thailand was memorable for so many reasons. starting with how i ended going. my cousin and i wanted to travel somewhere together but were having a hard time making a decision. so we each decided to write 5 destinations on a piece of paper and pick out of a hat. turns out, we both had thailand on our list. so odds being what they are, thailand was the winning piece of paper.
as we started to plan, we quickly became overwhelmed by the kind of information we were finding online. people seemed to travel one of two ways: either backpacking their way through ridiculously crazy jungles or casually sailing their way around the south in their yacht. as with most things in my life, i fall somewhere in the middle.
so this blog post (1 of 2) is dedicated to “not ballers, not backpackers.” this blog is simply for the rest of us. this first post is all about practical tips to help you planning logistics.
when to go
the dry, cooler season is november through february. know that “cooler” is a very relative term. we went at the end of november/beginning of december. bangkok was hot and sticky yet manageable. chiang mai was comfortable. ko phi phi was unbearably hot for my liking. the sun was just so bright with very few places to escape. although it is much better once you’re in the shade. another note about the south is that the seasons can vary depending on which side of the coast you want to. trip advisor breaks it down nicely.
where to go and for how long
where you go is purely subjective. as a first timer, i wanted to make sure we visited the north and the south. how long you spend there is what’s important. go for as long as you can, but a minimum of 2 weeks if you’re going to several regions. our trip went more or less like this:
- flew into bangkok for a couple days.
- about 3 days in chiang mai.
- 1 day in phuket.
- about 4 days in ko phi phi.
- about 2 days in bangkok before flying back out.
in hindsight, i would have spent less time in bangkok and ko phi phi to spend more time in chiang mai. but again it’s about preference here. i loved chiang mai because of the milder weather, relatively mountainous terrain, and the more cultural aspects. oh and it’s about half to a quarter of the cost of other regions.
before you leave
- there are some recommended vaccinations you might want look into. i didn’t get all of them but definitely got a few just in case.
- bring bug spray. i bought this natural one which worked in bangkok and chiang mai. i did end up getting bit a little in the south though.
- pack light. you can get laundry done for about $2 so you’ll easily be able to clean your clothes. one thing you’ll definitely want to bring is a set of modest clothing for entering temples. for us gals that means making sure we have a pashmina or a top withsleeves and a dress or pants that pass the knees. some temples will have cover ups you can borrow but it’s nice to show your respect for a culture by being prepared when you can.
- get some items to help keep your gear safe from the elements. i bought this phone cover and bag (i ended up noticing a lot of locals carry a similar type of bag). these will come in handy if you visit any of the elephant nature parks or going in the south where boats are a primary mode of transportation.
- i don’t really care for crocs. my cousin, on the other hand, would down right disown me if i had them. she turned me on to these native shoes which are a similar concept, but more stylish. comfortable for everyday wear, but came in especially handy when walking through rivers.
- most people spoke some form of english. even if it was the tiniest amount, it was enough to be able to communicate. regardless, i would recommend having some kind of dictionary on hand. i liked this app because you can use it offline and it provides recordings to help you annunciate.
- there are a few things you want to book ahead of time, like your day at the elephant nature park. but the more you can book while there (hotels, flights, trains, excursions), the better/cheaper. of course, you have to be a little flexible in order to do this. we did book a couple things when we got there:
- definitely recommend a cooking class in chiang mai. there are a couple famous ones but they didn’t have availabilities when we were there.
- we booked a tour out to wat phra that dos suthep but it really just a glorified cab ride. they drove us out, sent us up to the temple by ourselves and gave us a short amount of time to do it. i would recommend either just going by yourself or getting more details to ensure the guide actually, well, guides.
getting there and around
be prepared for a lot of traveling. it took about 20 or so hours from dc with a stop in japan. some notes about traveling within the country:
- the subway in bangkok (the BTS) is super easy to figure out. it’s probably the cheapest way to get around too. the trains are very clean and extremely freezing so bring some kind of cover up.
- taxis are easy to get and relatively cheap. make sure they have the meter running though. some will try to get you to pay a fixed fee but just ask them to run the meter instead. we only ran into this issue once. when we asked the driver to turn on the meter, he asked how much would we want to pay, so i just low balled it prompting him to turn the meter on real quick. if the driver refuses, find another one.
- you have a few choices when heading north. chiang mai does have an airport so you can certainly take a flight there. probably the fastest way, but of course, also most expensive. one of the cheaper ways is by bus. it’s about 10 hours and you can take a VIP bus that has reclining seats and monitors. we opted to take the train. it’s about 13 hours but a fun way to travel. “the man in seat 61” offers a wealth of information regarding train travel.
- we took a plane from the north to the south. my friend who has been living in thailand for a few years, advised us not to spend a lot of time in phuket. he said that tourism has changed the area and not for the better. we did spend a day there since it was too late to catch the ferry to the islands. take the time to figure out where you want to go in the south because there are a few different ports. 12go.asia is a good site to help you get a lay of the land (and to purchase tickets). more details about getting around in the south in the next post.
- once you’re in the south, boats are going to be the best way to get around:
- ferry= cheapest and takes the longest.
- long tail= a little more expensive that the ferry but quicker.
- speed boat= most expensive but the quickest way to get around.
where to stay
you can read more details about where we stayed in my second post. but we used trip advisor to search for hotels. when reading reviews (not just hotels, but for anything really), know that you will have some people that love something and an equal number of people that hate it. seemed extremely odd to have such opposing feelings. all i can say is to just read a good portion of the reviews to weed out the reviewers who had unfair comments or unrealistic expectations. know what’s important to you and trust your gut.
hopefully these tips will help you start planning the nuts and bolts of your travel. read the next post for the fun stuff—the specific places we traveled and things we did.