I traveled through Southeast Asia (January 2014) before I was travel blogging on the regular so often people ask about my recommendations because I have not posted them here. So in response, I will be starting a new miniseries, Quick Intros. They will not be as complex as many of the travel guides that I have written for South America but will be my general recommendations for visiting the countries.
Enjoy! Here is my first installment Quick Intros: Thailand.
When people think of traveling Southeast Asia, Thailand is usually the most common place that people visit.
Because of that, it is one of the most touristy countries to visit but it is still one of my favorites.
The three most popular places people usually visit in Thailand are Chiang Mai (northern), Bangkok (central) and Phuket (southern). Because I only had a limited amount of time to travel I flew between the cities. I flew from NYC into Bangkok and then to Chiang Mai. Phuket I actually visited after I had looped around Laos and Vietnam from Cambodia.
SEE ALSO: My 5 week Southeast Asia Itinerary
Chiang Mai was my favorite place in Thailand. At the time I was on a pretty strict budget. I was with three other friends and this was the time before booking.com was so common. We found all of our accommodation on arrival. We originally went to find the highest rated guesthouse on TripAdvisor at the time, the FunkyMonkey Guesthouse but they were full. Luckily along the street there were numerous guesthouses and we found a great place we came to love, Kamala’s Guesthouse.
Chiang Mai is a city that I didn’t know much about before I visited but left feeling like I hadn’t spent quite enough time there. I think if I had been looking for somewhere to study abroad it would’ve been a really fun place to do so. There are a lot of students around because of the local University and endless bars and restaurants. It has become a popular digital nomad city in recent years.
Visit the iconic City Tae Pae Gate: A historical part of the city. Depending on the time of year there are different things going on in the plaza.
Ride the Elephants: You have to be careful which elephant company you choose to visit. I visited the Thai Elephant Conservation Center. My dad had taken a trip with Heifer International before and this was where they visited the elephants. They have an elephant veterinary clinic on site and are in charge of looking after the royal white elephants. You can get there by public bus. Go to the bus station and take the bus headed to Lampang. Tell the bus driver you want to be dropped off at the center. They’ll know what you’re talking about. You can also hire a taxi too for more money.
Visiting the Tigers: This is a personal decision to make for yourself. There are some tiger places you can go visit from Chiang Mai but I have heard some sketchy things about them being pretty drugged up for the tourists.
Night Bazaar: I loved this! Shopping, fish pedicures, drinks and food.
Traditional Khantoke Dinner: You can ask your hotel/hostal about a place to go for this. It was a really fun experience.
Massages: This is a great city for cheap Thai massages.
Day trip to the Chiang Rai Province: I mostly did this so that I could go see the White Temple but the rest was a bit of a tourist trap. If they ask if you want to take a boat to where Laos, China and Thailand meet, don’t do it. You will go to that point but it’s just a piece of land that they’ve converted into a tourist market.
*Note: Nearby you can go up farther to Pai, a more peaceful mountain town. I wasn’t able to go but I heard good things about it.
I liked Bangkok, but it is an intense city. Uber would’ve been really helpful when I was there. You will probably be flying into Bangkok sometime during your visit to Thailand. I mostly took taxis and took a subway a few times. Although the train seemed very safe to me I was told by a police officer not to wear my sunglasses on my head on the train because they might be snatched off.
Grand Palace: The most ornate template that I visited in Asia. It was crowded but I loved it. There’s a free English tour you can take, sign up when you go inside.
Wat Arun: I think this was my favorite temples in Asia. Be careful on the steps but definitely go up.
Floating Village/Market: Because I was there on a holiday the market was closed. Along the river you can take a boat through the floating village and market. (It’s only open certain days so check which ones).
Chinatown: All of the food and stalls were pretty amazing with their colors and presentation.
Nightlife: I was here on New Years and a friend of mine luckily knew the nightlife. We ended up at a club FunkyVilla.
Suits: If you mention shopping, your hotel will probably try and persuade you to visit their favorite shoe or suit shop. It’s a good deal if it’s something you are looking for but just keep in mind you have to be staying in town long enough for them to complete it.
Shopping: Because I live in NYC this was not as appealing to me but it is always listed as something to do in Bangkok because it is a more major city in the region.
Phuket is a big party and beach destination. It is where most people go when they say they went to Thailand. It was fun for a day or two but if you want more relaxing island life spend some time on the islands nearby of Koh Sumai and Krabi. They are supposed to be very beautiful and much quieter than Phuket. I wish I had enough time to visit them. Several of the islands nearby also host Full Moon parties during the year. Check the calendar to see when they are happening.
Drag Show: I went to a fun drag show while I was there. It was good in a bad kind of way. Lots of Christina Aguilera songs.
Beach Day Trips: I also did a day trip to some of the nearby islands/beaches. It was a fast, convenient way to see all the beaches in the area (including the famous Maya Bay and Koh Phi Phi) but it was a little bit rushed and crowded.
Market: There’s a market on the main drag if you’re looking for souvenirs.
Beach time: You can also spend your time laying out on the main Patong Beach.
*Note: Hotels in Phuket seemed to be much more expensive than the rest of Southeast Asia.
NOTES ABOUT THAILAND
*In all of the temples in Thailand you have to cover your knees and shoulders, so bring some loose pants/maxi skirts and scarves to cover yourself.
*Also inside some temples you will have to remove your shoes so make sure you wear flip flops or shoes that are easy to slip off.