Thailand has a lot to offer from beaches to mountains, cities to sleepy hippy towns. If you’ve never been, trying to build your own itinerary can be a bit daunting. I’ve been to Thailand 4 times and based on my experience, I’ve put together the perfect Thailand itinerary. You’ll get to see a mixture of everything and end your trip relaxing on the beach before you head back to Bangkok and catch your flight home (or wherever you choose to go next).
First, start in Bangkok. Most international flights will fly directly here so it’s a good place to re-charge and get quickly acclimated to Thai culture. I would suggest spending 3 nights here that way you’ll have plenty of time to explore.
(No. 1) After you’ve explored Bangkok, go north to Chiang Mai. To get there, I would suggest taking the overnight train. It’s new, clean, and comfortable and since it’s overnight, your travel time won’t cut into your sightseeing time. Use The Man in Seat 61’s website to help you decide which overnight train to book and use 12Go Asia to book your transfers that I detail throughout this post. Chiang Mai is an amazing city and you’ll probably want to spend 3-4 full days here. You can book a trip to the elephant sanctuary, take a cooking course, explore the Old Quarter, and eat loads of Northern Thai cusine (it’s delicious).
(No. 2) Next, head to Pai for a couple of days. Pai is a small town with a hippy vibe. It’s definitely all about the outdoors here. You can explore a canyon, soak in the hot springs, swim in a waterfall, the list goes on. To get to Pai, you’ll need to book a seat in a van. The trip there isn’t great if you get car sick and it’s really just luck of the draw whether you get a crazy driver or not. After you’re done exploring Pai, head back to Chiang Mai (No. 3).
Here is where you’ll need to make a decision – kind of. Where you go from Chiang Mai will depend on what time of the year you’re visiting. If you’re in Thailand anytime between December and August, I would suggest heading to the islands in the Gulf of Thailand (eastern islands). If you’re traveling anytime between November and May I would suggest heading to the islands in the Andaman Sea (western islands). Keep scrolling past the Western Islands section to find the Eastern Islands section below.
Western Islands (Andaman Sea)
(No. 4) Once you’re back to Chiang Mai, it’s time to head south for some beach time. Take a flight from Chiang Mai airport to the island of Phuket. Have a read of my Phuket Travel Guide to help you decide where to stay, what to do, and where to eat and drink. I’ve also written a great post about the 5 Best Beaches in Phuket so you can find your perfect sunbathing spot. Since you’ll be island hopping and getting plenty of beach time, I’d suggest spending about 3 nights in Phuket and then heading to the next island of Koh Lanta.
(No. 5) Get the ferry from Phuket to Koh Lanta. This is where I suggest booking a long tail boat tour. It will be much cheaper than in Phuket. My friends and I booked a 1 day longboat trip that went to 4 islands, included lunch and snorkeling along the way, and paid only £25 each! I recommend spending 2-3 nights here.
(No. 6) Take another ferry from Koh Lanta to get to the tiny island of Ko Lipe. I loved this place. The water and beaches were incredibly clean, clear and blue. If you’re into diving, make sure you book a trip with Koh Lanta Divers for a few fun dives or to get certified. You’ll probably want to spend about 2-3 nights here.
(No. 7) Catch the ferry back to Phuket and take a flight to Bangkok (No. 8) before heading home or to your next destination.
Eastern Islands (Gulf of Thailand)
No. 1-3 are the same as above in this scenario, but if you’re heading to the Gulf, I suggest getting the overnight train back to Bangkok from Chiang Mai (No. 4) before heading to the islands. However, if budget is no problem, then you can get a direct flight to Ko Samui which you’ll use as a jumping off point for the islands I recommend. There are only two airlines which fly there, so it’s a bit expensive but it can save you some time.
(No. 5) From Bangkok, you’ll want to book the Lomprayah bus and ferry package to get to Koh Tao. You can either leave super early in the morning or late at night. Koh Tao was one of my favourite islands. A lot of people come here for the diving so make sure you book one if your certified or want to get certified. The food selection is incredible and if you’re into partying you can do that on the beach but you can also just chill out the whole time. I would highly suggest catching the Thailand Lady Boy show at The Queens Cabaret, so much fun!
(No. 6) Next, I would suggest getting the ferry to Ko Phangan. Make sure you head north to get the best beaches and also get away from the full moon party crowd at Haad Rin.
(No. 7) After Koh Phangan, you’ll want to book the Lomprayah ferry and bus package back to Bangkok. Again, if you’re not on a budget, you could take the ferry to Ko Samui and then fly back to Bangkok directly.