Recently, I went on my favorite trips of all time – Thailand!!! People are always asking me for advice for planning a trip here, so here’s a good place to start. Choosing where in Thailand you want to go!
Overview by Location
There are basically 4 different areas that you can visit when going to Thailand: Central Thailand, Northern Thailand, the Andaman sea (south west islands), and the East Islands. Bangkok is basically going to be your starting point, since mostly all international flights will bring you here. Northern Thailand is beautiful green mountains and have a bit more culture. And lastly both the east and west islands are what you’d expect – beautiful islands with awesome beaches. These are the main areas you will most likely want to visit.
Bangkok – Bangkok is Thailand’s biggest city and most likely where you will start your trip since it is where international flights from the US will bring you. Bangkok is a dirty, crowded city. Probably don’t want to spend more than 2 days here. BUT if you are looking for good food Bangkok has some of best restaurants to get some good food. You will not find any good food on the islands.There are lots of temples here that you could spend the day visiting and some good markets for shopping. Reminder – all prices in the markets are negotiable! When it comes to night life there are two streets that offer the ping-pong shows that you hear so much about – Soi Cowboy and PatPong.
We went to all of these islands, and each of these has a very different vibe. I would recommend doing either the Western Islands or the Eastern islands. Each island is a bit different, but doing all of them might be a bit much.
Krabi / Railay Beach – Technically not and island, but grouped with this area. Krabi has an airport that you can fly into from Bangkok, so it is a good starting or ending point when traveling the western islands. We didn’t spend time in the main city of Krabi, so I can’t offer much advice on that. However, we did stay on Railay Beach, a peninsula in the Krabi area that is only accessible by boat. Railay is mostly known as a rock climbing destination, but we found it to be breathtaking – a perfect very small little beach town. Railay is tiny, you can walk around and see everything there in about an hour, you wouldn’t want to stay for more than a day or two here. Krabi is definitely not a party island – with most places not serving alcohol. We did not stay or visit Ao Nang but this is also supposed to be a better place to stay than Krabi town, similar to Railay but with a bit more going on.
Koh Lanta – Our favorite island. This is literally the ultimate beach chill island. Rent a motorbike and spend the day discovering new beaches and chilling at beach bars. Eat dinner laying on the beach with the most beautiful sunset you have ever seen. Koh Lanta is super chill, relaxed, with super beachy vibes, very little night life though. I would spend a few days here. Lots of great diving from Koh Lanta.
Koh Phi Phi – The most beautiful picturesque island you will visit. Also a huge party island. The main island Kho Phi Phi is where you can stay and I have some very mixed thoughts on this island. It is super small, no cars, you can walk everywhere. Though the island itself and surrounding islands are breathtakingly beautiful, the main town area is gross. Trash everywhere and it smells really bad. Lots of fratty college students. If you are looking for a party the night parties here are awesome! Best we found in Thailand (but we did not go to the Full Moon Party)! Spend your day getting out of the town. Take a private long boat to neighboring island and prepare to be blown away by the beauty.
Phuket – The largest and most developed island. Very western friendly with lots of resorts and shopping. Huge night life with pretty much anything you can think of. Offers lots of good day trips with some great diving opportunities. This is the most popular island for people to visit, but personally I found it least exciting, unless you are doing the day trips. There is an airport on this island so you can make this your starting or ending point for the western islands.
We did not go to the eastern islands. Their rainy season is different, ranging from November to December, so we decided to avoid it since we were going in November. However, here is an overview of each island from my research when planning Thailand.
Koh Pha Ngan – Probably the island that most people are familiar with. This is where the famous Full Moon Party takes place. Many people come to Thailand specifically for this party. Be careful buying drugs for the party if you plan to. I know lots of people who have and who have had an amazing time, though there are also some horror stories out there – so just be careful. To get here you will need to fly into Koh Samui and then take a boat to Koh Pha Ngan.
Koh Tao – This is the divers island where lots of people go to get scuba certified. Very cheap to do it and it will take 4 days. The island is extremely westernized without many Thai people on the island.
Koh Samui – This is supposed to be the best east island. Good party scene, very beautiful, pretty westernized, supposed to have decent food. There is an airport on this island, so if you are going to the eastern islands this will be you starting/ending point.
Chiang Mai – The most popular city to visit in the north. It is a pretty small city in the mountains and a bit more cultural than the islands, while still being pretty touristy. It is in the mountains and once you get to the main town you can pretty much walk to most places. Much cheaper than the islands as well – great for shopping in the street markets, lots of temples. Lots of trekking trips (2-3) out of Chiang Mai. Great place to do elephants, but make sure you research the elephant company you are going to. Lots of them treat elephants very poorly. Make sure you go to a sanctuary that is actually a sanctuary. In addition to treating the animals well it will improve your experience as well. You can actually find decent food here.
Pai – Our favorite place in Thailand. I would mark this as a can not miss. It is a heavenly utopia in the very northern mountains of Thailand. It is the cutest town I have ever seen with the best vibe and lots to do. It’s a little hippie utopia filled with mostly backpackers. You will want to get a motorbike here and can explore many waterfalls, canyons, hot springs, mountain views, and elephants. And it is SO CHEAP. The only downfall to Pai is getting there. It is about a 4 hour drive from Chiang Mai on the scariest most dangerous road I have ever seen with over 200 sharp turns with narrow lanes on steep cliffs and heavy construction/gravel roads most of the way. But don’t let the drive scare you away from Pai because it is completely worth it. Prepare to fall in love and never want to leave.
There are two other islands that are less frequently visited, because they are harder to get to and kind of out of the way. I wanted to mention them here anyway. We did not go to these, nor do I know anyone personally who has.
Koh Chang – Supposed to be very beautiful and very full of beautiful nature! Much less crowded with some good trekking. Chance of finding wild elephants! 6 hours from Bangkok. Still very Thai. Great food.
Koh Samet – Closest developed island near Bangkok. Very relaxed vibe, great for beach bumming.
Hopefully this helps you decide what areas in Thailand you want to visit. Check out our other Thailand blog posts for more detailed info about each of these places!
Happy planning 🙂