Sandy beaches, developed city scapes, exciting culture, great food. Thailand has it all.
It’s no wonder there are a plethora of “what to do” lists speckled all over the internet. I did a ton of research before heading off on my 3 week adventure in Thailand (see my packing list if you don’t believe me) and with my partner’s help we created an itinerary that fit what we were most interested in.
Before we went we planned our flights and hostels. We used Booking.com to find the hostels that were right for us. I loved Booking.com because we were able to secure a hostel without any credit card information or prepayment. At the same time, it was great to have the final price in the local currency available to us before we left so that we could budget accordingly.
First of all, we split our time in Bangkok in two. We did 3 nights at the beginning of our trip and 3 nights at the end of the trip. We did this mainly because we were flying in and out of Bangkok; That’s what worked out to be the cheapest option. Although it’s not against the rules to stay in a different hostel every night you probably want to avoid moving around too much and wasting all of your days.
One of the advantages to visiting Bangkok at the beginning and the end of our trip was the ability to stay in several different areas of the city and different quality hostels/hotels.
We experienced life in bunk beds (and were awoken by people getting it on in the bunk next to us) at the Thai Cat Hostel on the east side of the canal in an area that seemed less developed (it was actually only 10 minutes away from a 7-storey shopping mall WITH a skating rink).
We spent one night closer to the touristy action in a beautiful suite at the Siri Poshtel. The Siri Poshtel offered all the comforts of a classic Best Western or Clarion with a free breakfast and 24 hours service.
Finally we chose to splurge a little and see how some young locals live at Sivalai Place, an apartment building, west of the canal, that provides short term rentals to travellers. Unlike a traditional hotel room we had a kitchen and TV area in our suite. The apartment was attached to a clubhouse where members played tennis and swam laps in the pool, and a restaurant open 6 days each week.
What we learned from our first stay in Bangkok was that we weren’t big fans of it overall. It was like any other big city. We felt like people were attracted to our kind Canadian smiles only because they saw us as a quick way to make a buck. The streets in Bangkok were much more littered than anywhere else we visited and we found the touristy areas to be more expensive than anywhere else we visited, perhaps because Bangkok is what you think of when you hear “Thailand” (maybe not anymore with the banning of street food…uh-oh!).
If we could go back we would probably skip Bangkok altogether and go straight to Chiang Mai or the islands.
Phuket & Koh Lanta
Phuket (pronounced Poo-ket) and Koh Lanta were both great places to visit but we figured out shortly after the second day of rain that we hadn’t booked enough time there. We landed late at night on a flight from Bangkok to Phuket, stayed only one night at the stylish Pho Thong Phuket, before rushing to catch a ferry to the island at 8:30am.
The ferry ride from Phuket to Koh Phi Phi (pronounced pee pee) and then Phi Phi to Koh Lanta was definitely a highlight for a quasi-fish like myself. Watching the gigantic islands appear out of the sea, seemingly out of nowhere, was magical. Pictures can’t do justice to the feeling of insignificance you feel staring up at these gorgeous forest covered tufts of land.
Koh Lanta was a beautiful paradise, almost untouched by the tourism that has swept across a lot of the other islands.
We stayed at the Amada Cara Bungalows near Klong Nin beach. It was a 20 minute ride from the pier but the Jurassic Park-esque views along the way made the ride seem quick. This beach would be great for families or couples but if you’re looking for a bumping nightlife I’d pick a different beach.
Overall we loved our time on Koh Lanta but we felt like we were cheated out a bit of our time. First of all we were still dealing with the effects of jet lag and found ourselves in bed by 8 both nights we were there. Secondly it rained both afternoons which meant we had some gorgeous mornings but spent the afternoons either watching the rain or trying to run through it.
Next time I’d budget at least a week of island time.
Chiang Mai was by far my favourite place.
Maybe it was because we had so much planned for our time there or because it felt like a small town. We found our local bar on the first night and every night after that we would get a wave and a hello when we walked by. Our hostel, the Yin Yang Guesthouse, treated us like family and went out of the way to help us with everything from tours to laundry. We went on our own pub crawl and found the best Pad Thai in the city.
If you find yourself in Chiang Mai and need something different to occupy your day, check out the Royal Flora Ratchaphruek. We did a lot of digging before that gem revealed itself online, but the giant floral park is a host to hundreds of different plants from across Thailand and beyond.
My partner’s favourite activity was the cooking class we attended at Basil Cookery School. We were offered a choice of what to make and tried double the dishes because we never chose the same ones.
We had so much fun there that the first thing we bought when we got home was a wok to try cook our favourite recipes in.
Another hidden gem that I recommend if you don’t mind a bit of physical activity was the Monk’s Trail that led up to Wat Pha Lat and Doi Suthep. The trail wound its way through several different types of forests and offered some spectacular views. The wat itself is like something out of an Indiana Jones film.
It’s safe to say that Chiang Mai is on our list of places to retire or work from remotely. We even went to an event at the co-working space in the old city (they offer great affordable rates if you’re looking to get away for a while but need to keep working). We’re already planning our next Chiang Mai trip.
The final leg of our trip included a train ride to Kanchanaburi. We originally planned to just relax on the River Kwai in our floating raft at the VN Guesthouse, but ended up booking a tour at the Elephant Haven, an elephant sanctuary with no hooks, no riding, and no work…for the elephants. Unlike other elephant camps, all of the visitors at the Elephant Haven work for the elephants by preparing food, feeding them, and washing them. The Elephant Haven is actually based in Chiang Mai so if you can’t make it to Kanchanaburi consider visiting them there.
Kanchanaburi is also home to some historical museums and monuments from the second world war. The River Kwai bridge was great to walk (you can actually walk the tracks even though trains still use it) but once was enough for us. It was a great side trip but we probably wouldn’t go again.
I don’t know many people who return from a trip upset with how it went (although I’m sure there are people out there who do) but I have no regrets about my trip to Thailand.I would do it different if I went again but I think I learned a lot about the culture and about what kind of a traveller I am through this trip.