Are you thinking of heading to Thailand but you’re not entirely sure where to go? When I went to Thailand with friends in 2016, we had no idea where to start. We read lots of blog posts but nothing seemed to tell us exactly where to go during our three weeks. With this in mind I thought I would share with you our Thailand itinerary for 3 weeks.
At the end of 2016 I spent three glorious weeks travelling in Thailand. It was the best experience of my life and has given me the backpacking bug! I wanted to share some of my favourite experiences with you, and hopefully entice you to see this beautiful country for yourself. There’s a reason it’s called the Land Of Smiles after all!
Three weeks in Thailand
I arrived in Bangkok after a 15 hour flight from London Heathrow. A 3pm flight and a three hour stop over at Doha meant that I arrived in Bangkok at lunchtime the following day. If you can sleep on the plane I highly recommend it. You won’t want to miss a thing in Bangkok.
I would recommend a two day stop over in this huge city, no longer. It is extremely tiring but you can do it all in a couple of days.
My friends and I headed first to Taling Chan Floating Market. There are many floating markets, however we chose this as it is where the locals shop and is less touristy than other more famous markets. It’s also closer to Bangkok centre than Damnoen Saduak floating market meaning it is cheaper to get to. It was beautiful. Flowers, trinkets, scarves and food were the main attractions here and it was peaceful to walk around and chat to locals. Most of the foods on offer were weird and wonderful, some not so much – sweetcorn juice anyone? We tried lychee juice, fluffy pastries (Thai curry puff) filled with everything from pineapple jam to black pepper, fried chicken and taro. Candy floss in every colour of the rainbow and coconut jelly was plentiful.
We also took a trip on foot to visit many of the temples around Bangkok. My favourite was Wat Pho, the Buddhist temple complex and home of the famous reclining Buddha. It is an unbelievable 15m high and 46m long! You can’t get a full photograph of it from any angle! It is completely gold and the sheer size of it took my breath away. The rest of the complex is huge, with multiple temples, Buddha statues and stunning waterfalls. It costs 100TB (£3) to enter. This is also a great place to get a traditional Thai massage. Wat Pho is often considered the leading school of massage in Thailand.
Where to stay?
With so many district options, we were pretty stumped as to where to stay. We ended up booking D Hostel, a great hostel. It was incredibly clean, with large common areas that were great for meeting other travellers. At only £10 per person, per night it was a great deal. It was in a fantastic location, 5 minutes walk from Khao San Road. This is where we headed both nights for food and drink!
What to eat?
Head to Khao San Road and you will see the ‘food’ carts peddling insects as a delicacy. I had to have a try! For about £1 I bought a paper plate full of Meal worms, Grasshoppers and another unidentified critter. Below is a video of me eating it! I wasn’t brave enough to try a scorpion or a tarantula though. They actually aren’t bad. Deep fried and covered in soy sauce, I quite liked two of them.
From Bangkok we took a bus to Kanchanaburi, famous for The Bridge Over The River Kwai. It is a part of the infamous Death Railway to Burma, built by prisoners of WW2. Over 100,000 POWs died whilst constructing the railway and it is a harrowing thought, especially when walking the length of the bridge on foot.
In my opinion, if you go and see the Bridge you need to also walk the few hundred metres to visit the Thailand-Burma Railway Centre. Here you will gain insight into the conditions the POWs suffered during the build. Please take tissues as it is incredibly sad. I was the only one of my friends that visited the museum but I really think it needs to be seen. Entry to the museum was about £2.50.
Then cross the road to the cemetery. Seeing how old some of these people were at their death is harrowing and it really puts into perspective how lucky we all are.
Where to stay?
We stayed at the Thai Garden Inn. It was really cute and close to Bridge over the River Kwai. However you will need a tuk-tuk to get around if you don’t like walking too much at night. It has a great pool and outside area. We shared a deluxe family bungalow (sleeps 4) for £60 for the night. We did have a slight issue getting a tuk-tuk and ended up hitching a lift back with a guy on what we now believe was a street food truck. But it was fun and a story to tell! *Photos from Booking.com as I forgot to take any!
