Assuming you are flying into Bangkok, because that is their biggest airport. There is a train that leaves BKK and has stops in all the major areas in the city. (click here for more info.)If you are on a budget, opt for the train instead of a cab. No worries it is safe, but still keep your bags close. I stayed in a hostel called 1989 which was really clean and comfortable but far from the night life. ALWAYS make sure the cabbies turn on their meter because they will quote a much higher price. Uber is also an option, so depending on when and where you are going, it MIGHT be cheaper. (Make sure to watch them “end ride” on their cellphone before exiting the car, otherwise they might drive around to rack up your bill). Personally, I would only stay in Bangkok for one or two nights maximum. I am not a huge fan of Bangkok, mostly because the traffic is horrendous. Bangkok does have a fun night life. There are two streets that host most of the bars/clubs, the name of which I can’t remember. Ask the hostel host or another traveler, these streets are popular and not to hard to find. This might be common knowledge, but if someone asks you to come watch a ping pong show, DONT GO. On good places to visit, I would recommend Wat Pho and Terminal 21. You will be visiting a lot of temples throughout your trip, but this one is definitely worth the visit. Terminal 21 is a really interesting Mall set up like an airport terminal, where each floor represents a different country. (The bathrooms are kinda cool too, the have the Japanese style toilets)
- GO to Wat Pho and Terminal 21
- DON’T GO to a “ping pong” show
- STAY close to the places you want to visit because traffic is horrible
- GO in cabs with a running meter or opt for the train.
I really enjoyed this little town, it was charming and had good street food. Accommodation wise, as long as you stay near the old city walls, you will be close to all the activity. I stayed in a private room with a friend in a cute homestay, but she doesn’t operate online.
From Chiang Mai, we visited an elephant sanctuary called Baan Chang Elephant Park. At Baanchang you have the opportunity to feed, bathe, and ‘walk’ (which means riding bareback) these beautiful creatures. If riding wavers your morale compass there is a really popular one called Elephant Nature Park. This one fills up fast so you need to book at least a few weeks in advance. Since planning isn’t my forte, we couldn’t get into that one and decided on the next best thing (in our opinion). Baanchang was great and I loved every minute of my time with the elephants. It is a common one to go visit but depending on how you feel about riding obviously can be the deciding factor for you.
Chiang Rai: To Stay or Not to Stay
I recommend only taking a day trip to Chiang Rai to see the White Temple. It is 100% worth the three hour trip one way to go see this temple, it is unlike anything else you will see in Asia as far as temples go. The long bus ride is cheaper than staying the night and there isn’t much else to see in Chiang Rai.
Chiang Mai Highlights:
- GO to an elephant sanctuary
- TAKE a day trip to Chiang Rai to visit the White Temple
- STAY a hostel near the old city walls
Koh Phi Phi and Koh Lanta are islands on the west side of the country, which I have heard are really beautiful. I didn’t make it over there because it was rainy season at the time and wanted to stay on the east islands where the sun was shining. The three islands I visited were: Koh Tao, Koh Phangan, and Koh Samui. The best way to get to these islands is through the town of Surat Thani. You can take a ferry from there to any of the islands. I loved the islands so much I ended up staying between the three of them for a month and loved every minute of it!
If you want to be where the most action is, stay up near Sairee beach at any of the hostels. This island can be a bit pricier when it comes to accommodation so make sure to set a higher budget if you want to stay close to the beach. Koh Tao is the best place to get dive certified. Look for places where the dive packages include accommodation to save some extra cash. Sairee beach is were most of the backpackers stay, and there is some decent night life. There is a pub crawl that happens 4 days a week and is fun to get to know people staying on the island for the next couple of days. The random street vendors have the best food, and there are a lot of good fire shows and happy hours down at the beach around sunset.
Koh Tao Highlights:
- GO and get dive certified
- Stay near Sairee beach
- GO to the beach for a beautiful sunset, cheap happy hour, and a cool fire show
- DON’T forget your sunscreen
Where to Stay
This is where the full moon party happens! I would recommend staying at a hostel called Slumber Party. It is a good ways away from where the full moon party happens, but this is a good thing because the beach down there is a hot mess. Slumber Party is a quick walk away from the beach, good food, and some night life. They also offer a lot of perks during the full moon, like day tours and food before the party. It is an easy car ride to the full moon party (which they call for you) and you can haggle your way back from the party for 100 baht.
The Full Moon Party
The full moon party is amazing, you will be partying until the sun comes up! My only recommendation is the obvious things. Don’t buy drugs from locals on the beach, half the time they are working with the cops and you’ll get arrested. You can buy buckets of alcohol, just make sure they pour them in front of you and the bottles are unopened. Wear proper shoes, there is broken glass, used condoms, and lord knows what else all over the beach so you don’t want to be walking through that in flip flops. Pace yourself! People tend to get drunk before even showing up to the party, which is fine but if you want to last the night budget for food and water throughout the night as well so you can keep dancing and partying! Most hostels have a 3-5 night minimum around full moon, so plan to be there a few days before and after.
Between accommodation, food, and alcohol, the full moon can be really expensive… at least for SE Asia, but it is 100% worth it! Oh, also make friends to go to the full moon party with, but keep your group small, otherwise you will spend half your night searching for people… set up a plan and a meet up location so if someone gets lost you can all meet there. Don’t waste your money on slip n fly, you basically pay 600 baht to lay by a pool. There are all kinds of parties around the full moon: Jungle Party, Waterfall Party… they are expensive and have many mixed reviews so its up to you and how much you want to party that week.
Outside of the Full Moon party, Koh Phangan has many beaches around the island worth visiting. The best way to get around is by renting a motorbike, but PLEASE be careful. This island is notorious for motorbike crashes, guaranteed you can walk down any street and see at least 3 people with bandages around their arms and legs.
Koh Phangan Highlights:
- GO to the Full Moon party
- DON’T waste your money at Slip N’ Fly
- WEAR proper shoes so you don’t end up with stitches
- DON’T be stupid when driving a motorbike
This island is nice to visit if you have the time, but it is much like Koh Tao and Koh Phangan just bigger and more focused on family holidays and honeymoons. If you want to do a lot of water sports, Koh Samui is the better place to do it. They also have really good street food and a decent night life. But after the Full Moon you might need a change from the party scene. To escape the crowd for a while, visit Lamai beach on the Southeast side of the island. I stayed in New Hut Bungalows which were cheap and right on the beach.
Go to a Muay Thai fight, basically anywhere in Thailand, it’s going to be good. Probably don’t go to one on Koh Samui, it was super expensive there! Whenever booking a tour, ask multiple companies, and haggle like hell, but friendly of course. They always quote extremely high at first but usually you can work them down sometimes by 50% of the original quote. We found super cheap flights, so we flew from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, round trip, for about $40 and flew from Bangkok to Surat Thani one way for about $25. If you are wanting to travel slower and for cheaper, buses/trains are a good option to get to different areas of the country just ask around to other travelers, they can tell you specific companies that are more reliable (I can’t remember the company names). Take a cooking class somewhere, the food is amazing and its easy to cook back home! I’ve made Pad Thai and Curries so many times since I’ve been home and my family loves it!