Thailand is an ideal stopover between Australia and Europe and the perfect place to get acclimatised in Asia. The country is easy to travel in, thanks to its network of transport and the numerous tourist destinations. But be careful, it can easily happen that you’ll never want to leave this place! Here is our 4-week itinerary for your backpacking adventure in Thailand.
Bangkok: Between History and Modernity
Duration: 3 days
Spend a few days exploring this vibrant metropolis, its street restaurants and majestic temples. Don’t miss the Grand Palace and the Emerald Buddha, the famous Wat Arun on the river or Wat Pho and the 46-meter-long golden Buddha. Get up early because these temples close at 3pm and remember that men and women need to cover their shoulders and legs. You can buy a local sarong or tunic at the huge Chatuchak market. Every weekend, you can look for souvenirs or an outfit and taste the delicious Thai cuisine at 15,000 stalls. Then jump into a tuk tuk to enjoy the thousands of lights of Bangkok at night from a rooftop bar. Proper clothing required!
Backpackers from all over the world flock to Khao San Road for grilled scorpions and spiders, clothes and souvenirs, as well as tattoo shops and dozens of bars. This party paradise is hectic!! Not the right place if you want your peace and quiet. Nevertheless, go check out the vibe there in the early evening.
North of Thailand: Temples, jungles, and smiles
Duration: 1 week
After a few days in the bustle of Bangkok, you can take a train to Ayutthaya to find a traditional and affordable place to stay. For more comfort, you can take an air-conditioned minibus instead! You’ll need a day to visit the ruins of the ancient royal city as well as the 15th-century temples and the famous Buddha head amid the tree roots.
Then you continue your journey to the beautiful old town of Sukhothai. Rent a bike for less than $2 and visit the dozens of temples and ruins in the ancient park. Depending on the location and epoch, the temples have different styles! Our favourites here are Wat Mahathat and Elephant Temple.
You can spend a few days north in beautiful Chang Mai. Visit the Doi Suthep National Park, where you’ll come across many hidden waterfalls in the jungle. Enjoy breathtaking views of the rice fields from the top of the Doi Inthanon Temple or go for a hike in the jungle. Get lost in the bustling streets and fall in love with their atmosphere and the friendly locals. There is always something to do in Chang Mai. Gourmets can treat themselves in the city’s many vegan restaurants (our favourite: Green Tiger House). There are also convicts who offer massages as part of their integration program. You will get a quality massage for a good cause.
There is also a lot happening at night! From Friday to Sunday there are various stalls and street performances at the night market. To party, head to Zoey at Yellow Garden, a lively area with restaurants, bars, and clubs.
South of Thailand: Turquoise water, snorkelling, and exploring
Duration: 2 to 3 weeks
You can fly to the south of Thailand from Chang Mai to Pukhet or Sura Thani with a stopover in Bangkok. If you travel on a budget, you’d better take the train.
Even though Phuket is famous, it is really not worth a visit. In Patong, the capital, you find dirty beaches, crowded streets and everything is overpriced. Jump on a boat to the unspoiled Koh Lanta. Far away from the crowd, go kayaking on the emerald-coloured water and have a nap in a hammock on one of the deserted islands. Explore the mangroves, but watch out for the monkeys!
After two or three days of rest, you can make your way to the beautiful tourist island of Koh Phi Phi. There are only pedestrian streets on the island, on which lanes with colourful stalls invite you to shop. Also enjoy a pool party on North Bay Beach. In the evening the island turns into a full moon party with fire-eaters, commercial music, and a neon atmosphere.
This place is also great for nature lovers: At sunset, go up to the viewpoint, which offers a wonderful panorama of the island. You will probably also recognise the area, which was often shown in the media as a result of the 2004 tsunami. Everything was rebuilt there and life has taken its course again.
To explore the bays, avoid the large boats that take up to 30 people. A guide can take you in his boat for less than 20 €. He will even provide you with snorkelling gear, with which you can go swimming between corals and colourful fish. Avoid overcrowded coves like Maya Bay, which became famous with the movie “The Beach”. Our guide took us to a small beach with a rock cave, a little paradise just for us.
After these three magical days, you can take a boat to Railay and you either stay there or in the neighbouring Ao Nang or Krabi. The atmosphere in Railay is wonderful, so hippies and backpackers come together in reggae bars. Adventurers go up the cliffs that surround the bay.
If you still have the strength for a new challenge, hike up to the viewpoint. You have to walk through mud and the jungle, but the experience is unforgettable. Then you can swim in emerald-coloured water on Railay’s beautiful western beach, which is lined with coconut palms and cliffs that stand out against the turquoise sky. Rent a kayak for a few euros, walk through the caves, and watch the sunset over the sea.
Gulf of Thailand
Then it’s time to travel to the Gulf of Thailand to Koh Samui, Koh Tao and Koh Pha Ngan. We spent several days on Koh Pha Ngan, an island that is very popular among backpackers. The island is known for the famous full moon party, but has much more to offer than this endless party. Book a yoga holiday in the north of the island. You stay in a guesthouse and participate in the on-site classes to start or improve your yoga.
Rent a scooter to explore the sprawling island: Don’t forget your international driver’s license and a helmet to avoid a fine and injuries. In Than Sadet National Park you will pass dozens of waterfalls, in which you can cool down while hiking. Book a day trip to go snorkelling in the beautiful waters of Koh Tao and then visit the small islands of Koh Nang Yuan.
If you’re there during the full moon or crescent festival and in a party mood, don’t miss out on these evenings. The full moon party on Haad Rin beach is free, but the half-moon party costs about 30 €. But there are many opportunities to party on any other day. Our favourite is Eden Garden, a bar accessible by boat. In this large wooden hut, which is built along the rocks above turquoise water, you can drink a cocktail and enjoy the last evening in the land of smiles after an unforgettable trip …
It is also advisable to get vaccinated against rabies and undergo malaria treatment.
If you want to go to rural areas, especially during the monsoon season (June to October), you should be vaccinated against Japanese encephalitis.
Written by Emilie
Updated on the 06/02/2020. Initially published on the 21/02/2019.