While abundant sunshine, white sand beaches, and a laid back island culture are reason enough to come for a vacation in Thailand, there is far more to the country than just sipping a mojito under a beach umbrella. The south of Thailand is justifiably famous for its full moon parties on Koh Phangan, luxury villas on Koh Samui and Phuket, and stunning limestone karst formations around Krabi and Ao Nang, yet heading to the rest of the regions showcases a wealth of sights and adventures.
Thailand’s capital is in a world of its own. Home to one of the world’s best gourmet food scenes, you can run the gamut of eating options, from street vendors to nouvelle cuisine whipped up by Michelin starred chefs, and enjoy stunning sunset views and cityscapes from a dazzling array of rooftop high-rise bars, all the while trying the latest craft beer or signature cocktails. While here, you can also get a taste of why Bangkok was known as the Venice of the East, exploring its backwater “klongs,” canal communities that still thrive today.
Most tourists have the opulent Grand Palace and giant reclining Buddha at Wat Pho on their tour list, but there are also plenty of off the beaten path options as well, like the car-free isle of Koh Kret, or the open green space of Bang Krachao, where you can check out a local floating market or ride a bicycle on raised embankments over the river, seemingly miles away from the chaotic and congested downtown.
For mountain and nature lovers, the north of Thailand is a top drawing card. Peaks like Chiang Dao and Doi Inthanon require jackets almost year round, and while the winter sees some of the country’s chilliest temperatures, it is also the period when flowers bloom in abundance, ranging from wild sunflowers in Mae Hong Son to Himalayan cherry blossoms all around Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai. You can also see the “sea of mist” at this time, as places like Huay Nam Daeng National Park or Phu Chee Fah Forest Park offer viewpoints looking at the valleys below, which are filled with oceans of fog.
Other activities up north include trekking to see ethnic hill tribes, white water rafting, and even zip lining through the forest canopy with the popular Flight of the Gibbon. For the ultimate luxury adventure up here, don’t miss the Four Seasons Tented Camp, one of the world’s most exclusive jungle camps, where one can go elephant trekking, explore the famed Golden Triangle, as well as sit in a Jacuzzi tub out on the deck of one’s luxury tent, overlooking the historic Mekong River.
Speaking of the Mekong, if you are looking to really escape the crowds, follow the meandering river through Isan, Thailand’s least visited region. Spanning the northeast of the country, the Isan region is noted for its superb hospitality and relaxed locals. Dig in to spicy Isan cuisine, as this is where som tam papaya salad originates, and check out some of Thailand’s most riotous and colorful festivals which take place here, such as the wacky Phi Ta Khon, a cross between Halloween and Mardi Gras, or the Bun Bang Fai Rocket Festival, which sends rockets airborne in hopes of appeasing the rain gods for the growing season. Other musts in Isan include the outstanding collection of Khmer temple ruins, along with Thailand’s top national park, Khao Yai.
You can visit Thailand at any time of year, but there are pros and cons to each. The majority of travellers come during the cooler winter season, from November to February, when the weather tends to be sunny and pleasant in almost every place (although the Gulf of Thailand side sees rain through mid-December). This is the time of year when prices are at their highest and hotels, especially around New Year, are booked solid.
If you come during the hot season, between March and May, you’ll have a lot of places to yourself, pay low season prices, but will have to put up with scorching heat, as well as haze up in the north, as this is the time the farmers do their slash and burn practices.
The rainy season can be a great time to visit, as the country is lush green, there aren’t as many tourists, and it really doesn’t rain every day, often just a deluge or two, with lots of sunny breaks. There are a good number of European tourists in July and August, as this coincides with French and Italian school and summer holidays.
If you want to visit a few islands or beaches, spend a weekend in Bangkok, and check out the sights of the north, you’ll need a minimum of two weeks, as well as needing to fly domestically. Three weeks would be more optimal, and allow far more thorough exploration. With just a week or ten days, you’re better off choosing one region and visiting several spots there.
While most first time visitors seem to make a beeline for Phuket, Samui, Bangkok, or Chiang Mai, consider getting further off the track. Krabi offers an amazing array of water activities, landscapes, and better prices for a beach or island holiday, and the more remote provinces up north like Chiang Rai or Mae Hong Son, offer some great cultural treasures and beautiful national parks.
