Most people touring Thailand are able to visit for 30 days without getting a visa. If you want to maximize your 30 days of experience here are my recommendations.
There are three routes.
- The exploration route is about exploring as many places as possible while not rushing too much through each place.
- The experience route is about maximizing time in the best places in Thailand. Thus giving you a better opportunity to absorb the culture and beauty around you.
- The couple’s route is similar to the other two, but is focused on places that are more quiet and intimate.
The Exploration route
Days 1-4 Bangkok:
No doubt you will be starting in Bangkok with two major international airports located next to the city. A lot of people overlook Bangkok but it’s actually one of the coolest places you can go.
Bangkok is almost a whole nother country of its own. No doubt you’ve heard of KhoSan road. My opinion is to skip this area as it is over run by aggressive street hawkers and peddlers. There’s a big party scene here which can be fun but there’s some even more amazing nightlife scenes that deserve more attention.
Chatuchak Market: The largest open air market in the world. There’s a semi secret section filled with domestic and exotic pets for sale including cobras and miniature huskies.
The Central Group Malls: Malls in Thailand are like nothing you’ve seen before. Start with the Siam sister malls, there are 3 of them, and if you still have time check out MBK. MBK is technically the largest mall in Bangkok. Siam Discovery has the best value food court in my opinion.
Movie theater: There are several places that offer VIP and they very wildly in price, but do your homework and go for the VIP ticket. It’s an experience you won’t soon forget and honestly it will ruin going to the movies back home. Sorry not sorry
Rooftop Bar: Rooftop bar drink prices can exceed those of top bars in Western cities, but go for a sunset happy hour and prices are more reasonable. Happy hour is the best time anyway. #Rooftopsunset
China Town: Take the metro to the top of China Town and go for a stroll. This area is stuffed with random shops that have seemingly no organization, but they have everything here. If you can’t find it in Bangkok, fuck, it doesn’t exist.
Mo Chit park: A lot of people would recommend the more famous Lumpini Park, but I’d argue Mo Chit and it’s neighboring parks are the most beautiful public parks I’ve ever seen. Go just after sunrise or before sunset to see all the locals come out for their daily exercise and relaxation. It’s a sight worth seeing as no place back home does a day in the park quite like the Thais do.
Bangkok is a city of fashion and gluttony. Be sure to sample and explore the 1000’s of options. Don’t feel pressured to stick to only Thai food. Many cultures are respectfully represented here.
Asok: Asok is almost exactly central Bangkok. It’s great for getting a mix of everyday people and tourism. The metro lines also cross here giving you easy access to the rest of the city. Even the infamous canal transit boats are a short walk from Asok.
All the high rises around Asok also means lots of rooftop bars are in walking distance from your stay.
Mo Chit: There are two places in Bangkok the metro lines cross. Asok and Mo Chit. Mo Chit is a little quieter and has the beautiful parks nearby. There are many universities in this area as well meaning you’ll get to observe how students live day to day in the city.
Days 6-11 Chiang Mai / Pai:
The most famous northern destination. Chiang Mai itself has many open air markets and the old square is an interesting area for an evening stroll.
But, Chiang Mai is really best considered as the hub of the North for all your Thai adventures. Tours, treks, and events in the North are all easily reached while using Chiang Mai as your home base.
My suggestion is to start in Chiang Mai, for two days, rent a motorbike, drive up to Pai for another 2-3 days, then come back to Chiang Mai and continue on your trip from there.
Cooking Class: Thai food is amazing and the best place to learn how to cook Thai food is in northern Thailand. I went with Basil Cookery School. Two thumbs up.
Elephant Sanctuary: The Eco Tourism push seems to really be improving the elephant situation in Thailand. There are a number of no riding/ free range elephant sanctuaries popping up here. I went to Dumbo Elephant Spa and had a great time being around these magnificent creatures.
Motorbike Trek to Pai: Perhaps the most memorable thing you could do in Thailand is to drive from Chiang Mai to Pai on a scooter. It’s a twisty scenic ride through the Thai jungle you’ll never forget.
Walking Street Pai: Not a traditional open market, but every great night in Pai starts with a trip on the walking street.
North West Corner or South East Corner of the Square in Chiang Mai: Your money will go a lot further by staying just outside of the square in Chiang Mai. The southern corner has more hostels and markets. The northern corner has become a hot spot for expat living with great cafes and restaurants. You can’t go wrong with either one.
Circus: If backpacking, circus is the spot. There’s no fancy rooms here, but circus is synonymous with long term experienced backpackers. If you want to hear the best travel stories, you can find them here.
Anything goes on the walking street in Pai, but in general food is at its freshest in Northern Thailand so this is the place to get adventurous and explore the local cuisine.
Days 13-15 Koh Chang:
Koh Chang was my second favorite island in Thailand. It’s not on most tourists radar as it’s not developed like Koh Samui or Koh Tao. It’s kind of the best secret in Thailand. Lots of expats after exploring the Thai islands settle down here as there is lots to keep you entertained here without making you feel like tourist cattle the way many other islands do.
Rent a Scooter and Explore: This is a very mountainous island and the towns are spread out. Scooters can be rented for the same cost as a round trip tuk-tuk ride so it’s definitely affordable. Just make sure you follow smart rental practices as there’s always rental shops looking to pull a fast one on the unsuspecting tourist.
