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Thailand is easily one of my favorite countries in the world, and i’ve been to quite a few countries at this point (over 65)! The country offers so much, from culture and cuisine, to diverse landscapes and endless activities. This 10 days in Thailand guide is perfect for your first trip to Thailand, giving you a taste of this beautiful country. I’ve been to Thailand four different times, and each time I discover new, fun things to do! I cannot wait to visit Thailand again soon.
This guide will actually be broken down into two itineraries. The first itinerary will focus specifically on Bangkok Northern Thailand, while the second itinerary will dive into island life. Which of these itineraries work best for you will be completely dependent on what you’re looking for out the trip. Northern Thailand offers more mountains and cultural opportunities, while the islands offer some of the best beaches in the world. Ideally, you have enough time to extend your trip, and combine the two itineraries together for a perfect, well-rounded adventure in Thailand.
The Thailand Basics
Currency: Thai Baht (THB), 30 THB = $1 USD, as of January 2021
Airports: Major airports include Suvarnabhumi Airport (BKK) and Don Mueang Airport (DMK) in Bangkok, and Chiang Mai International Airport (CNX) in Chiang Mai. BKK is Bangkok’s international airport, while DMK is serviced by all of Asia’s budget airlines.
Water: Thailand, especially Bangkok, is hot. You might get some relief from the heat as you head north, but Bangkok is quite literally hot all of the time. You’ll just need to embrace the constant sheer of sweat that will inevitably coat your body while traveling in Thailand’s capital. Because of this it is super important to stay hydrated, to avoid any heat exhaustion. I always carry around a reusable Vapur water bottle. While you will need to drink bottled water, this at least allows you to buy one large bottle, and avoid the excess waste of using many plastic water bottles. Another way that I love to keep hydrated while traveling in Thailand is with fresh coconut. You’ll find them on the side of the road, typically for around 60-80 THB.
Money: Although credit cards are slowly becoming more popular in Southeast Asia, cash is still the norm. For this reason, I recommend always carrying cash, ideally with an assortment of bills and coins. I find that having smaller bills makes it easier to haggle for bargains at the local markets. You’ll find plenty of ATMs throughout the city, but ATM fees can be quite high, so you’ll want to avoid too many withdrawals. Another option is to travel with a debit card that doesn’t charge ATM fees.
What to Know Before Visiting Thailand
- While Thailand has tons of Western tourists, it is still Southeast Asia which means that it requires patience. It is very common for buses or trains to be delayed and/or not quite make sense.
- Things are not necessarily always going to be up to “Western standards,” but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t great! I have found that the best food in Thailand is typically from a street stand, or from a shop with plastic chairs on the side of the road. In fact, if a restaurant has air conditioning then it’s usually going to be overpriced and less delicious, as it is specifically targeting tourists.
- When taking a taxi in Thailand, or most of Southeast Asia for that matter, it is super important that you ask the taxi driver to turn on the meter. Even then, watch the meter to make sure that it’s not sped up, or jumping too quickly to higher rates. Unfortunately, taxi drivers in Bangkok are known to inflate taxi ride prices and take advantage of tourists who don’t know better. For tuk-tuk rides there are no meters, so it is important that you decide on a rate before starting the ride. Don’t be afraid to haggle a bit if the price they are quoting you seems too high!
Best Time to Visit Thailand
The best time to visit Thailand is between November and April. This is considered Thailand’s cool season, as well as the dry season. I love visiting in May, because you’ll find cheaper prices as it is a shoulder season. The summer months tend to be hot and rainy.
The great thing is that as long as you’re okay with a bit of rain, you can really visit Thailand year round. Some islands just may not be accessible during the rainier months.
10 Days in Thailand?
To say you need X amount of days in Thailand is so hard because you could spend months in the country without running out of things to do. Personally, and for the sake of this blog post, I recommend spending at least 10 days in Thailand, however the longer the better of course! At a minimum, 10 days will give you a good sense of the country, and allow you to visit a number of different regions without feeling too rushed.
However, if you want to combine Bangkok, Northern Thailand, and a few days on the islands, I would plan for at least two weeks if possible, that way you’re not rushing around too much. Or we could all just embrace the digital nomad lifestyle and work remotely from a Thai beach (just a thought).
How to Get to Thailand
For the sake of this itinerary, I would recommend starting in Bangkok.
Most international flights into Thailand will be to one of Bangkok’s two airports, as it is the country’s capital. There are not currently any direct flights from the United States to Thailand. However, you can find plenty of affordable flights connecting through destination such as the following:
- Tokyo (Narita), Japan
- Frankfurt, Germany
- Singapore, Singapore
- Doha, Qatar
If you’re traveling from the US you can expect travel time to be close to 24 hours and cost at least $600 USD. I recommend being flexible with your travel days in order to snag some great flight deals.
Arriving in Bangkok
Traffic in Bangkok can be awful so your best option is to take the airport link train. It will take you 30 mins to reach Phaya Thai and costs 45 THB. From here you can either transfer to the BTS to reach a station closer to your accommodation or take a taxi/tuk-tuk the rest of the way.
