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If you have one week in Thailand, be sure to hit Bangkok (in the south), Sukhothai (central), and Chiang Mai (in the north).
Day 1-3, Chiang Mai: See Mae sa waterfall, shop at a night market, stroll or bike through rice paddies, and explore the Temples of Wiang Kum Kum.
Day 4-5, Sukhothai: Visit the ruins of Old Sukhothai (ancient capital of Siam), tour Sukhothai Historical Park, home to 21 different historical sites.
Day 6-7, Bangkok: Join a night tour of the glitzy and glamourous city, visit the Emerald Buddha and the temples of Wat Arun and Wat Pho.
If the idea of quiet palm fringed beaches and natural surroundings sounds inviting to you, then consider the following:
Day 1-2, Bangkok: Start off in the bustling city, travel by Tuk Tuk, see the Grand Palace, and the temples of Wat Arun or Wat Pho.
For Days 3-10 you have a few options depending on what you’d like to see and do:
Koh Sok National Park: This is the oldest and most bio-diverse national park in Southeast Asia. Canoe down one of the tributaries, and keep an eye out for monkeys, kingfishers, colourful hornbills, and a plethora of exotic plants.
An Thong National Marine Park: Explore an archipelago once renowned for being a haven for pirates, and today is famous for its pristine beaches and rainforest.
Kwai Noi River: Travel by car to Kanchanaburi Province in Western Thailand to float on a long tail boat down Kwai Noi River, surrounded by tropical forests and scenic mountain ranges.
Koh Samui/ Koh Phi Phi/ Koh Hai/ Koh Pha Ngan: These are all beautiful islands where you can relax on the beach, hike and explore the local surroundings, or snorkel.
Day 11-12: Return to Bangkok
For the full Thailand experience, make your way through the famous Koh Samui in the Gulf, bustling Bangkok in the central region, and serene Chiang Mai in the north.
Day 1-3, Bangkok: Visit the Grand Palace, temples of the Emerald Buddha and Wat Po, and Phra Pathom Chedi, the largest pagoda in Southeast Asia.
Day 4-7, Chiang Mai: From Bangkok, fly over to Chiang Mai. See Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep, one of the most sacred temples in Thailand. Visit Meo Pu, one of the oldest surviving tribes in Northern Thailand, and take a stroll through the many food markets.
Day 8-9, Khao Sok (optional): Visit one of the oldest evergreen rainforests on earth surrounded by limestone Karst cliffs.
Daly 10-12, Koh Samui: Enjoy the white sand, palm-fringed beaches of Koh Samui. Relax on the beach, snorkel, or seek out the Namuang Waterfall on a hike.
Day 13-14: Return to Bangkok and have a free day to wander and explore at your leisure. Ride in a Tuk Tuk and experience the nightlife and cultural shows that come to life at sunset.
The Thai name for Bangkok is a mouthful to say the least. But it’s something every local learns in elementary school: "Krung Thep Mahanakhon amon Rattanakosin mahintara ayuthaya mahadilok phoP noppharat Ratchathani Burirom udomratchaniwet mahasathan amon piman awatan Sathit sakkathattiya witsanukam Prast." Thankfully there is a short version: Krung Thep Maha Nakhon (or Krungthep on some maps), which means means "City of Angels" in English.
Bangkok is Thailand’s capital, located in the southern part of the country, on the Gulf of Thailand. It’s gained a reputation for being one of the world’s busiest most vibrant cities, full of character - known especially for the nightlife and food scene. There’s a reason it remained as Travel and Leisure’s “World’s Best City” for 4 consecutive years.
In every part of the city, something different is happening, from a street full of Middle Eastern restaurants to upscale shopping. Crowded walking streets, among market stalls, street food, and various knick knacks for sale as motorcycles whizz by you, adding to the heartbeat of the city. Part of the city’s charm is in it’s insane crowding, haphazard centers, and city layout that makes it an adventure anytime you try to find a specific address. Urban development and growth occurred too quickly and with very little planning, causing the confusing and wild streets.
That aside, Bangkok provides a great introduction to Thai culture. Regional art museums, theater, history, and a local food scene make this the perfect start to a Thailand vacation. And once you’ve had your fill of culture, you can enjoy a meal of street food before taking in the city's infamous nightlife.
