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I’ve had the pleasure of travelling to Thailand several times in the last few years. In 2015, on my first backpacking trip, I spent around two weeks in the country as a stop between Cambodia and Malaysia and this past summer I spent an entire month dedicated to travelling through Thailand. If you’re not sure what to expect from Thailand, then I’ll be the one to say it really is as magical as you think it will be. Unbelievable beaches, plenty of lush National Parks and juxtaposing cities like Chiang Mai and Bangkok that are filled with temples and skyscrapers respectively. For me, three weeks is the perfect amount of time to spend in Thailand. However, flights to Bangkok are relatively cheap to fly from the UK compared with other South East Asian cities, so if you’re looking to travel on to somewhere else it might be worth your time and money looking at stopping over there for a few days before moving on.
For those planning to visit Thailand from the UK, things have got more expensive in the last few years as the pound has taken a beating against the Thai baht. As it stands, exchange rates relate to around £1 = 41 THB. My recommendation would be t £20 o exchange a little bit of money before you take off on your travels so you don’t have to panic on arrival about withdrawing and converting cash, but I would bring the bulk of my money in £20 (for my fellow Scots – make sure they’re English) bank notes and convert once in Bangkok, because from my experience this summer the rates were slightly higher which meant I got a lot more for my money when converting a large sum. UK citizens are given a free 30-day visa on arrival in Thailand, but for other nationalities be sure to check out your country’s official government website for more information. For visas in other South East Asian countries, you can read my informative post on costs and how to get them by clicking here.
When I think of Thailand I mainly think beaches with a few cities scattered throughout my itinerary. There were countless other towns and sights I would loved to have seen so I’ll be sure to include them at the end of this post, too. Websites like LonelyPlanet and TripAdvisor will have much more information on all the things to do in specific places, so be sure to check out their websites. Here’s my ideal three week itinerary:
- Bangkok, 3 nights: Bangkok is an absolutely huge city with so much to see. Floating markets, the Grand Palace and a huge shopping district are just some of the things to see and do during the day. For backpackers, the nightlife on and around Khao San Road are incredible, with many of the hotels there having rooftop pools. For those trying to do things a little fancier, there are great restaurants and rooftop bars closer to the city centre. See photos from my trips to Bangkok by clicking here.
- Chiang Mai, 3 nights: I’d always choose to travel North first, because once you’re on the islands it’s easy enough to hop around from one to the other. You can take the overnight train to Chiang Mai from Bangkok or fly in under an hour, depending on your budget. I’ve written a full post on commuting between the two cities here. Chiang Mai is much smaller and quieter than Bangkok with an abundance of beautiful temples and a good nightlife. There are plenty of activities to do like ziplining, zoos and markets. I’d also recommend taking a day trip to Chiang Rai from here to visit the White Temple. See more photographs and things to do in Chiang Mai here.
- Phuket, 2 nights: Phuket is an absolute must see for luxury travellers and backpackers alike. There are plenty of resorts along the coast and cheaper options, like this hotel, for those on a budget. Phuket has great markets, pubs, restaurants and clubs and there are plenty of water sports to partake in.
- Koh Phi Phi, 3 nights: Koh Phi Phi is my absolute favourite place to visit in Thailand. Since I last visited, there has been some serious upgrading on the island in terms of walkways, restaurants and shops. You can take day trips to snorkel or scuba dive, relax on the beach and the nightlife is incredible. Read more about my time spent there here.
- Ao Nang, 2 nights: Another favourite location of mine, Ao Nang is the perfect place to take a break before travelling from the West Coast islands to those on the East Coast. Also with beautiful markets and shops, Railay Beach just a short boat trip away, and the nightlife is amazing. See more on my trips to Ao Nang here.
- Koh Phagnan, 3 nights: If you’re going to be on the East Coast at the end of the month, then I cannot recommend visiting Koh Phagnan for the Full Moon Party enough. This year was my first time doing so, and I really had the best time and met some incredible people. Most people left two days after the party and from what I learned from my hostel owner the island is pretty desolate the remainder of the month barring those who visit for the landscape – which is incredible. If your trip doesn’t fall at the end of the month, I’d recommend Koh Samui for backpackers.
- Koh Tao, 3 nights: Koh Tao is one of the richest places in the world in terms of marine life. Whale sharks, turtles and stingrays are just some of the animals you can see diving here. Compare to the larger two islands Koh Phagnan and Koh Samui, Koh Tao is relatively calm and relaxing and not so party heavy.
- Khao Yai, 2 nights: Although I’ve not visited Khao Yai, it would be my last destination before heading back home. This National Park has wild elephant populations, lush rainforest and some beautiful waterfalls to round off the Thai landscape seen in the rest of this itinerary.
This summer, I paid £334 for return flights from Edinburgh to Bangkok flying Etihad Airlines. I researched for several months on Skyscanner to find the cheapest options. To learn how to use the site, read my full guide here. If you know you’re in a position to repay a short-term loan with a company like Cashlady.com, it could be worth exploring taking out a little extra before travelling to allow yourself to spend more on things like excursions, hotels and transfers.
In terms of hotels, prices fluctuate slightly from region to region. For the islands specifically, hotels have the ability to jack up the prices because of their monopoly across the area. This is particularly evident in Koh Phagnan during the full Moon Party, where most hotels require a minimum 5 night stay for guests, so keep that in mind. For two people rooms can range from £12 per night to upwards of £100. In the larger cities like Bangkok, I would budget around £20-£25 per night for a three-star hotel and £100 for a five-star. This is really where I start to plan the lengths of my trips, as accommodation is always the biggest outlay apart from flights. Read this review of Booking.com to learn how to compare prcices.
Food can be as expensive or inexpensive as you desire. Around half of the nights we bought ramen noodles and cooked them with the kettle at our hotel which cost just £2 to feed us both. For a decent meal outside of Bangkok I would budget around £15 per person, in Bangkok closer to £25. Like the hotels, you really can adapt your meal plan to suit your budget. Realistically, I would budget around £20 per day per person for food, however it’s more than doable on as little as £5 each if you stick to street food and ramen. However, Bangkok has some of the most incredible restaurants in the world and a plethora of rooftop bars and eateries where you can enjoy views of the city all through the day and at night.
For anybody backpacking, I’d say a budget of around £1000 including your flights could get you by for three weeks. If you don’t want to stay in hostels and are going into the trip knowing you’re going to be going on excursions and eating out, I’d save around £1500 for the same amount of time.
I mainly stick to tour operated travel between cities and islands in Thailand, although there are plenty of options to hire private transfers and cars at a higher cost. From Bangkok, you can travel to any of the islands for 800 baht on sleeper buses, which not only gets you to your destination but saves you the cost of a hotel for the night. Sleeper trains are around the same price once ferry fare is added on, but personally I would rather sleep on an air conditioned bus and often found them quieter than trains.
Island hopping ranges from 500 baht if you’re sticking to the same coast or up to 1200 if you’re travelling across the country. I cannot recommend shopping around when booking your tickets from shops as often you can save up to 250 baht by just visiting a few more locations before booking.
In Bangkok and Phuket I used the ‘Grab’ App, which is basically Uber, to get to the airport in both cases. Whilst my public bus from Bangkok airport to Khao San Road cost 120 baht, the grab cost closer to 550. Tuk tuks are the easiest way to travel around cities, but be sure to agree to a price before you get into one. If you’re using a public taxi, make sure your driver turns on the meter to avoid arguments at the end of the journey.Sri Lanka by clicking here.
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