If you’re arriving in Thailand from another nearby country in Asia, bus travel is cheap and common. Bus travel in Thailand and great for travelers on a budget, but you can expect long rides and plenty of delays. Prepare yourself to be patient!
If you’re arriving in Thailand from Singapore or Malaysia, you can also consider booking an overnight train.
Is Thailand Expensive?
The short answer, no but it can be. Traveling in Thailand can be extremely cheap, but it can also be quite lavish. Overall you can find cheap accommodation, with dorm beds starting at only $4-5 USD/per night and street food dinners for as little as $1/meal. However, there are also beachfront villas with private plunge pools that could set you back a couple hundred dollars per night, so it really depends on your traveling style and needs. I’ve included plenty of pricing details throughout this post.
My biggest tip of traveling on a budget is only splurging when necessary. For example, in Chiang Mai you can find great hotel options for great prices, no need to blow your budget here. Better to save the luxury private pool villas for the island. Additionally, I find the cheaper the food, the more delicious it is in Thailand. Avoid large chains and fancy western restaurants. Generally speaking, Northern Thailand is going to be cheaper than the islands. Here are a few tips for saving money in Thailand:
- Book your activities and tours in-person, versus online beforehand. Booking locally can save you so much money!
- Limit your alcohol consumption, drinks in Thailand can add up!
- Spend more time in the North and off-the-beaten path. The islands are definitely more expensive.
- Walk as much as possible, or take public transportation when necessary.
- Travel slower! Spending more time in each destination will allow you to save money on transportation costs.
Backpacker Budget for Thailand
As I mentioned above, Thailand can be extremely cheap and visited on a budget. For $25-30 USD/day you can have an awesome trip, but expect to stay at hostels in shared dorms, enjoy primarily street food (honestly a plus in my book), and take public transportation.
Mid-Range Budget for Thailand
With a slightly higher budget, you can expect to stay at a mix of cheaper guesthouses with 1 or 2 luxury villas sprinkled in. This budget will also give you the option to take faster transportation (plane versus bus), have a few nice meals, and book more excursions or activities.
Luxury Budget for Thailand
With a budget of $100/day you can expect to have a rather luxurious trip to Thailand, especially if you’re traveling with a small group. This budget is better if you’re looking for more Western experiences (hotels, Western restaurants, etc).
10 Days in Thailand Itinerary 1: Bangkok, Chiang Mai, and Pai
- Day 1: Bangkok
- Day 2: Bangkok (Day trip to Ayutthaya)
- Day 3: Bangkok
- Day 4: Chiang Mai
- Day 5: Chiang Mai
- Day 6: Pai
- Day 7: Pai
- Day 8: Pai Chiang Mai
- Day 9: Back to Bangkok
- Day 10: Bangkok
A lot of people hate Bangkok, and I get it! It’s loud and hectic, and the traffic is awful. But it is also beautiful and packed with culture and some of the best food in the world. Do yourself a favor and at least give the city a chance, because hopefully you will love it just as much as me. Just make sure that you see more than just the tourist haven of Khao San Rd. Bangkok has marvelous temples, tons of markets, and the best street food! You’ll want to make sure that you have at least 48 hours in Bangkok.
Where to stay in Bangkok:
When choosing your accomodation in Bangkok, it is important to consider the proximity to a BTS station. Bangkok is a huge city, and easy access to the city’s train line will make getting around much easier. Another option is to stay close to, but not on, Khao San Rd.
There are endless options for great places to stay in Bangkok, ranging from budget friendly to super luxurious. I’ve listed out a few of my favorites below, including one of the best hostels that i’ve ever stayed at.
Once Again Hostel – Once Again Hostel is one of my absolute favorite hostels that I’ve stayed at! I have stayed here on two occasions and have never been disappointed. Great location, super cute common area, and silent rooms. I think that this is the only 12 bed hostel dorm that I’ve ever stayed in that is actually quiet!
Glur Hostel – Glur Hostel is another adorable hostel option. The hostel is conveniently located next to the Saphan Taksin BTS stop and the water ferry line. Staying here makes it super easy to get around the city. There is also a basic breakfast available 24/7.
Vera Nidhra Bangkok – If hostels aren’t your thing, then consider Vera Nidhra Bed & Breakfast instead! The location is perfect, as it is located super close to a BTS station. The Thai style breakfast is absolutely delicious.
Amara Bangkok Hotel – If you’re looking for something a bit nicer, the Amara Bangkok Hotel is a great option. Featuring more modern rooms, and a rooftop infinity pool! It is less than a ten minute walk to the nearby Bang Rak BTS Station. The Patpong night market is also nearby, for a fun evening of thai street food dining.
Bangkok is also one of the best places to use the Airbnb platform. You can find absolutely incredible apartment options, at super low prices. I’m talking gorgeous 4-bedroom homes for under $150 USD per night. I recommend looking for a spot with a rooftop pool!
Getting Around Bangkok
Bangkok is a large, crowded city. Unfortunately this means that there is a lot of traffic. Luckily, the Bangkok SkyTrain, or BTS, and the river water boats, are a great way to get around! The BTS runs from about 5:30 AM to midnight daily, with frequent trains running throughout the city. Fares are calculated based on distance, so you will need to know which stop you are getting off. I recommend having coins on you, so you can purchase a ticket at one of the kiosks.
