Thailand, the "land of smiles". It's not easy to find the right words without sounding like a conventional travel guide. In Thailand, you'll find all, you've ever wished for - white sand beaches, lonely bays, top diving and snorkeling spots, tropical jungle, beautiful landscape, an inspiring culture, amazing food and welcoming locals. You can choose to either party each night or find the seclusion. Thailand provides bungalows and hotels for every taste and budget.
If you have time for the whole of Thailand, don't pre- plan your entire trip, just go with the flow. Try to enjoy the trip to its fullest and don't spend all your time rushing from one place to another.
It's still favorable and possible to travel on a low budget. If you've never traveled with a backpack before, Thailand is probably the best destination to start with. It has a rapidly growing middle class, a great infrastructure, and it seems safe from a backpackers point of view. So you can easily find out whether you like it or not.
Backpacking certainly isn't everyone's cup of tea. But if you're cut out for it, then it's one of the most amazing and enlightening things you'll ever experience. You'll definitely meet a lot of other backpackers in Thailand, who provide great ideas for destinations during your stay.
From Bangkok, it's pretty easy to reach beautiful islands with perfect beaches or the mountainous northern part.You can get there by minivan, bus or cheap domestic flights in just a couple of hours. So stop hesitating and start packing!
Read more about 10 things most people forget when packing for Southeast Asia.
In General, it's possible to travel to Thailand throughout the year. During wet season, you'll be more annoyed by mosquitoes and it rains several times a day short but heavy. The peak season begins in November when waterfalls are in full force, the landscape shines in a wonderful green and all kinds of flowers blossom. Moreover, most festivals like Loi Krathong or Songkran take place in high season. But higher costs and crowed sights represent the downside.
However, if you come between April and June, you won't find any of the wonderful waterfalls, the landscape looks dry and bleak. It's almost unbearable to visit the northern part with the temperature hovering around 40 degrees Celcius during this period. But for island hopping in the south, it' s perfectly ok.
The best time to visit the islands in the Gulf of Thailand (Koh Samui, Koh Phangan, Koh Tao) is between January and Mai. The weather in the Gulf of Thailand is poor and unpredictable from October to December. The best time to travel Andaman Sea (Phuket, Koh Phi Phi, Koh Lanta, Koh Mook) is from November until February. Between Mai and Octobre, the tropical climate of monsoon predominates on the west coast.
Bangkok and the Koh Chang Islands (Koh Chang, Koh Kut, Koh Mak) have perfectly traveling conditions between November and April. But high season begins in October and ends in May. The north- east Thailand is characterized by monsoon climatic with three seasons. Best time to visit Northern Thailand (Chiang Mai, Pai) is January until March. In November and December the temperatures are during daytime perfectly ok but at night it mostly gets cold.
On arrival visa
The on arrival tourist visa allows you to stay 30 days, single entry by plane. For a tourist visa you must have a confirmed return ticket to proof that you are flying out of Thailand within 30 or 15 days of entry, as appropriate. Open tickets do not qualify. Traveling overland out of Thailand by train or bus to Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia or Myanmar is not accepted as a proof of onward journey. The Visa can be officially extended for another 30 days at every Immigration Office (costs: $55). Please note, that with the entry to Thailand your passport still must be valid for at least six months .
A visa run for another 30 days is not as easy as it was before 2014. Nowadays you need a good explanation and a residence in Thailand for re-entering the cou ntry
after a one day trip to Thailands neighbors. If you want to stay longer than 30 days in Thailand, it's better to apply a tourist visa for 60 days in advance. Another extension of 30 days is possible in every Immigration Office on site. But intended stay of 90 days shall not be exceeded.
For some selected nationalities, a 30-day residence permit is valid on arrival by land. This applies to Germany, France, Canada, Italy, Japan, Great Britain and the USA. All of the other countries get a residence permit by land for only 15 days.
Hack for long-term travelers
You want to enter Thailand with a one-way ticket and leave the country overland? Book an ultra cheap one-way ticket with AirAsia which you'll never board. The printed boarding card of a flight to Laos, for example will satisfy the customs officials. Then cross the border the way you want within 1-2 days before your visa expires.
