going from city to city, always take the bus, preferably the overnight bus if available so you won’t lose a day traveling. My travel mates and I made the mistake of taking the train from Bangkok up to Chiang Mai and it was not ideal. If for some reason you have to take the train, pay the extra few dollars to upgrade to VIP. It is well worth it.
Things to do Bangkok
I mentioned it before, but Khao San and Rambutri roads are two of my favorites. We spent so much time shopping the various vendors, eating street pad thai, and getting massages. Make sure you take advantage.
There’s a floating market outside of Bangkok that was great to see. Your hostel or a travel agency will give you more information if you want to go and participate. We didn’t buy anything, but it was an overall enjoyable experience. You can do it for cheap by going out yourself by taxi and getting pictures of it all from above, not actually floating down.
There’s also a tiger village that you can travel to easily. We convinced a taxi driver to take us there and back inexpensively. If you go, you’ll get in a cage with a ton of tigers and snap some photos. It was fairly costly and none of us actually got in the cage, but it was an interesting experience nonetheless. Make sure you go with a friend or else they will charge you even more if someone else has to take the photos for you.
My friends and I took a cooking class and had a great time. You’ll get the chance to make some delicious Thai food, it’s cheap, and you’ll be introduced to a lot of fellow travelers. A travel agent or hostel will provide you with all the details you’ll need.
If you go north, the first stop should be Chiang Mai and the Golden Triangle area. Chiang Mai was one of my absolute favorites. This is the place for trekking, so if you want to do so, do it here. If you do go trekking, plan the trip yourself. Take the bus to Chiang Mai on your own and once you’re there, find a hostel that offers treks. We stayed at the BMP Hostel and it was an overall pleasant experience. They had a pool which was great and offered treks with large groups and a very knowledgeable guide, JJ. This is your chance to hike in the jungle, stay with locals and no electricity, ride elephants, and bamboo raft.
If you get back to Chiang Mai, stay somewhere closer to the city. This was actually one of my favorite stops. There are tons of wats (temples) and an incredible market that sells amazing street food. We stayed at A Little Bird Guesthouse and would highly recommend it to other travelers.
Chiang Rai is another scenic stop if you have the time and budget. It’s close to Chiang Mai and though there’s not a whole lot to do, there is a one-of-a-kind wat appropriately named the White Temple that made the trip worthwhile. The temple was controversial when being built and has a mural inside that’s interesting, to say the least; it is a modern play on Buddhism and pop culture. I think you’d have to see it to understand.
When traveling south, you will have the option to fly, most likely into Phuket. Flights will vary, but will probably cost anywhere from $70-100. We, however, decided to take the bus down. Although this will cost you more time (probably 15 hours total) it saves you a lot of money (the bus with ferry cost maybe $18). You just have to decide what’s worth what! There are tons of islands for you to choose from. Phuket is probably the most famous and most commercialized of them all. It’s going to be more expensive than the other islands, but still a good place to start. Koh Samui is great for diving. Koh Phi Phi is where “The Island” was filmed and there’s a tour for those who want to learn more about the making of the movie. Koh Phangan is where we spent the majority of our time in Southern Thailand. We took the bus/ferry down from Bangkok and spent two weeks exploring the island on bike. Koh Phangan is famous for the full moon party, though we were only there for the half moon party. You’ll find there’s a party almost every night of the month and for every phase of the moon. We stayed at Coral Bungalows. They had great specials on food, a wonderful pool, and it was a short walk from the main beach.
Other tidbits of advice
Tuk tuks vs. taxis. While in Thailand, the majority of our trips were done via tuk tuk. Coming from the airport, you’ll take a taxi and can expect to pay around $20 to get into the city. We did our best to never accept the driver’s first price on a ride. Bargaining is key when traveling abroad!
Bring as little as possible, maybe even just the clothes on your back as everything is so affordable there. You’ll pick up on the fashions and buy clothes once you arrive. Two t-shirts, two shorts, tennis shoes, sandals, underwear and socks will suffice. No more!
If you have to make a visa run or decide to visit another country, it is easily done. Laos and Cambodia are amazing options and will offer visas on arrival. Vietnam is great, but the visa process is a bit more complicated. Give yourself some time if you plan to go there.
Bring some extra passport photos with you! If you do have to get a new visa, it’s easier when they’re already on you. Keep some US dollars on you as well. You’ll use Baht in Thailand, but it’s always nice to have some USD on you just in case. It’s also a pretty good idea to bring a lock with you. You can use these for various reasons, locking your door, safe box, backpack.
Rent bikes! Or even better, motor bikes. They’re affordable and a great way to get around any island.
But most importantly, have fun!