However, despite the traffic, a ride on a classic tuk-tuk is a must-have experience as well! Another good option for getting around Bangkok is with rideshare services. Uber no longer operates in Bangkok, but you can use Grab, which is Asia’s local rideshare platform.
The railway station in Bangkok can be found at the Hua Lamphong station. While tickets can be purchased same-day at the station, I always recommend buying beforehand through 12AsiaGo.
What to do in Bangkok
There are so many amazing things to do in Bangkok, but I’ve highlighted a few of my favorite things below for you. You can check out a detailed 48 hours in Bangkok guide as well. I would recommend spending at least 2 days in Bangkok, with 1 day dedicated to a day trip to Ayutthaya.
Visit the Temples – There are so many incredible temples in Bangkok, and I recommend exploring a number of them. In my opinion the best temples to visit are Wat Pho, Wat Arun, and the Grand Palace/Wat Phra Kaew. If you’re looking to visit multiple temples in one day, there is a ferry that goes directly across the water from Wat Pho to Wat Arun for only 3 THB ($0.10 USD).
At Wat Pho, be sure to check out the Reclining Buddha. There is often a bit of a line to get in, but it is well worth it to see this beauty.
Entrance Fees for Bangkok Temples:
|Wat Pho||100 THB ($3 USD)|
|Wat Arun||100 THB ($3 USD)|
|Grand Palace/Wat Phra Kaew||500 THB ($15 USD)|
Get a Massage – This suggestion really goes for all of Thailand, but since we’ll be starting in Bangkok i’ll include it here. Massages are probably my favorite thing in the world, and in Thailand they are cheap and so amazing. Ying Massage is one of my favorite massage parlors in Bangkok, however there will be plenty to choose from if this one doesn’t appeal to you.
Located on Samsen 4 Alley, Ying Massage offers amazing massages at a very affordable rate of $6/hour. Note, these massages are traditional Thai massages so they can be extremely rough. For many Westerners this may be different from what you are used to at home. Don’t be afraid to let the masseuse know if it is too rough or painful!
Visit the Taling Chan Floating Market – Taling Chan is one of my favorite places to visit in Bangkok. There are a number of floating markets in Bangkok, but this one is definitely one of the most authentic and local. Spend some time wandering through the market, and enjoying all of the food options available. I also recommend booking the 1 hour boat tour! It is super cheap, the tour guides are hilarious, and there are some awesome temples along the way. Note, this market is only open on the weekends, so you’ll want to plan accordingly.
Go Shopping at Chatuchak Market – The Chatuchak weekend market is actually the largest market in all of Thailand! In fact, I would say that it is probably the largest market that I have ever been to. This is a great place to spend the day if you’re looking to buy some gifts or local goods. There is an amazing artwork section that should not be missed! Chatuchak is located just a 5 minutes walk from the Mo Chit BTS stop, making it super easy to get to if you are staying close to a BTS station.
Where to eat in Bangkok
Dining in Bangkok can be super cheap, especially if you choose to eat local. It is also one of the best places in the world for great dining experiences. From small carts serving street food to high-end dining experiences, Bangkok is an adventure for your taste buds.
First tip: Typically, if you see Western food on the menu, the prices will be higher and the quality of the food will not be nearly as good. As I like to say, any restaurant in Bangkok with the AC running means more dollar signs! If this is your first time in Thailand, I can understand the urge to gravitate towards something more familiar, but I challenge you to push outside of your comfort zone when it comes to dining in Bangkok. My standard for what a restaurant should look like definitely changed traveling in Southeast Asia, where plastic chairs and handwritten menus are the norm.
There are so many incredible places to eat in Bangkok, I should probably dedicate a single post to just this topic. For now, here are a few of my must-visits! But please drop your favorites in the comments below!
Thai Street Food – if there is one thing that you should take away from this article, it is that you should eat all of the street food in Thailand. I’ve heard countless stories of tourists avoiding street food in Bangkok out of fear of getting sick. I’ll start by saying that I’ve eaten Thai street food during every one of my trips to Thailand and never had any issues. And honestly, even if I had it would have still been worth it (it’s just that good). However, if you’re worried, make sure to pack some probiotics and anti-diarrhea meds (just in case).
Side of the road stands serve up some of the best, and cheapest, food options in Bangkok. You will find a ton of stalls in the area surrounding Khao San Rd, as well as in Chinatown. The desserts are equally delicious! My personal favorites include mango with sticky rice and fresh coconut ice cream!
Pen Little Coffee & Restaurant – Located on the corner of Samsen 4 Alley and Samsen 2 Alley, Pen Little Coffee is my favorite restaurant in Bangkok. This restaurant might not look like much, but it serves some of the best dishes that I’ve tried while traveling in Thailand. The cafe is slightly removed from the touristy hustle and bustle of Khao San Road, on the corner of a quiet street.
There are only a few tables, but I have never had an issue finding a seat. The food is absolutely delicious, and the prices are super cheap. Most dishes are around 60 THB, which is just about $2 USD. PSA: Order their mango and sticky rice for dessert! You won’t be disappointed.