There is plenty to see and do in Bangkok even if you’re not interested in the bar scene. Hidden markets and shops down entrancing allies, food choices like you wouldn't believe, and tons of historical and cultural sights. Head to Rattanakosin Island in Phra Nakhon District to escape the crowds and explore the Grand Palace as well as multiple other historical landmarks, including several Buddhist temples.
An hour north of Bangkok by airplane, Chiang Mai’s slower pace and centuries-old sights will feature prominently in your memories. Enjoy a Thai massage by locally-trained masseuses, or go biking along the Old Town’s square moat that still exists today. Dozens of Buddhist temples are here too, the perfect sightseeing opportunity. And when you’re exhausted from all that sightseeing, visit one of the bars along Nimmanhaemin, northwest of the Old Town.
Of the world’s “Adventure capitals” Thailand might not spring to mind immediately, but it is certainly a place to travel for adventure. And Chiang Mai is Thailand’s Queenstown (NZ). The lush tropical atmosphere, from sea to waterfall to jungle, beckons outdoor enthusiasts for jungle trekking, surfing in turquoise waters, ziplining through bright green canopy, sea kayaking, river rafting and so much more.
Some can’t-miss experiences for adventure travelers in Thailand include:
Doi inthanon: This gorgeous national park is not just attractive to those wanting a pleasant walk through beautiful nature. Hard core adrenaline seekers flock here for the relatively new adventure sport of “waterfall abseiling”. For rock climbers, this is a classic way to apply your skills to a completely new and more challenging environment. Feel the spray and mist as your adrenaline kicks in leaning over beautiful Doi inthanon waterfall and as you rappel down the 35 ft to the pool at the bottom.
Jungle Trekking in Chiang Mai: Feel like a true explorer as you venture into the jungle on an unforgettable trek, getting up close and personal with the natural animal and plant life of Thailand. The humidity, lush canopy, and constant buzzing sounds of the rainforest add to the experience.
Zipline: Chiang Mai’s jungles are not just for trekking. While you walk on the forest floor, you may hear another sound, not traditionally of the jungle: that of thrill seekers above you soaring through the canopy on zip lines. This popular activity is not only exciting, it’s a way to get a completely unique view of the jungle; eye level with what the monkeys and birds see.
Elephant Sanctuary, Chiang Mai: Many travel to Thailand for the country’s diverse wildlife, namely elephants. There are many opinions surrounding the ethics of wildlife tourist experiences. Read more about traveling responsibly. Thailand has been in the hotseat, namely concerning tigers and elephants.
There are ways to see elephants in Thailand, while remaining responsible, and in some cases, helping to rehabilitate abused animals.
The most well known of these is Chiang Mai Elephant Sanctuary. Guests who visit do so as volunteers to help with the animals. You can arrange to visit here as an individual, or there are many guided trips through Thailand that make this a stop.
Thailand is known for it’s incredible beach scene with tepid bright blue waters, soft white sand, and inviting atmosphere.
Phuket (pronounced ‘poo-ket’) is Thailand’s largest island, and boasts over 30 beaches, plus several fantastic bars, and restaurants. As the most popular island for tourists, it does get quite crowded, and not the most authentic Thai beach experience if you’re looking for more local fare. The majority of food options on the island are not Thai, and the main beaches along the west coast are a dotted shoreline of resorts, hotels, and restaurants. Not to say it’s impossible to find a lovely beach experience on Phuket - there’s a reason it’s so well known. But if you’re visiting Phuket solely for the the beach, you might be disappointed by the crowds and hotels.
However beyond the beaches, there’s much more to explore! Phuket is home to some beautiful historical sights. Take a walk through Old Town, to see some beautiful architecture, cultural sights, shops and cafes. This is a great place to relax and learn a bit about Phuket’s history. There’s also the Phuket Rum Distillery, where you can take a tour to learn about the rum making process and of course taste some delicious samples.
The best beaches in Thailand are found on the smaller islands. Easily accessible just simply not as well known as Phuket. Here are some of the top:
Ko Lanta Island - Ko Lanta is a great place to visit, but it’s quite large - technically a district containing two main islands - so if you want to take advantage of everything it has to offer, plan a few days there. Take some time to explore the national park, with the lush rainforest atmosphere and wildlife, take a classic motorbike tour around the island, and spend time lounging on the many and widely dispersed beaches. Long Beach is one of the best for escaping crowds.
