Travel Guide For Thailand

Planning a trip to Thailand? Before you go don’t forget to read our Travel Guide for Thailand. This guide is packed full with useful information on many top tourist destinations that will help you have a stress-free vacation.

The information in the guide is based on our experiences in Thailand and are meant to help other travelers. Most of the suggestions are for an economical way to travel and tour but we have also suggested options that are more expensive so you have a choice.

All information including prices is from 2017 – 2018. Hope this guide helps you plan your trip to Thailand!

General Tips for Thailand

What to wear – Thailand is not as conservative as other countries in SE Asia. In most areas shorts and sleeveless tops are fine for women and men. The exception of course is when visiting temples where you must wear long pants/skirts and shirts with sleeves.

Wi-Fi – Depending on the part of Thailand you are in this will vary, but generally Wi-Fi is available at all hotels and most tourist restaurants and coffee shops. The speed and reliability will vary a lot throughout the country.

SIM cards – SIM cards are widely available in Thailand. We used TRU which has a tourist option. The card and top-ups can be purchased at 7-11 stores. Coverage and speed were fairly good depending on where you are in the country.

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Travel Guide for Thailand’s cities and islands (listed alphabetically)

Ayutthaya– The main ruins of Ayutthaya are scattered around Old City which is surrounded by a canal. There are a few others just outside of the Old City. You can buy an 8-site pass which allows access to the main temples. Other sites are either free or inexpensive at 20 Baht each. We stayed in a hotel in the Old City which was very convenient to get to the ruins.

Getting to Ayutthaya – Ayutthaya is 80 km north of Bangkok and getting there is very easy. There are hourly minibuses that leave from Morchit Bus Terminal in Bangkok. The minibus kiosks are outside of the terminal and away from the large buses. The fare is 70 Baht and it takes about an hour and a half. You can also take the train from Bangkok for 40 Baht.

Getting Around – If you stay in Old City you can walk to most restaurants as well as the historical sites. Most hotels rent bicycles if you prefer to bike between sites. Tuk tuks are available everywhere to get to/from the bus station.

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Ban Chiang– On the east side of Udon Thani is an important prehistoric site where archeologists discovered clay pottery as old as 5,000 years. The main site here is the museum which has hundreds of the pots on display. There is also a reconstruction of the dig site at the monastery down the road.

Getting to Ban Chiang – The closest city is Udon Thani. To reach Ban Chiang, catch any bus headed for Hakhon Phanum or Sakhon Nakhon. They leave frequently from the Udon Thani bus station. Tell the driver you’re going to the Ban Chiang museum. The stop is on the highway 45 min from Udon Thani. There are 2 tuk tuks waiting at the stop that will take you to the museum 4 km away. We think these are the only tuk tuks in town so make sure to set up a pick-up time with the tuk tuk driver to take you back to the bus stop. Buses back to Udon Thani will stop on the opposite side of the highway and need to be waved down.

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Chiang Mai -Because it is located in the foothills of the mountains in northern Thailand there are many mountain related activities here. Most activities and sites are accessed by car or on a tour. Some of the mountain roads are not recommended for motorbikes.

What to do in Chiang Mai – Based on our experience here, this is what we recommend, but there are plenty of other options:

  • Temple tour in the city – spend a half day walking to the local wats. The main ones to see are Prah Singh, Chedi Luang, Phan Tao, Inthakhin Sadueuang, but there are so many in the city you can continue for days.
  • Wat Phra That Doi Suthep and Bhubing Palace – A 45 minute drive west of Chiang Mai Old City is this important temple. It’s quite opulent, and although some buildings date to the 1300s, most of the stupas and statues are much more modern. It’s worth a visit to experience the grandeur of it if nothing else. Red Trucks leave from outside of the entrance to Prah Singh or from the zoo. They will depart when they have 6 – 8 people.
  • Elephants – There are many different types of elephant tours to do depending on your time, pocketbook and concern for the animals.
  • Whitewater rafting – During the winter, whitewater rafting isn’t as good as the spring, but the trip we did was still quite fun in December.
  • Canyoning – Huay Kup Kap Waterfall is a nice waterfall with a dramatic 25 foot drop into a deep pool. You can walk up the side and slide down the smooth rock to a deep pool below. It’s a lot of fun.
  • Rock climbing – Unfortunately for us, the week we were in Chiang Mai it rained, and we were unable to climb, but climbers we met said the crags are really good.

