Thailand -- Land of elephants, drunken noodles, limestone cliffs and full moon parties. Most of you probably know someone who’s been to Thailand and come back with wild stories of jungle trekking, hanging with monkeys, and sipping Chang at a ladyboy burlesque show, but now it’s your turn to see for yourself. Thailand is an incredibly tourist-friendly country -- perhaps the most tourist-friendly country in Southeast Asia. Its recent uptick in tourism means that its built infrastructure and resources for travelers of all kinds, from seasoned ones to first-timers, to experience the country without any problems, so it makes a fantastic first trip for those of you who haven’t been too far from home yet. Check out this itinerary to see if a trip to this Land of Smiles is right for you.
Food & Drinks to try in Thailand
Pad Thai- Obviously. A stir fried noodle dish. Very cheap & easily available.
Pad See Eiw- stir fried flat noodles with meat and Chinese broccoli. Very tasty & very cheap.
Curry- all kinds of curry. Massaman, Panang, Green, Red. I’m not a curry guy and I loved Thai curry.
Kai Med Ma Muang- chicken with cashew nut. Cheap & very tasty.
Tom Yum Soup- sweet and spicy soup. Very spicy. Go easy on this stuff.
Spring Rolls- fried veggie or meat-stuffed rolls.
Kao Niew Ma Muang- sticky rice & mango. A very tasty traditional Thai dessert.
Durian- Internationally known as the stinky fruit. Tastes like a cross between a pineapple, beans and garlic. Not for confined spaces.
Longkong- I think the closest English word for this is Longan. It’s a fruit. It looks like potatoes. It tastes like rainbows. Try it.
Rose Apple- A sweet fruit shaped like a bell. Very tasty.
Chang Beer- most famous Thai beer brand
Safety in Thailand
You’re in good hands when visiting Thailand! As arguably the most popular Southeast Asian tourist destination, Thailand is also the safest country in the region to visit. Are there some shady characters? Of course. Prostitution is a huge problem country-wide, (it’s not legal, contrary to what you may have heard), and drug trafficking has grown with the influx of tourists looking for a good time. My advice? Southeast Asia is wildly intense when it comes to punishments for drug possession and trafficking, so definitely stay off the stuff while you’re here. Other than that, be street smart, don’t make yourself a target and you should be A-okay.
2-Week Thailand Itinerary
Days 1-2: Phuket
One of two major starting points in the country, (the other being Bangkok) Phuket is a bustling tourist-haven, beautifully situated on the western coast of Southern Thailand. It has a somewhat tropical Jersey Shore feel to it, with a 24/7 nightlife, souvenir market, and gimmicky Vegas-style strip of restaurants. To be honest, as not much of a partier myself, Phuket wasn’t my favorite city, but it’s an excellent spot to start your trip, because it gives you access to the famous islands that Thailand is known for. So fly into here and spend a day or two (and maybe a wild night) before heading off to the less crowded paradise islands nearby.
What to do in Phuket
Go out at the World Famous Bangla Street
Bangla Street in Phuket’s famous Patong Beach area is notoriously famous for its extravagant Ladyboy Burlesque shows. Get a front row seat to this one-of-a-kind experience, but if that’s not so much your speed, don’t worry. There are plenty of over-the-top bars and restaurants to choose from for a legendary night out.
Lay out at Patong Beach
A literal stone’s throw away from Bangla Street is Patong Beach, a lovely and tourist-friendly beach with some crystal clear waters and beautiful white sand. Is it the best beach in Thailand? Not by a longshot. There are street vendors who come around non-stop trying to sell you things, and it gets easily crowded with other travelers, but it sure beats a New York City beach.
Eat some Western Food
Because Phuket is so heavily populated by tourists, it’s actually quite difficult to find authentic Thai food. Instead, use this opportunity as your first (and last) time to have a burger and other familiar flavors before you switch your diet to noodles and tofu.
Check out the Big Buddha
Take a trip over to Nakkerd Hills to see this huge white Buddha statue. You can also get some pretty spectacular panoramic views of the city from the top of the hill, so be sure to bring your camera for some selfies.
Days 3-6: Krabi & Koh Phi Phi
Once you finish up in Phuket, grab a van a few hours away to Krabi, a quieter town on the other side of the Phang Nga Bay. Krabi is a haven for tourists looking to head to the islands, but also has a major charm of its own. It has beautiful beaches (like the insta-famous Railay Beach), and a spectacular view of the limestone cliffs that Thailand is known for. Spend the day at the beach and make your way over to the Tiger Cave Temple in late afternoon to catch sunset from the top of this monstrously tall shrine. It’s a 1,260 step climb to the top, so bring some water with you, but hold onto it tight so the mischievous monkeys that hang around the area don’t swipe it from you. Trust me though when I say that it’s worth the hike. The sunset at the top is seriously one of the best sunsets I’ve ever seen.
Koh Phi Phi
The next morning, catch the ferry over to Koh Phi Phi, a paradise island just 2 hours away that’s got everything you can want in a tropical destination. Whether you like diving, trekking, or just lazing around on the beach, Koh Phi Phi is a haven for backpackers with a beachside agenda. Check into a hostel on the beach and laze in the hammock until sundown, and then catch the fire dancer shows before heading out to party.
If you’re looking to try your hand at scuba diving, this is the spot to do it. Sea Frog Diving has excellent & attentive instructors, and can show you the ropes on a discovery dive, or you can study with them to get your PADI certification. Regardless of if you want to dive or snorkel, the reefs on the edges of Koh Phi Phi are spectacular spots to find some incredible marine life, including cuttlefish, mantis shrimp, sea turtles and more.