Jeng Noodles – Jeng Noodles is another one of my favorite places to eat in Bangkok. Although they are known for their noodles, all of their dishes are great. The prices are cheap and the food is great! Don’t expect anything fancy here — dining is outside on plastic chairs!
Nahm – Nahm was rated as one of the best restaurants in Asia a few years ago. It is definitely on the pricier end, as far as Thai dining goes, but it is well worth the prices. The average entree is about 700 THB (~$23USD).After a few days of 30 THB pad thai from the street carts, it is nice to switch things up. If you’re interested in dining here, definitely make a reservation ahead of time! I called 3 weeks in advance and was only able to swing lunch reservations.
Day Trip to Ayutthaya
As much as I love the hustle and bustle of Thailand’s capital, Bangkok, it’s always nice to get a break from the big city. A perfect day trip from Bangkok, even for those with a limited amount of time, is a quick trip to Ayutthaya. The site was declared a UNESCO Heritage Site in 1991 and offers a series of incredible temples to visit. The Ayutthaya temples are also considerably less crowded than many of those in the rest of Thailand. Ayutthaya was the former capital during the Kingdom of Siam.
How to Get to Ayutthaya
The city is easily accessible by train from Bangkok’s Hua Lamphong station. Ticket prices depend on the type of seat and trip length. Tickets can be purchased on the day of, however I recommend buying your return ticket as soon as you arrive in Ayutthaya as tickets do sell out, even in the low season. On our way there we opted for a standing ticket (or non-specified seat) on a hour train. This type of ticket costs approximately 20 baht ($0.60). For the way home we purchased a reclining seat as our train would take two hours, and the price increased to 65 baht ($2).
Getting Around the Ayutthaya temples
The most common method of getting around the temples of Ayutthaya is by tuk tuk. The going rate at the train station is 900-1000 baht ($27-30), however you can always bargain. For cheaper rates follow the street perpendicular to the train station, where you can hire a driver for 200 baht ($6)/hour. This price does not include entrance into the temples however. Although it is bit pricey, taking a tuk tuk allowed us to see a lot more than if we had rented bikes. Additionally, you can fit up to four passengers for the same price so bring (or make) some friends along for the journey!
What to Do in Ayutthaya
The tuk tuk drivers will present you with a list of the top temples to visit. The temples all cost 50 baht ($1.50 USD) to enter, with the exception of Wat Yai Chai Mongkon and Wat Lokayasutharam which are a bit cheaper. Here is a list of the Ayutthaya temples that should definitely be on your must-visit list:
- Visit Wat Yai Chai Mongkhon
- Wat Phra Mahathat
- Explore Wat Phra Si Sanphet
- Wat Lokayasutharam
Getting from Bangkok to Chiang Mai
By Plane – The Fastest Way
Arriving in Chiang Mai by plane is probably the most common method. You can find cheap flights from Bangkok, as well as other major cities around Asia. Chiang Mai International Airport (CNX) is serviced by a number of airlines including Bangkok Airways, Thai Vietjet Air, AirAsia, Thai Lion Air, and more.
|Bangkok-Chiang Mai||1 hour 15 minutes|
|Hanoi, Vietnam-Chiang Mai||1 hour 35 minutes|
|Phuket-Chiang Mai||2 hours|
|Seoul, South Korea-Chiang Mai:||6 hours 30 minutes|
Luckily the Chiang Mai International Airport is only about 3.1 miles (5km) from the city center. You can expect to pay around 150 THB to get to the city center from the airport by taxi. There is also a bus option for those on a budget.
By Bus – The Cheapest Way
You can travel from Bangkok to Chiang Mai by bus in 9-11 hours, again depending on which company you book with. Bus travel is a bit quicker, and a bit cheaper than train travel, but in my opinion it is not nearly as comfortable. It is also a much less scenic ride than traveling between the two cities by train.
Ticket costs vary, but you can expect to pay around $20 USD for a one-way ticket.
By Train – The Coolest Way
Taking the overnight train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai is personally my favorite method of getting between the two cities. The route between Bangkok and Chiang Mai is easily the most traveled train route in Thailand. The journey takes between 11-15 hours, depending on which train you choose. While there are daytime train options, I always choose the overnight train. It’s definitely a long ride, but you have the opportunity to not waste any travel time during the day, and you’ll save on a night of accomodation. Plus, watching the sun come up from the train is one of my favorite experiences in Thailand. Make sure to book a bottom bunk for the best window access.
Ticket costs vary, but you can expect to pay around $38 USD for a one-way ticket. I’ve included a 12Go search box below so you can check out exact rates and timetables for your travel dates.
Make sure to pack your own dinner. The options available on board are overpriced, and not particularly tasty. There is a shop at Hua Lamphong Train Station in Bangkok to buy small snacks, but if you’re looking for a full meal, i’d make sure to pick it up beforehand.
Located approximately 8 hours North of Bangkok, Chiang Mai is a true gem. It is without a doubt, one of my favorite places in the world.
Where to stay in Chiang Mai:
Hug Hostel – If you’re looking for an affordable hostel with a bit more of a party, social scene – look no further than Hug Hostel. This is a great place for solo travelers, with rooms starting as low as 180 THB/ night, it’s a hard price to beat. While breakfast is not included in the rate, they have a cafe on-site with affordable prices!