Tips for Chiang Mai:

  • Wi-Fi is awful at most hotels and coffee shops. One restaurant that had good Wi-Fi was DooDee. They also had really good food, and many vegetarian choices.
  • During the winter, Nov to Feb, it’s cooler in Chiang Mai especially at night. Don’t forget to bring a light sweater.
  • Red trucks (songthaews) are available everywhere and are a shared taxi option to get to most destinations in town or close to town. Grab is also available and a good option.

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Chiang Rai – At the northern edge of Thailand is Chiang Rai. Its unusual architecture and gateway to the Golden Triangle make it a good destination.

What to do in Chiang Rai – Based on our experience here, this is what we recommend, but there are plenty of other options:

  • White Temple, Blue Temple and Black House have very interesting architecture and are definitely worth a visit.
  • Golden Triangle – The northern border of Thailand with Myanmar and Laos used to be the world’s biggest opium market. Today there’s a museum dedicated to the subject. You need to either have your own car or take a private tour. There are many travel agencies to chose from in Chiang Rai offering many different tours.

Getting to Chiang Rai – You can take a bus from the terminal in Chiang Mai. If you are coming from Sukhothai, buses arrive/depart from the main bus terminal in New Sukhothai. From Bangkok and Ayutthaya, you can take an overnight bus or train. In Bangkok buses leave from the Mochit Bus Station.

Getting around – Taxis and tuk tuks are common in town, or if you prefer, Grab is available here too.

Tips on Chiang Rai – Because it is at the north end of Thailand it can get quite chilly, especially at night, so bring a sweater and long pants.

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Khao Yai National Park – Khao Yai is a very large park so it would be very difficult to get around if you don’t have a car. There are many animals, birds and reptiles in the park, but they’re difficult to find on your own. We took a day and a half tour with Green Leaf Tours. Their tour guides are excellent and the company is very well organized and professional.

Getting to Khao Yai –  You can either take the train or bus to Pak Chong. Trains come from the north-east (Khorat), or Bangkok. You can stay in Pak Chong, and take a tour from there, or stay in a hotel close to the park. Most hotels will provide pick up to and from Pak Chong.

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Koh Phang An – Every month during the full moon this island hosts one of the biggest parties in Thailand. Any other time of the month, it is a laid-back, peaceful retreat. Haad Ring also has cheap high-end accommodation on the off-weeks. There are 3 beautiful beaches within walking distance of town.

Getting to Phang An – To get here take a ferry to or from Nathon, on Koh Samui to Thong Sala on Koh Phang An, or from Big Buddha on Koh Samui to Haad Rin on Koh Phang An; or from Mae Haad on Koh Tao to Thong Sala on Phang An. You can book the ferry at your hotel or travel agent in town and it will include hotel pick-up.

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Koh Phi Phi – This is one of the prettiest islands on the Andaman Sea, but one of the most touristy. It’s also one of the most expensive. Plan to pay a lot more for worse accommodations than in other places in Thailand.

What to do on Phi Phi: There are a lot of inexpensive things to do on the island, such as:

  • Hike to the look out point. There’s a small admission fee at the top, but it is a spectacular view of both beaches below and Tonsai Tower across.
  • Climb Tonsai Tower – If you’ve never climbed before or want to hire a guide the day try .
  • Kayak – You can rent a kayak for 300 Baht for 2 hours and explore the island’s exclusive beaches on your own.
  • Koh Phi Phi Leh – This island’s Maya Beach was made famous in the movie ‘The Beach’. The beach is a nice, secluded beach, but it’s crawling with tourists when all of the tour boats arrive. Other than Maya Beach, the island has beautiful, sheer cliffs with secret coves and lagoons. You can only visit on a day trip, but it is worth it, just don’t expect much from Maya.

Getting to Koh Phi Phi Don – To get to Phi Phi you can take a ferry from Krabi. The jetty is outside of Krabi. If you purchase tickets in advance it will include a pick-up from your hotel. Day trips are also available from either Krabi or Phuket.

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Koh Samui – This island is full of beautiful beaches, high waterfalls and jungle mountains. It’s also very busy with tourists so don’t expect a quiet beach unless you go to one of the remote towns.

Getting Around – There are a lot of songthaews on the island to get between towns or to the base of hikes, or you can rent motorbikes quite easily.

Getting to Koh Samui – To get to Samui you can take a ferry from Surat Thani (the jetty is actually 1 hour from Surat Thani), or from Phang An. Most ferries leave from Thong Sala on Koh Phang An to Nathon on Koh Samui. You can also get to Haad Rin directly from the jetty in Big Buddha on Koh Samui. If you book the ferry at your hotel or travel agent in town and it will include hotel pick-up.

