Thailand is ranked as one of the top vacation destinations in the world. It features world-class white sand beaches, big beautiful temples and historical sites, scuba diving and adventures that will remain memories forever. There are large bustling cities like Bangkok (Thailand’s Capital city) and quiet mountain towns like Chiang Mai.
This Southeast Asian hotspot is one of the most popular backpacking destinations in the world. Despite having been there multiple times, we dream about returning every time we feel the travel bug. Thailand is one of the easiest and fun places to travel. Adventure seems to be around every corner and won’t break the bank along the way.
There are some tips and tricks you should know before you travel to Thailand. Let us walk you through the basics of the country and some expert travel tips that will make you feel like a travel pro!
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Top 7 Places to Visit in Thailand
Thailand has so many amazing sites to visit, that you may have some trouble deciding on where to spend your time. The Thai word for island is Koh which is the name of many of their tropical islands. Below we’ve listed our top must-see places in Thailand:
1. Koh Pha Ngan / Ko Phangan
First on our list for a reason, this tropical paradise is our favourite island in Thailand. Koh Pha Ngan (pronounced Ko-pun-yun) is most famous for its full moon parties and luxury wellness retreats. This island is the ideal size for renting a scooter. The island’s north end has a boho vibe with tons of yoga retreat centers and vegan restaurants. If you are looking for a party, head to the south of the island, near Haad Rin beach where the nightlife is palpable. This is also the home of the infamous Full Moon parties.
2. Koh Tao
If you’ve been itching to try scuba diving, Koh Tao is one of the cheapest places in the world to get your open water diving certification. This is the smallest of a 3 island series in the area with neighbouring islands Koh Pha Ngan and Koh Samui located close by. We recommend bringing a snorkel along with you to this island as there are many spots to snorkel from the many beaches on the island.
Koh Tao is a great place for hikers or those looking for a quieter beach experience. With most of the roads on this island being made of dirt and hotels often being in the form of thatched-roof bungalows, you will feel a world away visiting here. If basking on a beach and watching warm turquoise waters splash up on white sandy beaches sounds good to you you’re sure to love it here.
3. Koh Samui
This is the third island (Koh/Ko in Thai) in the Gulf of Thailand that sits just south of Ko Phangan. It’s the largest of the 3 and has a lot to offer. An international airport allows you to fly directly to this island.
Spend your day visiting the famous Big Buddha, soaking in stunning waterfalls or simply lazing at the beach. There is also great shopping on the island. Koh Samui is quite a large island so the best way to get around and see the sights is to rent a scooter to explore.
Thailand’s capital is a lively metropolitan city that is full of life. This inland destination offers tons to do and see. Once your feet are burning from walking the city, take a needed rest aboard a boat and float your way down the city’s floating market. If you are looking to immerse yourself in culture, stroll the grounds of the Grand Palace or head to either of the nearby temples Wat Arun or Wat Pho. Backpackers will want to head to Khao San Road where they will feel right at home with many hostels and a lively party scene.
One of the largest tourist hubs in Thailand, Phuket is a must see destination. You can expect the perfect blend of busy city life and lazy beachfront resorts in this area. It is located on the east coast near the southern tip of the country. There is a large international airport that you can use to arrive and depart. Some places (like Patong) are super popular, and therefore busy, but you can scooter to a number of less busy beaches in the south.
6. Chiang Mai
Chiang Mai is a great place to visit in Thailand, especially for adventure lovers. This inland village requires a bus or train ride to get to but is well worth the visit. This is a great place to visit for street food. Chiang Mai’s affordable prices are bound to impress you. As you’d expect in this jungle paradise, there are tons of great waterfalls that you can visit in the area.
This northern town is a popular starting point for many of Thailand’s great overnight treks. There are many jungle tours in the area that vary with activities from rafting down rivers, zip lining and more. Overnight you can stay in huts in the hills and get the opportunity to mingle with local hill tribes such as the well known Karen Longneck Tribe.
Just be sure to not book a tour that offers elephant riding. If you’d still like an up close and personal experience with them you can do so ethically at sanctuaries such as the Elephant Nature Park.