Haus Hostel – Tucked away on a quiet side street, Haus Hostel is the perfect option for anyone traveling to Chiang Mai on a budget, not to mention one of the best hostels in Chiang Mai. Rooms are affordable without skimping on comfort and decor. During my stay I felt right at home on their comfy common room couches (eating their delicious free breakfasts)!
Baan Ratchiangsaen – Looking to stick to a budget but dorm rooms not your thing? This hotel is a great option for those looking for a little privacy. The rooms are clean, breakfast is included, and the pool adds a nice touch! Located just down the road from Haus Hostel, you’ll have no problem reaching Chiang Mai’s best spots!
99 The Gallery Hotel – 99 The Gallery Hotel is great for couples, families, or those simply looking for something a bit nicer, still without breaking the budget! 99 The Gallery is a boutique hotel right in the heart of Chiang Mai’s Old Town. Here you’ll find an amazing breakfast buffet, a quaint swimming pool, and excellent customer service. Rooms start at around $21 USD/night (depending on the season), which is an incredible price for the value.
POR Thapae Gate – With rooms starting at $55 USD/night for a double bed, this is a great option for couples or pairs on a mid-range budget. The hotel is super central, comes with free breakfast, and has a great pool!
Akyra Manor Chiang Mai – Although slightly removed from Chiang Mai’s Old Town, this hotel is a gem. Pricier than the other options in this post, but well worth it for the awesome pool! Rates start at around $75 USD/night.
Getting Around Chiang Mai
There are a number of different ways to get around Chiang Mai. While the city itself is quite big, most tourists choose to stay in, or close to, the Old Town. If you’re staying in the Old Town, then you can get around this area easily on foot. However, you’ve got a number of options for getting around.
Songthaew – Taking a Songthaew, pronounced “song tail”, is the most common way to get around Chiang Mai. It is also a cheap and easy way to get around the city. Simply flag one down when you see one, even if there are already people in it, as these are shared rides. Cost is negotiated with the driver based on your specific pick up and drop off points. For reference, you should be able to get to most places within the city for around 30 THB.
You can also request a private Songthaew, at a higher price, through Thailand’s popular ridesharing app, Grab.
Taxis – taxis are available throughout the city, but they are much harder to wave down than Songthaews. However, you can ask your hotel or hostel to call one ahead of time for you. Taxis operate on a meter system.
Grab – Grab is a popular rideshare service in Asia. You can use Grab to book private cars or songthaews, plus some areas even allow you to book a ride on the back of a scooter. Make sure to download the app if you’re traveling through Asia.
Where to Eat in Chiang Mai
Chiang Mai Gate Food Market – Chiang Mai is filled with fun food markets, where you can try loads of local dishes at cheap prices. The market located at Chiang Mai Gate is one of my favorites! There is a large selection of stalls available, catering to the needs of vegetarians and vegans as well! Check out the Papaya Salad @ Chiang Mai Gate stand for the most incredible cucumber salad! Priced at 50 Baht for a large serving, this salad is healthy, fresh, and full of flavor! I can’t count the amount of times I’ve gone back just for this salad.
If you happen to be in this area in the morning you will find a fresh fruit market! However, the evening vendors start setting up around 5pm.
Khao Soi Lam Duan – As I mentioned earlier, Khao Soi is one of Chiang Mai’s traditional dishes. It is a soup-like curry dish filled with both boiled and deep fried egg noodles, as well as a meat of your choice. Topped with shallots, limes, greens, and chilis, this dish is a local classic. Khao Soi Lam Duan is a super local spot where you can get an authentic taste for this flavorful dish. Prices start at 40 Baht a bowl. You can walk here from the Old Town in about 25-30 mins or hop in a tuk tuk for around 100 THB.
Khao Soi Lam Duan is open daily from 9am-3pm.
(352/22 Charoen Rat Road | near Wat Fa Ham Temple, Chang Phueak, Chiang Mai 50000, Thailand)
Woo Cafe – While Woo Cafe is definitely a little fancier than your traditional Thai locale, it definitely deserves a mention in my opinion. Located in the art district, the cafe itself is like an art installation. Every inch of the cafe is picture-worthy, with flowers, paintings, and homemade cakes and other desserts decorating the premises. The menu offers a wide selection of both Thai and Western dishes at moderate prices. Expect to pay around 200 Baht for an entree. Make sure to check out the upstairs art gallery and the gift shop! Woo Cafe is open daily from 10am-10pm.
80 Charoenrat Road, Wat Gate, Chiang Mai 50000, Thailand)
Kunyai– this is your no-frills Thai restaurant located right in the Old Town. If you followed along on my adventures though Asia, or really anywhere in the world, you’ll know that I love finding cheap, authentic food! Entrees range from 40-70 THB and are full of flavor! My personal favorite is the Chicken Stir Fry with Roasted Chili Paste. This is a must on any Chiang Mai itinerary if you’re staying, or spending time, in the Old Town.