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Koh Tao – This island is a rocky-shored majestic beauty, well known for its scuba diving and snorkelling. We dove with Scuba Junction. They are very professional, have good equipment and are reasonably priced. The diving was great, especially if you’re lucky to see a whale shark.

Getting Around – Ferries from depart/arrive at Mae Haad Pier.  We stayed in Sairee Beach so can only give information about this town. From the jetty take a shared songthaew to your hotel for 100 Baht. The town is very small and it’s easy to walk everywhere. Koh Tao is very hilly, so it’s recommended that only experienced drivers should rent motorbikes.

Getting to Koh Tao – Ferries are available to and from Chumphon on the mainland and take 1 ½ hours. Ferries between Koh Phang An and Koh Tao use the Mae Haad jetty. You can book the ferry at your hotel or travel agent in town and it will include hotel pick-up.

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Krabi – This sleepy seaside town is at the mouth of the Krabi River as it enters the Andaman Sea. It’s the main gateway to the Andaman Sea from the south.

Getting to Krabi – Krabi has an international airport. Buses arrive from Satun, Phuket and from Malaysia. There are many ferries from Koh Phi Phi or Phuket. The ferry, bus station and airport are quite a way out of town so you’ll need a car or a songthaew to get to your hotel. You can book bus tickets at your hotel or travel agent in town and it will include hotel pick-up.

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Markets around Bangkok

Mae Klung Train Market– This unique market shouldn’t be missed. It has an unusual setting on the railroad tracks in the town of Mae Klung.

Getting to Mae Klung – Minibuses leave frequently from the Sai Tai Mai (Southern) Bus Terminal in Bangkok. The minibuses are at the side of the terminal away from the large buses. Tell the driver you are going to the market and they’ll let you off at the Mae Klung Train Station. Cost is about 50 Baht. You can also take the train from Bangkok, it involves changing trains and will take twice as long as the bus, but you’ll be in the train as it drives through the market. Once you arrive check the schedule posted at the station to find times for train arrivals and departures. This is when they will travel through the middle of the market. There are 3 or 4 trains between mid morning and mid afternoon.

Amphawa Floating Market – This weekend market is held along the canal in Amphawa. Consider staying overnight in Amphawa so you can see the market during the day and at night.

Getting to Amphawa – Minibuses leave several times a day for Amphawa from Sai Tai Mai (Southern) Bus Terminal in Bangkok. The minibuses are at the side of the terminal away from the large buses. Tell the driver you are going to the market and they’ll let you off just down the road from the market. There are also many day tours from Bangkok. Tours cost 70 Baht.

Damnoen Saduak Floating Market – This floating market is different than Amphawa because customers are also in long-tail boats and float beside the merchant boats. This market is best viewed in the morning before the hordes of tour buses arrive.

Getting to Damnoen Saduak – Minibuses leave several times a day from the Sai Tai Mai (Southern) Bus Terminal in Bangkok. The minibuses are at the side of the terminal away from the large buses. Tell the driver you are going to the market and they’ll let you off at the long-tail boat docks where you will be taken to the market. If you don’t want to do this, you can walk 1 km to the market. Either way, the best place to view the market is from one of the 2 bridges at either end. Or you can take one of the many tours from Bangkok. Cost for the minibus is 90 Baht.

Getting to all 3 markets and Phetchaburi – It’s possible to see Mae Klung, Amphawa and Damnoen Saduak on the same weekend. This is the way we did it: we caught a minivan at Sai Tai Mai (Southern) Bus Terminal in Bangkok. We arrived by 10 am and had about 45 minutes to explore the market before a train was scheduled to arrive. After both incoming and outgoing trains went though the market, we caught a songthaew to Amphawa. You have to walk to the main road (1 ½ km) to get the songthaew. Ours came within 20 minutes. We visited Amphawa market when we arrived and then again in the evening and stayed overnight in Amphawa. In the morning our hotel called a tuk tuk which took us to Damnoek Saduak. It was a 30-minute ride.  After the market we continued to Phetchaburi. A tuk tuk in Damnoen Saduak took us to the Phetchaburi minibus stop on the side of the highway. The minibus dropped us off on the edge of Phetburi near the palace. If you don’t want to go to Phetchaburi, you can catch a minibus in Damnoen Saduak back to Bangkok.

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Pai – The town of Pai is a small, laid-back hippie hangout. Its set right in the mountains along Pai River. Because it is in the mountains it can get quite chilly, especially at night, so bring a sweater and long pants.

What to do in Pai – Based on our experience in Pai, this is what we recommend, but there are plenty of other options:

  • Lod Cave – You have to enter the cave with a guide who carries a lantern to light the way. The Nam Lang River runs through the cave and part of our tour was taking a bamboo raft through the cave to another cavern called Coffin Cave.
  • Pai Canyon – Not really a canyon but is an interesting rock feature not far from town.
  • Canyoning – There are a couple of waterfalls outside of town that you can slide down.