There are four highly recommended vaccinations for all kind of travelers and two optional for people who are at higher risk, because of their travel style and increased outdoor activities like jungle trekking, camping, rural homestay tourism or volunteering.
For detailed information about pathogens, prices per shot, time you'll need for full immunization and more, read our in-depth blog post about recommended travel vaccinations.
Despite the rumors in several travel forums, it is still no problem at all to travel on a low budget in Thailand. The following suggested budgets include the major costs factors like
accomodation, food, transport and activities. In general, it's cheaper in Thailand's northern countryside than in Bangkok or the tropical island down south. Typical tourist spots
are costlier than off the beaten path.
Note: Thai people add the word "Khap" for male speakers and "Kah" for female speakers at the end of phrases. Doing this is considered as beeing polite. The following is a short list of words, that has proven as useful for many travelers.
You'll either hate it or you love it! It's the capital and economic center of Thailand. This vibrant metropolis attracts millions of tourists each year with its fascinating mixture of traditional culture and modern lifestyle, hence it became the world most visited city according to the Global Destinations Cities Index. On the one hand, this bustling city is littered with hundreds of stunning Buddhist temples for culture lovers and on the other hand, it has countless glamorous shopping malls and markets for shopping enthusiasts.
Getting around in Bangkok
Bangkok is the only town in Thailand with a rail transportation system.
Arrival / Departure Bangkok
Bangkok has three public bus terminals, two of them are outside the city center.
If you arrive at Bangkok International Airport Suvarnabhumi (BKK) it's an easy option to take the Airport Rail Link (ARL) to get directly to the inner city. The service starts at 6.00am in the morning and ends at midnight. Are you traveling in a group of three or more people? Then it's definitely cheaper to take a taxi to downtown. Only domestic flights arrive and start at the old airport Don Muang (DMK). Both airports lie at opposite ends of Bangkok. To change from one airport to another take around one hour.
Most of the important train connections to southern, northern, northeast or east Thailand depart from Hualamphong Central Station in Bangkok.
Top things to do in Bangkok
Visit the Grand Palace and the Wat Phra Kaew (Temple of the Emerald Buddha). Open every day from 8.30am to 3.30pm, entry: ~$13. It's the residence of the King of Siam. Caution: the dress code for entrance must be considered. The Wat Pho- one of the oldest temple in Bangkok- is also of interest. Opening hours every day from 8 am to 5 pm, entry: $3.
More temple worth visiting are:
Dive into Bangkok wild nightlife on Khao San road. It's full of hostels, cheap accommondations, restaurants and lots of exciting bars. The street is located 1km north of the Grand Palace. It's definitely the “mecca of the backpackers“ in Bangkok. Are you generally interested in material arts? Watch a Muay Thai boxing fight at world-famous Lumpinee Stadium. For tasting the delicious street food from Bangkok we recommend the Chatuchak Weekend market (opening hours: 6 am to 6 pm) which is one of the largest food markets worldwide.
Bangkok Insider Tips
This province looks like what we all associate with an exotic tropical destination like Thailand. It allures tourists with small islands, white sand beaches, sunken caves and stunning karst rock formations. If you're looking for perfect beaches like seen in Leonardo Di Caprio’s film “The Beach” you're here definitely on the right path.
Every day, there are seven buses starting from Sai Tai Mai Bus Station Bangkok (southern Bus Terminal) to Phang Nga. Distance is about 743km and it takes 12 hours by VIP bus to get there. Costs~ $26. Phang Nga Bay is located north of Phuket and easy to reach from there. If you are short in time, it's a good choice to take a cheap flight with AirAsia from Bangkok to Phuket or directly an international flight to Phuket from your home country. Or take a bus to Khao Lak or Krabi and take daily trips from there to the highlights of the bay.
