Thailand is very much up there with my favorite countries I have ever been to.
Getting around is pretty easy. Buses and trains make budget travel super easy. It is also pretty easy to find flights from Air Asia or Thai Lion Air for $20-30 between the main hubs of the country. The infrastructure in Thailand is perfect for backpackers. The only hard part is narrowing it down to where you want to go.
Luckily for you, I’ve spent several months there, which is exactly several months more than what all Internet bloggers think qualifies them to be a travel expert. Basically, winging it in Thailand isn’t hard but it never hurts to know where to start. I gotchu, fam.
Bangkok: 3 days
Bangkok is easily Thailand’s most polarizing destination. If you bring up Bangkok to any traveler, there is a 99.9% chance that they will feel very strongly about it. Some will despise it, others will adore it. There are very few people that feel indifferent to it. I am on the side that adores Bangkok. The chaos of the city is enchanting in its own way and there is absolutely no shortage of things to do or parties to be had in this urban jungle.
The city is so massive and each district offers something unique. Whoever says they hate Bangkok just hasn’t found the right district for them yet. From trendy neighborhoods with hip cafes and bars to the sprawling chaos of Chinatown, Bangkok truly has it all. Three days here is a good middle ground. It is enough time to see the must-see temples and palaces but also allows some extra time to take the city at your own pace.
Related: 10 Things You Need To Do In Bangkok
Chiangmai: 3-4 days
If you don’t like Bangkok, Chiangmai might be more of your scene. It is also a big city but is significantly toned down and much less crazy than Bangkok is. Although Chiangmai is pretty large, travelers stay mainly in the region by the old walled section of the city. There are plenty of more adventurous things to do in Chiangmai, including plenty of hikes and volunteering at an elephant sanctuary. You absolutely cannot leave Chiangmai without volunteering with elephants and having an intimate experience with these majestic animals.
Other things to do include hiking up to Doi Suthep, a temple up on a hill. The rolling green hills surrounding Chiangmai are a much different scene than the endless urban horizons of Bangkok. The night market on Sunday is one that can’t be missed. It might have been my favorite market in all of Asia, with so many unique artisanal crafts and as much street food as you could dream of.
Where I stayed: Stamps Backpacker Hostel
Pai: 3 days
Just a few hours from Chiangmai is the hippie commune of Pai. It is unlike any other city I have ever been to. It is small, cozy, and completely confusing. Like seriously, why is this place in Thailand of all places?
Although I wouldn’t consider Pai to be authentic Thailand, it is the perfect stop for backpackers. With innumerable adventures to be had in the surrounding countryside, Pai has the perfect balance of fun and chill. There’s nothing wrong with just hanging out and enjoying the beautiful scenery, but if you’d like to hop on a scooter and hunt down more beautiful attractions, you can. The world is yours when it comes to Pai.
Oh yeah, mushrooms shakes are a pretty big attraction in Pai. If you’re into that, you’ve got that going for you. The nightlife scene is very small in Pai but it is a lot of fun. You’ll tell yourself that you’ll only spend a couple of days here and then accidentally end up staying for the rest of your life. I think that is the only explanation for all of the random white people that seem to be living here in some sort of limbo.
Where I stayed: Spicypai Backpackers Hostel
Optional: Chiang Rai: 1 day
Chiang Rai’s famous White Temple is one of the most beautiful and intricate things I have ever seen. However, I don’t know if it is entirely worth going out of your way if you aren’t already in the area. If you are in Chiangmai, then yeah, it is well worth a day trip or so. However, if you are strapped on time, there is not too much else to see in this city. In other words, I went to a Cat Cafe while I was here, if that gives you any idea of how much free time I ended up having on my hands.
Where I stayed: I don’t remember but it was nice although the advertised pool was only about 6 inches deep which was totally not mentioned in the description. This is why backpackers have trust issues.
Phuket: 2 days
Yet another of Thailand’s more polarizing destinations, Phuket left a relatively bad taste in my mouth. While it is a lot of fun and does have some beautiful scenery, I eventually came to realize that there are many equally beautiful places in Thailand that have a fraction of the tourists that Phuket has. As a backpacker, I can’t deny that I sometimes inadvertently look down on other types of tourists and I can’t deny that I did that quite a lot in Phuket. I’m mostly talking about the ~ Instagram model ~ stereotype and the tourists that still go to cruel elephant shows.
Basically, Phuket wasn’t my scene but it could be yours. Two days there is enough to see what you want to see and get out. Hop on the nearest boat to Koh Phi Phi.