Getting Around – Without a car it is difficult to do a lot in Pai. Many people rent motorbikes, but a lot of the sites are quite far away. We booked a full day tour for 500 Baht from one of the many operators on main street. It’s a great deal and you get to a lot of sights and it included lunch.

Getting to Pai – Minibuses leave the main bus station in Chiang Mai for Pai throughout the day. If you book through your hotel the fee will include a hotel pick up. This is a better option than taking a bus or Grab on your own. The highway from Chiang Mai is a winding, narrow road with over 770 switchbacks.  There were many warnings from other travelers of how bad the road is, how fast the drivers race around the corners and that passengers often get carsick. Our drives both to and from weren’t as bad as the reputation, and no one was sick.

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Phanum Rung – This ruin is set on the top of an extinct volcano and is the best-preserved Khmer ruin outside of Angkor Wat. It’s really well preserved and is worth a visit.

Getting to Phanum Rung – You an get a bus from Terminal 2 in Khorat. Catch a bus passing through Nang Rong. Your stop is on the east end of Nang Rong where you’ll hire a motorcycle taxi to get to the ruins. The taxi fee is 250 Baht return including Prasat Muang. It’s one passenger per motorcycle as the hill to get to the site is steep. While here you should also visit Prasat Muang Tam, another Khmer ruin 8 km from Phanum Rung.

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Phra Phubat Historical Park – The mysterious rock formations at this park are really interesting. The problem is that the park is a long way from anywhere. The closest town is Udon Thani which is 1 ½ hours away. Without a car, the easiest way to get here is by hiring a private guide or private taxi in Udon Thani. We hired a private guide for 800 Baht/person which included both Phra Phubat and the Red Lotus Sea. At the park your entrance fee includes a Thai speaking guide, but a tip is expected. Our private guide was able to translate so she was really helpful.

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Phetchaburi – (called Phetburi) – On top of one of the Khao Wang hill at the edge of town is a beautiful historical palace, Phra Nakhon Khiri and its temple. At the east end of town is Khao Luang cave filled with Buddhas and stupas. Phetburi is worth a visit. You can do it as a day trip from Bangkok, but we stayed overnight. There are a few decent hotels and restaurants in town.

What to do in Phetburi – Based on our experience here, this is what we recommend, but there are plenty of other options:

  • Phra Nakhon Khiri Palace – You can get to the top of the hill 2 ways. There’s a footpath on the east side of the hill. If you walk, be aware of the long tailed macaques. They are very aggressive in their search for food. The staff at the bottom carry sling shots to keep them away. We armed ourselves with sticks and used them as a scare tactic. There are a lot of monkeys along the street leading up to the palace and a few other places in town, but they are not as rampant as we were led to believe. There is also a cable car that will take you up to the top, its entrance is on the west side of the hill. It costs 40 Baht.
  • Khao Luang cave – This temple cave is 2 km north of town. It is a large cave with 3 different caverns. Your entrance fee includes a songthaew ride to the cave entrance. There are a few monkeys around the entrance, but they’re not too aggressive.

Getting to Phetchaburi – Located 160 km south of Bangkok, minibuses leave from the Morchit Bus Terminal in Bangkok. The minibus will let you off at the base of Khao Wang hill. Return minibuses leave from the minibus terminal in Phetburi. They’ll drop you off in west Bangkok where you can catch a taxi or Grab to get to your hotel, or to a metro station.  We went to Phetburi after seeing the 3 markets (Mae Klung, Amphawa, Damnoen Saduak). The description for this is titles ‘Markets around Bangkok’ on this page.

Getting around – The town is small enough that you can walk to most places, or many hotels rent bicycles.

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Phimai – The small town of Phimai has a Khmer Wat dating from the 11th and 12th centuries. It’s is relatively good shape so is worth a visit.

Getting to Phimai – You can get a bus from Terminal 2 in Khorat. Get off at the clock tower in Phimai. The site is easily seen as you drive by. The bus stop up is near the clock tower.

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Phuket – The island of Phuket is famous for its beaches, but Phuket Town has a beautiful historical district that is worth visiting. After admiring the colonial buildings take a cruise to see the amazing karst pinnacles in Phang Nga Bay. The busiest beach on Phuket is Patong, but there are numerous other beaches and resorts on the island.

