We all have lists of places we want to visit in the world and never enough time (or money) to plan all the trips that we want to. In the past couple of years, I’ve tried to put more emphasis on the importance of travel in my life and luckily for my boyfriend and I, Thailand was high on both our travel wish lists. As the holiday break was nearing, we pulled the trigger on two flights to Bangkok. 24+ hours of air travel that would put us halfway around the world from home for the holidays and in one of the most amazing countries I’ve ever been to. In preparation for the trip, I read my way through multiple travel blogs, lonely planet guides, and spoke to various friends who had been there for their input and suggestions. Below is our full itinerary. It’s not perfect but we had a wonderful time and I’m proud that we organized the trip ourselves without the help of a tour company.
Day 1 (Bangkok, Thailand): We landed in Bangkok after midnight and took a cab to our hotel. Remember to change cash out as the taxi driver will want cash for tolls as well as the payment for the ride. We checked into the Eastin Grand Hotel Sathorn, a beautiful and reasonably priced hotel with a convenient connection to the public Sky Train system. Waking some 5-6 hours later and full of adrenaline to start exploring, we jumped on the train to the closest pier and connected to a long tail boat to sail over to the old city where you can visit both Wat Pho and The Grand Palace in close proximity to each other. It is impossible to miss the tourist line heading into the Grand Palace as you exit the pier and the country was still mourning the death of their King Bhumibol Adulyadej so the Thai crowds were mostly dressed in black to enter the site. After the Grand Palace, we found our way over to Wat Pho which is the oldest and largest Buddhist temple in Bangkok as well as more Buddha images than any other Bangkok Temple.
After the temples, we took our first of many tuk tuks to the famous Khao San Road where the streets are packed full with colorful clothing and food vendors. We did an initial search for Pad Thai (we’re tourists!) but ultimately stopped for lunch at Susie Wong’s Beers & Buns which came highly recommended by friends and had delicious food. We explored the neighborhood a bit more after lunch before retreating back to the hotel to relax at their beautiful infinity pool overlooking the city. We spent the evening eating dinner at Nahm, known for being one of the 50 best restaurants in Asia. The food was interesting and delicious and we were even treated to a champagne toast as the restaurant had noted it was our three year anniversary when I made our reservation. We ended our first night in Thailand at the rooftop Moon Bar at the Banyan Tree Hotel. Drinks are pricey but it’s worth it for the incredible view of the city.
Day 2 (Chiang Mai): We flew to Chiang Mai on Asia Airlines and checked into Varada Place, a simple guest house north of the old city. The old city is essentially a square and many of the old walls are still somewhat intact which makes the navigation quite easy once you are in town. The walk to the old city from our hotel wasn’t really pleasant (you never know if cars or motorcycles are actually going to slow down to let you cross, even when they have a red light!) but we found that tuk tuks are extremely cheap and easy to flag down. Once you pass over the pedestrian bridges into the old city, you can’t go more than a block or two without coming across another gorgeous temple. Wat Phan Tao is especially beautiful at night; they light up the lanterns that surround the main building where a large golden buddha resides. For dinner, we ate pineapple fried rice and pad thai at Khao Tom 1B. After dinner, we stopped in for hour long Thai Massages at Lila Thai Massage where the employees come from the local women’s prison’s post-release massage training program. These came to less than $10 USD each, pretty incredible.
Day 3 (Chiang Mai): My favorite day. I cannot overstate how wonderful Elephant Nature Park is. This was quite literally the first thing I booked after our flights to Bangkok. The elephants at the park are all rescued from various trekking, entertainment, and logging industries around the country. We met elephants that had been through land mine accidents, had their spirits “broken” in order to respond to human trainers, and mistreated their entire lives but were now able to roam free around the grounds and interact with other elephants in a natural setting. You can read more about their work HERE. I am so thankful to all the people that recommended we book this tour over other elephant encounters in the country. The vegetarian lunch buffet was also one of the best meals we had while on vacation. If I could go back, I’d consider one of their overnight volunteer opportunities to spend even more time at the park. When we returned to the city, we ventured to teh south side of the old city where the streets fill with food vendors and artists on the weekends for a walking market. The food was some of the cheapest we found on our trip. The paid thai, mango sticky rice, and coconut ice cream bars all coming out to less than $1 USD each.
Day 5 (Phuket): We flew to Phuket on Christmas Day and were exhausted. Other than checking into our hotel, we mostly watched Naked and Afraid (the only thing in English on TV) and slept. Jetlag and multiple flights over the past few days had caught up to us and we needed a bit of rest. We stayed at the IndoChine Resort & Villas, a hotel that has probably seen better days but suited our needs just fine.
Day 6 (Phuket): We woke up early to depart on a tour package to the Ko Phi Phi Islands to snorkel and spend time at the beach. The islands are in fact gorgeous; the snorkeling is just OK. However, don’t let any of the photos online fool you. These islands are no secret and the number of tourists that circle the island each day is completely insane. Thailand is full of gorgeous beaches if you are willing to travel a little further so I would suggest skipping over these day trips if you don’t absolutely have to see beaches that were featured in a Leonardo DiCaprio movie. That night, we ventured to the infamous Bangla Road. The street is sort of a hybrid of the Vegas Strip shrunken down and sprinkled with elements of Bourbon Street. Crazy. We walked past endless advertisements for ping pong shows, photos with lady boys, drink specials, and go go dancers while taking in the sensory overload of lights coming from all the bars that line the street. We ate dinner at Nana Lobster which we chose because of the Thai Elvis impersonator singing his greatest hits.
Day 7 (Railay Beach): After a harrowing 3 hours in a van with other tourists (all the ferries were booked), we arrived at a tourist center on the other side of Thailand. Without much explanation for how everything was running or how long we’d have to wait, we took yet another car ride to a pier where we dragged our luggage onto a long tail boat and sailed the final leg of the trip to Railay Beach. I don’t know how else to describe Railay but pure paradise. We walked the short walk across the island to Railay Bay Resort & Spa and were greeted with fresh fruit drinks at check in and one of the 2 cottages directly overlooking the pool + beach. The view was insane and the beach one of the most beautiful places I’ve been to on this earth. Everything we needed was steps from our room and it made all the travel we had done during the days prior completely worth it for the peace and quiet we were about to indulge in for our last few days of vacation. The walking street held all restaurant options, and that night we found ourselves eating dinner next to a guy getting a bamboo stick and poke in a tattoo parlor connected to the restaurant.
Day 8 (Railay Beach): Another day in paradise. We went kayaking around the island. We read. We laid on the beach. We ate. What else do you do at the beach? At night, I had the best Mojito of my life at Bamboo Bar and we had another fantastic meal along the walking street.
Day 9 (Railay Beach): Final day in paradise. We went kayaking around the island (again). We read (again). We laid out on the beach (again). We ate (again). At night, I had the best Mojito (again)…
Day 10 (Depart): We woke up at sunrise to get in as much time as we could get on the beach before leaving for the airport. I finally saw some of the monkeys between Phra Nang Cave Beach and East Railay and it was a wonderful way to cap the vacation. Our travel back to Bangkok this day was endless (delayed flight and a long time waiting for cabs in Bangkok) but our last hotel near the airport did have robot statues (weird, I know) outside which helped us end the trip on a high note. Thailand, you are amazing and crazy and I can’t wait to come back one day.