Located just northwest of Chiang Mai is the backpacker/hippie paradise of Pai. If lush jungle, natural hot springs, cascading waterfalls and quaint markets are your thing, head north to the city of Pai. One of the best things to do in Pai is to lazily float down the Pai river on an inner tube (you can rent them there). In the evening, the city comes alive with a night market that has some delicious street food. While you can do adventurous cave exploring and white water rafting in this area, it is more known for eclectic cafes and swinging in a hammock as the sun sets.
8. Koh Phi Phi
Much like Ko Pha-Ngan, Koh Phi Phi is another place to experience the nightlife. Our first island on the list on Thailand’s west side, this island is commonly reached through nearby city Phuket. A ferry will take you across stunning clear waters weaving past other small islands to get you to the Phi Phi islands. You may have seen this island popping up all over your Instagram for their gorgeous viewpoint you can hike to and get some beautiful views.
Partying is undoubtedly the biggest pull here, you can’t walk the beaches at night without having a bucket drink (literally sand buckets full of drinks), trying laughing gas balloons and taking in an impressive fire show on the beach. The clear ocean waters make for great snorkeling and nearby islands allow for many island-hopping tours leaving from the island.
Top Activities To Do In Thailand
1. Scuba Diving
Thailand is one of the biggest scuba diving destinations in the world. Ocean water temperatures sit around 30℃ (85℉) and offer a very inviting turquoise colour. Under the water, you’ll be treated to near perfect diving conditions with impressive 30m+ visibility in some areas. Once diving below the water you will be welcomed by impressive schools of fish and colourful coral reefs.
Thailand is one of the biggest scuba diving destinations in the world. Ocean water temperatures sit around 30℃ (85℉) and offer a very inviting turquoise colour. Under the water you’ll be treated to near perfect diving conditions with impressive 30m+ visibility in some areas. Once diving below the water you will be welcomed with impressive schools of fish and colorful coral reefs.
2. Rent a scooter
It’s no secret that we love to ride around Thailand on scooters. We find them to be one of the best activities in Thailand. You can find scooter rental shops almost everywhere for a reasonable price. Find more about renting scooters in Thailand here.
3. Beach life
A tropical vacation isn’t complete without time spent on the beach. One of the most famous things about Thailand is its many white-sand beaches. The southern part of the country has some of the nicest beaches you’ll find anywhere in the world. Keep in mind that some will have an admission fee but this is usually because they’re a maintained beach meaning they will be free from garbage.
Many beaches in Thailand are perfect for snorkelling. The more popular beaches will usually have places to rent snorkels allowing you to see the magical world under the surface of the water. Marine life in Thailand is abundant and you are sure to see fish and coral in the warm tropical waters.
5. Jungle adventure
There are many places to adventure in the Thai jungle. Mainly found in the northern part of the country, jungle treks are a great way to see a different perspective of Thailand.
Thai temples are found all over the beautiful country. Renting a scooter in Thailand will allow you to get to these historical sites on your own terms and not have to spend money on a guided tour. Just be aware that there is usually a dress code to enter these spiritual places.
How Much Does It Cost To Travel Thailand?
Thailand is known for being an inexpensive travel destination. You will get huge value for your money no matter where you travel in this country.
There are different types of accommodations in Thailand. Different types of rooms will have different price points.
If you’re comfortable sleeping in a room with other people, a dorm room in a hostel will typically be the cheapest option for a single traveller. The more people are in a room the cheaper it will cost. These types of places range from 150 THB to 400 THB.
Smaller towns away from the tourist areas will be the next cheapest place to stay in Thailand. Rooms in these areas will typically start around 400 THB to 700 THB.
A fancier night in a hotel will be more expensive, but still much cheaper than you’re used to at home. You should expect to pay around 1400 THB for a room with a fan and a double bed.
Resorts will be the most expensive option to spend the night in Thailand. Starting around 2300 THB a place on the water will cost around the same as a regular hotel back home.
Thailand is known for their cheap and unbelievably delicious food. There are food choices that will fit anyone’s budget. You will have many different options for great eats wherever you travel in Thailand.
Street food is by far your cheapest option, in Bangkok, you can even find a plate of Pad Thai for 25 THB. When eating street food in Thailand you can expect to spend less than 50 THB a meal.