Top things to do in Phang Nga Bay
Going on boat-trip and cruising around those emerald waters of the Ao Phang-Nga Marine Nationalpark is one of the most breathtaking activities in southern Thailand. Roaming through caves, temples, waterfalls and the archeological sites of "Ban Thung Tuek" are good options to fill the day. Have you "The Beach" on your bucket list? Then explore Maya Bay on Koh Phi Phi Leh, this has been the films shooting location for many scenes. Note, that nowadays they charge 200 THB as entry fee and you'll share the "beach" with a huge crowd of other travelers. Check our insider tips for secret spots. A lot of tours are available from Phuket or Khao Lak. Khao Lak is the centre point for diving tours. For a couple of days going by boat to some of the most beautiful diving spots worldwide.
The Surin and Similan island groups are popular for their unaffected beaches and definitely worth a side trip. Many reefs are only 5m underwater, those who doesn't like to dive has the opportunity of snorkeling around the islands.
Insider tips Phang Nga Bay
You're interested in the culture and history of Thailand? The old capital of the former kingdom is a perfect stop to get an insight. Ayutthaya is for those who want to see more of Thailand than just its perfect beaches with crystal clear water and pulsating nightlife. This city has been one of the most important cosmopolitical trade centers of Asia during the 18th century. The countless ruins are silent witnesses of this period and part of the UNESCO- world cultural heritage.
Trains from Bangkok's Hualamphong Central Station to Ayutthaya (81km) depart every hour (travel time: 1.5 hours).
Buses from Mo Chit Bus Station Bangkok start every 30 minutes
Minivans start at Mo Chit and are much faster, but also more dangerous, due to maniac Thai driving style. They charge up to $5.5 from Bangkok to Ayutthaya.
Top things to do in Ayutthaya
Ayutthaya has hundreds of ancient temples or at least their remains. Hence rent a bike, grab a free tourist map and immerse in the solemn silence and peacefulness of this city.
But there are more than 30 which are certainly worth a visit. If you get tired of temple hopping, unwind at the banks of one of the three rivers and get inspired by the beauty of classy restored timber houses.
Bang Pa-Inn is a rewarding side trip. It's the royal summer residence called Chao Phraya and attracts tourists with its unique mixture of Asian and European architecture embedded in sprawling parklands.
Besides that, Ayutthaya invites you to relax in high-quality spas and wellness guesthouses.
Be aware of street dogs, they can get aggressive. A lot of them are in incredibly bad shape and might have rabies. We heard of backpackers who got bitten during their stay. Therefore, avoid inner streets of residential areas or change street side to avoid getting too close to free-ranging dogs.
Unfortunately, the northern part of Thailand is often underestimated. Chiang Mai is the capital of culture and a transport hub, but moreover, it’s the spiritual center of the country.
There is a big competition between the bus companies for the route from Bangkok to Chiang Mai.
At least every hour busses are leaving Bangkok (Northern Bus Terminal "Mo Chit") to Chiang Mai (Bus terminal "Chang Phenak") starting at 5.30 am to 10 pm.
If you have a limited amount of time and would like to view the northern part as well, besides the breathtaking islands. It’s recommendable to book a domestic flight from Bangkok (“Suvarnabhumi airport” or Don Mueang airport”) to Chiang Mai. Spontaneous flights cost with Air Asia ~$74 to $106. Early bookings get a discount. So the flight will cost ~ $32 (70 minutes). The Chiang Mai international airport (CNX) is only 5km out of town.
Top things to do in Chiang Mai
Visit the old town, view some of the hundreds of temples in Chiang Mai. The most significant are
and stroll around the street market on Saturday or Sunday (from 04:00 pm to 00:00 am). The city has a huge yoga and wellness community. Get a massage or daily yoga classes. Thai massage starts as low as $6.
Chiang Mai is definitely the right choice if you want to know more about yourself. Are you interested in Buddhism? Learn how to meditate in a meditative course or go into retreat. We propose the “Wat Suan Dok“, if you are short on time because they provide a retreat for just two days. For an intensive course over 26 days, the “Northern Insight Meditation Centre-Wat Ram Poeng” (4km south of Chiang Mai) is a good option. If you are a safe motor scooter driver, go for a spin and discover Chiang Mai's stunning surrounding area.
A lot of cooking class schools offer courses for approximately $25. The “Thai Farm Cooking School” was our best choice. The organic farm is out of town and you are looking behind the scenes of the typical touristic route.
