A Two Week Itinerary for Thailand
One of my favourite type of posts to write (and apparently Google's to rank) is the classic itinerary post. So you'll forgive my horror surprise upon discovering I've written TWO. Only two itinerary posts!! Needless to say, I'm outraged at myself and very motivated to write more about my favourite countries around the world. I started with India and South Africa, but I'm expanding y'all and next on the list is the country I know better than my own.
Yep, it's Thailand.
Planning Your Trip to Thailand
My love affair with Thailand began way back when I was 24. I travelled there solo on a spontaneous backpacking trip that ended about eight months later. Although I wasn't in Thailand that whole time -- I lived in Australia for the bulk of it -- I truly lost my heart to the 'land of smiles' and I've bounced back countless times in the ten years that've passed. I even lived there!
Thailand is such a fab spot for a two week holiday. It's bigger than you might realise, but with great infrastructure and stacks of diversity. You can be in the jungle one day, the beach the next and on a longtail boat down the mighty Mekong the following.
But I guess people tend to get hung up on what they think they should be doing, or, more often -- what they MUST DO when they're in Thailand.
Let's dive in, shall we?
The Perfect Two Week Itinerary for Thailand
First Step: Narrow it Down
This is basically the first step on any holiday with a set end point. Sounds simple, and basic common sense but how many of us try to fit in far too much in order to 'tick things off' coming back exhausted and in need of another holiday?!
I know I used to.
Although I travel really slowly and embrace staying in one place for as long as possible, I understand that on a two-week break you want to see a few things. You want to get your money's worth and you don't necessarily want to spend the entire break in just one place.
I'm gonna be a little tough on you here because Thailand is NOT like The Beach. Not anymore. You certainly won't find 'paradise' on Koh Phi Phi. But, there are still pockets of crazy quiet places and 'off the beaten path' spots you will LOVE.
But you have to narrow things down. Thailand is a much bigger country than people think, and there are amazing sights to see across its entirety so you'd be easily tired out if you tried to do it all.
TWO THINGS TO NOTE FIRST
Before we dive into the detail I wanted to just remind you of a couple of things.
As a rule, the north is cheaper than the south (skewed by the fact the islands are mostly located there). So, if you're on a budget - spend less time island hopping and more on the train in the north.
And PLEASE do not ride an elephant. You will get opportunities to do so almost everywhere in Thailand but, bar a couple of places (noted here) it is NOT safe to do so.The elephant won't hurt you, but the elephant will have been hurt so you can ride them. Yes, you may tell yourself the mahout (elephant trainer) is doing his job and that it's all part of Thai culture. But don't be fooled, this is a cruel practice and every tourist who chooses to ignore it is helping to keep it going.
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Avoid the Obvious
This might seem counter-intuitive and it could even have you wincing -- I promise, I'm not trying to tell you to skip all the main sights because they're 'soooooo touristy' because, well, you wouldn't go to India and skip the Taj Mahal, would you?
But I do think there are some overrated places you could skip in favour of somewhere else.
A case in point: Chiang Mai is on so many people's 'must-do' list when they go to Thailand, but honestly I always tell people to skip it in favour of Pai, a cute hippy town about three hours north of Chiang Mai. Almost everyone ignores me. But they regret it, and I often end up having conversations where I bite the 'I told you so' and talk about how crap Chiang Mai is.
Not everyone, of course. Loads of people like it, and it's popular for a reason. I just think that sometimes we go to a place because we afraid of missing out on something, not because we are excited to see something......does that make sense?
Alternative title: No, Koh Phi Phi isn't like The Beach.
People really trash Thai beaches, in that they expect them to be a pristine paradise that hasn't changed since the 1970s. Yet they don't want anyone except them to know about it, and they obviously want WiFi. Well, I think you can go a long way in life by using your common sense, and avoiding the excessive use of the word: 'paradise'.
Having said that, it's wise to bear in mind a few key factors when picking your perfect Thai beach.
The 'famous' beaches fall into two main areas: the Andaman islands, on the west coast (Phuket, Krabi, Koh Phi Phi et al) and the Gulf islands in, you guessed it, the Gulf of Thailand: Koh Samui, Koh Tao & Koh Phangan.
There are LOADS more islands, and beaches in Thailand though. Some you'll have heard of, many you won't. Koh Samet and Koh Chang (aka Elephant island) are fairly close to Bangkok (and seedy Pattaya) and, while not beautiful, is easy to get to and nice enough (Koh Chang is nicer than Samet!)
Koh Lipe is more of a trek and is right down south close to luxury Malaysian island Langkawi.
I guess it all depends on what you want to do when you're there. Divers head to the Similan islands or Khao Lok, party animals to Koh Phangan or Phi Phi and snorkellers can go anywehere. I honestly can't think of an island I've been to in Thailand where the sand wasn't soft and white and the sun wasn't blisteringly hot.
My personal favourite? Koh Lanta. It's super chilled out, big enough to explore for days and the food is epic, due to the mix of Buddhist/Muslim inhabitants.
One last thing to note, make sure you check the weather before you pick a paradise. Monsoon seasons are different in each island tranche!
Off the Beaten Path
Funnily enough, my TOP recommendation to anyone going to Thailand is one rarely thought about. Kanchanaburi.
Have you heard of it? Hear of the river Kwai? Probably. Hopefully.
Well, the river Kwai runs through this sleepy little town and it's a short train ride along the historic tracks from Bangkok. I've been a few times, and the last time I went we upgraded and stayed at the amazing Apple & Noi's Guesthouse - one of the nicest guesthouses in Thailand.