Day 7: Back to Phuket
One you’re properly sunburnt and dehydrated, catch the ferry back to Krabi and the van from there back to Phuket. You may want to stay overnight, depending on your flight to Bangkok, but if you can swing it all in one day, by all means go for it! Grab that extra day.
Day 8: Flight to Bangkok & Night Bus to Chiang Mai
I’m not going to lie to you guys. I didn’t really like Bangkok all that much, so I’m recommending you skip over it on your way north. Once you arrive there, you can spend the day exploring the city before trying to catch your night bus to Chiang Mai. In theory, you could just fly directly from Phuket to Chiang Mai, but it’s quite expensive, so this layover in Bangkok is far from ideal, but hugely cost-saving. Bite the bullet, see the city, and get ready for your night bus. The trip will take about 12 hours, so do your best to catch some sleep on your way up.
Days 9-11: Chiang Mai
Chiang Mai is one of my absolute favorite spots in Thailand. Nestled in the mountains, this city, though still large and bustling, is much quieter than Bangkok and Phuket, and has a real cool local vibe to it. Its situated in a really great spot for nature lovers because of all the jungles, canyons and hills nearby, but if there’s any one major draw to Chiang Mai, it’s its proximity to the surrounding Elephant Nature Parks. The city itself, however, has a lot to offer, from fresh night market food to hip, bohemian bars.
What to do in Chiang Mai
Go Cliff Jumping at Chiang Mai's Grand Canyon
More a man made watering hole than a grand canyon, this fun water park is a great way to cool off or unwind after that long night bus ride. Grab some friends and go for a swim, or work up the nerve (unlike me) to jump from the 10-15 meter (32-49 foot) cliffs.
Go Temple Hopping at Wat Chedi Luang Varahivara
This huge, imposing temple is located right in the center of town and looks more like a fortress than a temple. However, if you find yourself strolling by at night, you’ll notice the golden Buddha statue all lit up beautifully. It’s a lovely sight to see whether you’re temple hopping or just casually walking through town.
If you’ve ever wanted to learn how to make traditional Thai dishes like pad thai, tom yum soup or curry, this is the place to do it. Mama Noi’s Cooking School takes place on a farm where your instructor will show you where every ingredient is grown and how to combine them into delicious Thai staples. This was such a fun experience and they even gave me a cookbook at the end, which I still use today.
Eat for Cheap at Chaing Mai’s Night Market
I don't think I’ve ever eaten more food for less money than I did at this night market. Grab some pad thai or pad see ew for cheap, or even sample soup from a plastic bag. This is a great spot to try a bunch of foods you’ve never seen before, simply because everything is so affordable. I recommend washing it all down with a mango and banana smoothie.
Take some Wacky Pictures at the
Chiang Mai 3D Art Museum
A really fun and interactive museum, this spot uses forced perspective to make it look like you’re much smaller, larger, or warped than you really are. Go with some friends and take a bunch of pictures in this fun and affordable spot.
A Note on Visiting Elephant Rescue Parks
Okay, real talk. There are a lot of corrupt and inhumane elephant parks in Thailand. You’ll want to make sure you do some research to see which ones actually rescue their elephants and which ones keep them captive for the pleasure of tourists. This can be tricky. A recent National Geographic Exposé showed how sneaky locals will sometimes try and trick tourists into thinking they're supporting humane practices when in reality, they’re just bringing the elephants in overnight from more cruel businesses. Be on top of your game here, folks. We want to support ethical organizations while taking money and business away from ones that take advantage of animals for money.
Days 12-14: Pai OR Chiang Rai
Okay, folks. It’s time to make an important decision. Within the two-week timeframe, you won’t really have time to visit both Pai and Chiang Rai, so you’ll have to pick. Both have pros and both have cons, but if it were up to me, I’d suggest opting for Pai. Let me explain them both below.
Pai is a lovely mountain town three hours away from Chiang Mai that’s gained a lot of popularity recently from backpackers looking to escape and unwind in the Thai mountains. It’s perfectly located right in the center of many different sorts of adventure sites, including multiple hot springs, multiple caves, multiple waterfalls and endless hiking trails. It’s a real paradise for those who want to spend their days exploring the jungle and evenings kicking back in a hammock.
Chiang Rai is another quiet town just a few hours from Chaing Mai, and is known primarily for the White Temple (or Wat Rung Khun). This unmissable temple is incredibly modern, yet totally different from any other temple you may have seen so far on this trip. It has a sort of elephant-graveyard look to it from the outside, with statues of hands grasping up from out of the ground. On the inside, it has some familiar faces of iconic 20th and 21st century characters, like Minions, Spiderman, Spongebob and more. It’s a really iconic and unique temple, definitely worth the visit. However, other than the White Temple, I can’t say there’s a ton more to see in Chiang Rai.
Wondering where to stay in Chiang Rai? I recommend Mercy Hostel
Day 15: Fly Home
After you explore Pai or Chiang Rai, it’s time to head back to Chiang Mai and catch your flight home. I know it’s been a quick two weeks, but hopefully you feel that you got to see most of the Thai highlights you had on your mind. Thailand is a really gorgeous and accessible country that’s far bigger than the highlights mentioned on this list. But hey, it just means you have to come back, right?
If you’re interested in seeing other parts of the world (or more of Southeast Asia), you can always check out my other itineraries right here. Happy travels, my friends!