If you're not only looking for full-moon parties and crowded beaches, the islands in the Koh Chang archipelago are worth a visit. The Koh Chang Marine Park with 651 km² includes over 50 islands, located off the eastern coast of Thailand, next to the Cambodian border. Strictly speaking Koh Mak and Koh Kood are not part of the national park, but should not be missed. Make sure to bring enough cash with you to Koh Mak, there is no ATM, Koh Kood already has one. The transport hub for all islands is called Trat
Trat is a small and beautiful city with old teak houses, strongly based on gemstone trade.
Trat has some nice beaches, wich is worth a side trip. If you miss out the islands but travel directly to the Cambodia Border instead. We recommend to spend at least one night there.
You reach all the three islands from Trat by boat. Depending what you want to pay ferry, speedboats or slow boats are available. The most travel agencies will sell you a complete ticket from Bangkok to the island. It's easy but not the cheapest way to travel in most cases it's better to go on your own.
Bangkok to Trat
Air conditioned bus to depart at Eastern Bus Terminal Bangkok Ekkamai on a regular basis three times in the morning (freezing cold!! take a sweater with you). Depending on the class (VIP, 1 and 2 class) it costs between ~$4 and ~$13 (5 hours). In the opposite direction, the bus runs twice in the afternoon from Laem- Ngop- Pier to Bangkok.
Trat airport is operated by Bangkok Air. It's situated 20km north of Thammachet Pier. Bangkok Air is flying thrice daily to Trat (1hour). Prices for round-trip are ~ $160, prices for one-way tickets cost ~ $70.
Insider tips Trat
This mountainous island is still covered with tropical jungle and surrounded by perfect white beaches. Koh Chang is the second largest island of Thailand and has preserved its virgin primary rainforest. The west coast of Koh Chang is quite developed for tourism, but 75% of the island are largely untapped and ready to be explored. There are still many wild animals on the island- stumpy tail macaques, civet cats and reticulated pythons. You can choose between simple beach bungalows or a 5- star luxury seaside resort.
The eastside is largely untouched, but there are some simple beach bungalows available.
Trat to Koh Chang
From bus station in Trat take a minivan, taxi or "songthaews" (shared pickup truck taxis) to Tha Centrepoint in Laem Ngop village for~$5. The cheapest option is the blue "songthaews" for 6 persons~ $1.5 per person (17km). If you drive off from another pier in Laem Ngop, gather information about the further transport on Koh Chang. Overall five piers are located in and around the port city Laem Ngop. But ultimately there are three ferry services to Koh Chang.
Most ferries depart from Laem Ngop Pier every hour in main season. The rusty old passenger ferry is often overloaded and for sure not the safest option. Car ferries are more favorable and save.
The rainy season, cancellations occur occasionally, due to poor weather. The route between Koh Chang and the mainland is well protected against any tropical storms. It only gets choppy between November and December. The ferries run 365 days a year, there are no days off. In low season, there are no ferries at 2.00pm or 2.30pm. The last ferry in both directions departs at 7.30pm.
During Thai holiday weekends or New Year - ferries are running until 9.00pm in both directions.
Insider tips Koh Chang
Where next to
Next stops like Koh Kood or Koh Mak offer a great opportunity for perfect beach days - relaxing, sunbathing and diving in crystal clear water.
Koh Chang to Koh Kood and Koh Mak by boat
Daily boats are available to the islands Koh Kood, Koh Mak and also Koh Wai and Koh Kham. Departure times are constantly changing. Hence, check it out on Koh Chang.
This hidden paradise in the Gulf of Thailand counts only 500 inhabitants and measures 16 square kilometers. Some say that Koh Mak preserved the charm by which Thailand attracted travelers 20 years ago. The predominantly flat island is still used agriculturally and definitely far away from mass tourism. Koh Mak is privately owned and follows the principles of ecotourism. It is best for a relaxing vacation by the sea, due to its kilometres-long perfect white beaches, lined with palm trees and emerald water. Therefore it's the ideal frame for escaping the hectic of the every day, for
slowing down and to refuel new energy. Furthermore, the island has been free of Malaria for more than 15 years. But nevertheless, we recommend using mosquito repellent, because there are more mosquito-spread diseases like Dengue. There is no ATM, make sure to bring enough cash for your stay.