Erawan National Park
We stayed here for two nights as we also stopped at Erawan National Park to visit the waterfalls. We caught the bus from Kanchanaburi to the park, which takes around two hours and costs £1.50.
This was an amazing experience; seven waterfalls that you can trek to through forest and swim in. Some of my favourite photos are from this trip. Get there early and stay as long as possible.
On our last evening in Kanchanaburi we explored the little night market in the town. Warning, it is difficult to find public transport in the evening so be prepared to walk back to your bed in the evening! This is where we had to hitch the ride. On the left is the tuk-tuk that we went to the market on. I didn’t get a photo of the one on the way back, but on the right is our driver. His glasses were so thick that he couldn’t see his hand in front of his face!
We then headed back to Bangkok for a final day to get the sleeper train to Chiang Mai right in the north of Thailand, costing about £20. This was a brilliant way to travel as we slept on bunk beds and could watch the sun come up in the morning! I would recommend booking as early as possible to get a bottom bunk, the top bunks were much smaller and didn’t have windows. The train departed Bangkok at 7.30pm and arrived the following day in Chiang Mai at 8.40am.
The main reason we visited Chiang Mai was to spend time at an elephant sanctuary. The one we chose was The Elephant Jungle Sanctuary as we wanted to participate in an overnight stay. This cost £109 and was totally worth it. It was my favourite part of the trip by a mile! We got picked up from our hotel and taken by 4×4 over the roughest terrain I have ever encountered to the camp. You drive very close to sheer drops and tiny tracks through the jungle. It was hair raising. We interacted with elephants, learned about their care, found out their individual history and got to bathe them. We also stayed overnight in the camp and the guides cooked the most wonderful meal. We had the opportunity to help prepare the meal which was really special. Surrounded by candlelight, beer in hand, we learned more about the other backpackers also on the trip, and what life was like in Thailand for the guides and Mahouts (the people looking after the elephants). Please note that this sanctuary doesn’t allow you to ride the elephants, and when you find out why, you won’t ever want to ride them. Just look into their eyes.
A trip to Chiang Mai wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the Night Market. The night market here is a shopper’s dream, the biggest I have ever seen. It stretched seemingly for miles down Chang Khlan Road (it was 1km in reality) and you can buy literally anything here! I bought a gorgeous painting from a local artist and carried it around in a cardboard tube for the remaining two weeks as I didn’t trust the post to get it back to the UK!
We also got absolutely soaked wandering around Chiang Mai visiting temples. But it was totally worth it!
Where to stay?
We stayed at “At Chiang Mai” It was waaaaaaay too expensive for a backpackers budget. To be honest it was a bit of a cock up but it was gorgeous. Great buffet breakfast and large swimming pool. (£89 for 4 people for 1 night)!!!
From Chiang Mai we flew down to Krabi to begin our island hopping. The flight cost just under £40 and took two hours. We arrived in Krabi and headed straight to the hostel. We mainly stayed by Ao Nang beach, relaxing and enjoying the quietness from the hustle and bustle of the last few days. We were planning to do a boat trip to Railay Beach but I was quite ill and so we couldn’t. It is such a shame as this is the one thing I regret not doing during the trip. Watching the sunset on Krabi beach was magical.
Where to stay?
We stayed at Slumber Party Hostel which was in a fantastic location, just a five minute walk from Ao Nang beach. It is a party hostel with free drinks, games nights and a BBQ on certain days. It was £7 per person per night in an 8 mixed dorm.