Koh Phi Phi: 3 days – forever
I could stay here forever and I almost did if I didn’t have a flight to catch. We got to the island without anything planned, not even a place booked. We hopped off a boat and some people were at the dock offering people places to stay and we ended up picking some random bungalow on the beach. We ended up staying another night. Then another night. Then another night. Then another night. I don’t even want to bother writing an explanation for this one. Just go and you’ll understand.
Where I stayed: That weird nameless bungalow, Ibiza House, Stones Hostel
Optional: Koh Lanta: 2 days
We were supposed to go to Koh Lanta at some point but we never did because we basically never left Koh Phi Phi. I’ve heard good things about this island so I think it is definitely worth a visit. It is supposedly a quieter scene compared to Koh Phi Phi.
Krabi: 4+ days
The biggest and most pleasant surprise of my time in Thailand happened to be Krabi. Yet another one of those places that I ended up staying an absurd amount of time longer than initially planned, Krabi might be my favorite place in all of Thailand. It gives you a taste of that paradise island life without actually being an island. However, there are a ton of islands in the area, and the famous Railay Beach is 100% worth going to.
There is so much to do in Krabi for all types of people. It has a lot of options for the adventurous traveler and seemingly infinite beaches for the person who just likes to sit and chill in the sun. The beaches here are unreal. The parties are also a lot of fun, with pub crawls happening like every night.
Where I stayed: Slumber Party Hostel or bust
finally leaving Krabi after a hell of a bender 😅 ended up staying twice as long as originally planned, partially because the bastards at @slumberpartyhostels have a cheeky way of getting you too hungover to leave so you stay longer 🙄 Rad times in rad places with rad people though 🤙🏽 Might have to steal their motto too #AdventureHardPartyHarder 🍻
Optional: Khao Sok National Park: 1-2 days
I didn’t go here although I’ve been dying to go. Some day I will, but for now, you should go so you can make me jealous.
Koh Pha Ngan: 3 days
Of all the Koh’s, I think Pha Ngan might be my favorite. It is hard picking a favorite place in all of Thailand but Koh Pha Ngan is very much up there. And no, it’s not just because it hosts the world-famous Full Moon Party. It also has half-moon parties, jungle parties, waterfall parties, and so on. Just kidding, sort of.
Koh Pha Ngan was another one of those places that I was pleasantly surprised at. Yes, I’ll admit that I went to go to the Full Moon Party. However, the abundance of things to do on the island was surprising. There are a lot of beautiful secret beaches, waterfalls, and viewpoints to fill up your days exploring. At night, there is always a crazy party somewhere on the island. If you happen to be too hungover to do any exploring, the vibe of the island is extremely laid back. There are a ton of restaurants, cafes, bars, and pools to laze the days away.
Where I stayed: Dancing Elephant Hostel
Koh Tao: 3 days
It took a while but I eventually managed to drag myself away from Koh Phangan to go to Koh Tao. It’s only a short boat ride from Koh Phangan so it is definitely worth stopping by while you are in the area. It is a small island but it is packed with adventure both on and off land. There are some killer views everywhere you go but it also has a taste of luxury. The beaches here are among the best in Thailand, which is saying something.
A short boat ride from Koh Tao also takes you to one of my favorite spots in Thailand, Koh Nang Yuan, pictured below. It is a stunning place to hang out for the day before heading back to Koh Tao just in time for the inevitable pub crawl. I swear they have one every night.
Where I stayed: Taco Shack 2
Optional: Koh Samui: 2 days
I never ended up going here but I heard mixed reviews about it. One of my friends loved it for the diving and for how chill it was. Another one of my friends said it was where all the old tourists and families go. That’s not necessarily a bad thing but this is an itinerary for backpackers and I can definitely say that Koh Tao and Koh Pha Ngan were very backpacker-friendly and backpacker-oriented. I loved both of those islands more than words can describe.
Back to the BKK
I’m assuming you are flying in and out of Bangkok like most people. There is no better place to end your trip with a bang than Bangkok. Get your ass out of Khao San Road and treat yourself to a night out in Sukhumvit for a proper Bangkok nightlife experience. I consider Bangkok to be one of the top nightlife destinations in the world, or at least one of the most underrated. I strongly encourage you to experience the booming nightclubs of Sukhumvit or Thonglor. You’ve had enough buckets of Sangsom and Coke for the month but of course, I wouldn’t blame you if you went for one last crazy night at Khao San to cap off an epic month in Thailand.
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