Last fall it was finally time. After years of dreaming I stepped on board of a plane to Asia. My destination: Thailand. I was so curious to find out if this country could measure up to my high expectations. I mean, those locals couldn’t be so nice as often described? And the food could not be so delicious, right? Well, after almost a year, I could safely say that everything that you’ve heard of Thailand is true. Yes, the locals are that nice, and yes, the food is heaven. And even though I only spend two weeks in the country, it was enough time to explore the major sights of Thailand. Curious to find out which route we chose? Then keep on reading.
Bangkok, the city of chaos (3 days)
Of course, we started with the city everyone travels to when they go to Thailand by plane: Bangkok. Yes, also our first days in Thailand were spent here. Bangkok immediately was a real test for our enthusiasm for this country. This city is chaotic, loud, smelly and crowded with people. You either hate it or you love it. And luckily I loved it. You can read my first impressions of this city right here. The days that followed were filled with cultural activities. Of course we visited the well-known highlights such as Grand Palace, the Wat Phra Kaew, the almighty Wat Arun and the golden reclining buddha in the Wat Pho. And we also took a bike tour with the amazing guides of Co van Kessel. We zigzagged our ways through Chinatown and discovered the green suburbs of Bangkok. Our guide took us to places we would never think of ourselves. Curious to find out what we saw on our bikes, then read my previous article about the bike tour of Co van Kessel.
One of our favorite places in Bangkok is Soi Ram Buttri. This street is kind of mini version of the nearby backpackers area Khao San Road. On Soi Ram Buttri you will also come across the same shops with t-shirts and shorts with little elephants and the same (delicious) food stands, but it’s all set up in a cozy and small way. And that’s why I liked this street so much. It wasn’t as crowded with tourists like Khao San Road. Soi Ram Buttri was the perfect stop for some drinks or a quick late-night snack.
The ruins of Ayutthaya (1 day)
The perfect day trip from Bangkok is the ancient ruin city Ayutthaya. A train ticket to this place will only cost a couple of Baht and within two hours you’ll be standing in an open-air museum of temples. Some parts of the temples are in pretty good shape, other parts are more torn-down. Because we only had a limited amount of time we rented a tuk-tuk with a female driver to tour us around for the day. In the end this was a good choice, because within three hours we managed to see four temples. Keep in mind that tourists have to pay an entrance fee (as supposed to locals who just wander in and out). I just saw this as my contribution to Ayutthaya to maintain its temples. Besides, the fee is just a couple of Baht. Interested in more of Ayutthaya, click here.
The relaxed city of Chiang Mai (2 days)
By night train we made our way up north to Chiang Mai. On our first day there we immediately noticed that the atmosphere in Chiang Mai is completely different than in Bangkok. It’s more relaxed, greener, friendlier and less chaotic when it comes to traffic. You could almost say it’s a relief to visit Chiang Mai after Bangkok. We only had two days in this city, and in retrospect I can surely say that this wasn’t enough. I would have gladly taken another day to visit the Elephant Nature Park. This is one of the most natural elephant sanctuaries where you can see elephants without the touristy (and abusive) rides. Luckily for us, Chiang Mai offered also other things to do. For instance, inside the old city walls you can find up to thirty temples. A local advised us to visit at least four spectacular ones such as the mountain temple Wat Doi Suthep and the silver temple Wat Sri Suphan. For our second day we decided to visit the Golden Triangle near Chiang Rai. This is the border that overlaps three countries: Myanmar, Laos and Thailand. It used to be the place where opium cultivation thrived. Now it’s mainly the place for Thai to visit the casinos on the other side (gambling is prohibited in Thailand).
The perfect beaches of Koh Tao (2 days)
After the busy cities it was time for another side of Thailand: its islands. And this was literally the other side because we traveled from Northern Thailand to the south for a week of island-hopping fun. Our destination: Samui Archipelago. A cluster of islands that includes some of the well-known Thai islands. Our first stop was the smallest island Koh Tao. This island is known for its many diving schools and resorts. Then again, it’s the cheapest place to get your PADI. Something we didn’t do, because we just wanted to relax on the beaches. White powdery sand, ocean breeze and palm leaves waving around. One of our favorite beaches on Koh Tao was Aow Leuk. In Dutch ‘leuk’ means fun and so the name itself caught our attention. And indeed, this bay is very fun. It has perfect white sand and clear blue water. We enjoyed every bit of it. And if we wanted to be more active, we headed over to the pretty little island Koh Nang Yuan on the coast of Koh Tao. The perfect place to do some snorkeling.
Koh Phangan, more than just a party island (2 days)
To continue our island-hopping trip we took the ferry to Koh Phangan. This island is mainly known for its night life on the Full Moon Party. We let this side of Koh Phangan pass for now, because we came for the awe-inspiring beaches. We rented a scooter for a day and spent hours looking for the best beaches and bays. The best bay we found was on Mae Haad beach on the north side of the island. This beach is connected by a small sand strip with the tiny peninsula Koh Mae. This tiny island doesn’t offer that much. It’s completely abandoned and overgrown by the jungle. But if you look at it from a distance it gives a beautiful romantic sight.
Koh Samui, a mini version of Bangkok (3 days)
We ended our island-hopping adventure on Koh Samui, the largest island of the similar Samui Archipelago. As you might have read earlier on my blog, this island was our least favorite. Here a summary of things that come to mind when I think of Koh Samui: kitschy temples, stray dogs, loud tourists and crowded beaches. Koh Samui just wasn’t my kind of island. It’s a pity, because deep down I know that Koh Samui offers also some great places, but we could not seem to find it. What we did find (and loved) is the Ang Thong National Marine Park. A true paradise that you cannot miss out on when visiting Koh Samui. Want to find out more about this paradise, head over to my island-hopping guide Thailand.
After Koh Samui it was time to go back to Bangkok for our flight to Amsterdam. In two weeks we got to discover so much of this great country. I hope future travelers to Thailand might find this route helpful.
Have you been to Thailand? I’m curious to find out what you thought of it. Let me know in the comments.