Despite all the suggestions we got from other people and Lonely Planet, the way we planned our itinerary was not so ideal but we made it work! I’m going to share what our itinerary was, and if we planned differently, how we would have done it. You will be left wanting to know a lot more, but good news! I will be writing about each location in greater detail, including the experiences we had, both good, bad and weird. The main reason for the itinerary we chose was because we really wanted to attend the Full Moon party, but that also happened to fall within a few days of when my husband got time off from work, so we just made that our first stop! This post will serve as our step by step, but how it would have been a little better! A sort of cheat sheet for anyone else traveling there for the first time!
One thing that worked well for us was NOT planning everything in advance. We had a roughly planned itinerary, including where we would start, places we definitely needed to see, and the order than made the most sense, but we did not have any domestic flights booked, hotels, or ferries booked in advanced. By not planning in advance, we were given the flexibility to stay longer or shorter as we saw fit. We were able to easily book flights on kayak, hotels on Booking.com, and ferries online or right at the ferry dock. Luckily for us we had amazing weather, and it didn’t rain at ALL, but being more flexible allows for you to change up your itinerary a bit in case of bad weather.
Our itinerary in a nutshell is as follows:
- Seattle – Taipei, Taiwan – Bangkok, 1 night Bangkok at Golden Jade near airport
- Flight BKK to Koh Samui – Ferry to Koh Phangan, 2 nights Koh Phangan at Airbnb Freeway Bungalows
- Ferry to Koh Tao, 2 nights Koh Tao at Simple Life Resort
- Ferry and Bus to Krabi, 1 night Krabi Town at the Sasi House
- Ferry to Koh Phi Phi, 1 nights Koh Phi Phi at P.P. Charlie
- Ferry to Krabi – Taxi and water taxi to Railay Beach, 2 nights Railay Beach at Railay Princess Resort and Spa
- Flight Krabi to Chiang Mai, 4 nights Chiang Mai, 1 night Ten Boutique 3 nights Corner Spa
- Flight Chiang Mai to Bangkok, 2 nights Bangkok at Rose Hotel
- Flight Bangkok – Taiwan – Seattle, 1 night Taiwan at Cloud Hotel
The Flight There
We planned our US trip so we would be on the West Coast just before we flew to Thailand, to make it a bit shorter. We searched multiple sources for plane tickets to Thailand, and ended up booking Priceline through Kayak. The tickets were roughly $700 each with EVA airways, and since we use our Barclay credit card for all expenses, we had enough points to cover all but $300 of the $1400 worth of tickets. Sweet! We really enjoyed this airline for their ridiculous amount of leg room, which Tiago appreciated immensely, their flight crew spoke English, they had pretty decent meals on the flight, and free alcoholic beverages! They also had a great entertainment system with many new movies, games, music, and TV shows. Before we knew it, our 12 hour flight to Taiwan was over, EVA airways made it clear where to go for the transfer, and then we had several hours to kill at the airport, on no sleep. I cursed myself for not sleeping on the plane because now I was a zombie in an airport, without many places to relax.
Bangkok Part 1
As soon as we boarded the plane to Bangkok, I PASSED out! I even missed the meal they served! We arrived in Bangkok at 11:30pm, a little unclear on how we were getting to our hotel. We called the hotel via Skype, and the lady spoke broken English on a bad connection. We understood we needed to be near meeting spot 4, but then what? They had a travel information center, where they spoke perfect English, and were able to direct us to an area with many people with signs for different hotels. We found “Golden Jade – Tiago Rodrigues” on a sign and we were relieved! Shortly after, we got our shuttle to our hotel, checked in, and were in bed by 1am, only to wake up at 5 for our 7am flight to Kho Samui! Between my 3 hour nap on the plane and 4 hours in Bangkok, I was feeling fairly well rested!
We flew Bangkok Airways from Bangkok, Suvarnabhumi Airport (BKK) to Kho Samui, an island in the South East. We arrived and needed to find out how to purchase bus and ferry tickets to Kho Phangan. Each place right at the small airport was selling tickets for 500 baht, which I thought was a lot at first, not used to making baht to dollar conversions yet, but then I did the math, and realized how cheap it really was. It was roughly $15 each for a bus ride to the ferry, and the ferry. Soon enough we were on a bus to the Lomprayah ferry, killed some time shopping around, grabbed a snack, and then we were on the boat to Kho Phangan! After this excursion, we realized how easy they make travel for foreigners, which made up most of the people on the islands!