Trat to Koh Mak by boat
There are eight speedboats each day on their way from Krom Luang Piers in Laem Ngop to Koh Mak. The village is located about 20km out of Trat. A one-way ticket to Koh Mak costs ~ $13.
Note: different operators stop at different piers:
Top things to do and sights
Besides sunbathing and swimming, booking a snorkel day trip to Koh Kam or Koh Kradat is a great way to explore Thailands thrilling marine life. Further top activities are night fishing and cooking classes in which the secrets of Thailands delicious cuisine are revealed.
Where next to?
Koh Chang or back to the mainland for some jungle trekking.
This island is synonymous for coconut trees, white sand beaches, and blue crystal clear water. Koh Kood retains its original beauty and it's less crowded than many other islands in the Gulf of Thailand.
There are some other small beautiful beaches around the island. Rent a scooter and explore!
Trat to Koh Kood by boat
The fastest way from the mainland to Koh Kood is by fast ferry boat from Laem Sok pier to the main pier on Koh Kood at the west coast. The fast ferry boat needs only 75 min because it doesn't stop at any other islands in between or any resort private piers. On Koh Kut pick up trucks are waiting to carry you to your resort. This transport is included in the ticket price. The fast ferry boat is able to run all year round. Speedboats bring you directly to the resort pier. The departure times often change! Therefore take mentioned times as a rough value!
Ferry Timetable - Laem Sok Pier to Koh Kood
Top things to do at Koh Kood
Koh Kood has one of the most stunning waterfalls in the whole of Southeast Asia - the Khlong Chao Waterfall. It's surrounded by tropical rainforest making the hike to this falls an experience itself. The whole area around is amazing! You can swim in the pool and Tarzan-like swing with lianas into the water or relish an actual waterfall shower, which is an unforgettable adventure and certainly on most people's travel-bucket list.
A further option is renting a canoe to paddle on your own through a mangrove forest, or cruise along the Khlong Chao river, and around the bay and find your own exclusive beach.
Koh Kut offers a wide range of awesome diving and snorkeling spots. Get thrilled - Black-tip and White-tip reef sharks
are also often spotted here as well as turtles, different sting ray and big schools of parrotfish. You are free to choose between three diving operators, which offer courses for beginners, intermediates, and well-advanced divers.
The cheapest hostel in Koh Kood is Cozy house. It has a limited number of bungalows and is very popular. Unfortunately, they accept only walk-in guests. By the way, it's located near the most beautiful beach of the island -Khlong Chao.
The small Koh Chang in the Andaman Sea is the northernmost island of Thailand. The island doesn't attract their visitors with white beaches, because of pervaded black sand. Usually, you can find basic bungalows without fan, the island is favorable and luxury is not to be found. And it isn't a good place for snorkeling. So why we recommend this small island? It's because of the absolute silence and loneliness. Besides that, there is plenty of yummy food and kindly locals to get in touch with.
Bangkok to Ranong by bus or domestic flight
First, travel to Ranong to reach Koh Chang. From Sai Tai Mai Bus Station Bangkok (Southern Bus Terminal) drive several buses daily to Ranong. Take a Songthaew to the pier for ~$ 0.5 or a taxi for around ~$ 2.
Domestic flights with Nokair to Ranong airport are also possible. Certainly, the airport in Ranong is outside of town. A taxi ride from the airport to the pier in Ranong costs ~$5. The airline Nokair flies twice a day.
You are able to catch a boat on the same day, if you take the flight in the morning from Bangkok to Ranong.
Ranong to Koh Chang by boat
Three times a day, a longtail boat runs to the west coast of Koh Chang, where the most accommodations are located (1- 1.5 hours). A one-way ticket costs rough ~$ 5.
Speedboats run several times a day for ~$9 to the pier in the north of the island. Additional transport to respective resort wich costs between ~$ 2-3.
