Thailand is the perfect destination for travelling/backpacking newbies. Although it can be initially overwhelming, the country welcomes and envelopes you into its culture and life.
In 2015, I visited Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Koh Tao, Koh Nangyuan and Ayutthaya. It’s definitely a place I want to revisit soon since Thailand has, I’m sure, changed a lot since then, but I also have changed as a traveller – anyone wanna join?
Always order a pad thai, papaya salad, fresh coconut water, and mango sticky rice.
Infamous for Khao San Road, street food and wild nightlife. My suggestion is just to wander around, get lost, and eat whatever looks delicious.
There is a plethora of street food, but there is a particular stall located on Khao San Road, opposite Rambruttri Road that needs to added onto your ‘to-eat’ list. It is operated by an older Thai gentleman, and you’ll recognise his stall from the bright coloured orange and green plates he serves his dishes. If a) you find it, and b) he’s still operating there, I highly, highly, recommend his green curry fried rice and tom yum soup. The heat and flavour hits your palette and preps you for all the food ahead, I’ve not had it better since.
Afterwards, walk along Khao San Road until you find an ice cream vendor, serving freshly made coconut ice cream, usually served in the coconut bowl with coconut meat, and topped with a sauce of your choosing, and peanuts.
The street food scene in Bangkok is great! You’ll find vendors/stall selling a variety of different dishes and delicacies, from local fresh fruit to pad see eiw, mango sticky rice to deep-fried insects (if you dare), and som sa to banana rotis. Try as much as you can, and I would say be prepared to get a stomach ache here and there.
Be respectful and remember to cover up when visiting the Grand Palace and other religious temples and monuments.
The Grand Palace is magnificent and really beautiful. It’s hard to explain how extraordinary and exquisite it is – a must-visit in my opinion! It really is a literal description of what to expect – grandness.
Remember to cover up (if you forget, there are stall by the entrance to buy sarongs and trousers), bring an umbrella to shield yourself from the blinding sun, and of course water!
There are so many markets on offer, but my favourite is JJ Green Market – a young, urban night market. You won’t find generic tourist souvenirs here, instead, you can shop new and old, second-hand clothes, home interior items, plants, boutique stalls, and vintage clothes. And the cherry on top – really good quality street food. The market is open 5pm till late, Thursday to Sunday.
From Bangkok, you can arrange a day trip to a floating market. There are few to choose from, we visited Amphawa Market. Beware of how touristy and busy it’ll be. From my experience, I think it can be skipped if you can’t fit it into your itinerary. The food isn’t near as good as other markets in Bangkok and Chiang Mai.
Catch an overnight train or flight from Bangkok, to Chiang Mai. Don’t make my mistake and book last minute! As nice as it is to be spontaneous, plan your trip in advance, and book a ticket prior to your journey at the ticket office. I’d recommend booking it as soon as you arrive in Bangkok.
We luckily got the last few tickets on the overnight sleeper train. Don’t expect the comfiest ride, but in comparison to sleeper trains/buses I’ve been on in Vietnam, this is much comfier. In terms of safety, a train attendant makes a few rounds up and down the carriages, speaks English, and generally speaking, everyone else is also travelling, so they’re really friendly and just want to make small-talk.
Chiang Mai is my favourite place in Thailand. It was much calmer and mellow than Bangkok, with a plethora of delicious cheap street eats.
Try arrange your visit during the weekend, so you can visit the Sunday Walking Market. Every Sunday, the centre of the city closes and the market comes alive. The market looks never-ending from the beginning at Tha Phae Gate to Ratchadamnoen Road.
It’s packed with locals, vendors and tourists. You can find the generic tourists souvenirs to unique trinkets and items made by local artists; as well as, dried foods and speciality snacks, art and clothes. Local artists also perform adding an ambience to the evening.
Expect to spend the entire evening eating your way through the market, so have an early lunch to accommodate for the street food.
TOP TIP – have an early lunch to accommodate for the street food at the Sunday Walking Market.