Sticking with the local street food will likely cost you between 120-170 THB a day. The street food is safe and arguably much more delicious than restaurants, not to mention much cheaper.
Restaurants serve western food but at a higher price point. If you are craving a hearty pasta dish or a good burger expect to pay closer to 150-300 THB per plate.
Thai dishes in a restaurant on average start at around 65 THB depending on how fancy the restaurant is.
If you’re looking to have a beer at a Thai restaurant you can expect to pay around 60 to 80 THB. Cocktails and mixed drinks will be around 300 to 450 THB.
Tips To Save Money
Like travelling anywhere in the world there are some ways to save your hard-earned money. Thailand is unlike any other travel destination and even if you’re a seasoned world traveller you may be surprised by some of these tips and tricks.
Don't Book Ahead
Some things you should not pre-book before you leave. We typically try to book our first night or two of accommodation in a city and then don’t book any more nights until we get there. This allows us to ensure we are staying in a good area as well as ultimate flexibility.
We’ve found that if you walk into a hotel you can usually get a better rate than going through a booking service.
This is also the case with transportation around Thailand as well. Booking ahead of time can sometimes cost more than double the price of booking in person. Renting a scooter to drive you to tourist sites will be far cheaper than booking organized tours and allow you the freedom to see the sites at your own leisure.
If you time your meals right you can get a huge discount. Happy Hour is alive and strong in Thailand, especially in larger cities like Bangkok and Phuket. You can expect a discount on alcohol and even possibly some lower prices on special dishes.
7-11 is one of the best places to get everything from Toasties to Chang’s (the beer of choice in Thailand). This is a one-stop shop for many tourists as this Thai convenience store has stocked everything you will need.
You can drink alcohol while walking the streets in Thailand. If you are on a budget, try buying your alcohol at a local 7-Eleven rather than at a restaurant. Having a Chang, the local beer, at 7-Eleven costs about 35 THB rather than the 100-150 THB it costs in a restaurant. If you do go to a bar, take advantage of the many happy hour deals around.
7-11 also sells food, medical supplies and toiletries (among other things) as well. Toasties and chips are among the most popular travel food found here. They even heat up the toasties!
How to Get Around Thailand?
Thailand is one of the most tourist friendly places in the world. With many travel agent offices scattered throughout all tourist areas in the country, getting from point A to B is safe and stress-free. There are many different ways to get around the country:
One of the cheapest ways to travel around Thailand is by bus. Affordable prices draw in a strong backpacking crowd to this form of travel. Complex route systems allow you to travel anywhere and everywhere.
Most places will have the option of either daytime or overnight buses to take you to popular tourist destinations. These buses are a bit of a gamble, some offer new comfortable lounging chairs while others look like they’re held together with duct tape. Buses have bathrooms on board and most routes include a rest stop along the way to stretch your legs.
Pro Tip: Try to not get a seat near the bathroom!
Thailand taxis are just as you’d expect in terms of accessibility. You will undoubtedly rely on this transportation when leaving airports, although this is the most expensive place to rent them. When hiring a taxi, make sure that your driver uses the meter or settle on an agreed price before you start driving. If you don’t you could end up paying significantly more.
Also, be cautious with your bags. Only put your bag in the trunk of the taxi if you absolutely have to. If you do, make sure one person stays in the car while the bag is retrieved as there’s a chance the driver may drive off with it.
Tuk Tuks are some of the most famous ways to get around Thailand. As these are privately owned, you can expect the prices to vary dramatically not only from city to city, but from driver to driver. We recommend taking a ride on this iconic Thailand experience only when travelling short distances. You can expect your Thailand Tuk Tuk to cost around 100-300 THB, depending on how far you’re riding.
Tuk Tuk’s are not equipped with the meters that you would expect from a taxi. Be sure to agree on a price with your driver before leaving for your trip.
With many of the top places to visit in Thailand being islands, you will likely be taking a boat or ferry while travelling through Thailand. There are many different types of boats and ferries ranging from longtail boats to huge car ferries. You will usually always have more than one option to get to your destination.
