The Ultimate Thailand Travel Guide
Thailand is an absolutely incredible county to visit. There are thousands of beaches across hundreds of tropical islands. Beautiful coral reefs are filled with colorful fish, perfect for snorkeling and scuba diving. Hiking trails take you to waterfalls hidden deep in the jungle, where you can take a shower, at one with nature.
When the day is over you return to your bamboo bungalow right by the beach where you can enjoy the sunset. Even that only costs $15 per night.
Religion is a strong aspect of the culture with countless temples constructed throughout the nation. Some are centuries old, others a work of art., but each is unique. In Ayutthaya, these old temples give insight to an era gone by, while in Bangkok they form a part of everyday life.
Turn to the city and you will find a massive urban metropolis. Bangkok is home to over 11 million people, one of the largest cities in Southeast Asia.
Discover the world’s most diverse culinary experience, with literally thousands of dishes to choose from, of course, sample the Pad Thai, Green Curry and Tomyum Kung. When you’re done eating kick back at a rooftop bar with an amazing city view or enjoy one of Bangkok’s many live music bars.
I have lived in Thailand for the past five years, spending much of my time traveling around this amazing country. I’ve not only visited popular destinations but also you’ve definitely never heard of. Here I’ve compiled my years of experience and local knowledge so that you can enjoy Thailand all that much more.
THis ultimate Thailand travel guide is for you. Enjoy!
- Thailand Quick Fact File
- Thailand Travel Planning
- Thailand’s Islands
- Northern Thailand
- Central Thailand
- Isan (North-Eastern Thailand)
- Thailand Travel Budget
- When is the best time to visit Thailand?
- Cultural Customs to know while traveling Thailand
- Common Phrases to use while in Thailand
- Further Reading on Travel in Thailand
Thailand Quick Fact File
Population: 68 million
Currency: Thai Baht. Check exchange rates here.
Languages; Thai, English
International Airports; Bangkok, Phuket, Chiang Mai
Visa Requirements; land entry gives a 2-week tourist visa, air entry gives a 30-day tourist visa
Domestic flights; Nok Air, Thai Smile, Lion Air, Air Asia.
Phone services; AIS, DTAC, True
Thailand Travel Planning
Here you will find articles, reviews and tips to help you travel Thailand better than anyone else you know.
- Explore amazing islands in the Gulf of Thailand and the Andaman Sea
- Go jungle trekking in the north of Thailand to waterfalls and ethnic villages
- Discover the hidden gems of Bangkok, the heart of South East Asia
- Get off the beaten track in Eastern Thailand, where only 1% of tourists go
Here I have broken down the destinations in Thailand into 5 easy to use categories; Bangkok, Northern Thailand, The Islands, Central Thailand, and Isan (Eastern Thailand). You could break it down in many other ways, but I find this works best.
Bangkok is the entry point to Thailand, and to Southeast Asia for that matter.
The problem is, too many travelers see Bangkok as a transit destination. They arrive and leave before really discovering this city’s true potential. I was once guilty of this, but then I lived there for four years and wrote this fully comprehensive Bangkok travel guide.
Bangkok is a huge city with lively markets, fun outdoor activities, great nightlife, some of the most amazing food you will find in the world. Overall it is a very diverse city that deserves at least one week from your travels around Thailand.
Explore the markets in Bangkok
The Maeklong Railway Market is a unique market where a train passes right through the middle of it! One minute there is a busy market, the next it is an active railway line. To ensure you arrive at the right time, check out the Maeklong Railway Market Train Schedule here.
The Amphawa Floating Market is one of the largest floating markets in Thailand. It is a popular weekend destination for Bangkok locals coming for a fresh seafood barbecue. It is also just down the road from the Damnoen Saduak Floating Market, though a bit more touristy.
Perhaps Bangkok’s best floating market is the Khlong Lat Mayom Floating Market. This huge floating market has a chilled local vibe, and some of the best food you will find in Bangkok. Don’t tell too many people though, this secret is just for locals.
Go Temple Hopping
There are over 40,000 temples across Thailand, and about 400 of them are in Bangkok. The city is home to some of the most iconic temples in the country like Wat Phra Kaew (The Grand Palace), Wat Arun (The Temple of Dawn), and Wat Pho (The Reclining Buddha).
There are also loads of amazing yet lesser known temples. Here I’ve suggested 12 temples in Bangkok worth seeing which will suit every kind of traveler.
Visit Bangkok’s Islands
Bang Krachao Island is a throwback to Bangkok from 50 years ago. This small islands located right in the heart of the city has a lively little floating market, a beautiful wetland park, and an active farming community.