If you’re not in Chiang Mai during the weekend, fret not, Chiang Mai Night Bazaar is open every night of the week on Chang Klan Road. You’ll also find several fruit and vegetable markets in Chiang Mai, like the famous Muang Mai Market. Take a wander through and purchase all the exotic fruits you wouldn’t be able to find elsewhere (or for as cheap) to taste. My favourites include mangosteen, rambutan and durian (if you dare) – and of course, Thai mangos are the bomb!
There’s always some kind of market going on Friday to Sunday. I’d recommend asking hotel/hostel staff or locals – from my experience, everyone in Thailand is super friendly and willing to help.
If you’re missing a taste of home or when your cravings for Western food kicks in, head to The Coffee Club, an Australian coffee chain. I recommend their coconut-infused fluffy pancakes with caramelised bananas and their eggs benedict, and the Britishness of me ordered a pot of English breakfast tea too. With free wifi and air-conditioning, it also gives you the opportunity to
catch up on emails and FaceTime family and friends.
After Chiang Mai, head back to Bangkok to catch an overnight bus + ferry boat to the island, Koh Tao, which again, can be booked in advance in Bangkok from any travel tour agent on Khao San Road. Remember to shop around to find the cheapest provider. (Warning: It is a tiresome journey but definitely worth it!)
Splurge and stay at Koh Tao Cabana Resort. The rooms offer a space of tranquillity with amazing sea views, an outdoor shower and hammock. A buffet breakfast is served every morning, with a beautiful view to the beach. There’s also a private pool and the beach is right at your doorstep – what more could you ask for?
If you have been staying in hostels in Bangkok and Chiang Mai, a stay at Koh Tao Cabana Resort is needed – that’s how I felt anyway!
After a lot of (unglamorous) travelling and just exploring the other cities, Koh Tao offers you the opportunity to recharge for the next adventure ahead. It’s such a luxurious experience and having the beach right outside is the cherry on top.
Koh Tao is a hotspot for snorkelling – so add a snorkelling excursion to your to-do list. Most packages will offer to will take you around various other islands and beaches around the vicinity. And be prepared to have your mind-blown. Remember to pack plenty of sunscreen (apply on your face and the back of neck to avoid sunstroke), and snacks (your belly will thank me later)!
Only a 20-minute boat trip from Koh Tao, Koh Nangyuan is the perfect day trip. Getting there is easy, opt for either a day package from Lomprayah or charter a longtail boat. It’s infamous for its shallow reefs and clear waters, making it the perfect spot for snorkelling. Bring your own gear or hire once you get onto the island.
If you’re in the mood for some exercise, hike up to the viewpoint which takes less than 30 minutes long (or even longer depending on the heat) but, I promise you’ll be satisfied as it offers a view of the entire island. Just remember to be equipped and hydrate yourself. Then, spend the rest of your day sitting by the beach, topping up your tap and sipping on fresh coconut water. And feel zen.
Is Ayutthaya worth it? Yes, I’d definitely recommend putting Ayutthaya into your itinerary if you haven’t already. From Bangkok, a coach journey to Ayutthaya is 2 hours long, and tickets can be purchased at a travel/tour agency on Khao San Road. Alternatively, use the Thai Railway, trains depart from Hua Lamphong Station.
Visiting Ayutthaya means a visit to Wat Chaiwatthanaram, a UNESCO Heritage Site. Built in 1670, it is one of the most impressive temples. Despite the decay in the brickwork and the Buddha statues, it still is magnificent. To see it in its best light, check when the time of sunset, and arrange a trip to catch the sunset as it really lights up the restored temple and brings it alive.
TOP TIP – visit the Wat Chaiwatthanaram at sunset for the perfect picture and smaller crowds.
Afterwards, pay a visit to Hua Raw Night Market. You’ll find, yet again, amazing street food! A highlight of mine was a small vendor’s stall who sells strictly halal pad thais – it’ll probably be the best one you’ve had.
Have fun exploring Thailand! Let me know what recommendations you have, and I’ll be sure to add it onto my (never-ending) bucket list.