From Krabi we headed by bus to Surat Thani to catch a boat over to Koh Phangan for the full moon party. The full journey took just over four hours and cost around £15. I was quite nervous about the sheer size of the Full Moon Party and had read extensively about trouble, however I felt perfectly safe at all times. It really is something to tick off the bucket list. We spent the other couple of days on the beach and in the hostel. With the sea just 10 metres in front of our bungalow and the swimming pool within the hostel complex, there was no need to venture out.
Where to stay?
We stayed at The Goodtime Beach Hostel which was stunning. We stayed in a four person bungalow, with our own terrace and hammock. The bungalow was right on the beach. They do full moon party deals with a BBQ and free neon paint by the bucket load. They load you up in a 4×4 and drive the 15 or so minutes to Haad Rin, the party beach. £120 each in a 4 bed mixed dorm for 3 nights. We had the 4 bed dorm to ourselves. This was my favourite place during the trip.
We then headed to Koh Samui for a few days. The boat took over four hours! We had to sail straight past Koh Samui, back to Surat Thani and then back to Samui. It was silly but as the Full Moon Party was something we definitely wanted to do, this was the only way we could fit it in to our trip! We were waving goodbye to one of our friends during this time, so wanted to continue the relaxed atmosphere.
Where to stay?
We stayed at the Sirin Samui hostel, the most beautiful place. The showers were fantastic, easily the best on our trip and the swimming pool was wonderful! It is a 5-10 minute drive from the lively part, highly recommended for exploring the island or if you want a quiet few days.
From there we headed to our final destination before heading back to the UK, Koh Tao. The smallest of the three islands at just 21 kilometres square, we explored on foot rather than mopeds. We were due to stay here for 2-3 nights before deciding where to head to next. We loved it so much that we spent our remaining eight days here!
We spent our days sunbathing, exploring and snorkelling around the island. There are around 20 beaches and bays on Koh Tao, and we visited around 10. I will only pick out my favourites for the purposes of this post as otherwise it will be pages and pages!
Sairee Beach is the longest on Koh Tao at 1.85km and is the main tourist area. It is full of bars, restaurants and shops and is a nice place if you want a night out.
Koh Nang Yuan is said to be one of the most beautiful islands in the world. It is made up of three small islands accessible by boat. They are all connected by a sand bar and at low tide you can walk between them. It is simply stunning. We accessed this by boat and it was a fantastic day out.
Tanote Bay is possibly most famous for the massive rock protruding from the surface of the water. My friends jumped off the rock and into the sea…I am scared of heights and did not do this! I was shaking just watching them! The snorkelling here was stunning with numerous fish and pretty coral. Apparently it is one of the best places to see the sunrise, but we stayed too far away to see it from this beach.
Where to stay?
We stayed at Central Hostel, a Fantastic location on Mae Haad beach. This was a 14 person dorm and can get a little chilly, but speak to Ralph and he will give you an extra blanket. It’s also a little dark so take a torch. There are no main lights, just smaller spot lights and your own reading light. There is a reason for this. Most ferries leave at 6am and no one wants waking up at 5am by a bright light so you can pack your bag! Mae Haad is the pier town of Koh Tao meaning that all the ferries arrive and leave from here. It cost £8 per person per night and we got discount in lots of places. However, I have looked for more details on the hostelworld website and it says the whole place is booked out indefinitely. I am not sure if it has closed since we stayed. If so, its a massive shame as it was fantastic.
My total spend for three weeks in Thailand was £1,109. The only thing this doesn’t include is my return flight from London Heathrow. My flight was £450. You can do the route I did even cheaper. I didn’t really budget and bought anything and everything I wanted to.
Travelling in Thailand is an incredible experience. From bustling cities to quiet beaches, we had three glorious weeks here and I could easily have done three months and still not seen enough! This is a whistle stop tour of everything I did while travelling in Thailand, and it still brings a massive smile to my face when I think of the time I spent there. If you are heading to Thailand, please let me know. I would love to hear your experiences!
*A shorter version of this article featured as a guest post on: http://cocobutterblog.co.uk/travelling-in-thailand/