Head a little further north of Bangkok towards Nonthaburi to explore Koh Kret. This island is complete with its own ancient pottery village, microbrewery, and weekend market. What more could you want?
Enjoy the Nightlife
After you’ve explored the city by day, be sure to stop by one of my favorite live music bars in Bangkok. There is a huge range of bars in Bangkok where you can relax with cheap drinks, tasty food, and some great live music. Don’t miss out!
The thought of crystal clear waters, white sandy beaches, bright coral and fish, and of course, fresh coconuts brings thousands of people to travel to Thailand every year. This is the life of the Thai islands.
How many islands are there in Thailand? No one is sure, not even Wikipedia! It is estimated there are over 1,000 islands scattered about Thailand.
Many travelers think the islands are only in the south of Thailand; Koh Phangan, Koh Tao, Koh Samui, and Phuket. Don’t be fooled. There is actually a huge abundance of amazing islands in the provinces of Trat, Trang, Ranong, Rayong, Satun and Surat Thani.
Here is my huge guide to the Thai islands. You must visit at least one of these while you travel to Thailand:
Islands in the Gulf of Thailand
Koh Kood – the spelling of this islands is quite often interchanged with Koh Kut. Don’t fret, it’s still the same place. Koh Kood has is so far east that it is actually located closer to Cambodia than Thailand. Enjoy the incredibly clear water, amazing sunsets, rope swings by the beach, and the total lack of tourists. This really is one of the best islands in Thailand (a personal favorite).
Koh Chang – otherwise referred to as Elephant Island. Koh Chang is like a Koh Phangan from 20 years ago. Expect to find a backpacker paradise with small beach bars and late night parties. In the day you will be exploring amazing waterfalls, white sandy beaches, and island hopping trips to other tiny islands in the region.
Koh Mak – this is a small island located mid-way between Koh Chang and Koh Kood. While it is possible to stay here for a few nights, most people just visit as a day trip to enjoy the amazing beaches and explore the forests throughout the island.
Koh Phangan – the Full Moon Party has become like a right of passage for backpackers all over the world. While you won’t find me tripping out on Magic Mountain with mushy shakes anymore, I will admit to going to the Full Moon Party three times already. And I loved it every time! There are also loads of other great beaches, waterfalls, and meditation retreats on Koh Phangan to enjoy. Check out my favorite beaches on Koh Phangan before you go.
Koh Tao – dubbed the Turtle Island, and more recently Murder Island. Koh Tao is the cheapest Thai island to do your PADI Open Water dive certificate. Courses start from just 7000THB and include 3 nights accommodation. The dive locations here are OK, not the best in Thailand, however, you can’t complain about that price.
Koh Samui – This is the family-oriented version of Koh Phangan or Koh Tao. Koh Samui has some of the countries top 5-star resorts such as Banyan Tree Samui, Anantara Lawana Resort, and Centara Grand Samui. Koh Samui also has its own airport where you can then hop on a quick ferry transfer to Koh Phangan.
Islands in the Andaman Sea
Koh Phi Phi – a popular party island filled with Scandinavians drinking whiskey from buckets. There are some wild bars where you can have a Muay Thai fight to win free drinks, or go mental at an all-night party on the beach. Koh Phi Phi is a small, crowded, rambunctious party destination.
Koh Lanta – long white sandy beaches, budget guesthouses, great snorkeling and amazing scuba diving locations on the west coast. The east coast has a great national park with mangroves and the Koh Lanta Old Town. Koh Lanta is easy to get to from Krabi by minivan, and a quick ferry ride from Phuket and Koh Phi Phi.
Koh Rok – a pair of secluded islands (Koh Rok Yai and Koh Rok Noi) which are well worth a day trip from Koh Lanta. Koh Rok has long white sandy beaches and great snorkeling spots along the coral reefs. Try camping on the beach for an incredible night out under the starts (you may even see phosphorescent algae).
The Similan Islands – a cluster of small islands located way out in the Andaman Sea including; Koh Similan, Koh Miang, Koh Payang, and Koh Payu. The number of annual visitors is strictly limited by the Thai Government. This is a national park, so the only accommodation option is a tent.
Koh Lipe – they say it is the ‘Maldives of Thailand’ but really, it’s better than that. Koh Lipe is a small island located 2 hours by speedboat off the coast of Satun Province. The water is the clearest you will find in Thailand and there is an abundance of colorful coral reefs to explore. Stay on one of three incredible beaches including; Sunrise Beach, Pattaya Beach, and Sunset Beach.
Koh Adang – a secluded island in the Andaman Sea located just across the water from Koh Lipe. Koh Adang is actually a national park, so there are no resorts or guesthouses here. The national park manages a handful of small bungalows, a small kitchen, and offers tents for rent, both are amazing.
