Thailand Travel Guide
Thailand is one of the top tourist destinations in Asia, with more than 16 million tourist entering the country every year. And for good reason. From the bustling city of Bangkok, with its mega shopping malls, ornate Buddhist temples and world-class dining, to the stunningly beautiful beaches and lush tropical paradise of Phuket, Thailand, has something for everyone. There are many reasons why Thailand is so beloved by travelers, but for us one of the biggest draws is the food. It’s exciting, delicious, and cheap, and you can find all different kinds of specialties in each area of Thailand.
Continue reading our Thailand Travel Guide for more useful information about visiting Thailand.
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WHEN TO go
There are three distinct seasons to watch for in Thailand:
The hot season lasts from March to May, with temperatures averaging in the high 90s F (mid-30s C). April is the hottest month with rain off and on.
The rainy season begins in April and generally lasted until late November, or December, which can be a very crowded time to visit, as families tend to go for the holidays. The average temperature is 84°F (29°C) with 90% humidity. Starting in June, you’ll see daily showers in the late afternoon or evening for a few hours.
The cool season, from November to February, has temperatures from the high 70s°F to low 80s°F (26°C-29°C), with infrequent showers. Daily temperatures can drop as low as 60°F (16°C) in Chiang Mai. When you go should depend on what activities you want to do, so plan your trip according to what you’ll be doing. Expect the highest prices and crowds between mid-October and late February. Try the shoulder season for the best possible combination.
WHERE TO go
Most visitors to Thailand visit the triad of north, central and southern, starting in the bustling city of Bangkok, where International flights generally go in and out from, then hitting up Chiang Mai to the north, which is close to Pai, where you can take the plunge in a kung fu retreat, and ending with a beach stay in Phuket or Koh Samui.
There are lots of cheap and convenient domestic airlines and train routes that make regular trips between these destinations, and visiting all three will give you a good overview of the country. If you have a few weeks to spend in Thailand, check out this itinerary. If you were hoping to visit Maya Bay, made popular in the movie The Beach, check out this guide to help you see it, even if only from afar.
Of course, there is so much more in Thailand to explore beyond the three popular spots mentioned above. If you’re looking for a way to explore more of this beautiful country, you might want to consider staying for a month or longer.
WHAT TO DO
If you’re traveling through Thailand on an extended vacation, you’ll find that it’s very easy to spend your time spontaneously – hoping from city to city when you want (flights between cities are generally inexpensive), and seeing what you like along the way. If you are spending just a short time in Thailand, we recommend building an itinerary that hits up the major things to do in each city.
In Bangkok, be sure to visit the major temples and palaces, like the Grand Palace, Wat Pho, and Wat Arun. Save time for shopping through the various markets, and eating plenty of street food. If you’re traveling in Bangkok alone, check out this great guide to solo travel in Bangkok.
In Chiang Mai, you’ll want to enjoy the Sunday market, walk around the city to the various temples, like the 14th-century Wat Phra Singh and 15th-century Wat Chedi Luang, and take a cooking class.
The islands of Thailand have a lot to offer tourists, as well. You can spend time in a luxury resort, like Sri Panwa, in Phuket, or a party destination like Patong Beach. You’ll also want to check out Kho Samui and Krabi. A fun alternative way to experience the islands is to stay on a liveaboard boat. These liveaboards range from budget to luxury and will enable you to see the islands from a very unique perspective. Check out these liveaboard options.
Where to stay
Where to Stay in Bangkok
Anywhere near Siam is the most central location for tourists looking to do the main tourist activities. It’s close to the Sky Train and MRT modes of public transportation and extremely easy to hail a cab. While the area is overcome with shopping centers, it’s the absolute most central location to stay in. We recommend staying at Siam Kempinski Hotel.
Riverside and Lower Sukhumvit would be my second and third choices. Riverside has a conglomeration of the most expensive accommodations in town, some with amazing river views and sky lounges where you can grab a drink with the best view of the city. Check out the Chatrium Hotel Riverside.
Sukhumvit has a more local feel and is closer to some of the street food destinations for dinner, and there are some top hotels like the Westin Grand Sukhumvit and Sheraton Grand Sukhumvit, but it is further away from the main tourist destinations.
Where to Stay in Chiang Mai
In Chiang Mai, you want to be there on Sunday for the night market, and you want to stay close so you can walk out your hotel and directly into the action with much hassle. For that purpose, there are dozens of great choices for small boutique hotels.
We chose the Sirilanna, which is a newer boutique hotel in the center of town, but another great choice is Tamarind Village. The larger, more modern hotels are outside the main city walls, but I think it’s better to stay in town. The charm and convenience of staying inside the walls is not to be missed. Plus the smaller boutique hotels usually have lovely traditional furniture and styling, which is part of the experience.
Where to Stay in Phuket
In Phuket, there are literally hundreds of resorts to choose from and each of them have their own unique touch, while delivering top of the line amenities and service. We stayed at Sri Panwa Resort in Cape Panwa, Phuket, and loved every second of the pampering experience we had there. Of course, this resort comes at a steep price, but Phuket is known for its lavish resorts, so I would venture to say that’s as much a part of the Phuket experience.
What to Eat
Thailand is a food mecca. Not only is the cuisine creative and diverse from region to region, it is incredibly cheap by western standards. Each of the three regions listed above have their own unique style of food, but in most restaurants you’ll find a variety of dishes on the menu, including western dishes if you’ve had your fill of Thai food. Thais like their food spicy, but they generally won’t serve it to you that spicy once they’ve determined that you’re a Western tourist. You can determine your level of spice on a scale of 1-5, being how many chilies you want. We found that 3 was just right for us, but if you can tolerate spice, just ask for it “mị̀ p̄hĕd” (not spicy).
My favorite dishes are Pad See Ew (stir fried noodles) and Kao Soi (Chiang Mai noodles), but I learned quickly that any stir fried or noodle dish was equally as delicious and helped me branch out a bit. Being willing to eat street food also expanded my Thai food repertoire.
It’s not necessary to speak Thai to order food at a street stall. Just use your pointing skills, remember the phrase “mị̀ p̄hĕd” and learn a couple of key words such as gai (chicken), cow (rice), moo (pork) phad (fried) and goong (shrimp).
- Here is a list of 5 favorite local Thai dishes to try.
Don’t be afraid to eat street food in Thailand. Street cooking is a way of life in Thailand and they know what they’re doing. Definitely take a Thai cooking class during your stay in either Bangkok or Chiang Mai. Going on a food tour in each city will also acclimate you to the food of the area and give you a good idea what to eat during the rest of your stay.
What to drink
The most important question in any destination is what to drink. Being avid wine drinkers, our usual go-to in a new country is wine, but in Thailand, you’re better off sticking with beer.
My favorite Thai beer is Chang (meaning Elephant) and it could be purchased in a large or small size at any bar or restaurant, 7-11 or street merchant for around 40-60 baht ($1.50 US). The other top beer producers are Singha, Leo and Tiger. They’re all very similar in taste.
The non-alcoholic specialty in Thailand is fruit smoothies made with just about any combination of fruits and yogurts or milks. I had an avocado smoothie at the Chiang Mai Sunday Market that was divine and a Gac smoothie from a Bangkok market that was also very good.
And don’t forget the unique flavors of a Thai iced tea. I’ve tried to make this at home, but it doesn’t even come close. Try asking a street vendor what they use to make it and you won’t ever come away with a real answer. Must be a secret recipe.
We hope you’ve found this Thailand travel guide useful. It’s an incredible country, with so much to see and do. This only scraps the surface. But it should give you a good primer!
If you need more help with your planning, check out these travel books.
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