Thailand has been a country on my wish list for quite some time now. I’d say third on my list behind Japan and Korea. While I still haven’t been to South Korea, the opportunity to visit Thailand had presented itself and I wasn’t about to miss it just to keep some most desired order.
A friend of mine had also been wanting to go to Thailand and so I got to work planning and before I knew it, I was waiting in the airport for my first flight.
We flew into Bangkok Suvarnabhumi airport and from there, took the free shuttle to the Don Muang airport to catch our flight to Phuket. The shuttle is located out front and as long as you have your itinerary for your same day flight from Don Muang, they will let you on the shuttle for free.
TIP: If you arrive early, as we did, there is a train system that goes directly into the airport. We checked our luggage into the left luggage counter (turn right after exiting the main portion of the airport) and spent a couple of hours checking out Bangkok. Victory Monument is very easy to get to from the BTS (train). Get off at the Anusaowari Chai Samoraphum stop and head downstairs to the road. Turn right as you leave the station and follow that main road all the way down to Victory Monument.
Phuket: Time spent- 6 days
We spent six days in Phuket and while I think it is absolutely gorgeous down there, if I did it again, I’d only spend two days, three max. I’m not much of a beach person. I do love the beach, but not for that many days. Because it was my first time there, I’m glad that we spent nearly a full week so we could take some tours and experience the beautiful islands.
We used Airbnb and had a wonderful host and a wonderful experience at her place. It was in Kathu, so it was a bit out of the way, but it was nice. The first day, we arrived at night and got settled in. The second day we checked out our surrounding area and then explored a nearby shopping mall.
The third day, we took our first tour. We purchased the package at the airport and it was a bit cheaper to do it there rather than online and the tour ended up being very enjoyable. The tour was done by longtail boat and it felt really nice. It wasn’t too slow or rough riding. We did sea canoeing at Talu Island, sightseeing at Phang Nga Bay (James Bond Island), lunch on the stilt village of Koh Panyee, and wrapped the trip up with sightseeing at Monkey Cave and Suwankuha Temple (the temple is inside of the cave!). It’s a pretty standard tour you’ll see with many different companies that includes pick up and drop off from where you’re staying. Sadly I can’t remember the name of the company, but as I said, we purchased our tickets at the airport before boarding to Phuket. The counter was directly left once you enter the airport and all the way to the end, though it may have moved.
The fourth day, we became adventurous and took a trip out to Khao Sok national park. It was a little stressful trying to figure everything out, but we finally made it. We had intended to rent a car, but the rain was so heavy that I decided I didn’t want to risk it (not to mention the way they drive in Phuket…). This is where I would change a lot of my Thailand itinerary. If I go back, I will spend at least three days in Khao Sok, more, if possible. It might be the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen and I was sad we had such short time there. If you want to take a trip out to Khao Sok, go to the Phuket Terminal Two bus station and from there, choose a company that will get you out to Khao Sok. We only saw one, so we went with them. The bus ride is a few hours, but there is plenty of beautiful scenery along the way. Let the driver know where you’re going and they will drop you off on the side of the road when they pass. In my experience, there were several taxis waiting to take you to your destination. If you don’t know where you’re staying yet, they’ll probably just drive you to one they’re contracted with.
We stayed at Blue Mountain resort and there was no cost for our taxi from the bus stop. Blue Mountain resort was perfect for us and I wish we could have stayed there longer. They helped us book a tour and we explained we were short on time and they communicated directly with the tour driver, letting him know to drop us off in the city at a bus stop that would get us back to Phuket. They were so kind and accommodating, I would definitely board with Blue Mountain again.
The fifth day is when our day tour for Khao Sok (Chiew Larn, Cheow Lan) lake happened. This was my highlight of southern Thailand (even if I did almost die from it!). We had the opportunity to boat around the lake for a while, stop at some bungalows and have lunch, trek through the jungle, swim in a water-filled cave, spend a bit more time at the bungalows (swimming was optional), then boat back to the pier. We ran into a bit of rain while in the jungle, but it felt nice because it was really hot that day. I plan on doing a more in depth post of Khao Sok, so I won’t get too into it for now.