Phuket – A huge island with one of Thailand’s largest cities. There are loads of luxury resorts, small villages and some amazing beaches to explore. Don’t expect a castaway vibe on some secluded tropical island here though.
There are also some great places to visit in that stretch of land between the Gulf of Thailand and the Andaman Sea. One destination, in particular, is the huge wetland Khao Sok National Park. Take a boat ride on the lake, go trekking in the jungle and through a cave, or visit one of Thailand’s ethical elephant sanctuaries.
While Northern Thailand seems like the sleepy end of the country, there is actually plenty happening this way.
Travel to northern Thailand to go jungle trekking, hiking the mountains, discover amazing waterfalls and soak away in a natural hot spring. When you’re done with nature check out the local art scene or the ancient history within the city walls.
I hear so many people traveling Thailand only giving the north a few days, it really deserves a lot more than that. You should allow one week to see two to three of the destinations listed out below. If you cram any more, you are just rushing it.
Here are some of my favorite places to travel in northern Thailand:
Chiang Rai is Thailand’s northernmost province, surrounded by beautiful mountain ranges, waterfalls, and ethnic villages. The winter climate in Chiang Rai is much cooler than the rest of Thailand, a great place to escape the heat.
In the northeast corner of Chiang Rai is the ancient city of Chiang Saen and the Golden Triangle. Here where the Thai, Laos and Myanmar borders meet you will discover a handful of ancient temples centuries old.
Mae Sai is the northernmost town in Thailand, right up on the Thai-Myanmar border. There is a huge market here in Mae Sai, which spans across both sides of the border. You can also climb the steep hill behind the market to visit Mae Sai’s iconic scorpion temple. Many travelers cross the border from Thailand to Myanmar just for a few hours to see what life is like on the other side. It is possible to spend a couple of nights in Tachiliek and is worth it if you have the time.
Chiang Mai is Thailand’s second largest city after Bangkok and the second largest province by land area after Nakhon Ratchasima. There are plenty of mountains and waterfalls like in Chiang Rai, yet the city is much busier. Find out how to get from Bangkok to Chiang Mai here.
Pai (Mae Hong Son)
Pai (Mae Hong Son) is a small hippie village hidden far up in the mountains. Around 10 years ago no one even talked about this village. These days Pai is a backpacker paradise with lots of great hostels and late night bars to hang out at. Discover loads of amazing waterfalls, hiking routes, and of course Khao Soi Chicken Soup!
What is Central Thailand? Nothing really. This is a term I am loosely giving to an area surrounding Bangkok in a 300km radius.
All of these destinations are within a few hours reach of Bangkok and can be visited with 2 or more days available. These are ideal if you are only planning a short trip to Thailand or a weekend trip from Bangkok.
It is surprisingly easy to visit ancient temples, go jungle trekking to waterfalls and relax on amazing beaches within just a few hours reach from Bangkok. So if you only have a few days to travel to Thailand, you don’t have to go flying all over the country.
My top places to travel in Thailand near to Bangkok:
Ayutthaya is located just one and a half hours north of Bangkok. In the early-1300’s Ayutthaya was the ancient capital of Siam and largest city in the world! The city is covered with ancient temples, which is perfect for a day trip from Bangkok. Check out this temple walking route around the Ayutthaya Historical Park.
Hua Hin and Petchaburi are located to the south west of Bangkok by about two hours. These are some of the nicest beaches within close reach of Bangkok and make for a great weekend trip from the city. Hua Hin is also popular with many large water parks like Vana Nava. You will find lots of big fancy hotels here like Sheraton, Anantara, and Dusit.
I suggest visiting the huge market near downtown Hua Hin for fresh lobsters and loads of other seafood. Then head to one of the many small bars between the main strip of Hua Hin and the beach for a fun night out.
Kanchanaburi is located just two hours west of Bangkok, perfect for a weekend trip. There are plenty of amazing waterfalls, WW2 history sites, and national parks to explore. Be sure to visit the Erawan Waterfall and the nearby caves in the Erawan National Park. Spend a night at of the Sai Yok Raft Houses for a relaxing stay in the jungle. As you continue west towards Sangkhlaburi, be sure to stop by the Hellfire Pass Memorial site, part of the infamous Death Railway. Loads more on this in my huge Kanchanaburi travel guide here.
Sangkhlaburi is the wild side of Thailand where hidden waterfalls flow through thick jungle. This western district of Kanchanaburi Province borders Myanmar. The town of Sangkhlaburi is made up of Thai and Mon ethnicities and is home to the huge Wooden Mon Bridge. Read my full guide to Sangkhlaburi here.
