Although not our favourite south East Asian country, having spent over 2 months there plus other fleeting visits, Thailand is slowly becoming a familiar country to us with that homely feel every time we return. It is over run with tourists and ex pats making it one of the more expensive of it's neighbouring countries but it is still a place of beauty and culture and well worth a visit in your lifetime. Here's our guide on how to make the most out of your time in Thailand, whether a 2 week holiday or an extended backpacking trip.
Now we know what your thinking, you guys are crazy not visiting the islands right? Don't get us wrong we have visited many of the Thai islands before and enjoyed our time there but we just feel they are not what they're all cracked up to be. We feel the mainland has so much more to offer such as great food, exciting cities and natural wonders. While the islands offer partygoers, poor food and even worse sanitation. Here's our guide to mainland Thailand...
The north of Thailand is mainly cities, nature and wildlife. Personally, our favourite part of Thailand. That being said, the day we arrived in Chiang Mai, we couldn't help but be disappointed in how much of a city it actually is. We'd heard about Chiang Mai, home of mountains, nature and elephants but what we found was a smaller scale Bangkok. It is still a great place and one that we highly recommend visiting but maybe opt to stay out of the city if you're dreaming of nature. We stayed in 'Glur Hostel' in Chiang Mai and although location wasn't its strong point, the rooms are lovely and it does have a swimming pool to relax in after a busy day of exploring. We know Thailand is full of markets and all pretty much same same but we do believe they are some of the best we've been to here in Chiang Mai, each night they open up in a different location and are huge! If you fancy something a bit different then head to the carbaret Ladyboy show located by the Market. Not really our thing but a good laugh in the end. We hired a tuk tuk for the day to take a group of us around the main sights including Doi Suthep, a temple at the top of a mountain with views over the city, the (grand) canyon and a nature park. You'll find many of these tuk tuk drivers hassling you in the streets of Chiang Mai, just remember to bargain first!
You must, and we mean must, then head further north to Pai. This is where the true beauty of Thailand lies. Just a 3-4 hour minivan ride away, of which can be booked at almost any travel shop, bar or guesthouse in Chiang Mai for 150THB per person. It's a place where you can easily laze yours days away or get out in the nature. Again, waterfalls, trekking and hot springs are a plenty. Most people opt to hire a scooter here in Pai and zip from place to place but you also see so many people in Pai sporting various injuries from scooter incidents. If scooters aren't for you, then there's plenty of tuk tuks happy to take you around for the day. Make sure to end your day at the stunning canyon, free to enter, to watch the sunset then head back for the fabulous street food. For more information on visiting Chiang Mai and Pai then check out our blog here
We never visited Chiang Rai mainly because everyone says there nothing there. We know people who have gone and they say the same. Apart from the all white temple of course, which does look pretty cool. Maybe on our next trip!
The south of Thailand is all beaches, islands and more beaches. We opted against visiting the islands on this trip, having visited them before we just weren't interested in full moon parties and bustling islands full of holidaymakers and boat tours. If you are looking for a Thai island experience your options are the party of islands, Koh Pha Ngan which is famed for its full moon parties and wipeout play area in the sea, or the heavily crowded Koh Phi Phi which is packed full of revellers drinking buckets and watching fire shows, not our cup of tea! Koh Lanta and Koh Tao are great if your into diving but you won't find much else and again have become very popular with holidaymakers. Koh Lipe and Ko Chang are our islands of choice as these are the only remaining islands in which you can experience Thailand before the tourism boom. Krabi and Phuket are the two main landing spots for holidaymakers heading to the islands making them very touristic. We advise avoiding both, however Railay is one of the bays of Krabi and although touristic it has become one of our favourite places in Thailand. The two beaches and the sea is beautiful and the climb to the viewpoint and lagoon is both exhilarating and petrifying but so worth it.
If you're travelling in or around south east Asia then the likelihood is that you'll probably end up passing through Bangkok at some point. Most people seem to just stay the night whilst waiting for onward flights or other transport but we think that's a great shame as Bangkok is such a great city with so much to see and do. Check out our comprehensive guide of how to spend a few days in Bangkok away from the main tourist traps, here
If you're stuck for somewhere to stay, we highly recommend the iSanook hostel and residence, where we volunteered for over month and got to know the local area as well as the people behind it. The rooms are immaculately clean, the staff are great, theirs cooking facilities too and it's in a great spot for transport links connecting the rest of the city. You can book this here and then make sure you check out our favourite restaurant around the corner 'Markintiny' or also known as 'number 3' as it's the 3rd restaurant in a row. There's something for everyone in Bangkok, whether you want to eat, drink, shop, catch the latest movie, explore the culture or just relax on a rooftop pool, you must make time for a few days in Bangkok. However if you've spent too much time there, it can get a little overwhelming so whether you need a mini break or just a day trip, checkout our blog about escaping Bangkok here
You can get VIP buses or minivans pretty much everywhere you want to go in Thailand, they are both cheap and relatively efficient (give or take a few hours). Always try to book at bus stations though as tour operators and hostels are liable to add on commission, although sometimes it's just more convenient to book through them. The only train we would recommend is the overnight between Bangkok and Chiangmai which is the best way to get between the two but book in advance. There is also a cheap train from Bangkok to Ayutthaya if you plan on visiting the temple district. Internal flights can be super cheap between all of the big destinations but make sure you check 'Thai Lion Air' directly as they are often the cheapest but aren't advertised on google or other flight comparison sights and they also include luggage where AirAsia doesn't!
We love Thai food and generally can't get enough of it. We find the food in the north to be much better and our food blogger friend claims Bangkok to be one of his favourite foodie cities. Everyone loves a Pad Thai, the national dish, you can pick them up everywhere for as little as 30THB but if you want the best head to Thip Somai in Bangkok. Egg noodles and wantons in soup are a biggie for us, Bamee Sawang in Bangkok is the famed king of this particular dish. Yellow, Green and Red Curry containing any number of fillings are always a favourite jam packed with spice and flavour. Try to avoid the tourist spots (as hard as that may be) as they tend to sacrifice the spice to appease the neutral palette. We always tend to head to the eateries that are one woman (or man) with one wok firing out non stop tasty dishes. Pretty much every city has a market and thus plenty of street food. Our favourites are Thai fish cakes, laksa style noodle soups, crispy noodles and anything tempura. It's easy to be vegetarian as most people speak some level of English and offer vegetarian and vegan options.
Hostels are a good idea in Thailand, you meet with more people and are generally cheaper than any guesthouse or hotel. We always check all booking sites but Agoda seems to be the winner when booking in South East Asia. With the influx of tourists there's so many options for accommodation in Thailand therefore it's unlikely that places will be fully booked so it's more than ok to turn up somewhere without a booking if you're unsure of your next destination!