After the tour, we were taken to the bus stop, caught the bus back to Phuket and arrived quite late that evening.
The sixth day, we took a speedboat tour and it was through phukettoursdirect. While I did enjoy most of the places we got to see, it wasn’t my favorite tour. I feel it was a bit rushed and the speedboat had me so sick that it took everything in me not to vomit. If you experience motion sickness, either skip this one or make sure you have motion sickness pills for both the drive out and the drive back.
We started on Khai Nai Island, which was a joke, honestly. A grimy tourist stop and not what you think of when you think “Thailand beaches”. We stayed way longer than I cared for and finally headed to the next stop, Bamboo Island. This place is beautiful and serene (image header!) and I wish we could’ve spent as much time there as we did on Khai Nai. The beaches were picture perfect and it wasn’t crowded at all. After that, we had lunch in Kho Phi Phi, swam in coral bay, sightseeing at Maya Beach, and ended by checking out Pileh cove. It felt like they tried to smash too many places into too short of time, but I’m glad we got the chance to see all of those places.
We did technically spend one more night, but left very early the next morning to the airport. Our Airbnb host arranged a taxi for us (seriously she is awesome) and from there, we flew into Chiang Mai.
Chiang Mai: Time spent- 1 week
I absolutely love Chiang Mai. We also used Airbnb for our stay and included in the room price was airport pick up. We were greeted by a very kind driver holding a sign with our names and he drove us directly to the apartment, calling the host for us and waiting until she was down there before leaving.
I would definitely love to spend even more time in Chiang Mai when I go back. I hardly got to see any of the temples and hello, that’s what Chiang Mai is full of!
The first day, we explored our surroundings and because we arrived on Saturday, we wanted to go to the night market. Holy shiz, if you’re there on a Saturday, go to the night market! Flag down a tuk tuk, tell them your destination and if they are going that way, they’ll tell you okay.
TIP: Don’t even ask them how much. Just tell them the destination, if they say okay, bounce back with “20 baht” and they’ll most likely nod their head. If you ask how much, they will probably try to screw around with you and overprice you. Unless you are on the far outskirts, it should not cost more than 20 baht one way. We were near Chiang Mai University and it still only cost 20 baht to get into the old city. Sometimes they will quote you a high price and it might be because they weren’t planning on heading that direction. If that’s the case, you can either pay what they’re asking or tell them never mind and flag down the next one to try again.
The second day, we took a tuk tuk into old city and explored. It was really hot that day, but we survived. Keep in mind this was in May! A very hot time in Thailand. We purposely went during this time because everything was dirt cheap. Flights, tours, accommodations, seriously. When I go back, I’ll probably go in December or January, even though it will be more expensive. I don’t mind some heat, but damn that humidity got me. I’m from Utah, so I’m not used to it at all. But like I said, I survived all right (aside from my leptospirosis that tagged along with me).
Day three was the highlight of my entire trip; Elephant Nature Park. ENP is an ethical sanctuary for elephants, dogs, water buffalo and even a cute pig! This place was just amazing. We did the full day and I would love to go back for more than one day next time. I just didn’t want to leave! The lunch provided is 100% vegan and oh so delicious! I ate more than I should have and there was plenty to go around. We got to feed the elephants, play with one in the river, observe them being their cute selves and visit one that was corralled after having a surgery. The dogs are so cute and there was one in particular that followed me around the property. I might do a separate post on ENP at a later time because it was so amazing.
The fourth day we took a tour to Doi Inthanon, which is the highest point in Thailand. It was really pretty up there and much cooler. We were going to ride the motorbike out, but decided in the end to do a tour so we could make more stops we would have otherwise missed out on. We started at Karen Village, headed to the highest point and to Doi Inthanon, to the Royal Projects, had lunch at Wachirathan Waterfall, then headed back. That night we stopped at Maya Mall and explored the area, checking out a night market in the process.
