Thailand is one of my absolute favorite places on Earth. It has everything – beautiful beaches, mountains, jungle, big cities – and it’s super easy to get around once you’re there. I was lucky enough to have some friends who moved to Thailand for a couple of years, so not only did I benefit from having them show me around Bangkok, but I also managed to convince two of my other friends to meet me so we could explore Chiang Mai, Koh Phagnan, and Krabi together, too. The great thing about Thailand is that you can do as much or as little in a trip as you can – because chances are you’ll realize, like me, one trip will never be enough.
I took just shy of three weeks for the trip, and in that time was able to spend time in Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Koh Phagnan, and Krabi (marked on the map below). I’ve included links to specific city posts as well, but you can also read on for my recommendations on how to break up your trip, and why I chose to spend the time I did in each of those places.
- Bangkok (for the “big city” experience): I had five days in Bangkok, which is more than I would recommend anyone spend there. If you have endless time, it’s an awesome city and you could easily fill that many days. But assuming you’re on a limited schedule, try to spend 2 days in Bangkok and reserve the rest for the other cities
- Chiang Mai (for the “jungle/adventure” experience): We spent three full days in here, and I would have loved at least one more. Chiang Mai is absolutely incredible in itself, but there are also tons of activities and day trips in and around the city, so be sure to give yourself at least 3-4 days to explore this area
- Koh Phangan (for the “remote, rocky beaches” experience): most people don’t have the time to do multiple beach/island areas, but if you’re fortunate enough to have the time, I’d recommend checking out Koh Samui or Koh Phangan . We chose Phangan (just a ferry ride from Samui) because it was less touristy and more remote, but Koh Samui is beautiful as well. The beaches on Phangan are beautiful, and range from white sand to rocky
- Krabi (for the “quintessential thai islands” experience): most pictures you see if you google “Thailand beaches” are of the Phi Phi Islands or around Phuket/Krabi. Similar to why we opted to stay on Phangan versus Samui, we opted for Krabi since it’s a bit less touristy than Phuket. Both are a great option however, and you can do day trips to the famed Phi Phi Islands (and Maya Bay) and Four Islands (Phranang Beach/Cave, Tup Island, Chicken Island, and Poda Island). Railey Beach is also an easy longtail boat ride from Krabi – it’s a bit of a longer trek from Phuket, but still doable if you have more time
All in all, try to spend at least 2 weeks in Thailand (though I’d push for closer to 3) so you can explore around a bit. I’m a big planner so we booked all of our hotels and flights before, but you could easily just book your international flight and first hotel prior and then book the rest upon arrival – there are lots of options for both transit and accommodations! But, if you’re like me and need to book everything before, check my specific hotel and activity recommendations on each city page (links above)!
Important things to know when planning a trip to Thailand:
- US citizens with a tourist passport and return ticket do not need a visa to enter the country – just make sure your passport is valid for at least 6 months after your trip! Note: if you plan to stay longer than 30 days in Thailand, you do need to obtain a tourist visa through the US embassy prior to departure (it needs to be obtained within 3 months of your trip date, and it allows you to remain in the country for up to 60 days)
- From a vaccination standpoint, the CDC requires you are up to date on all routine vaccines (MMR, DTP, chickenpox, polio, and your yearly flu shot). It’s also recommended that you are vaccinated from Hepatitis A and Typhoid, as well as other diseases such as Hepatitis B, Malaria, Rabies, and Yellow Fever, though this is up to you and your PCP. Ask your doc which you should get based upon how long you’ll be in Thailand, where you’ll be going on your trip (i.e. if you’re going to just be in the city or if you’ll be in the islands/jungle), and even what kind of eater you are (some of the diseases are contracted through food, so if you’re an adventurous eater, you’ll want to get those vaccines just to be safe). Note: on top of my routine vaccines being up to date and having already been vaccinated against Hepatitis A, Hepatits B, and Rabies, I also received the Typhoid vaccine and took a prescription medicine to keep me from contracting Malaria, which you start before leaving on your trip
- For temple visits, you’ll need to have your arms and legs covered. Depending upon what time of year you’re there, it gets REALLY hot, so I’d recommend finding some inexpensive lightweight pants (I got these amazing linen ones in both black and taupe) and then pack several t-shirts that cover your shoulders (which is fine for walking around the complexes). Then you can throw on a shawl when you go inside the temples
- There are two main seasons in Thailand: the dry season (late November-April) and the wet season (July-October). Temperatures vary between regions, and even between the western and eastern island regions, but in general those are the two main seasons. December-February is considered high season because the weather is perfect, with sunny skies essentially all over the country. If you’re not one for super hot temperatures like me, avoid late April into May – it’s the hottest time of the year in Thailand (upwards of 100 degrees). I chose to go in early November because prices were even lower given it was just before the official dry season. We had some rainy days but nothing that kept us from our planned activities. There really isn’t a bad time to go to Thailand, though!
- Get to the airport EARLY. I’m a frequent traveler and, thanks to things like TSA Pre-Chek and Global Entry, usually breeze through airport security. That being said, Thailand is the most strict country I’ve been to when it comes to check-in and bag drop times (maybe it was China Eastern Airlines’ policy, but I’m going to assume it was airport-wide not just specific to the airline). When they say be there 90 minutes before your international flight, they mean it. Speaking from personal experience, we got there a little over an hour before our flight back to the US and were denied check-in. We each ended up having to buy a $400 one way ticket on another airline to our layover destination in order to make the second half of our flight, so do yourselves (and your wallet!) a favor and get there early…like 2 hours early
Questions or comments? Leave me a note below, and share your favorite places to visit in Thailand!