Be aware of travelling during major holidays here, as Thais love to travel and local accommodations can be booked solid. If you come during the Songkran Thai New Year, from April 13-15, all resorts outside of Bangkok and all transport will be booked for weeks in advance. Other holidays include the King’s Birthday on December 5th, and the western New Year holiday for 4-5 days from the end of December.
For the most part, you’ll need light and quick drying clothing in Thailand, as it is hot and humid everywhere during the daytime. The one exception is if you visit the north in the winter months, as it can get quite chilly at night, so make sure to pack a sweater for this. Sweaters can also be useful on overly air-conditioned buses or planes, as well as restaurants or even on windy nights on the islands during the cool season.
Thailand is not as dirt-cheap as it used to be famed for. In fact, you can spend a lot and quickly here, but depending on your style of travel, there are plenty of different options, and it also depends when you go.
If travelling during the high season, from November to February, count on spending at least $20 for a room for two at the lower end of the spectrum. At the other extreme, there are plenty of five-star hotels and resorts that cost upward of $300. Backpackers still can find dormitory accommodation for under $10, while those willing to spend $50, will find plenty of decent options. It pays to travel as a pair in Thailand, as room prices are for the room, with few discounts for single travellers.
If you eat street food throughout your trip, you’ll be hard pressed to spend more than $5 per day, it really is that cheap, but in tourist restaurants in the resorts, a very average meal will cost around $20 for two, including drinks. In Bangkok, Phuket, or Samui, gourmet restaurants can cost upwards of $100.
For budget travellers, a cheap hotel in the tourist areas, plus meals in restaurants, transport, and a sight or two, plan on spending around $60-80 for a couple per day, although this can be halved if headed to lower end accommodation and by having some meals on the street.
For mid-range travellers, $100-120 will cover a nice place to sleep, excellent meals, transport, a massage or spa treatment here or there, and a few happy hours.
For luxury travellers, staying in five-star hotels, eating out in high-end restaurants, and travelling via private car or taxi, plan on spending at least $300 a day if not much more.
Prices often fluctuate dynamically depending on capacity, seasonality and deals. We don’t want to lead you astray by quoting exact prices that quickly become wrong. To give you a rough idea for budgetary planning purposes, though, we have indicated general price ranges for all points of interest.
Price ranges are quoted in local currencies.
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It is easy to travel in Thailand. Budget air carriers like Air Asia, Nok Air, and Thai Smile have made it cheap to fly domestically, especially if you book in advance, sometimes it is even cheaper than going by land. Train travel remains a popular way to see the country, especially on the lines headed north to Chiang Mai or south to Surat Thani or Hat Yai. Sleepers are a good bargain, they give you a full bed with curtains, and you don’t have to spend on accommodation. Long and short distance buses cover every region and city in the country. These range from luxury buses like Nakhon Chai Air down to non air-con local buses that travel like turtles but are full of friendly locals. While buses are a great way to go, try to avoid overnight buses if possible, as road fatality rates at night in Thailand are high. Also to be avoided at times are minivans, which do get to their destination more quickly, but the drivers can be maniacs, not to mention you are crammed inside with little comfort. It is usually preferable to take the bus.
Inside of cities, only Bangkok has a modern public transport system, with both a subway and skytrain, and a bus system. Everywhere else, even in Chiang Mai, you will be at the mercy of tuk tuk drivers and taxis. There are public tuk tuks, essentially larger pickup trucks with bench seats in the back, called songthaews. They have fixed routes and are very cheap. But in places like Phuket or Koh Samui, make sure to only take public ones, as private hires will charge outrageous prices. In fact, if you are going to a place like Phuket or Samui, it is far preferable to rent a car, due to the taxi mafias that exist on the islands and gouge tourists for as much as they can. Elsewhere, tuk tuks can be hired at reasonable rates. Bangkok is the only place where taxi drivers actually use their meters.
Boat travel is also a big part of Thai transportation. Ferries cruise the Chao Phraya River in Bangkok, along with longtail boat taxis on the canals. Down south, ferries and speedboats have loads of departures between and around the islands, and longtail boats are used for sightseeing and short island hops.
Bangkok is one of the major hubs of Asia and can be reached by air from almost everywhere in the world. Suvarnabhumi International Airport is where most people arrive, although if coming from around Asia on a low cost carrier, you may fly into Don Muang, which is the old international airport. A shuttle bus connects the two of them, but they are quite far apart.