Note that ferries range in price, and their prices are directly reflective of what you can expect. The less expensive ones will usually be older boats with fewer amenities.
A comfortable and affordable way to get around the country is to take a train. 5 major train lines allow access to many areas throughout the country. Trains in this area offer 3 travel styles, all with their own pricing points. While first-class riding will be the most comfortable offering private air-conditioned cabins with comfortable sleeping. Second-class train tickets are split into categories: air-conditioned and fan-cooled cabins.
While this is going to be the most expensive form of travel, the many airports located throughout the country make travelling by air an easy way to see the country. Bangkok (BKK) is one of the biggest travel hubs in the area with over 63 million passengers passing through a year (2019).
- Chiang Mai International Airport allows accessibility to the country’s northern area.
- Phuket International Airport is located in the southern end of the country allowing tourists easy access to the country’s stunning beach life.
- If you are looking to jump right into island life, Koh Samui is home to another international airport that has easy access to the popular island chain in the Gulf of Thailand.
If you’re staying in an area for a couple of days, renting a scooter will allow you to see the area from a unique perspective. Scooter rental companies are readily available in all areas of the country and are incredibly affordable. Driving around Thailand on a scooter is one of our favourite things to do.
What To Bring To Thailand? - Our Thailand Packing Guide
What you decide to pack for a trip to Thailand will depend on a few factors. The length of time will be one of the biggest factors when packing for your trip. You should also consider how readily available laundry services will be. A good rule of thumb is the more remote a place is, the less likely you’ll be able to find laundry when travelling. Below is a guide to what we always bring to our Thailand vacations.
- Swimsuit – we like to bring at least two pairs of swimsuits. This way you can wash and let one pair dry so you always have a fresh and clean one. Nobody likes wearing a wet bathing suit.
- Underwear x12
- Socks x 12 pairs
- T-Shirt x7
- Shorts x5
- Toothbrush and toothpaste (travel size)
- Shampoo (travel size)
- Water shoes
- Walking shoes
- Flip Flops
First Aid Kit
- Antibacterial cream – Wounds will not heal in Thailand. Having some of this will give you the best chances of healing your wounds.
- Bandages – having your own bandages will come in handy in an emergency.
- Lip Chap – Your lips will definitely take a beating when you’re in the hot sun for long travel days.
- Lock – Many tourist attractions and hotels will have lockers where you can store your belongings while you’re out and about. Having your own lock will make it way easier and make sure your stuff is safe.
- Dry Bags / Zip-Lock Bags – Dry bags are great places to keep things you want dry, even in your bag. Zip-Lock Bags will be a great place to keep shampoo and anything else that can leak separate from everything else.
- Travel Charger Adapter – Thailand uses a different type of charger than the standard North American plug. Be sure to travel prepared with a travel adapter.
- Ear Plugs – Trust us, you will want a few pairs of these for overnight buses or dorm rooms where it can get a little loud at night.
- Headphones – great for long flights or overnight buses. Be sure to download your favourite playlists to your phone!
- Garbage bag x4 – these are great for keeping your dirty laundry separate from your clean stuff
- Reusable water bottle – We love our Yeti water bottles. They come with clips so you can attach them to your bag so you always have access to a drink. There will be many places you can refill them as well.
When Should You Visit?
Thailand remains around the same temperature all year round. But parts of the year are much rainier than others.
Cool Season: November – February
This will depend on which area and the time of the year you’re planning on visiting. The cool season is between November and March and is the best time of the year to travel to Thailand. It could also be the most expensive (but still cheaper than most places in the world). Temperatures at this time of year will be around 30℃.
Hot Season: March – June
If you want to experience Thailand’s hot season you should plan for days over 35℃. Nights will also be just a little cooler than this. Be sure to pack some protection from the sun. We have been to Thailand twice in June and it was quite warm.
Rainy Season: July – October
If you are the type of person who doesn’t like rain we suggest not going to Thailand during this time. The temperature will still be hot but the nights can drop a little bit especially in the north. It’s considered the “off-season” and could run into some attractions being closed or have reduced hours. Beaches can also be quite dirty due to the more extreme weather.
This is also considered monsoon season. We experienced some flash flooding with huge rainfalls when we were in Thailand in June.