When we arrived in Kho Phangan 45 minutes later, we got our motorcycle taxi to the Freeway Bar and Bungalows….yes we each got on the back of a motorcycle, with our huge backpacks, and rode to our spot. One thing I would have done differently here was where we stayed. We got a bungalow here on Airbnb, for $30/night, when it is normally $15, but there was a price surge because of the Full Moon Party. It was nice having a hammock with a nice view, but having no AC, an outhouse like bathroom, mosquito nets and loud street noise, we would have opted for a place with AC, a swimmable beach and/or a pool! We called it “glamping” and considered it a learning experience on our adventure! The Full Moon Party is an absolute must, and you don’t have to make it a crazy all-nighter, but if you can work it into your itinerary, I suggest it.
Next stop was Kho Tao, which is a common destination for people after the full moon party, since it is only a 60-90 minute ferry ride to the island, for about $7 each. We stayed at a great resort called Simple Life, which was right in the middle of all the fun, right off of Sairee Beach. We stayed for 2 nights, but looking back, I would have stayed at least one more night here. Kho Tao is an awesome island filled with Western travelers and ex-pats that really love scuba diving! I described it as a surf town without surfing, but diving instead. We got lucky, and happened to be there for Songkran, the Thai New Year! So, so, so much unexpected fun! I will write all about it in the Koh Tao post!
We got an early boat and bus out of Kho Tao to Krabi Town, which was about 10 hours total. We stayed here one night before heading to Kho Phi Phi. What I would have done differently is headed right to the ocean, and not stayed in Krabi town. We stayed at the Sasi House, which was perfectly fine for us, the night market was cool, as well as the Wat Tham Suea, the Tiger Cave Temple, but this was more of an area where locals live, versus the beach where tourists visit. I am glad we had the cultural experience though!
Koh Phi Phi
We booked our taxi and boat to Kho Phi Phi online the day before, and I was amazed that it all worked out, with the taxi bus arriving to get us right on time, bringing us to the ferry with a group of other people doing the same thing. We arrived on Kho Phi Phi, which was just absolutely beautiful. It is ultimately two hilly islands, connected by a sandy isthmus filled with guest houses, shops, massage places, 7-11s, tourist agencies and hotels. We were able to easily walk to our hotel, PP Charlie, after getting a map from a representative by the ferry. The place was beautiful, except somehow we got stuck in an older room. We were certainly mislead by Booking.com, but at least the food and the pools were super nice, and it was right on the beach. While on Koh Phi Phi, we took a long tail boat to Maya Bay, partied on the beach at night, and enjoyed our hotel pool. Kho Phi Phi, though beautiful, is literally like a spring break destination every night. If I could have done it differently, I would have either not stayed here, or stayed higher up in the hills. It is certainly a place to see, but you don’t have to spend a ton of time here. You can get here easily from Krabi or Phuket for an island hopping day trip, which I would recommend, unless you are young and love to party!
Krabi – Railay Beach
We were happy to leave Phi Phi, and headed back to Krabi, where we had gotten a hotel on Railay Beach. Lessons learned here, Railay beach, though not an island, is only accessible by boat. It is like an island because it is surrounded by large rock formations, which does not allow for roads to access it, so you must take a boat. SO BEAUTIFUL! We got a taxi to the boat, and the boat to the resort for about 600 baht. Our hotel, Railey Princess Resort and Spa was right off of the boat, which made things super easy! We stayed only 1 night here, but I would have done a few more! It was really nice! One disclaimer I will make is that because it is a resort, food and drinks were a LOT more expensive, but you get the service, cleanliness, and views that make it worth it. Also, the other disclaimer, is that Krabi, and especially Railay beach, is predominately Muslim run, which means finding alcohol is not as easy. Many of the restaurants don’t even serve alcohol, and if they do, they have a separate bar, run privately, which requires separate payment. So if you’re are looking to party and get a beer at the convenient store or at a dinner, this probably isn’t the best place, but we didn’t mind, as we could have used a dry out period! I heard (what part) of Krabi is also really nice, but I’m not sure about the culture.