Day five was another tour out to Chiang Rai. There were other stops as well and I would love to go back to Chiang Rai, but only Chiang Rai. It was cool enough to see the Golden Triangle, but once is enough for me. The White Temple in Chiang Rai is really something else and I thoroughly enjoyed the visit. The tour included the White Temple, Karen Hilltribe, Golden Triangle via river boat and apparently a short stop in Laos, then a market stop. Our tour went to a view point rather than a market, as it was suggested to us and everyone on the tour was satisfied with the view point (there were tons of shops at the Laos port). It all seemed a little gimmicky, honestly. It was the same tour company as the place that took us to Doi Inthanon, but it wasn’t as enjoyable. Chiang Rai was definitely the highlight of that tour.
On the sixth day, we were pretty worn out and mostly laid low, getting some laundry done and staying close to the apartment. Later, we walked up to Chiang Mai University and a rainstorm hit, but we still waited for people to fill a tuk tuk to go up to Doi Suthep. A couple joined us and they were Thai, negotiating with the driver to take just the four of us for a bit higher of a price. It wasn’t too much more expensive and we’d already been waiting for a good 45 minutes so we were happy to pay a bit extra and not be squished in a tuk tuk. Unfortunately we didn’t get to see the view from the top because of the rain (it was seriously pouring), but it gave off a really nice feeling to explore Doi Suthep in the rain. I would like to go back on a clear day, though! We did more exploring on the way back from CMU and found another great vegan friendly restaurant.
For day seven, we had breakfast close by and arranged a taxi to take us to the Chiang Mai train station. He was the coolest driver and got really excited when I expressed to him I enjoyed some Thai music. We got talking about Thai bands and I told him I unfortunately didn’t find any good music stores, so he took us to the train station, helped us check in our luggage at the left luggage counter, then drove us to a mall not too far away that had a music store. He then explained what we needed to do to get back to the train station when we were done and I was so pleased with his service. If you’re looking to hire a car locally in Chiang Mai, try Taxi Service Chiang Mai. Our driver spoke English very well, too, so that made things easier. We arrived earlier than necessary to the train station and hung out in the heat for a while, keeping cool by buying snacks for the ride ahead at the 7-11 across the street. We used 12goasia for our train tickets and instructions were clear, pick up was a breeze.
We took the overnight train to Bangkok and that was a pretty cool experience. I love trains and we did a first class cabin. Second class seemed really nice, too, but it was cool to have a cabin to ourselves. You don’t have to order food from the people who come around (or partake in the orange juice, you’ll be charged for it if you accept). We headed down to the kitchen car later that night and ate down there. Honestly, the food wasn’t good. At all. Really (and I am not picky). So if you’re not prepared with food of your own, just know that the only options once on board aren’t all that great. After so many plane rides, it was such a nice change of pace to take the train. Plus, we had transportation and accommodation all in one. It was convenient.
Unfortunately Bangkok is a bit of a blur to me because I started to get sick, but I do remember some. We stayed at a hard to find place that was super cheap, but honestly everything about it was unpleasant. The room was decent enough, but the check in process, the staff, the location; not my favorite. And I’m easy to please when travelling, too. The check in staff tried to make me feel like an idiot when I was only doing exactly what I was supposed to be doing (it’s a long story…), but hey, they let me pay a small fee to check in early and I was more than happy to pay it because I was sick and tired. It was either Airy hotel or Sunny residence. I think it was Airy, but we had to check in on the Sunny side and they were just not very sunny…
Later, after resting, we went down to central plaza, I think. All I know is it was a giant mall and there were tons of stores outside, as well. More markets and a neat little CD shop that I had to check out (buying an album by recommendation of my Chiang Mai taxi driver!). It was hard for me to eat anything that day, so I just had some coffee and then fries via the restaurant connected to our hotel. That was the night I really started to get sick, so it’s a good thing I was able to eat something, as I woke up vomiting.
I think I would like to go back to Bangkok and spend more time there. We only had two days, really. Part of the first day and then the last day. Bangkok is crazy and there’s so much to see, so I would like to see more of it eventually. Preferably when I’m not dying from leptospirosis.
Overall I had a really great trip and can’t wait to visit Thailand again! But the north stole my heart and I would shift focus from the beach towns and probably only go so far as Khao Sok. Next time, I would like to check out some ruins, Sukothai or Ayutthaya. Thailand is a beautiful country and in general, the people there are kind. You can find a market on just about every corner and there are so many things to see and do.
What was your favorite part of Thailand or what are you most looking forward to seeing?