What to do in Phuket – Based on our experience here, this is what we recommend, but there are plenty of other options:

  • Other than the usual beaches you could take a songthaew to Phuket Town to see the UNESCO World Heritage site colonial buildings. Get off the songthaew at Ranong Rd. and walk to Krabi Street.
  • Parasail – there are many parasail operators on Patong Beach. Watch a few of them first to see how long the ride is and what condition their boat and equipment is in. The company we used was safe and reliable. It’s also cheaper to parasail in Phuket than on Koh Samui, the price was over 2000 Baht.
  • Phang Nga Bay – This island park has many large and small steep karst pillars coming straight up from the sea. Cruising between these islands is so beautiful. The easiest way to see this park is by taking a day cruise from Phuket or Krabi. Either town has a number of tour agencies that have a variety of cruises to chose from. Another option is to rent a long-tail boat from Phang Nga, but you have to get to Phang Nga on your own.

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Railay – This small, boat access only town is on the mainland between Krabi and Ao Nang. Railay is a world renown climbing mecca due to its large limestone pillars coming straight from the sea.

What to do in Railay – Based on our experience in Railay, this is what we recommend, but there are plenty of other options:

  • If you’re a new climber or looking for a partner or a guide, we would recommend Pon at Hot Rocks. There are great climbing crags here, some are right on the beach.
  • You can rent kayaks for 2 hours for 300 Baht. There are a lot of interesting rock features and islands not far from shore to explore with a kayak.
  • Go for coffee. Railay has many great coffee shops especially the Rastafarian run coffee shop on the pedestrian street.
  • There are 2 great beaches in Railay to relax and play in the sun.

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Red Lotus Sea – From November until the end of February Nong Han lake blooms with millions of red (actually pink) lotuses. From Udon Thani the easiest way without a car is to hire a private taxi or guide from your hotel. At the lake there are long-tail boat rides. It costs 300 Baht for an hour. Arrive before 10 am as the flowers close when the sun gets too hot.  We hired a private guide in Udon Thani for 800 Bahts/person for both Phra Phubat and the Red Lotus Sea.

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Si Satchanalai – This city dates back to the late 1100s. When Ayutthaya became the capital, Si Satchanalai and Sukhothai were slowly abandoned.Since they were never invaded the ruins here, although older, are in much better condition.

Getting to Si Satchanalai – This site is 50 km north of Sukhothai but is really worth the effort to visit. If you have your own vehicle, it shouldn’t be a problem, but if you’re like us and were depending on public transit it’s a bit more involved. We did this as a day trip from Sukhothai and it worked out perfectly. Buses leave from the bus terminal in New Sukhotai 3 times throughout the day destined for Chiang Rai (6:30 am, 9 am, or 12:30 pm). Tell the bus driver you want to get off at the Si Satchanalai Historical Park. They will drop you off across the bridge for the sites of Chaliang. A shop at the bus stop rents bikes for 50 Baht, and for Si Satchanalai you do really need them. Bike or walk across the rickety bridge to the first ruin, Wat Rattana Mahtatat which costs 20 Baht. They’ll give you a map to get to other Chaliang ruins, we only stopped at Wat Chen which was quite small. Si Satchanalai is a 3 km bike ride up the road. The ruins are throughout the natural forest and in between each major ruin are small monuments and trees. It’s a very peaceful park to visit.

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Sukhothai – This UNESCO World Heritage site is outstanding. The ruins here are in pretty good condition considering their age. Sukhothai was never invaded, but rather the city was abandoned. All the ruins are in Old Sukhothai which is 12 km from New Sukhothai. Park fees are 100 Baht for the park. There are 2 ruins north of the park that we visited and paid an extra small fee for each.

Getting to Old Sukhotai – Songthaews run frequently between Old and New Sukhothai. It costs 30 Baht one way and takes approximately 15 minutes. If you walk along the main street of New Sukhothai you can easily wave one down. They’ll drop you off at the park entrance and this is the same spot that you can catch it for the ride back to New Sukhothai.

Getting to Sukhothai – There are frequent buses each day to Sukhothai from the south (Ayutthya or Bangkok) or the north (Chiang Mai or Chiang Rai). The main bus terminal is north of the central area. Tuk tuks cost 80 Baht to get to most hotels in New Sukhothai. If coming from the south or from Chiang Mai they can drop you off at Old Sukhothai on their way through if you let them know. Chiang Rai uses a different highway and doesn’t go through Old Sukhothai.

Where to stay – We had debated which town to stay in, but there are more hotels and restaurants in New Sukhothai. We had lunch at the highest rated restaurant in Old Sukhothai and it was awful, so we were satisfied in our decision. That’s not to say the meals are outstanding in New Sukhothai, they’re mostly average.

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