I didn’t realise this until I actually started travelling more, but Thailand is a right of passage for most twenty-somethings. Two weeks or even a month is extremely feasible on a shoestring budget, and the country has a ton of options for every type of traveller. Last year I visited Thailand with a few friends and learned a few things (mostly that I should have given myself more days in each place!), so I thought I’d lay out a suggested itinerary for anyone who wants to visit this beautiful country. This itinerary will be perfect for those who are backpacking through Southeast Asia, or if you are just spending some time in Thailand on your own.
Before you go on your merry way to Thailand, make sure to browse through my Thailand packing list!
An honourable mention, though not included in the itinerary, is beautiful Koh Tao. If you are considering a trip there, don’t miss this guide to the best things to do in Koh Tao.
Bangkok – 3-4 Days
You’ll probably fly into Bangkok, so it’s a great place to start your adventures! This is going to be the most bustling part of your experience, so embrace it for all its worth. Make sure your taxis turn their meters on and avoid the tuk-tuks at all costs, but otherwise spend some time exploring all this city has to offer! If you are heading that way, do check what’s the quickest way to get from Bangkok to Pattaya.
Some recommended spots to visit in Bangkok:
Shop around the Chatuchak Market. Bargain and enjoy the bustling atmosphere. There’s a lot to take in. Just remember, though, it’s pretty cheap material. You get what you pay for.
Explore the Grand Palace. Make sure you get there well before its closing time of 3:00 p.m. You can also pack yourself a little picnic and head to the park outside the palace for dinner. As the sun sets, the palace begins to light up, which is a stunning sight.
Enjoy roaming around the Marble Temple. This is a much quieter area, and it’s totally lovely on its own.
Sail along the Chao Phraya River. You can book one of the tour boats or do it like a local and board one of the passenger boats.
Grab a drink or two along Khao San Road. This is very much backpacker central, but it’s definitely a nice place to relax a bit and meet other travellers. Heck, if you’re like two of the girls I was with, you’ll meet a local and wind up at another party later in the night.
Chiang Mai – 4-5 Days
For a much more laid back vibe, head northwards (either fly or take an overnight train) to Chiang Mai. Even with Ao Nang’s perfect beaches, Chiang Mai is still my favourite of where we visited, and it’s definitively on my must-return-to list. The air is a little cooler up north, and the whole area is much more relaxed. It’s great for hiking, exploring more of Thailand’s traditional culture, and, hey, there’s even a lost city!
Whatever you do, do not ride elephants or visit one of the tiger kingdoms. We made the mistake of visiting a tiger kingdom, thinking it was a legitimate sanctuary. It’s very disheartening to learn it’s a scam. A reputable place, though, is the Elephant Nature Park, which we missed making reservations to.
Chiang Mai is very popular amongst bloggers and other digital nomads. If you are unsure if it’s for you, read my friend Veera’s guide to being a digital nomad in Asia: Chiang Mai vs Bali!
Take a day trip to Chiang Rai to see Wat Rong Khun. Every time I see pictures of this stunning silver temple, I kick myself for not knowing about it before we went. Don’t make my mistake and check it out for yourself.
Spend an afternoon wandering around Wiang Kum Kam, a recently discovered lost city. You’ll have the benefit of seeing a suburban side of Thailand as well as getting to check out the rediscovered temples.
Try hiking to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep. We tried hiking and failed, but it is possible to hike up to this golden temple. Either hiking or getting a ride, it’s worth it. The temple is gorgeous, and the gold practically glows in the sunlight.
Spend a day at the Elephant Nature Park. Another missed opportunity because we didn’t book early enough! My friend went, though, and fell in love with it. It’s extremely reputable as a proper sanctuary not only for elephants but other rescued animals as well.
Go temple hopping. Just take a day, morning, or however long you want and roam about Chiang Mai checking out the temples. There are over 300 in this one area, so you’re bound to run into one no matter which direction you take.
Find the Emaciated Buddha in Wat Umong. Built in the late 13th century, it is set among a wooded area. You can find trees of wisdom, a field of broken Buddha sculptures, and more.
Ao Nang, Krabi – 5-6 Days
Spend the most days down in Thailand’s beaches and give yourself time to totally unwind. I highly recommend at least one day down here of just lounging on the beach, drinking smoothies, and napping. We went to Ao Nang after hearing it would be the least busy and touristy of the beaches, and we found a brightly coloured, calm beach town. Yes, there are tourists, but it escapes the party/sleazy reputation other beaches seem to get.
There are loads of solo travel guides to Thailand, and many will say it’s a perfect destination for backpackers!
Go island hopping. Your hostel can help you with most of your planning, but definitely, schedule a day to go island hopping! It’s super inexpensive, lasts all day, and takes you to different islands, each more beautiful than the last. Leave your nicer cameras at home, because getting wet is almost a guarantee. While island hopping, expect to go snorkelling, beach hopping, and sea kayaking. You’ll also be fed lunch and snacks throughout the day, including fresh fruit.
Do some yoga! Wake up a little earlier one day and head to Marina Yoga for a lovely class to kickstart your day. Your body will probably need the good stretch out from all the travelling!
Walk around town. This town is brightly coloured, and you could easily spend an afternoon walking around and taking in all the multicoloured buildings.
Eat halal food. Ao Nang actually has a pretty large Muslim population! One of the aforementioned gorgeous buildings is the mosque downtown. Around the streets, you’ll find absolutely delicious, cheap halal food, so eat your heart out. I still dream of that food sometimes.
Climb a little and find a more deserted beach area. The main beach near downtown will be a bit crowded, but if you climb around one of the cliffs, you’ll find yourself at the private beach of one of the resorts. While you can’t take advantage of their amenities, you are allowed on the beach as long as you sign in.
Take a cooking class. Something else that can be arranged with your hotel or hostel. One of the girls I was with took one and enjoyed learning how to make the everything from Pad Thai to Som Tam.