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 Experience route
Days 1-5 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 vary 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 its 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 7-17 Mae Hong Son Loop:
Perhaps one of the most memorable things I can imagine doing is spending 10 days exploring Northern Thailand by motorbike or scooter. This is an experience like no other.
Rentals are cheap enough in Chiang Mai. Take your time to find a good shop. A Honda Click is plenty powerful enough for the trip. There is maybe 5% of the loop where a larger motorcycle would have been more fun. For scooters I recommend going to D2. For motorbike rentals I recommend going to Tony’s Big Bikes.
The Mae Hong Son Loop will take you through several of Thailand’s most northern towns. Primarily those towns are Mae Sariang, Mae Hong Son, Pai and of course Chiang Mai. By the way, Mae means river in Thai, so those are river towns.
This loop can be done in 3-4 days of riding, but I highly recommend slowing it down to 10 days and give yourself time to spend a day or two in each of the big towns along the loop.
There are 4 main legs of this trip.
Leg 1 is from Chiang Mai to Mae Sariang ~ A lot of this route is not very scenic. Mostly you are traveling through little towns surrounding Chiang Mai, but once you hit that river canyon everything changes. You’ll launch up into the mountains and whisk past Beautiful National Forests. There will be a lot of farm trucks on the road so be patient and careful. Also even if it doesn’t rain. You are so high up that you are literally in the clouds. The cloud haze can be very cold and wet so wear proper clothing.
Leg 2 is from Mae Sariang to Mae Hong Son ~ This part of the route really opens up and there is some beautiful panoramic views along this route. Starting with Leg 2 and on, I would recommend stopping at every lookout point you come to. They are all breathtaking and worth a 5 minute stop.
Leg 3 is from Mae Hong Son to Pai ~ While the run from Pai to Chiang Mai is the most famous part of the trip, Leg 3 was my favorite. I think everyone else would agree if there were more people exploring this far north. While you should always be careful on these roads as they can be dangerous, and Thai drivers don’t strictly obey traffic rules, this is place where I felt most comfortable to push my bike to its limits. There’s a lot of tight turns here, but you can see far enough down the road to make sure there is no oncoming traffic.
Leg 4 is from Pai back to Chiang Mai ~ By this point you are not going to want this trip to end. Just take your time and enjoy the first half of this leg, because the second half will be outside of the mountains and those amazing views will only be in your rear view mirror.
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.
Salawin River: Make a day trip out to the river near Ban Mae Sam. There is a road that skirts around Salawin National Park. It’s recently been built and it’s a very fun ride through the Jungle. The Salawin river splits Myanmar and Thailand, and in Ban Mae Sam you can see where people from two once feuding nations now living in harmony.
Drink Breaks: Coffee and tea or big in northern Thailand. It’s a perfect excuse to take in the landscape. In particular there is a coffee shop exactly 16km past Mae Hong Son that is absolutely worth the stop for the view of the rice patties hidden in the steep mountain cliffs.
Walking Street Pai: Not a traditional open market, but every great night in Pai starts with a trip on the walking street.
Random Tours: There are a number of random tours you can do along the loop. Not many tourists get out this way, so you can often have some truly unique tour experiences out this way. I did a cave tour and the guide and myself were the only ones in the entire cave.
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.
The River Road Mae Sariang: There are a number of guesthouses along the road. Some fancier than others, but this road has that sleepy little river town feel that makes this area magical.
Chong Kham Lake Mae Hong Son: There are a lot of guest houses around the lake in town. This area also puts you in walking distance of restaurants and open air markets.
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 19-23 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 25-29 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.
Couples guide coming soon.