Top things to do at Koh Chang
Swaying in a hammock, relax, read some books and enjoy the silence. There's nothing to hear, except some longtail boats, birds, geckos and the waves. Make a 3- 4 hours hike over the island through the small national park, play Volleyball in the evening with other travelers and enjoy breathtaking sunsets. Long beach is the starting point for wonderful boats trips to the surrounding area.
Most people follow the typical tourist trail from Bankok to Ayutthaya, and this small monkey city often gets overlooked. You can take a break from the typical tourist route and unwind before exploring the northern part of Thailand. There aren't too many aggressive tuk tuk drivers or bars and parties here. It's just a small city with lots of monkeys, and locals are very proud of them. The whole city is full of apes, they are just everywhere. Locals even have to barricade all windows, due to gangs of macaques which like to explore everything they can get into.
Ayutthaya to Lopburi by train
Getting there by local train is only $0.40 (2014), and takes about 1.5 hours. Ordinary trains are older and stops at every station (only with fen). Or you choose the Express train for around $10 (air condition and serve delicious food).
Top things to do in Lopburi
Roam a day through the city and watch how the monkeys rampage through the locals daily life. Visit the old Khmer ruin called Prang Sam Yot with its new inhabitants, hundreds of Macaques. If you are lucky beeing in town during the last week of November, you can attend a banquet festival in honor of the monkeys. One day is enough to see everything in this small city, but it's worth a visit for sure.
Lopburi's daily routine is stamped with delicious street food, why not trying something new?
A "small-island" town hidden in the mountains of northern Thailand. More and more travelers find their way to Pai. In spite of the constantly increasing number of visitors, the old hippie village didn' t lost its charm. Pai is clearly no longer a secret spot, but it remains a special and spiritual place. The vibe is different from anywhere else in Thailand, so take your time and get enchanted. It was one of our favorite places and we found here, what we were looking for in Chiang Mai.
Chiang Mai to Pai by Minivan: You'll get to Pai by in 3-3,5 hours (149km) for around US$5,00. Minivans depart hourly from 7:30 am until 5:30 am. The very winding route combined with the common lunatic driving style can cause nausea and some cold shivers running down your spine. So if you aren't free from giddiness, take a plastic bag with you. But don't be deterred, the drive up to this place is worthwhile for sure!
Chiang Mai to Pai by public bus: If you're not in hurry and prone to nausea, caused by maniac thai driving style, go for public bus. It's safer due to large and slow buses and by the way much cheaper - $2,50. Buses need up to double the amount of time compared to minivans. Depending on traffic you'll be in Pai in around 4,5-6 hours. Public busses depart at the "new terminal" - the Arcade Bus Station, which is located in the northeastern part of Chiang Mai.
Chiang Mai to Pai by rented motor scooter: We suggest this as an option only for experienced motorbike drivers, who can deal with crazy overtaking maneuvres of above-mentioned minivans. Going for a first-time ride on this twisty route with literally hundreds of hazardously hairpin curves is a really bad idea. Local police reports at least two accidents per day here and tourists are commonly involved. Taking the risk can lead to an involuntary "Pai tattoo", which means big, nasty abrasions and seeing full-body bandaged.
Top things to do in Pai
Rent a motorbike, then ask around for one of these free maps and chase waterfalls to get a decent cooling soak. Pai is a good place learning how to ride a motorbike. If you're into Yoga or would like to give it a try - get inspired by a 5-night Yoga retreat which is designed to give you a profound experience of all aspects of Yoga, including breathing exercises, deep relaxation, and mindfulness meditation. The Pai Canyon is one of the top sights - enjoy a stunning view over high rocks cliffs and the Pai valley and get thrilled by balancing on a really narrow path between gorges. It's located 8km along the road leading to Chiang Mai. Wander through the delicious offers of street food stalls, stringing together along center streets.
Northern Thailand - Laos
The Checkpoint Houay Xai is most commonly used for entering Lao soil. Just book a bus ticket from Pai, Chiang Mai to Chiang Khong, which is the Thai border town and cross the border on your own or book a complete transport ticket to your desired destination in Laos.
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