(Rachadamnoen Rd, Chiang Mai, Thailand)
What to do in Chiang Mai
Take a Thai Cooking Class – Taking a cooking class is one of my favorite things to do in Chiang Mai, and really in all of Thailand. I absolutely love Thai cuisine, and spending a day learning to cook all of these authentic dishes is such a blast. While Chiang Mai has tons of cooking schools to choose from, I have personally attended the class at Siam Rice Cookery a handful of times and couldn’t recommend it more. For $29 USD for a full day course you will receive hotel pick up/drop off, a tour of the local market, a selection of seven dishes to cook, and a cookbook and certificate of completion to take home. This class is suitable for all levels. I’ve included a full review of the course on my blog post on Siam Rice Cookery School here!
Visit the Temples – there are tons of temples to visit in Chiang Mai’s Old Town and beyond. Here are a few of my favorites:
- Wat Phra That Doi Suthep
- Wat Chedi Luang
- Wat Phra Singh
- Wat Suan Dok
Get a Massage – Daily massages were definitely a part of my Chiang Mai routine because the city is packed with tons of awesome spots. One thing to know about Thai massages is that they are much rougher than your average massage in the US. Don’t be surprised when the masseuse starts bending your body this way and that.
Also, unlike most massages in the West, you don’t undress at most places in Asia. Instead, when you get a massage in Chiang Mai, you’ll most likely be provided an outfit to put on. The outfit is a loose cotton top and pants.
Spend a day with Elephants – Seeing and spending time with elephants is definitely one of Northern Thailand’s biggest highlights. There are so many different elephant camps to choose from, however some are definitely more ethical than the others. It is important that you do your research and avoid supporting parks that have unethical practices. If you do not want to ride at all, which is what I recommend, then I’d check out Elephant Nature Park. Although it is admittedly a bit touristy, Elephant Nature Park is a great place to get up close to the elephants in a humane no-riding environment.
Visit the Markets – Chiang Mai is home to some of the best markets in Thailand, and probably the world if you ask me. Whether you’re looking for fun souvenirs, tasty bites, or just a fun evening, the following markets are a must on any Chiang Mai itinerary.
Sunday Walking Street – The Sunday Walking Street market is not only my favorite in Chiang Mai, it might just be my favorite in all of Thailand! The market stretches 1km down Rachadamnoen Road, from one end of the Old Town to the other. What this means is that you’ll find endless streets of local goods and amazing (and cheap) street food!
Saturday Night Market – Although the Saturday NIght market is not as extensive as the Sunday Market, it is still a great option for some fun shopping and Chiang Mai fun. You’ll find areas off to the side reserved for street vendors as well, where you can grab some delicious food for dinner!
Daily Night Market – If your trip to Chiang Mai doesn’t line up with a weekend, don’t worry! The Daily Night Market is another fun option any day of the week. The market is composed of a series of both indoor and outdoor shopping areas. My personal favorite is Anusarn Market, where in addition to fun handmade goods and souvenirs, you’ll find some great sit down dinner options and cheap massages!
Chiang Mai Nightlife
Most young people are going to head over to the Zoe in Yellow complex area for a night out. John’s Place and the THC and two well known rooftop bars to check out as well!
Getting from Chiang Mai to Pai
Warning, this bus right is not going to be fun if you get motion sickness. Why? This is because the bus from Chiang Mai to Pai pass through almost 700 curves. I am known for getting sick on these types of rides, so I took some Dramamine beforehand.
The bus journey takes around 3 hours and costs approximately 195 THB/person. This is easy to book once you arrive in Chiang Mai.
Pai is a small town in Northern Thailand, near the Myanmar border. Pai is known for it’s slow (and I mean slow) pace and hippy vibes. There are mountains with hiking trails, waterfalls, and tons of healthy Western food.
Pai is definitely a touristy backpackers dream, or nightmare, depending on your travel style. What you won’t find in Pai is a truly authentic Thailand experience. You won’t the delicious street food of Bangkok or culture of Chiang Mai, but it is a wonderful place to explore nonetheless. I have mixed feelings on the overly touristy aspects of the town, but for me, I think the area has tons of beautiful nature to discover, and would recommend two days exploring it.
Pai is great if you’re looking for cheap accommodation, great party vibes, and plenty of other (solo) travelers. The mountain town definitely caters to a younger, artsy backpacker crowd – think yogis and artists. It’s not uncommon for backpackers to leave Pai with a new tattoo.
Where to stay in Pai:
Common Grounds Pai – Common Grounds is a great option if you’re looking for something cheap and central. There is a good social atmosphere here, without being too much of a party hostel.
Spicy Pai Backpackers – although I never personally stayed at Spicy Pai, it has been recommended to me so many times over the years. It is located a but outside of town, so renting a scooter is recommended.
Pai Village Boutique Resort – hostels not your thing? You can get a beautiful double bed room, breakfast included at Pai Village fof $75 USD/night. The property is absolutely beautiful (and the pool is a serious plus).
Family House Zen Boutique – Family House Zen Boutique is another great centrally-located option. Rooms are affordable, and the property is beautiful.
Getting around Pai:
By far the easiest (and best) way to get around Pai is by scooter, or motor bike. Driving yourself is the best way to be spontaneous and see all of the lush greenery in Pai and the surrounding hills. Luckily there is little to no traffic in Pai, so it’s a bit more beginner-friendly.