Have a Drink at Shambhala: My favorite beach bar in Koh Chang. It’s in the Siam resort, and has one of the best views on the island.
Snorkel at Cliff Cottage: One of the few decent snorkel spots you can reach from the beach. Just be sure to scope out the area for jelly fish before jumping in. They get clumped up in the cove sometimes.
Seafood is always a good option when in the islands. Krabi was a bit cheaper for seafood, but prices are still reasonable here. There’s lots of great Western options on the island, so it’s fair game to get your Western food fix here.
White Sand Beach: Take a taxi to the 7-11 and walk down the path to the beach. Turn right and you’ll find a bunch of interesting bungalow resorts only accessible from the beach front.
Lonely beach: A more tame version of Koh Tao, the bungalows around the bar get really noisy. I stayed at Sleepy Owl, and it had plenty of amenities and was plenty quiet.
Days 17-19 Koh Kut (Kood):
My favorite island in the trip. Koh Kut is the closest island in Thailand to Cambodia. It’s a bit mountainous and spread out like Koh Chang, but the preferred hang out area is Klong Chao.
Koh Kut is an explorers dream with uniquely shaped beaches, water inlets though out, and some swimmable waterfall areas.
Coffee Shop: I felt that Thailand is pretty lack luster in the cafe game, but Koh Kut has some great options. My favorite was the very colorful NomKhon Station.
Kayaking: With all the inlets to explore, kayaking around this island is a must. Not literally around, but just around the inlets and such.
Waterfall: One of the best waterfalls I’ve been to for hanging out and going for a refreshing swim. The cliffs sort of enclose the waterfall.
Sunset Bar: Get your camera ready for a great sunset experience on the beach peninsula by Peter Pan Resort.
Stay in a Bungalow: You’re on an island. How are you not going to stay in a bungalow?
Cozy House: Hands down my favorite stay in Thailand. Solid breakfast, free kayak rentals, an awesome deck to relax on, and cozy bungalows. There more great things about Cozy, but I don’t want to give them all away. Seriously Stay Here.
Days 21-23 Koh Tao:
Koh Tao is perhaps the most affordable snorkel and dive location in the world and the diving is world class. Koh Tao can be a bit of a party island, but it is much more manageable than other party islands.
My biggest tip is to just take advantage of the walking path along the island as you can access all the best areas from it. The path goes all the way from the main town to the popular backpackers area.
Diving: Even if you don’t have your certification, you can do an introductory dive. Just give yourself two days to account for some classroom work. I went with Pheonix divers and can’t recommend them enough.
Bar crawl: If you do one bar crawl in Thailand, it should probably be here.
Chillax: The beach here is not great, but that doesn’t stop tons of backpackers from making the most of it. Grab a beer from a beach bar, make a friend, and relax.
Similar to other islands you can’t go wrong with seafood. There’s some great pasta options here, and the famous Yang Restaurant, at the top of the hill, is worth a trip for a great affordable meal.
This one is on you, there are a ton of options, but no location seemed to stand out better than another.
Days 25-28 Krabi / Railay:
Wow it’s been a really great trip, so finish it out with a bang on Railay Beach. Arguably the most picturesque place in Thailand. Railay Beach does attract it’s fair share of tourism, but I didn’t feel overly bothered by it. I think the minimal amount of souvenir stands and peddlers makes it bearable.
Railay is actually three or four beaches that are connected to but isolated from the mainland by limestone cliffs.
Take a boat from Ao Nang beach and you’ll be able to explore all of Railay’s beaches by cutting across the little village between the beaches.
View Point: The viewpoint is the most beautiful beach area in Railay. It’s also where the famous phalic statue is. You also will likely see some very impressive rock climbers going up the cliffs.
Climb: There is a lot of world class climbing for all levels here. If you are the outdoors type, then you must go climbing here.
Lagoon: The lagoon is beautiful, but it is a tough muddy hike. Plan accordingly by wearing trekking shoes, and give yourself time to wash and clean off after your trek. You will get muddy and messy. Not for the feign of heart, but it’s a beautiful lagoon.
Sunbathe: The perfect sunbathing beach. Even with all of the tourists the beach is big enough to spread out and catch some rays.
Splurge: Railay itself is on the pricey side for accommodation when compared to the rest of Thailand, but if you’re gonna live it up, Railay gets my vote as the place in Thailand to do it.
Nearby by Ao Nang was the best place price wise for seafood that I found in the tourist towns in Thailand.
A Resort in Railay: If you’re gonna take a break from bungalow and hostel life, this is the place to do it. Railay has some great resorts in a really amazing location.
Ao Nang: If you insist on pinching pennies still, stay near Ao Nang. Your money goes a lot further here, and long tail boats depart from here to Railay Beach every few minutes for 100 baht each way.
So these are my tips. It’s not an air tight plan, but merely a guide with plenty of space for you to adjust and edit to fit your personal trip. You may notice that there are some days missing on my 30 day guide. I give you a day for travelling between each location which is all you really need to get anywhere in Thailand even by bus or train.
If you want to get some ideas of what the experiences on this list are like, my YouTube channel has plenty videos from my travel through Thailand.
Experience and Couples guides coming soon.