From Suvarnabhumi, you have the option of coming into the city by taxi, bus, or train. There is a metered taxi counter downstairs which goes by queue, and charges an extra 50 baht to use. Alternatively, go up to Departures and catch a taxi that is dropping someone off, as they are more likely to give an honest fare. Whatever you do, do not use taxis that don’t want to use their meters, as they will overcharge you.
The Airport Link train runs from the basement of the airport into town in 26 minutes, and will drop you at the Phayathai BTS skytrain station for getting around.
There are also city buses and vans that go into various parts of Bangkok. In order to get to them, you need to take a free shuttle bus from the airport to the bus depot about 10-minutes away.
Bangkok is notorious for its traffic, congestion, and gridlock. It is one of the most awful cities in the world to sit in traffic in. Try to minimise this by planning your stay and touring accordingly. The BTS Skytrain is the most efficient way of getting around, running above the city on an elevated track. Probably 70-80% of all the hotels in town are located within a short distance of a skytrain station.
If you will be doing long skytrain trips or multiple trips in a day, look into getting a single day ticket or perhaps a multiple trips ticket if you will be in town longer. The skytrain has two lines, which meet at the busy Siam station. Try to avoid the downtown stations during the morning and early evening rush hours, as it can be a bit of a zoo.
There is also a subway system in Bangkok, the MRT, which runs underground. It is most useful for tourists going to the Hualamphong Main Railway Station, as it runs directly into the bottom of the station. However, the MRT is more of a local commuter line, as it runs north to south and not to that many locations with tourist sights, restaurants, or bars, although it does meet up with the skytrain both at Silom and Sukhumvit roads.
Boats are also a great way of exploring Bangkok and reliving its days as the “Venice of the East.” For those staying in the hotels along the Chao Phraya River, it is a lifeline. The river ferries run from the Saphan Taksin Pier (at the skytrain station of the same name) and go all the way north to Nonthaburi, stopping just about everywhere in between. The orange flagged boats are the regular ones, and you’ll only pay around 15 baht for a ride. There are “tourist” boats, which the touts try to get people to take, which cost triple the price, and only stop at the main tourist piers (like for the Grand Palace or Chinatown), but they aren’t much faster.
If staying on Khao San Road in the budget and backpackers area, consider walking over to the Golden Mount and catching the San Saeb Canal boat, which is a fast way to get downtown. These boats actually run all the way across Bangkok across Petchaburi Road, from west to east, and are a novel way to travel. Do note that at most stops, the canal boats only stop for a minute or less, and one needs to hoist oneself up onto the boat edge and then slightly jump off. Do not attempt to bring large luggage onto these boats.
Finally, if you have to, get on the road. Your options are buses, tuk tuks, and taxis. Buses are cheap, give a good insight into local life, but can take forever to get anywhere, and the non-aircon ones are like moving saunas. Tuk tuks, while perhaps worth that one time selfie, almost always charge foreigners more than an air-conditioned taxi would, and are hot and uncomfortable.
Taxis are a great deal in Bangkok, with flagfall starting at 35 baht and just a few baht added to each fraction of a kilometer. A journey into town from the airport usually won’t cost more than 300 baht maximum. However, getting taxis to use their meter in places like Silom Road can be quite difficult. If a driver won’t use his meter, don’t use the taxi, walk around the block, and find another.
In Bangkok, Siam Square is about as close as one gets to an official “downtown.” The BTS skytrain station here is always crowded, especially during rush hour. Nearby Silom Road has both the Sala Daeng sktytrain station as well as the Silom MRT subway station, and is also a major hub. On the east side of town, the Asok junction with Sukhumvit Road is another major hub, with both subway and skytrain stations at the busy intersection.
Perhaps the biggest traffic hub in Bangkok is Victory Monument, in the north of the city. There is a skytrain station here, as well as hundreds of buses and mini-van depots all around the monument, heading out to just about every regional destination within a 3-4 hour radius of Bangkok. Come here if you want to find a mini-van to Pattaya, Rayong, Kanchanaburi, or Ayutthaya.
For both the skytrain and subway, there are single day passes available, but you really need to be using the system more than four times to make them worthwhile. If you will be in town for a week, you can get a pass starting from 15 trips at the lowest end, which come at a set price, useful if you are travelling at least five stations, not to mention that you don’t have to line up to get change or use the ticket machines each time.
‘Tips’ for testing purposes.
‘FAQs’ for testing purposes.