Choosing a Thailand backpacking route can be difficult, especially given the wide range of tourist attractions on offer. The country relies heavily on tourism and, as a result, offers travellers hundreds of budget activity choices including museums, palaces, Buddhist temples, beaches, World Heritage sites and cooking classes.
If you’re going to Thailand, I recommend you take AT LEAST 2 weeks to do so. With this kind of time frame, you’d be able to catch a good little preview of what the country has to offer. For me, your Thailand route comes down to one main question: North or South Thailand?
The less obvious of the two. Most new travellers know less about the historical Northern area of the country than the South. If you are going to Thailand in the hope of lying on a beach to lazily soak up the sun, you can skip this paragraph and head straight down to the Southern info. The North is for those looking to drink in the old country culture and explore the dense forested mountains inhabited by hill tribes. The North is just as good for a party as the South, but I find the crowd to be a lot more chilled out, with an appreciation for relaxed reggae tunes and hippy vibes. With a two week Itinerary in Thailand, this is what I recommend you do:
Bangkok – Kanchanaburi – Chiang Mai – Pai – Bangkok
Bangkok – 2 nights
Most tourists will either fly in or out of Bangkok at some point. Take the time to recover from your jet lag, then go visit the usual tourist spots: Khao San road, floating markets, Wat Pho (I prefer this to the Grand Palace), take a cooking class.
Kanchanaburi – 2 nights
I’m possibly cheating with Kanchanburi a little. It’s technically in the West, not the North. However, being only a two hour tourist bus drive away from Bangkok means that it’s an easy place to sneak into your route. The little town is dotted with river side backpacker huts, jam-packed with historical sites and waterfalls, and it’s not teaming with tourists the way some other places are.
Chiang Mai – 6 nights
If you’re looking for a city with cheap places to stay in Thailand, then Chiang Mai is your stop. You can either fly from Bangkok, take the night bus, or use night train. 6 nights may sound like a lot, but the old Thai capital is a brilliant base camp for day trips to other places. I’d planned to spend only 3 days in this city – I stayed for 3 weeks! Whilst there, you should:
- Visit Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, the famous Buddhist temple is considered one of the most sacred sites in Thailand.
- Spend the day at The Elephant Nature Park
- Get a massage from a prison inmate at the Chiang Mai Women’s Correctional Institution
- Visit the night market
- Attend Monk Chat at Wat Suan Dok
- Visit a rooftop bar for a night time drink
- Take an overnight trekking trip into the jungle
Pai – 2/3 nights
The first time I went to Thailand, I missed Pai out. It’s a 3 hour, windy road, mini bus journey from Chiang Mai. I regret it to this day. The postcard-perfect little town seems to be floating around in a little hippy time zone all of its own, surrounded by lush green rolling mountains. The town is famous for its walking street, canyon, waterfalls and quaint bohemian cafes.
Bangkok – 1 night
I’m not a fan of rushing from one city to another to get my last flight home. Take another night to finish your trip off with a Bangkok party – A night on one of the famous hotel rooftop bars or a hardcore SangSom rum bucket fest at a roadside bar.
Beaches and parties are the name of the game. I’m most likely not going to recommend the normal Thailand guide route for the South. Two of the main Southern ‘stop points’ are always Phi Phi and Phuket. I dislike both.
If you’re looking for a true Thailand experience, you won’t get much of that in either of these places. Phuket is teaming with expats and is, therefore, set up to accommodate them. Phi Phi is teetering on the edge of becoming the Asian equivalent of Ayia Napa. If looking for is a relaxing holiday in a 5-Star with a little bit of an Asian feel, I’d recommend you fly from Bangkok to Phuket, then hop over on the ferry for a few nights to Phi Phi. Job done.
Alternatively, my route would be as follows:
Bangkok – Koh Samui – Koh Pha Ngan – Koh tao – Bangkok
Bangkok – 2 nights
As with the North itinerary, when deciding what to see in Thailand, Bangkok is a must.
Koh Samui/Koh Pha Ngan – 5 nights
Choose one. I don’t think you NEED to do both, but you could if you wanted a faster paced trip. You can take a quick internal flight from Bangkok down to Samui airport if you’re short on time. Once you’ve arrived in Koh Samui, the other East coast islands are easily accessible and reasonably fast to get to by ferry. Both Samui and Koh Pha Ngan are notoriously famous for their party atmosphere; Samui is home to some pretty decent sized clubs, whilst Koh Pha Ngan plays host to the monthly full moon party. For something a little bit less mainstream, Koh Pha Ngan also holds a half moon party in the jungle each month.
Both islands have the same kind of feel as the West coast’s Koh Phi Phi, but on a larger scale. Rent scooters and you can cross over to quieter areas of both.
Koh Tao – 6 nights
If you’re looking for beautiful places in Thailand, the more laid back of the three East coast islands is the place to go. Popular with travellers looking to complete their Divemaster course, Koh Tao’s waters are just that little bit nicer, and it has a more chilled out feel than its neighbours. Although developing, the road network is a lot rougher, and everything here feels a bit slower. Nighttime parties along the main Sairee Beach are held in large wooden bars, accompanied by fire spinning shows all night along the sands. Viewpoints dotted all over the island will keep you busy for days.
Bangkok – 1 night
As per the North itinerary, give yourself a final day in Bangkok. Tired of drinking? Ask a taxi driver to take you to the Platinum Malls for a crazy intense day of wholesaler shopping. The Mall right next door boasts even more madness, with 5 large floors of shoes, handbags, accessories and clothing!
The East coast islands can be swapped for a flight from Bangkok to West coast Krabi, followed by a boat trip to Phi Phi, and finally a stop in Phuket before going back to Bangkok.
(Bangkok – Krabi – Phi Phi – Phuket – Bangkok)
I’d love to hear about your preferred routes. Drop your suggestions in the comments below.