We flew from Krabi airport to Chiang Mai, for about $50 each, which we booked days in advance. See, travel here is SO much easier to do last minute, and flight prices do not change much like they do in the US. Flight, boat, or bus…no need to plan in advance. Give yourself flexibility to stay longer where you want and not in other places. We knew we wanted more time in Chiang Mai because there was SO much to do there, so we got 1 night at Ten Boutique Hotel in Old Town, so we could explore the temples, night life, and history of the city, then we went to our other place in Hang Dong, about 20 minutes out of the Old City. This ended up being our lovely sanctuary to truly relax at. We got a 4 star resort called Corner Spa, which was not near anything except some agricultural crops! But that was ok. They had an amazing kitchen on site, crystal clear pool which we had mostly to ourselves the whole time, and such a serene location. We loved this place because it was about a $6 Uber into town, the Cooking Class and Elephant Sanctuary excursions picked you up here, and you felt at peace. Chiang Mai is a truly magical, cultural experience, and even though you don’t get the beach front resort experience here, you get so much more with the culture, shopping, nature activities, cooking classes and more!
Bangkok Part 2
Bangkok was our last stop, simply because we flew home from there, but I was left with mixed feelings. These feelings could be because we were at the end of our trip, I had been sick the whole time, and was looking forward to going home. Even though we were told not to spend any time here, we knew there was a lot to see and do, and we took the advice with a grain of salt. Yes, it is a big, dirty, sex industry filled, party city, but it also has a lot of history, great markets and culture as well. Like any city, there is a lot to it, with many different locations and things to do. The positives were the night and weekend markets, temples, water taxi and lots of places to eat. Downside was that people tried selling you sex shows and prostitutes everywhere we went at night, we did not have the best hotel, it was a dirty city with HUGE ass rats everywhere, and there were lots of scam artists. I might have been more tolerant on my first few days here, but I was really itching to go home at this point.
How we would have done it slightly differently!
So, to re-organize our itinerary into something that would have worked a bit better, I will summarize for you all! Fly into Bangkok and spend 1-2 nights so you can party a bit, see the markets and temples, and then head to Chiang Mai. In Chiang Mai, visit lots of temples, take a cooking class, visit an elephant sanctuary, get a custom suit or shirt made, get a lot of cheap shopping in, and go to Ratvithi Rd at night for some drinks and dancing. Head to Full Moon Party in Kho Phangan by flying to Kho Samui, and then a ferry to the island. You technically don’t even need to find a place to stay in Kho Phangan if you plan to party all night. Simply attend the party by ferry, when you are done partying, hop on the ferry back to Samui, and go to your hotel/room. I hear Kho Samui has some fabulous resorts and partying, so you can certainly spend another day or so there if you want, or get the ferry to Kho Tao. I’d recommend staying near Sairee Beach, because it is close to a lot of beach bars, restaurants, massage places, resorts, dive shops, and boat tours. I would say stay here a few nights, because even though the beach bars come alive at night, they were really chill. Many people were lounging on the chairs and bean bag chairs they set up on the beach, listening to deep house, watching fire dancers. Not the same kind of rave experience in Phi Phi. From Kho Tao, you can take a Ferry and Bus to Krabi where I would stay on Railay Beach, Ao Nang, or Klong Muang areas, which both have fantastic rock structures and quiet beaches. From Krabi, take a day trip to the Phi Phi islands on a day trip tour. You really don’t need to stay there, but if you decide to and want some quiet, find a place in the hills, not on the main strip. Another option is to take the ferry back to Samui and fly to Krabi, which is a bit more than the ferry/bus option, but a much faster option depending on how much time and money you budgeted. After Krabi, you can fly right from there to Bangkok, spend one more night (or not) and head back. We did about 16 nights in Thailand, so this worked for the time frame.
There are other places we didn’t visit that we would love to someday, including Phuket (even though we were told not to go since it is similar to Cancun), Kho Lanta, Pi, Chiang Rai, and several other places listed in Lonely Planet. Also make sure you get the Thailand Lonely Planet book! It gives excellent tips, places to stay and eat, what to be aware of, etc. I tried reading the whole thing before the trip but it was really overwhelming because it covers every single place you could possibly visit in Thailand, but once we had our key places we were visiting, we would reference it for suggestions and tips.
I will be writing a lot more about each place, so stay tuned! Also, feel free to e-mail me at email@example.com or contact me on social media, @tandaintheusofa if you have any questions about Thailand trip planning! I’m happy to share what we learned!