Khao Yai National Park
The Khao Yai National Park is located three hours east of Bangkok, there are some really deep jungle trails and amazing waterfalls to discover here.
Isan (North-Eastern Thailand)
Isan is that huge chunk of eastern Thailand which no one you know has ever traveled too… Actually, only 1% of travelers to Thailand actually visit Isan.
Why travel this far east in Thailand? Isan is so culturally different from North, South or Central Thailand that it is more similar to Laos. The food is different, the language is different, and the weather is way hotter.
Out in Isan, there are no islands or beaches. Instead, there are sprawling rice fields, cowboy farmers, and some of the best food you will find in all of Thailand.
If you want to experience the real rural Thailand and get really off the beaten track, Isan is the place to go.
Places to visit in Isaan include:
- Roi Et. This is proper rural Thailand where people laze around in hammocks with their cows.
- Khon Kaen. A smaller city in far Eastern Thailand.
- Korat (Nakhon Ratchasima). The largest city in Eastern Thailand.
Thailand Travel Budget
The easiest and most difficult question to answer is, how much does it cost to travel Thailand? The budget really depends on how you travel. The good news is that with a huge range of great budget resorts in Thailand you can travel Thailand exceptionally cheaply.
Use these numbers as a rule of thumb for preparing your Thailand travel budget. I’d also suggest checking out this article on how to save money while traveling Thailand.
Accommodation in Thailand can be fairly cheap. I personally use Agoda for most of my bookings, it has the largest range of hotels and plenty of discount rates available even during the high season.
- dorm accommodation 200 THB/night (per person)
- basic single room accommodation 500 – 3000 THB/night (2 people)
- luxury hotel 5000+ THB/night (2 people)
- street food or small market 30 – 50 THB/plate
- Thai or western dish in a small restaurant 150 – 300 THB/plate
- Buffet dinner at a nice hotel 1500+ THB/person
- Large beer in 7/11 convenience store 60 THB/bottle
- Large beer in a bar 100 THB/bottle
- Bucket cocktail in Khao Sarn Road 300 THB
- Getting wrecked at the Full Moon Party 3000 THB
- Taxi from the airport to the city 300 THB
- Minivan to a destination 2-3hrs away 150 THB/person
- Overnight bus from Bangkok to the South 500 THB/person
- Domestic flight 600 – 1000 THB/person
- Tuk Tuk anywhere in Bangkok – don’t do it
- Renting a motorcycle 150 THB/day + fuel
- Crashing a rented motorcycle – good luck
Check out my Thailand Packing List here
When is the best time to visit Thailand?
The best time to visit Thailand is from late October to mid-November. There is less rain than in the wet season, and most things are cheaper than in the high season. This period is usually referred to as the Green Season or Shoulder Season. While you may still get some rain, it is usually only intermittent. This is my personal opinion on the best time to visit Thailand from 5 years living in the country.
Otherwise, it should be noted that Thailand has 2 seasons. Hot (October to March) and Hotter (April to September) which is also considered the rainy season.
Peak Season: November to January can see accommodation prices jump anywhere from double to triple. This is also the nicest time to visit Thailand. The weather is not unbearably hot and there is a low chance of rain. Great for beach days, motorbike adventures and cool weather up in the mountains.
Low Season: April to September has a high chance of rain. April has the week-long Songkran water festival which marks the start of the wet season and the Thai New Year. May to July are uncomfortably hot months across the entire country, Bangkok swelters with daily average temperatures around 40 degrees Celsius.
Cultural Customs to know while traveling Thailand
- Do take your shoes off before entering a house
- Do be polite and put a krub (man) and a kaa (woman) at the end of your Thai words
- Do wear a helmet while riding a motorcycle
- Do learn some basic phrases first, it goes a long way
- Don’t greet Thais with your shoes in your hands
- Don’t show Thais the bottom of your feet
- Don’t insult or make bad comments about the royal family
- Don’t talk about politics with taxi drivers
- Don’t take a Tuk Tuk anywhere in Bangkok
- Don’t wear shorts or a tank top to a temple
Common Phrases to use while in Thailand
- Kob Khun Krub – thank you (said by men to men and women)
- Kob Khun Kaa – thank you (said by women to men and women)
- Sawadee Krub / Kaa – Hello (said by men and women, the same idea above applies)
- Songtaew – Thai pick up truck style taxi
- Motosai – Motorbike
- Gep Tung / Check Bill – Bill please (for food, drinks, hotel, etc…)
- Ahaan – Food
- Nam – Water
Further Reading on Travel in Thailand
Nomadic Notes – James has put together a huge list of useful resources for travel in Bangkok.
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