That being said, please only rent one if you feel comfortable driving! If you do not feel comfortable, there are options to hire a driver for the day instead. It may be “less adventurous”, and a bit more expensive, but safety first! And please please please, always wear a helmet and don’t drink and drive. Just because you see others doing it, doesn’t make it okay.
What to do in Pai
Pai Canyon – located about 7km from Pai town, you’ll arive at Pai Canyon, the best sunset spot in the area. There are a number of lookout spots to explore, so give yourself some time before the sun sets.
Make sure to wear proper closed toe shoes and pack your camera and a couple of beers.
Secret Hot Springs – these hot springs are actually the Sai Ngam Hot Springs, but they are known colloquially as the Secret Hot Springs. But don’t let the name fool you, these springs aren’t a secret any more.
Mor Paeng Waterfall – this waterfall was by far one of my favorite spots to visit in Pai. It is the perfect mix of a relaxing afternoon, combined with a bit of adventure. You can actually slide down the waterfall as if it were a waterslide!
Make sure to arrive in the early morning or stop by in the late afternoon, as this spot is popular and can get quite crowded.
Explore the Night Markets – although not nearly as big as the markets in Chiang Mai, the night markets in Pai are a great place to shop and explore. Plus, you can find some delicious street food.
Hike to the Big White Buddha – Hiking to the Big White Buddha (Wat Phra That Mae Yen) was one of my favorite things to do in Pai. The Buddha is reached the easiest by bike, but you can also walk the entire way from the town if you want an extra hike.
Where to Eat in Pai
As I mentioned above, Pai is definitely known for their healthy Western food. However, there are still some great local food options.
Witching Well – with plenty of vegetarian and vegan options, the Witching Well is a fan-favorite in Pai. Prices are a bit higher, but the quality of food is truly amazing. I recommend checking it out for breakfast.
Almost Famous – If you’re looking for a great mojito, this is your spot. It’s a small space with an extensive mojito menu.
Street Food – although it’s not to the caliber of Bangkok’s street food scene, it’s still pretty great. You’ll find stands selling fruit shakes just about everywhere!
10 Days in Thailand Itinerary 2: Bangkok, Koh Phangan, and Koh Tao
- Day 1: Bangkok
- Day 2: Bangkok (Day trip to Ayutthaya)
- Day 3: Bangkok
- Day 4: Travel to Koh Phangan
- Day 5: Koh Phangan
- Day 6: Koh Phangan
- Day 7: Koh Tao
- Day 8: Koh Tao
- Day 9: Koh Tao
- Day 10: Back to Bangkok
This 10 days in Thailand itinerary starts in Bangkok just like the last itinerary, so you can reference those notes above.
Getting to the Islands
After a few jam-packed days in Bangkok, it’s time to head down to the islands for some serious rest and relaxation. The hardest part about making this itinerary is that there are so many incredible islands to explore. This itinerary will take you to Koh Tao and Koh Phangan. Koh Tao is known for its incredible driving opportunities, while Koh Phangan is the party island of the Gulf of Thailand.
There are a number of different ways to get from Bangkok to the island, that depend on your time, budget, and personal travel preferences.
- Overnight Bus + Ferry Combo ticket – This is a great option if you are on a budget! I personally love overnight buses and trains because they not only help me to save money on accommodation, but I don’t waste any sacred days traveling. You can find tickets from around $35-40 USD that leave Bangkok in the late evening and arrive on the island before 9AM.
- Fly to Koh Samui – tickets to Koh Samui tend to start around $150 USD round trip. However, once you factor in time and money getting to the airport, it can get a bit pricey. Once you arrive in Koh Samui, it is about a 45 minute ferry ride to reach Koh Phangan. From Koh Phangan to Koh Tao is about 60 to 90 minutes, depending on the boat.
Please exercise caution on any of the islands. Don’t walk alone on the beach late at night, be cognizant of cheap local liquors, etc. I personally have always felt incredibly safe in Thailand, and have visited 5 times (3 of those times I was traveling solo). But it is still important to be aware of your surroundings.
Koh Phangan has a bit of a reputation (good or bad depending on who you are talking to), as it is the location of the famous Full Moon Party (and Half Moon Parties). If that’s your thing, definitely check it out! However, the island is also beautiful and super quiet when the parties aren’t in full-swing.
What to do on Koh Phangan
Thong Sala Night Market – this is mostly a food market, however there are a few trinkets as well. Amazing place for cheap, local food!
Wat Pho (Herbal Sauna Baan Thai) – Open daily from 1-7pm. Entrance into the sauna is 100 THB, with massages starting at 200 THB. This is essentially a spa run by a temple so while it may not be super luxurious it will definitely be a more authentic experience. Located nearby to the night market, this activity can be combined with a trip to the market
Than Sadet Waterfall National Park – this waterfall is a fun spot to spend the day. You have the option of both swimming and hiking up to the viewpoint. If you are going to do the hike make sure that you wear proper shoes!
Phaeng Waterfall – gorgeous waterfall on Koh Phangan. It is possible to hire a guide for a trek.