There are loads of things to do there, a lot of which surrounds the death railway (built by prisoners of war during the second world war). But even if you don't want to learn about the history, the river is gorgeous and prices are FAR cheaper here.
Example Two Week Itineraries
Start in Bangkok, spending a few days in the madness and cosmopolis. My pick? Stay in Banghlampu at the Sam Sen Sam guesthouse for easy access to the river (most of the famous sights are here) and the Khao San Road where things are nuts. Worth a visit is Cabbages & Condomsin the red light district of Sukhumvit. I also HIGHLY recommend a trip to Chatuchak, the weekend market.
Hop on a train to Kanchanaburi and enjoy a blissful break from Bangkok. Take a cooking class at Apple & Noi's even if you don't decide to stay there. After seeing the history of the town, and maybe even going on the death railway section of the tracks (scary, but fun!) take a day trip to the Erawan Waterfalls and see if you can get to number seven (spoiler alert, I've never made it past five!)
Time for some sun and snorkelling. Fly from Bangkok to Krabi and catch a ferry to Koh Lanta. I really loved the Old Town and stayed there as well as Khlong Nin. Get a moped, if you dare, and explore the island. From the amazing Old Town to the Marine National Park and right down to the gypsy occupied Sanka-U. Try to take a snorkelling day-trip with Freedom Adventures who are honestly the BEST OF THE BEST! If you have time, take a trip to Koh Phi Phi.
Head back to Bangkok and go home.
As before, enjoy some bustling business in Bangkok for a few days (see above).
Head north to Chiang Mai and, if you must, spend a day there perusing the gazillion beautiful temples (look out for 'monk chat' which is held at a few different temples in the city!) and head to Wat Suthep Doi, the famous temple within the Doi Suthep National Park.
Then, get the hell out of Chiang Mai to PAI!! Enjoy hot springs, hill hikes and loads of shopping. The food is delicious and cheap and you'll probably never want to leave. Especially after you've experienced the vomit inducing ride around the mountain to get there ;)
Fly from Chiang Mai down to Koh Chang (Trat airport) via Bangkok (if you didn't manage to see the weekend market on your way in, this might be your opportunity!) and flop on Lonely Beach or Hat Kaibae. Obviously, you can simply enjoy the sun, sea, and Sansgsom (if you don't know what this is......proceed with caution!)but if you want to explore more, I recommend the Nam Tok Khlong Plu Waterfalls. Bang Bao village is a great place to explore and enjoy some cheap eats and if you have time, hop over to Ko Kut where the Beckhams allegedly holiday!
Head back to Bangkok and go home.
As before, start in Bangkok!
Hop on a train from Hua Lumphong in Bangkok to Thailands former capital, Ayuthaya. Similarly to Kanchanaburi, I feel like this is crazy underrated places you absolutely should consider. Spend your days cycling around temple and palace ruins, making sure you avoid the midday heat (there's minimal shade!) and ideally, avoid the elephant riding. Make sure you stop by beautiful Wat Mahathat.
Take a little day trip to Lopburi where the monkey's run wild and you could also take a day-trip to the Erawan Waterfalls I mentionedin Itinerary One.
Hopefully, you aren't 'ruined-out' because I'd recommend you head North to Sukothainext. This is quintessential Northern Thailand. The Sukothai Historical Park is home to the stunning remains of a lost Kingdom, it's a well-organised affair and super well kept. You can hire bicycles or grab a moped like we did (it's huge!)
If you're lucky, you'll be around for Loi Krathong (November) the beautiful festival celebrated with dreamy floating lights.
Either fly or get a bus back to Bangkok and fly to your next destination: Koh Samui. Now, you've probably heard some trash talking about Samui. If not, brilliant! I love Koh Samui and although of course, it's not like it was 30 years ago (enter common sense), there are some beautiful parts to it and it's super easy. PLUS, the airport is INCREDIBLE. I'm not joking.
Stay in beautiful Bophut and enjoy the cute coffee culture and sweet fishing village vibes. We found a few little street-side restaurants with no name, and plastic chairs (always the best food!). These spots were full of soul and a lot cheaper than the fancier spots.
Koh Samui is super close to Koh Pha-Ngan so I'd recommend spending a couple of days there if you can -- just remember to avoid the days before, during and after full moon party. We stayed on Hat Salad which was a gorgeous, hippy paradise, but I'd also recommend Bottle Beach, which is rugged and secluded.
And if you fancy a party, well, you've got one of the most debauched around!
You know the drill guys, go back to Bangkok and go home.
Where to Stay:
Visa: None required for us lucky Brits, but see here for advice for non-Brits! Safety: The FCO says this: "The political situation in Thailand is unpredictable and sometimes volatile." You can say that again! We were in Bangkok, accidentally breaking our curfew, during the Thai Coup in 2014 and I was even on CNN. But we felt safe, and there was minimal drama for tourists. Like with any foreign country, practice the same level of vigilence as you would at home. Health: Parts of Thailand are Malarial, and Dengue Fever can be an issue too. We didn't take anti-malarial tablets while we were there (as we were travelling for so long we felt the cons outweighed the pros). Use the Fit for Travel website to check vaccinations before you go. Clothing: Liberal. Thailand is a Buddhist country so you can wear typical hot-weather clothing, except when in temples where you should cover your shoulders and knees out of respect. NOTE: The Grand Palace is super strict, and you'll need to wear loose trousers as well as covering your shoulders. WHEN TO GO: Broadly speaking, Thailand's high season is November - March, but if I'm honest -- aside from being on an island, where weather is much more important, I would (and have) travelled there all year round. The 'monsoons' aren't usually as epic as you'd imagine (although they can be).
Let me know what you think, and if you have any suggestions!