Ko-Kraden Island - This small paradise takes up to 3 hours to kayak around the entire island, and is the perfect tropical beach getaway. There is only one resort, but beach is public, and offers spectacular views to the mainland and an ocean dotted with other islands and rock formations. It’s a great destination for snorkeling in the shallow waters. The island’s small size and safe shallow waters make it the perfect day excursion for families.
Railway Beach, Krabi Island - Railway beach is compact, but usually not too crowded. Limestone rock formations burst out of the sea making for an otherworldly view while you sunbathe on the idyllic soft sand. Bring a pair of binoculars and keep an eye out for rock climbers in the distance!
Koh Kood Island - The least populated island off the eastern coast of Thailand is perfect for nature lovers looking for a quiet getaway. It’s not a place for nightlife, so you’ll be there for the ocean and the beach. Kayaking is one of the most popular activities, or take a short walk inland to the Klong Chao waterfall with it’s beautiful calm pools, perfect for swimming.
The street food scene in Thailand is second to none - and it’s a classic experience not to be missed. Breakfast, Lunch, or Dinner. Bangkok is the epicenter for Thai street food. Let’s set the scene:
Crowded, busy, narrow streets where some semblance of organized chaos reigns. It’s an assault on the senses, not necessarily positive or negative, simply a lot. Rapid speaking in multiple dialects reaching your ears as locals and tourists haggle, take samples, and attempt to discern the best item from various stalls. The sounds of sizzling of fryers, dough slapped down on hot surfaces, and sharp chopping cleavers, mingle among the noise of the street.
Smells converge from both sides - sweet dumplings, tropical fruits, savory broths, seafood, grilling meat, amid a torrent of unidentifiable (to foreign noses) but nevertheless mouthwatering exotic aromas.
Watching the food be prepared is like watching a finely rehearsed dance. Hands move deftly and quickly as they respond to orders, and questions, never stopping the movement of ladling, dicing, and stirring. And of course there’s the delicate rolling out of thin pancakes, followed by the folding into a perfect meal - each one after the other impossibly identical. Everything is done with a fantastic combination of precision and abandon.
If you don’t think you’re a street food kind of person - Thailand is the place to change your mind. Concerns about sanitation and hygiene are understandable. Though Thailand is one of the safest non western countries for street food, you still want to be cautious about where you choose to partake.
Best practice tips include 1) go where the lines are. This is usually a good sign of not only deliciousness, but repeat visitors and locals - so the odds of getting ill are minimal. 2) Look for items made to order 3) do a quick scan of the stall for indications of general cleanliness - follow your instincts. Take a look through the Thailand Food Tours on Stride.
For US citizens, UK citizens, and Canadian citizens, if you’re planning to be in Thailand for less than 30 days, you are not required to obtain a tourist visa. However, you must ensure that your passport is valid 6 months after your date of entry into Thailand. Though you may not be required to present it, it will be a good idea to have proof of the length of your stay available.
If you’re entering Thailand from a country with yellow fever present, have your proof of vaccination ready to show. Hep A and Typhoid vaccines are recommended as the risk of getting ill from contaminated food and water is heightened, especially if you partake in the street food scene (recommended! But be discerning about where you go. Always ask your guide or fellow travelers for their recommendations).
Show your doctor where you’ll be traveling to determine if you should take anti malarial precautions.
Zika has been reported in some areas of Thailand, but it is endemic as opposed to epidemic. You are not in as high a risk from Zika than if you were traveling in some areas of South America. Nevertheless, if you are pregnant or traveling with young children, you may want to consider another travel destination.
In the cities, be very alert and cautious to your surroundings. Pickpocketing is common as are more heinous crimes such as kidnapping, especially for young single women traveling alone.
When crossing the street, know that pedestrians do not have the right of way in Thailand! Crossing the street can be very dangerous with the high numbers of tuk-tuks, motorcycles, and cars all competing for the right of way.
Be wary when choosing adventure activities! Safety standards may not be what you’re used to as a western traveler. This is another very good reason to go through a reputable tour company who is familiar with local operators and outfits.