Beaches – There are tons of great beaches, but here are a few of my favorites:
- Mae Haat
- Haad Yao Haad Salad
Angthong National Marine Park Boat Tour – a full day boat excursion costs between $60-70 per person (depending on whether or not you choose to kayak). You can find additional booking details on their website.
Thai Cooking Class - if you are interested in taking another cooking class then I recommend checking out Same Same Cooking School. Unfortunately I didn’t have the time to take a class here myself, however I have heard great things!
Kayaking (other water sports) – most of the popular beaches will offer watersport options such as kayaks for rent. It is also possible to kayak while on the Boat Tour mentioned above.
Massages – If you haven’t gathered by now, getting a massages is a priority for me when in Thailand. As you wander the beach you’ll find plenty of massage stands where you can get 60 min massages for as low as 200 THB ($6 USD)
Getting around Koh Phangan
Renting a scooter is a great way to get around the island. However, if this does not appeal to you, or you don’t feel comfortable driving a scooter, there are plenty of tuk-tuks.
Where to Stay on Koh Phangan
Koh Phangan Bayshore Resort This is a great hotel option if you’re looking for direct access to Full moon party. There is a pool onsite and easy beach access. Rooms starts around $66 USD.
Sunset Hill Boutique Resort – With rooms starting at $35 USD, the Sunset Hill Boutique Resort is a 4-star resort feels like luxury on a budget. For a few extra dollars you can even snag a sea view room. Breakfast is included in the price of the room and there is a beautiful pool.
Panviman Koh Phangan – 5 star luxury villa with private pool overlooking the ocean. You can find rooms starting at $120 USD with a seaview AND a private pool, so it’s hard to beat. Prices fluctuate with demand and season of course.
Phangan Akuna – picture a 4-star hotel with shared pool in the middle of a coconut field, that is Phangan Akuna. Rooms start around $50 USD.
Echo Beach Hostel – dorm rooms start at $3 USD a night, do I need to say anything else? This hostel definitely caters to a younger party crowd, but it’s a great option if you’re looking for that scene.
Koh Tao is a mid-range island. There are a number of high end properties but you can also find cheaper dining options and more adventurous activities.
Where to Stay on Koh Tao
The Place This is probably the most luxurious option on this guide, but it’s still not too crazy. The Place is a luxury villa with a private balcony and private plunge pool overlooking the ocean. Rates start around $260 USD.
Cape Shark Villa These villas are located on a gorgeous property with a private beach (and some have a private pool in villa). It is – quite removed from the rest of the island, but that might be what you’re looking for! This is a bit more affordable than The Place, with rates starting around $170 USD.
What to do on Koh Tao
Snorkeling – there are snorkeling and boat tour options on every corner in Koh Tao! Prices are going to vary greatly depending on time of day, number of people, activities, etc so don’t be afraid to shop around.
Diving – Koh Tao is known for its diving courses. However, it is also possible to sign up for a fun dive if you are interested!
Beaches – Koh Tao has some incredible beaches! Saree beach is one of the busier, more famous beaches. However, I recommend going further to one of my favorite spots, Freedom Beach!
Ladyboy Show – A ladyboy cabaret is a unique, fun experience to have in Thailand. The one on Koh Tao is free as long as you purchase a drink.
Sunset Views – High Bar has some of the best views of the island, especially at sunset. Come by for a drink and a chill.
What to Pack for Thailand
- Sarong – I literally never travel anywhere without a sarong. It seriously has so many uses – a skirt, shawl, scarf, blanket, beach towel.. you name it! You can easily purchase a sarong in Thailand for a buck or two when you arrive if you don’t already own one.
- Dry Bag – a dry bag is super important if you plan on visiting the islands, but it is also great for any waterfall visits or rafting excursions up North. Dry bags are a great way to keep your valuables dry, especially if you’re traveling with a camera.
- Outfits that cover your shoulders and knees – for ladies I recommend packing a couple of maxi skirts or dresses. This is a great way to look cute, keep cool, and remain respectful when visiting the temples or touring more conservative areas. Sarongs also work well as a makeshift skirt.
- Multiple Credit/Debit Cards – When I’m traveling I always make sure to carry multiple cards. Ideally I like to have at least 1 credit card and 2 debit cards to withdraw cash.
- Universal Travel Adapter – there are so many different outlet types in Thailand, and throughout Southeast Asia. I recommend always traveling with a universal travel adapter so you’re set.
- Packing Cubes – I actually only started using packing cubes this past year and they are seriously a game changer.
- Electrolytes – I always travel with electrolyte packets, just in case. Between the hot weather, long travel days, and possible stomach issues.. you just never know! I personally love the brand DripDrop, but there are a bunch of great options.
- Quick Dry Towel – a compact, quick drying travel towel is a must when visiting warm weather destinations.
- Camera – Thailand is beautiful, all of it! Make sure to bring along a camera to capture all of that beauty. I currently shoot with the Sony a7ii but the Sony a6000 is a great budget option as well.
- Pixie Cup – this one is for the ladies! While traveling with tampons, or buying tampons in Thailand, is possible, traveling with a Pixie Cup menstrual cup is so much easier. It is also cheaper and more sustainable.